Monday, November 12, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE HEADSTONES - PICTURE OF HEALTH Remastered

It's the early '90's, and America is all about grunge. While those angsty types are in their parents' basements, moaning about their awful teen years, what do we have in Canada? We have songwriters, of course. Not Lightfoot though, I'm talking about punkish/rock and roll songwriters. Hugh Dillon had lots to say, and it wasn't all woe is me. And the hard-rockin' Headstones weren't about posing, they were the real deal. Sure there was anger, but it was directed at the right sources, not just cries for help. And they could laugh about it all too.

The band built a sizeable following with this debut album, won some awards, broke up and came back, and they still have a loyal fan base. The roots of that are all here, from their high-energy performances to dark but thoughtful lyrics to rebellion to punkish fun. The delightfully twisted Cemetery both shocked and amused: "Went down to the cemetery, looking for love/got there and my baby was buried, I had to dig her up." The tale of poor J-Jude-Judy was definitely an early warning, when people didn't talk about mental health. The group managed to bring out the dark side of The Traveling Wilburys, with their well-known cover of Tweeter and the Monkey Man. And there's even a bit of unabashed sentimentality in When Something Stands For Nothing, with its "rock'n'roll, comic books and bubble gum."

This 25th anniversary reissue adds four bonus tracks. There is a trio of demos for the album, Cemetery, When Something Stands For Nothing, and a very fine song called Sweet Pea that didn't make the album, maybe a little on the cartoonish side. Then there's Skin Me Alive, and interestingly, the current band has re-recorded that original song from their first demo tape for this set. It's darn hard, lots of energy, and it's surprising it didn't make the album 25 years ago. It also shows the band has no problem doing it these days.  The Headstones are currently on tour, playing the entire Picture Of Health at each show.

Friday, November 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JETHRO TULL - THIS WAS 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Jethro Tull, blues band? You mean that flute-wielding, tights-wearing, concept album-making, prog band? And lets not forget, winner of the first-ever Grammy for hard rock/metal album (chortle). But yes, dear reader, this was 1968, and every respectable new band in England was in blues, whether it was Fleetwood Mac or the New Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin. So you had Mr. Anderson and crew appearing on the BBC covering Sonny and Brownie, singing "My baby left me, my mule got lame/Lost all my money in a poker game." Plus, he was playing blues harp.

The thing is, they were a very good blues band, and Anderson did take out the flute and make it sound pretty good in that style. About half the songs on this debut album are instrumental, and the fledgling band had a smooth jazz/blues style, which hinted at interesting things in the future. Vocal numbers such as My Sunday Feeling were more modern and melancholy. Others, including Beggar's Farm, had a Mose Allison-meets-Aqualung mix, and allowed for lots of riffing, from both our favourite flautist and the guitar stylings of Mick Abrahams.

This 50th anniversary edition is actually being used to bring This Was in line with the other reissue boxes in the Tull catalogue. When it was first expanded, it was a smaller package, but over the last few years all the '70's records have come out in these excellent small box packages, with several discs and an excellent on-going book treatment, featuring very comprehensive notes and interviews, including most group members and the ever-pithy Anderson. Fans cried for this one to join the club too, and it's an excellent effort, adding even more bonus material. It's now a three-CD, one-DVD set, with plenty of previously unreleased out-takes, versions and BBC sessions, different mono and singles mixes, and a stereo remix by Steven Wilson, whose work has been featured on all the Tull reissues. The DVD has all the digital sound, except that it's only a 4.1 mix rather than 5.1, which bothers some people, but hey, there were only four musicians playing anyway. And purists get the original stereo and mono album mixes too. Interesting, that Anderson was one heck of a good harp player.  But I'd hate to have had him stick to that course, and miss out on Thick As A Brick.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SARAH MACDOUGALL - ALL THE HOURS I HAVE LEFT TO TELL YOU ANYTHING

MacDougall is so talented, she has two countries claiming her; Canada, where she now lives, and her birthplace, Sweden, where she's considered one of the country's best songwriters. Too bad, Swedes, as she now lives way up north in Whitehorse. Of course, between Sweden and the Yukon, she's bound to have people searching for icy and isolated themes, but I'd say there's a lot more warmth to her songwriting, certainly an empathy for humanity. The songs on her fourth album go through the ups and downs of life, from years that seem too long, to moments (like the birth of a child) that go past way too fast. She's not afraid of making big statements, such as "I love you like the sky loves a bird," the kind that make you stop and take in the words.

There's an epic, wide-open feel to the music, which I guess is the most northern aspect to find. If left alone, these would be gentle folk songs, but the grand production from Montreal's Marcus Paquin adds a largeness to the music, to counter the intimacy of her interesting voice, slightly quirky in a Jane Siberry way, and tender too. They even manage a Euro-dance beat in the closer Shed No Tears For Me. Give it up Sweden, we're not letting go of her now.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE KINKS - ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY

Village Green has been reissued before, with bonus tracks galore and in mono/stereo, but this is the most meticulous version, sure to excite fans of this classic 1968 release. BMG has released it as a huge, 11-piece super-deluxe box, with 5 CD's, LP's and 45's, housed in a monster package with memorabilia and a hard-bound book, at $170 bucks. We'll look at the more affordable 2-disc set however, and you crazed fans (well, me) can decide to upgrade later if you want.

Like The Beach Boys at roughly the same period, The Kinks started making their best albums as their popularity plummeted, their pop audience not making the transition from hit 45's to art rock with them. Such were the vagaries of success, the album wasn't celebrated like other classics of the time. Still in the same month we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the White Album, this birthday party will be much more subdued, even though Village Green stands equal if not higher to that set. So be it, it just means more folks may come across this for the first time and be amazed.

The great irony of this album is that we have Ray Davies singing about an England that was fast disappearing, about steam trains and village greens and other institutions, looking back with sadness at boyhood pals and lost girlfriends, going through old photos, and he was all of 24. But we're not quite sure if he's celebrating the old empire days, mocking them or simply catching on to the sea change that was changing his family and all the others. There's lots of winking going on, and by the time the original album closes, with People Take Pictures Of Each Other, he sounds pretty fed up with nostalgia. By the way, that should be the theme song for the selfie generation.

Davies was writing like crazy during this period, and at one point this was going to be a double album. It was also hauled back from the original release, with different tracks added, so there are a ton of bonus cuts to fill up this double CD. There's also the brilliant single Days, surely one of The Kinks' very best, and other associated cuts, with both mono and stereo mixes, so lots to choose from. Although the bulk have come out in the various reissues and box sets, and made up part of the 1973 Great Lost Kinks Album, fans will find some exciting, brand new things here. There's a cut called Time Song which comes from 1973, when Davies was revisiting the Village Green period, with its logical successor, Preservation Act One, which apparently was supposed to have been started right after Village Green but got delayed. At those same sessions, the band recorded brand-new versions of four Village Green numbers, including the title cut, and Picture Book/People Take Pictures Of Each Other in a medley. These are quite different and very fun, with the band now able to afford real horns and stringss and backing singers, and give the songs more of a theatrical approach. This is a real highlight for us well-familiar with the other bonus cuts. For you comers, let in all soak in, and then start saving that 170 bucks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SKYLARKS - ON THE BACK OF THE NEW

L.A. veterans The Skylarks have honed their sound over the course of four albums and lineup changes, moving from more of a singer-songwriter project for original member Sam Mellon to the current Americana focus, more of a band approach. With harmonies and occasional lead vocals from Amy Luftig-Viste, there's a solid guy-gal approach right across the album, which helps it stand out from the majority of roots-rock releases. They're also not afraid to have a trumpet do solos on a couple of tracks, trading off with guitar heroics and driving rhythms.

Lyrics still play a big part for the band, especially in helping set the mood of the songs. On The Back Of The New feels unsettled and mysterious, claustrophobic guitar and synth over lines such as "Laughing with a toxic grin," before a dreamy chorus. No Surrender has a Byrds psychedelic feel with that jazz trumpet back.  Songs that start as small life dramas blossom into twangy West Coast productions. In Centipede feels like the band X if they moved out to Joshua Tree. The Skylarks are one of the those bands you love to brag about to like-minded friends.

Monday, October 29, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KEN TIZZARD - A GOOD DOG IS LOST; A COLLECTION OF RON HYNES SONGS

Lots of musicians can testify to friendship and inspiration from the late Ron Hynes. He was generous with his time and advice, especially for up-and-coming Newfoundland songwriters. Of course, some shared a bit more, including Tizzard who toured with Hynes as his bass player for a time. A member of The Watchmen and Thornley, and now a solo artist, got to know Hynes' songs well, and learn some of what drove their creator.

For the community of musicians, fans, and fellow NL'ers, Hynes' loss is still fresh and keenly felt. It's an album that needed to be made, and heard widely, as Tizzard does Ron right, and does him proud. He's chosen a cross-section of the well-known and lesser-known, but of course they're all gems, every one. He's put his own spin on several of the tracks, nothing too off-kilter, just different arrangements or productions. "Man Of A Thousand Songs" gets a slower take, some are a little more country, and Amelia Curran, another of Hynes' friends, duets on St. John's Waltz. Sonny's Dream is here, how could it not be, and bigger fans will be pleased to hear deep cuts such as 1962 and the title song, as perfect a lyric about the depths of emotion as exists.

Tizzard doesn't overdue anything, nor play it for self-glory. The songs are the stars, he brings the right tone to each one, and lets us sit back and appreciate them once again. The point is to keep the songs in front of audiences, and Tizzard's versions are really worth hearing.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ARKELLS - RALLY CRY

The Arkells take their jobs seriously, and the group is certainly not resting on their now-solid laurels. With album number five, the band is pushing envelopes both lyrically and musically, yet still sounding catchy and exciting.

There's a great deal of empathy across the album, with songs about mental health challenges, people struggling with the crap stuck on them as kids, and friends who are hurting. But there's some new-found anger too, as they found they couldn't hold back from taking aim at what they're witnessing in the U.S. The cut American Screams is like witnessing a nightmare out of the tour bus window: "You keep repeating that wicked catch phrase, painted on the Interstate/All the billboards, they get me lonely/I can't sleep off these American Screams tonight." Later, in People's Champ, they call out Trump for his vanity and worse, and point out we know this ain't going to end well: "I already know how the history books will react."

Even with the heavier topics, the group doesn't let the energy flag, and tries a few new tricks as well. While there's still lots of rock guitar, the beats are bigger this time, and an afro-pop sample drives the single Relentless. Until the final track, the gentle plea to friends who are hurting, the calm Don't Be A Stranger, this is basically a dance party. There's a whole lot of creative confidence going on with Rally Cry, yet it's so fan-friendly, their audience should grow right along with them.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MATT MAYS - TWICE UPON A HELL OF A TIME...

This is a good move for Mays, giving us a different way to appreciate him. He's taken his entire album from 2017 ("Once Upon...") and remade it as an acoustic record. Best known for rocking out, Mays the singer-songwriter sometimes gets lost in the electricity. He'll never be mistaken for Leonard Cohen, but there's lots to appreciate in his plainspoken lyrics, much of it self-examining, and wise through experience.

This is pretty bare bones, although not just acoustic or demo-level. Mays is joined by Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel for a few cuts, Anthony Carone on piano for a couple more, and backing vocalists on most of them, plus hand-and-foot-made percussion. The songs, some of his career best, lose none of the tunefulness, and Mays has a compelling voice that draws us in for a closer listen. Now with the emphasis on the words, we can appreciate a track like Sentimental Sins more, trying to capture love's intensity he tells us "You gotta chase that teenage feeling back to how it used to be." Songs that sound like a party on the electric album are revealed as more conflicted, like Howl At The Night: "I’m at this party they’re all talking too much/I should be home with the wife and two kids in my clutches." The only thing wrong with this idea is that it will now be a struggle to decide which version to play.

Friday, October 26, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE EASLEY QUARTET - THE STARTING POINT VS. THE STEEP DECLINE

Easley first came to acclaim with the East Coast roots/blues group Hot Toddy, earning Maple Blues and ECMA trophies. He also developed a parallel career in jazz that now has his emphasis, most notably in a Halifax trio with Geoff Arsenault and Bill Stevenson, and as the go-to guy when acoustic bass is needed. Now he has this new project with some of the stalwarts of Halifax jazz, in a two-guitar, drums and bass quartet. Mark Adam is the percussionist, while Geordie Haley and Kevin Brunkhorst cover the six strings.

These are all Easley compositions, and mirroring his background, the all-instrumental album certainly falls under a jazz heading, but has lots of elements from other genres peaking through. There are atmospheric moments, including the first couple of minutes of opening track The Dreaming, bowed bass over soft waves before cymbals help find a meditative theme. Thicker grooves and rich guitar tones can be found on other tracks, yet there's certainly a contemplative feel across the album, not ambient but definitely dreamy.

There's lots of fine interplay between the guitars, bass and drums, very controlled, not in a scripted way, but collaboratively, plenty of rises and falls. The guitars are for the most part pretty sweet, but every so often things get a little dirty, a hint of noise and intensity to set a top bar of intensity. All in all, it's really ear-friendly and melodic, and probably great to enjoy live.  That's handy, as there are album launch shows happening in N.S. and N.B. over the next while:

Friday, Oct. 26 - Halifax - 1313 Hollis Street
Saturday, Oct. 27 - Glen Haven, N.S. - Paul's Hall
Friday, Nov. 23 -Saint John, N.B. - BMO Studio Theatre
Saturday, Nov. 24 - St. Andrews, NB - Sunbury Shores (1 pm)
Saturday, Nov. 24 - Fredericton - Wilser's Room (8 pm)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN AKAPO - PARADISE BLUES

Is there Hawaiian blues? Well sure, blues is about what you're feeling, not where you're from. John Akapo lives in Hawaii, his heritage is American Samoan, but actually picked up on the blues when he was growing up in Alaska. He's developed his own idea of the music while working as everything from a luau musician to hip-hop producer so this is definitely his own take on the genre.

Akapo takes his cue from the acoustic Delta blues, with a small group that features lots of slide, a couple of guitars, bass and harmonica. Yes, you can feel the campfire/luau connection in the small group vibe and the laid-back, good-time approach. He has a warm, welcoming voice, lots of character, and reminds me a little of Keb'Mo', a bigger version. He does well on the three covers here, toe-tapping versions of the familiar I Can't Be Satisfied and Ramblin' On My Mind. It's the originals that stand out though, Maui Drive takes us on an Island tour, and describes a fine Hawaiian day. Hindsight (Missionary Blues) is the standout, a solo piece with just ukulele, a too-late warning to about the colonials arriving: "Can you hear them calling? Don't show them how you eat/They don't want what grows there, just the ground beneath." It turns out there is a Hawaiian blues after all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ERIN COSTELO - SWEET MARIE

As explored in the documentary "Sweet Marie: In Studio with Erin Costelo" that aired this year on CBC, Costelo pushed herself to record this album in a mere 10 days. Honestly, if I didn't know that on first listen, you could have told me she worked on this for a decade. Nuanced, dramatic, meticulous, I can't think of another album like it, certainly not an East Coast one at any rate. As with the Halifax songwriter/producer's other four releases, it's a rich soul album. This time though, it's far more mellow and subtle, a moody piece, soulful-emotional.

There's a story here, or a theme, a personal yet universal one about a woman finding confidence and freedom. Costelo's ability to tap into those feelings, both lyrically and musically makes the album a profound statement, while each track pulses with a tight groove. If you want a comparison, think Bill Withers or Roberta Flack, tremendous singers who seemed to feed off the textures in the music, and vice-versa. The core band performs tremendously and in complete lockstep with Costelo and her piano: Leith Fleming-Smith on organ and keys (Matt Mays), her long-time guitarist Clive MacNutt, bass player Anna Ruddick (Bry Webb, Sarah MacDougall) and drummer Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo).

There are a couple of more uptempo numbers here, including first single Lights Down Low and All In Your Head, and I certainly wouldn't suggest it's a slow, or ballad-heavy album. It's intense for one thing, in its depth of emotion and the sheer power of its beauty at times. The arrangements alone are enough to keep you riveted, especially the strings on tracks such as Epilogue and the closer and lone cover, Randy Newman's I'll Be Home. It's so rare to hear a contemporary album made in such an uncompromising way. It seems unburdened by those old commercial considerations, of will it sell? Is there a single for radio? A big-name guest star? Instead, it feels like a fully executed artistic statement.

Erin Costelo is launching the album with a series of dates including the following:

Wednesday, Oct 24 - Cavalry United Church, Kingston, ON
Thursday, Oct 25 - Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, Montreal
Thursday, Nov 1 - Marigold Cultural Centre, Truro, NS
Friday, Nov 2 - Sanctuary Theatre - Saint John, NB
Saturday, Nov 3 - Pourhouse - Charlottetown
Wednesday, Nov 7 - Lane’s Privateer Inn - Liverpool, NS
Thursday, Nov 8 - Fort Massey United Church - Halifax
Saturday, Nov 10 - Evergreen Theatre - Margaretsville, NS

Monday, October 22, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SAM ROBERTS - WE WERE BORN IN A FLAME (Anniversary Edition)

The debut album from Sam Roberts, a band, don't forget, named after the singer-songwriter, confusing I know. They eventually changed it to Sam Roberts Band to make things easier. That didn't stop the excitement 15 years ago, when this album went double-platinum and won three Junos, Album, Artist and Rock Album of the Year. To me it always feels like the last of the great Canadian guitar albums, or at least the end of an era.

Maybe it's that turn-of-the-century vibe, with hip-hop, alternative, electro, Idol winners, pop disguised as country, everything else flourishing from that point on, that We Were Born In A Flame feels rather forgotten in the time since. Perhaps this deluxe will remind a few folks of its importance. It is a heck of an album, loaded with recent hits from the band (Brother Down, Don't Walk Away Eileen), new ones (Where Have All The Good People Gone?, Hard Road) and no shortage of strong album tracks.

Roberts had first broken through the year before with The Inhuman Condition EP, which had shockingly managed to go gold and made national stars of the group. It was essentially a set of demos, so good they just got rush-released. Entering the studio with producer Brenndan McGuire (Sloan, By Divine Right), there were no shortage of other grand ones, including Taj Mahal and Every Part Of Me, showing a more contemplative side to the rockers. The group could also work a groove into a great track, The Canadian Dream not much more than four lines, but strong ones: "S.O.C.I.A.L.I.S.M. is here to stay," a track that deserves to be blasted across the border as part of the trade wars. The only minor criticism I have of the original album is the length. It's nearly an hour and 15 tracks, which feels about two too long, but of course length was still an issue in those CD days.

This reissue features a second disc (or third on LP), made up of seven cut. There are more demos from that initial bunch, and three extra tracks left over from the album sessions. Compared to the length of the alum, that feels a little slight, and I suggest it might have been more interesting to include The Inhuman Condition EP in full, plus all the demos in one place, for comparison's sake. Then again, it would really just show how ready the group was. It's certainly one of the best Canadian album debuts ever.

Friday, October 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: T. BUCKLEY - MILES WE PUT BEHIND

Easy-going. That's the feel of Alberta singer-songwriter T. Buckley's fourth album. Not easy listening, no, not that derogatory term for old-style popular crooners. Easy-going, as in friendly, pleasant, easy to enjoy, good-natured and natural. Buckley straddles all the roots genres, a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, the songs coming at you with toe-tapping tempos and singalong melodies, making you relax and feel just fine.

There's nothing light about what he's doing though. Songs this easy to understand and enjoy are crafted and polished, every thought precise and each line a little gem. Take this scene at the local hangout, from Twilight Diner: "Shining up the counter, the coffee starts to flow, a nightly congregation gathers in the glow." Already you can picture the characters and setting. You don't know what's coming, but you're ready to hang on every word. Or how about this admission, from rural life: "I'm just a rock stuck in the country, trying to be a rolling stone."

Buckley has the catchy melodies of the '70's era singer-songwriters, when writers like James Taylor and Cat Stevens ruled, and the succinct writing of the later Texas school, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. But the one he really reminds me of on this record is Jesse Winchester, who also never failed to put the song in songwriter.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LINDSAY BEAVER - TOUGH AS LOVE

From the ashes of the much-loved 24th Street Wailers comes the debut from lead singer/drummer Lindsay Beaver. The Halifax native has now departed for Austin, and tapped into the rich roots there, resulting in this dramatic and sizzling set. It features a nasty '50's deep R'n'B vibe, along with a little bit rockabilly, and on opener You're Evil, some Howlin' Wolf, albeit with one truly raunchy guitar solo.

Beaver does much of the writing, along with some choice covers including Art Neville's Let's Rock. The Little Willie John number You Hurt Me proves a great showcase for her rich voice, and when she's not drumming too wildly, she can put tons of emotion into a deep blues like that. This album sees her signed to the esteemed Alligator label, and they've put a lot of faith in her, letting her produce this label debut herself, using her new band for most of the music.  Guitar player Brad Stivers proofs quite a weapon, with lots of strong Texas licks and a good-time duet vocal on Don't Be Afraid Of Love. Beaver has put her own vocals in '50's setting, with a bit of echo and a bit off-mic, the better to let her wail.

She has lots of room to show off her drumming as well, with many of the songs driving hard, including the blistering Oh Yeah, a punkish rockabilly number that comes in at under two minutes. She counters that with a cover of Angela Strehli's down and pitiful blues Lost Cause, another tune where Beaver connects sorrow with passionate vocals. It's hard to pick favourites here, as every track is a stand-out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KEITH MULLINS - ONWARD & UPWARD

Oh, what to do if you're Cape Breton's Mullins, and feel comfortable in so many songwriting styles? Pop, folk, country, a little hip-hop, heck, even a children's choir shows up in his music. The solution is this double album collection, loosely separated into one pop set (Onward) and the other (Upward) more on the folk/country side, although there's plenty of blending back and forth.

The pop set has a more beats, bells and whistles, for the most part supplied by Halifax producer Jason Mingo (Meaghan Smith). This sounds completely in character for Mullins, with his smooth, higher-pitched vocals and lots of great harmonies. Songs such as For Tonight have excellent melodies, and lots of upbeat warmth. Lightning Strikes moves into some R'n'B, and grooves along enough to hit the dance floor. And the collaboration king, Classified himself, takes the producer chair for Free Falling On A Feeling. It's one of those hybrid country/hip-hop tracks, complete with Duane "D.O." Gibson's bridge raps, but still with room for harmonica bites.

So it's already a programmer's nightmare, but who cares except them? It all sounds great no matter what genre you try to stuff it into. Free Falling On A Feeling alone would sit well on pop, country and urban playlists. And that's just the first half. Over on the Upward side, you get Mullins' more story-telling material, and a whole different kind of production. This is roots-oriented, starting out with the fiddle-driven cut Love Will Conquer All, but with a rock 'n' roll organ and rhythm, a barn-burner. You get more life snapshots here, like Howlin' At The Moon, a true tale of young Mr. Mullins and his crew painting a Sydney train bridge one wild night (rotten kids). And more kids, these ones good, show up on Where The Rivers Meet The Ocean, this time the school choir from Tatamagouche, who help explain that's the translation of their town's name. That one comes out as a gorgeous folk anthem.

Onward & Upward are going out to fans now digitally on his website at a special price, or you can pre-order a double-vinyl copy now, for when they become available at shows and stores in November. You early birds get the honour of getting your name in the thank-you credits.

Monday, October 15, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - LOVING THE ALIEN (1983 - 1988)

It was great having Bowie become a huge star in 1983 with Let's Dance, the biggest he'd ever been, at least in North America. It was very catchy music but still retained some of the edge and smarts of his adventurous, late '70's music. It was great, yes, but also it was about the worst thing for artistic output. After nearly two decades of struggling with the financial side, even during the Ziggy years, he finally had a huge album and tour bringing in lots of wealth, and that must have felt good So good, he spend the rest of the decade trying to give those new pop fans more of the same. It's an old story, but it felt even more disappointing coming from Bowie, who had always been an innovator first, not someone trying to stay at the top of the pops.

If you're keen to write off the entire decade, first I'd suggest going back to Let's Dance, enjoy the groove of the first side of the album, then hit Ricochet, which contains all the experimental wordplay and off-kilter music of anything on Scary Monsters, but still has a great groove courtesy of the production work of Nile Rodgers. It did truly feel like Bowie had found the magic formula to combine success with art. Turns out it was part poison, and he drank deeply.

So it falls to this boxed set to try to reclaim the rest of the '80's music, and make it seem as valuable as the previous three box sets that covered the glorious '70's. Times had changed in the music industry, which meant that instead of an album a year, Bowie only did three studio albums, plus lots of soundtrack cuts and a couple of tour videos (on VHS, remember that?). Tonight, the too-hasty followup to Let's Dance, is just too troubled to rehabilitate, so the compilers have attempted to change our opinions on the other set, 1987's Never Let Me Down.

That album sold a bunch, which initially pleased Bowie, and led to his year-long, massive world tour called Glass Spider. But it wasn't long before he echoed the poor reviews, and started trash-talking the album, ultimately using it as an example of how he'd lost his way. His dissatisfaction led to the formation of Tin Machine, a complete left turn from the synth-pop he'd been doing.

Bowie blamed himself for not caring or being involved enough in the production, and that he'd let the songs down, that they weren't the problem. To partially prove his point, he had engineer Mario McNulty remix a track in 2008 for a compilation, liking it much better, and wishing he could do the whole album. So with that pre-posthumous blessing, McNulty was brought back for that, and more. Instead of simply remixing the tracks, he jettisoned much of the original music, and brought in players from later in Bowie's career, such as Reeves Gabrels from Tin Machine, and his long-time drummer Sterling Campbell. Using Bowie's original vocals and some of the original parts, brand-new versions of the songs were made, usually quite different. As well some buried parts were brought to the front, and the biggest change was removing the dated synth sounds, replacing them with real strings.

Without getting into the morality of this, there's little question that the end result is better. They do make it easy for you, including both versions of the album. In short, the tracks are a lot less shrill and oppressive, there's more space in them, and the mix is far livelier. I'd disagree that these are great songs, but such tracks as Beat Of The Drum, Zeroes, Time Will Crawl and Day-in, Day-Out have their charms. Shining Star (Makin' My Love) still isn't much of a toe-tapper, even though the horrid rap by Bowie and actor Mickey Rourke has been tossed, replaced by a new spoken word bit by friend Laurie Anderson.

Still, the whole Glass Spider concept was overblown, part Bowie cliche (umm, spiders again?) and the rest cheesy, narration always a bad idea on rock albums. It was conceived to fit the huge stage show he designed, which was certainly adventurous. There was a dance troupe, acting lines, narration, a spider several floors tall, one of the very first uses of wireless headset mics, a flying Bowie, and all performed in massive outdoor stadiums and giant indoor bowls. I've seen the video, it was still hokey live too, and the emphasis on the theatrics, costumes and set took away from the songs themselves.

Included in this box is the live concert, two CD's worth recorded at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Having just audio makes some of it confusing (the talky bits), and like the album, the music is too glossy, even the old favourites such as Fame and The Jean Genie. Better is the other live set here, two discs from the Let's Dance show, Bowie at the height of his success. In addition to the obvious hits from that album (China Girl, Modern Love), there's a full set of greatest hits, plus some edgier material just to keep the crowds honest. It's head-and-shoulders more enjoyable than Glass Spider.

Like the previous three Bowie boxes, there are also discs that collect the various off-album cuts, from singles, soundtracks and the like. These have been disappointing in the past, as they've been filled with minutiae such as radio edits of 45's. This time, while those are there, also included are cuts from the soundtracks to Absolute Beginners and Labyrinth, where Bowie did several non-single tracks, and a couple of very rare b-sides not included in other compilations.

I admit I originally felt this box would be tough to enjoy, given the two spotty studio albums, but really, they've done the trick, turned it into something worthy. For all its flaws, there are highlights to the Bowie story in the '80's. And despite the sacrilege, maybe more albums need to be saved in the manner of Never Let Me Down.

Friday, October 12, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KAT DANSER - GOIN' GONE

The Alberta blues singer/songwriter gets deep and rich on her fifth album, with a set of songs that reach back decades for their Southern feel, yet feature a solid, modern smartness. Working with producer Steve Dawson and his cast of roots stalwarts, the ensemble swings throughout, while letting Danser's rich, smooth voice shine. She has a really mellow tone in a lower register, which works very well with the woody grooves the band cooks up.

Some of her tunes are in homage to classic styles, including Memphis, Tennessee, which could be a theme song or travelogue anthem for the city, with Dawson's slide and Jim Hoke's harp leading the way. Her cover of Sam McGhee' Chevrolet Blues has a great country blues swing to it, with fiddle from Matt Combs. But she also offers her own modern takes, Kansas City Blues set in a snowstorm, our singer "broke, worn and tired", but definitely in the 21st century. For all the rich history Danser calls on, her other foot is equally planted in today's melting pot of blues and roots.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JERRY LEGER - YOU, ME AND THE HORSE

Well this is a nice birthday present. Not mine, it's for one of Jerry's kids. His debut album, You, Me And The Horse, has just turned ten, and he's celebrating in a couple of ways. His touring through the Maritimes, and he's reissued the album digitally with a previously-unreleased bonus cut.

The track is called Beating The Storm, and features Jerry's vivid scene-setting, and warm vocals, an outtake from the album sessions that never got past the acoustic guitar point, but sounds all the more authentic for it, a touch on the Dylan-Blood On The Tracks era quality. You, Me and The Horse helped Jerry break out of the Toronto scene to a national audience. It was produced by Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers and Tim Bovaconti (Ron Sexsmith, Burton Cummings), and was part of the wave of acoustic/roots Toronto music that caught my attention at that time. Jerry's come through every album since, one of the best young troubadours in the land. His most recent is Nonsense And Heartache, produced by Cowboy Junkies' Michael Timmins.

Jerry's hitting the road with drummer Kyle Sullivan in tow for a couple of weeks in the Maritimes, before heading overseas for a few European dates. Catch him before his continental excursion at:

Oct. 12 - Grimross, Fredericton
Oct. 13 - Townhouse Brewpub, Antigonish, N.S.
Oct. 16 - The Carleton, Halifax
Oct. 17 - The Port Grocer, Port Medway, N.S.
Oct. 18 - Five and Dime, Saint John, N.B.
Oct. 19 - Union Street, Berwick, N.S.
Oct. 20 - Trailside Cafe, Mount Stewart, P.E.I.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN LENNON - IMAGINE DELUXE, JOHN & YOKO - IMAGINE/GIMME SOME TRUTH (Blu-ray)

While the big excitement of Beatle fans this fall is the upcoming reissue of the White Album, all done up in Super Deluxe ways, this Lennon number will please a lot of fans too. The 1971 album includes his most-loved solo song, a bona fide classic, and certainly gets some votes as his best. It's a good cross-section of everything he did; there's protest, anger, love songs and unflinching self-examination. In addition to the title cut, it includes the lovely Jealous Guy, the raging Gimme Some Truth, and the bitter How Do You Sleep?, his scathing attack on ex-pal Paul, its pettiness saying more about the singer than the subject. Such was Lennon in the '70's, all raw nerves and honesty, warts (lots of them) and all.

A ton of work has gone into this major excavation of the tape vaults and sessions for Imagine, and the many hours of film shot at the same time. The Super Deluxe box has four CD's and two Blu-ray discs of audio, brand-new transfers from the master tapes, newly mixed to improve the clarity and separation, and highlight Lennon's voice. These "Ultimate" mixes are warm and close, one of the best examples of giving the impression you're right in the studio. There are no unheard out-takes from the sessions, but for bonus cuts, associated single cuts from the time period are here, including Power To The People, and a new mix of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) that is much less muddy that the version we're used to hearing each Christmas.

The rest of the music, whether it's the multi-disc box or the two-disc version, features various takes of the evolution of each song, from demos to early studio attempts to highlighted parts. That last feature is especially nice on the "Elements Mix" versions, which have such gems as just John's vocals for Oh My Love, only the wonderful strings for Imagine, and a piano-bass-drums track for Jealous Guy. There are some striking demos, including the first--ever Imagine, just John on piano, and Lennon and Yoko singing Oh Yoko! on holiday in Bahamas in 1969. The biggest fans will love all these insights, but there's several versions of each song, so you'll have to decide how much of a fan you are, and spend accordingly.

Also brand new is a Blu-ray (sold separately) that includes both films made from the footage collected during the sessions. Originally intending just to make a proto-video of the recordings, John and Yoko kept shooting little ideas each day, and released they had enough for what became the 70-minute movie Imagine. It featured no dialogue, just scenes with the two of them doing silly things, set to songs from his album, and Ono's current one, Fly. Like the great majority of folks, I'm no fan of Ono's music, so that's a distraction. So is the overall avant-garde approach, with scenes stretched out to fill the length of songs, including a segment of the two of them playing chess with all white pieces, an anti-war statement apparently, why do we fight when we're all the same? Being famous, the couple managed to convince Fred Astaire, Jack Palance and Dick Cavett to do cameos. George Harrison looks less impressed.

No wonder the footage was reclaimed into something far more interesting in the Andrew Solt-directed Gimme Some Truth, a Grammy-winner from 2000. This is a much better use of the film, as a straight-forward making-of about the Imagine album. And there is good stuff here, including the famous shot of Lennon singing Imagine at the white piano, and lots of really good studio performances. Even Phil Spector looks normal here, modestly producing instead of his notorious personality on display. It's actually Lennon with the bad behaviour, snapping at a confused, slow-acting engineer, letting that infamous prickly side get out. But the scene of him teaching session pianist Nicky Hopkins how Imagine goes, hearing him admit he likes that song the best of his new ones, well, that's history right there. Watch the original Imagine film once to remind yourself how off-putting the couple often were, and watch Gimme Some Truth a couple of times to soak in this unique time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LONGBRANCH/PENNYWHISTLE

Two of the most successful songwriters of the 20th century got together in L.A. in 1970 for this album, and it sold ...squat. Of course, this was a bit before either J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey became hitmakers, but they were an early part of the blooming Los Angeles country-rock community. Frey left to join The Eagles, Souther went solo (and partnered in the Souther/Hillman/Furay band) but they stayed BFF's, co-writing many of the Eagles' hits. Souther also wrote with Frey's friends too, including Don Henley and Bob Seger (Heartache Tonight). Plus he had songs on Linda Ronstadt's albums, partnered with James Taylor (Her Town Too) and had his own smash, You're Only Lonely, so he didn't begrudge Frey's huge break with The Eagles, he was doing just fine.

This album was simply just ahead of its time. The songs are good, the close harmonies really nice, and the playing is really A-1. That's because they got to use some of the very best L.A. players, including two of the very best guitar players of our day, James Burton and Ry Cooder. Larry Knechtel handled piano, just after he played the legendary part on Bridge Over Troubled Water. Then there's Jim Gordon on drums, Buddy Emmons on steel, Doug Kershaw on fiddle and Joe Osborn on bass. This is one of the best bands, like, ever. That explains why this sounds so polished now, and leads one to question how this missed.

The answer is simple enough, it was a tiny label and country flavours were still being treated with skepticism by rock fans and confusion at radio, which like pop, rock and country to be separate. It would take Ronstadt and ironically, The Eagles, to change all that in a couple of years. These are especially strong and catchy numbers, along the lines of Take It Easy, and would probably surprise a lot of Byrds/Burritos/Great Speckled Bird fans looking for another good listen from that period.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE TOWN HEROES - EVERYTHING (Will Be Fine When We Get To Where We Think We're Going)

Everybody's favourite music/fun duo is now twice as big, and arguably twice as musical with this gem of a new album. It's the first album as a four-piece, with guitarist Mike Ryan and drummer Bruce Gillis now joined by Aaron Green on more guitar, and Tori Cameron playing bass. The results are obvious on this album, with its thickened sound and wider scope.

The songs are filled with beautiful guitars, great ringing notes over big pulsing washes or strong chords. It's a post-New Wave sound, energetic, melodic and very urgent, each song filled with drama and the feeling there's something important being passed on. Topping all this is the passionate voice of Ryan, often at the top end of his register. He ups the ante on songs such as Only One, as he grows more intense as the song progresses, matched by the sharp guitar lines and Gillis' increased punch. It's crazy-danceable, hypnotic and haunting all at the same time, even euphoric in places.

The two-piece Town Heroes were charming and solid. Judging the results of the first four-piece album, now they're bigger and better. Check out the release shows coming up at:

Oct. 12 - The Seahorse Tavern, Halifax
Oct. 13 - The Cave, Sydney, N.S.
Oct. 19 - Hunter's Ale House, Charlottetown
Oct. 20 - Glasgow Square, New Glasgow, N.S.
Oct. 26 - Pepper's Pub, Saint John, N.B.
Oct. 27 - Plan B, Moncton, N.B.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - WAITING FOR THE SUN 50th ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION

Waiting For The Sun hasn't had the best reputation over these 50 years, but a lot of that has to do with the back story as much as what got put on the record. Reacting badly to his fame and fan reaction to his image, Jim Morrison showed up drunk to the sessions, and some of the energy of the group's first two albums was missing. Also, they'd exhausted their stage repertoire of proven material, and had to stretch for more. Famously, Morrison was unable to come up with a usable version of his new epic, The Celebration Of The Lizard, supposed to be a full album side, which instead got truncated to the unmemorable smaller cut Not To Touch The Earth. To make up for the shortfalls, the band returned to some old 1965 demos for cuts to record.

Lucky. That's where they found and reworked the cut Hello, I Love You, a huge hit that helped propel the album to the top of the charts. And there were other major songs, especially The Unknown Soldier and Five To One, the latter including the memorable line "No One Here Gets Out Alive." And it's not like the rest of the album was junk, as cuts such as Love Street and Spanish Caravan enjoyable. It's just that they weren't The End.

For this edition, original engineer Bruce Botnick has overseen a brand new stereo remaster of the album, and provided detailed notes on the improved sound. There's also a new 180-gram pressing for you vinyl hounds. The bonus audio has been changed from the 40th anniversary edition, which included the several working and discarded versions of The Celebration Of The Lizard, plus an instrumental, examples of the failed work. This time, Botnick has found an old tape of rough mixes they did at the time, which are much more enjoyable, showing a few elements that were long buried, and a little more roughness to the tracks. Nine of the final eleven cuts are included. Also, a tape has surfaced of part of a show in Copenhagen in August of 1968. The fidelity is pretty rough, it's only mono, but historically it's pretty interesting, with versions of the new cuts Hello, I Love You, Five To One and The Unknown Soldier being unveiled, as well as the favourite blues Back Door Man, and a recitation of the poem (not the song) The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). All in all, this set goes a long way to improving the image of Waiting For The Sun.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BOB MARLEY - KAYA 40th ANNIVERSARY

Well, what to do with the Bob Marley catalogue? All his major albums have been reissued not once, not twice, but now three times in the dying CD era, but there's still demand for new editions, especially when those magic anniversary dates show up. For Kaya, his biggest chart success of his regular albums (excluding the mega-selling Legend collection, of course), it's the big 4-0, and labels are loathe to pass that by. But it's already had a bonus track added one time, and a whole live album including last time. And it's not like there were a lot of out-takes, since the friggin' album was made up of leftovers in the first place, as Marley had recorded way too much for the previous album, Exodus, and scrapped this together a few months later.

That leaves the riskiest option, the remix. Risky, because unless you really mess around with the tracks, people will just say, 'Why bother?' And when you do start deconstructing and dramatically changing things, you open the results to criticism from purists. The Marley family however hasn't shied away from such projects, allowing outsiders to come in for attempts, and letting the kids have their way with the original masters as well. In this case, it's son Stephen doing the project.

For those without the original album, it's included on disc one, with Stephen's remixes on the second. As for the original, it has a spotty reputation. Coming off the wildly successful Exodus, which solidified Marley as the crusading Third World superstar, Kaya sold great, but let down lots for its lack of political and social material. That had all gone on Exodus, and Kaya was meant to show the more easy-going side of Bob. These were love and relationship songs, plus a couple about ganja. including the title cut. It's best known for the charming Is This Love, certainly a grand track, but there's really nothing else that reaches that lofty grade. Two of the cuts are remakes of his early, pre-star Jamaican hits, Sun Is Shining, and Satisfy My Soul, and don't better the originals. However, these are all done with his great later band, and the easy feel of the album is enjoyable, if not exactly inspiring or a call to revolution.

The remixes are pretty major, with the younger Marley going back to the session tapes, and finding old demo vocals, then matching those with different takes than the final versions, often at different tempos. So rather than the usual studio effects and buried parts brought up, what we have are essentially all-new versions. So, better? Hmm, different, most of them. He leaves This Is Love pretty much alone, but a track like Crisis gets a different feel altogether. My main problem is that on a few tracks, the lead vocal from Bob now sounds odd; for some reason he was singing strangely, and the best I can do to describe it is to say it sounds a little like Adam Sandler singing Marley. That's disconcerting, right? That's how I felt. While Stephen has brightened the sound, I miss the old-school echo and more spacious mix of the originals.

The overall idea of the remix album doesn't offend me. Experiment away, next generations, as long as the original is nearby for reference and to avoid rewriting history. But in the end, I don't think this attempt adds much to our appreciation, and I'd advise finding the version with the live album instead. This set is also available as a two-album collection on vinyl.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS - LOVE JUNK DELUXE

Thirty years on, Love Junk sounds just as good, if not better. Better, because we can appreciate what a remarkable achievement it was and how much it outpaces most other music of that year. This baby holds up, outside of trends and techniques. It rocks, rocks a lot. And it's well-written, both lyrically and musically, great blasting pop songs with smart and fun lyrics. Dig it out again, or get this expanded deluxe reissue, and you'll be surprised.

It's the home of THAT song, I'm An Adult Now, the insanely catchy and buzz-worthy cut that won the band much coveted airplay on MuchMusic at the height of its power. Cut as an indie single and self-produced video, the band went from nothing to national heroes, and even sparked a U.S. bidding war for their services. Signing with Chrysalis Records, Moe Berg was asked who he'd like as a producer, and in the same way one might blurt out "George Martin" or "Quincy Jones", he named Todd Rundgren. To this day, Rundgren calls Love Junk one of the very best albums he ever did, and he did Bat Out Of Hell and We're An American Band and a whole bunch of other million-sellers. By all accounts it was a perfect relationship, Rundgren making the young group sound great, but leaving their unique qualities intact. letting them play much like a live band.

After THAT song, there's not a weak track on the album, and very little similarity among the cuts. Just think of the three best-known cuts; Adult, She's So Young and Hard To Laugh, each with a completely different tempo and structure. This is a master class in songwriting, How To Mix It Up. Then there's the connective material, the stuff that defines the band. What always stands out to me is the vocals, Berg's everyman delivery along with the slightly off-kilter harmonies from Kris Abbott and Leslie Stanwick. There are great dynamics, with choruses that slap and shine, huge sugary blasts that last. It's super-punchy and sneaky loud.

Well, I could go on, it's one of my favourite Canadian albums and yours too, eventually going platinum. This anniversary edition adds a second CD worth of more excellent cuts, including finished cuts not used on the album but completely worthy, some pre-Todd demos, live cuts and the renowned first version of I'm An Adult Now, the hit single take. There's also a very good booklet featuring memories from all the band members, written by long-time fan, Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild. The band still does occasional dates, which rock of course, so catch 'em if you can.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JW-JONES - LIVE

Jones is a sneaky fellow. He plays it pretty cool on the first couple of numbers in this live set, some easy-going, good time cuts, no guitar heroics. But then, on I Don't Believe A Word You Say, he absolutely shreds, tearing a new F-hole in his guitar. Then he turns Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' At Midnight into something new, a little bit of a Hendrix-psych excursion.

Guitar's only part of Jones' show, as he proves on this album recorded in Gatineau. He throws a big mixed bag of a party, from the jump blues of B.B. King's Early Every Morning to the vocal R'n'B of The "5" Royales' Catch That Teardrop. He even finds a groove for Dylan's Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, one of the 11 previously-unreleased songs by Jones found here.

The album closes with a show-stopper, a wonderful medley of iconic guitar riffs, some 17 that everyone knows, from Hawaii Five-O to Day Tripper to Oh Pretty Woman. Best of all, Jones manages to bring the fun and fireworks from the club stage right to through to your home, definitely not an easy trick.

Monday, October 1, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TOM PETTY - AN AMERICAN TREASURE

As Benmont Tench explains in the liner notes to this four CD collection, there was much more to Petty than Free Fallin' and Refugee and Runnin' Down A Dream, and his friends and family want the world to hear it. Compiled by Petty's longtime bandmates Mike Campbell and Tench, plus his daughter and wife, the set is all about love. I'm not being trite about that, the liner notes and track-by-track comments make that perfectly clear. The goal is to allow fans to find new sides to Petty, and to focus on exceptional music that has perhaps been glossed over by most in favour of the hits.

To do that, the group (essentially his family) has chosen tracks from several different sources. Of major note is the inclusion of a handful of previously unreleased tracks, completed songs that for minor reasons were left off albums. Without a doubt, each of these is of the high quality expected of Petty albums. There are no throw-aways and certainly no duds. That includes the powerful opener Surrender, a long-time live favourite first recorded in 1976, that was used to open the group's early concerts. Again quoting Tench about why it never made an album, "I don't know what we were thinking." More such cuts follow, including an unissued single from the pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, and songs from sessions for albums such as Long After Dark, Echo and Hypnotic Eye. There's about an album's worth of such material here, and if that alone had been released, it would be considered a major addition to Petty's legacy.

There are plenty of new live tracks included, again from all over his career. These have been chosen for their intensity, emotion, and for radically different arrangements. One of the very first live versions of Listen To Her Heart comes from a radio station, small audience recording, and it's a treat to hear the group still having to fight to prove themselves. I Won't Back Down is offered in an acoustic stage version, highlighting the harmonies. Insider, from 2006, features guest vocals from Stevie Nicks, who had joined the tour. There are lots of live Petty albums, EP's and tracks out there already, but these different versions add a lot to appreciate his varied stage shows.

In addition to unused studio cuts, Petty and the group also tended to work through songs in more than one arrangement, finally settling on the one to make the final list. There are quite a few alternate versions, including the track Don't Fade One Me from Wildflowers, here presented with Mike Campbell doing a lot of fingerpicking throughout. Rebels, in an early version, has a bigger sound, more drums and a more rocking take. A string section on You're Gonna Get It is moved up in the mix on the version here, making it quite different in the Petty catalogue. And some wrongs have been righted from the '80's, as several cuts with added, dated effects like drum samples have been stripped off, returning the songs to the more organic band versions first cut.

Lastly, the compilers picked a bunch of album cuts from over the years to highlight, definitely not the well-known numbers, but examples of what they believe feature the very best qualities, especially focusing on Petty's songwriting. Yes, fans will own them already, but they really fit the flow, and remind us all of the ongoing excellence, especially from the later, lesser-heard records. Money Becomes King from 2002's The Last DJ is a great example of his storytelling, how he'd take a character and tell a wise tale, giving us a good look at his morals and true heart. While these songs have gone under the radar in his career, their excellence shines in this format.

There are plenty of more takes, live concerts, unreleased songs and even more angles to study still left over. I have the feeling it will never feel like scraping the bottom of the barrel, as Petty and his bandmates approached each song and each concert with great respect, for the art and for the tradition of rock 'n' roll bands. And the commitment to respect his music is obviously at the heart of this release. As Benmont Tench says in the notes, his heart is as broken as everyone else's.  It was one year ago today that Petty died, and it's still just as painful a realization. This helps me deal with that loss.

Friday, September 28, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JIMMY RANKIN - MOVING EAST

Wake the kids, phone the neighbours, and cue up the Mull River Shuffle, Jimmy Rankin's back in town. The hit-making songdog has had it with living in Nashville, and has moved back to Nova Scotia. He's celebrating with this all-East Coast collection, brand-new songs with the feel and themes of the Maritimes. To top it off, it was made in downtown Dartmouth with Joel Plaskett producing, and a top-tier lineup of Atlantic Canada's best musicians.

What's not to like about that idea? And what's not to love about this album, certainly his best-ever solo collection, and some of the best songwriting he's done as well, and I'll stand on main street Mabou and shout Fare Thee Well Love at anybody who disagrees. It's loose like a kitchen party and just as lively, and features story-songs about good times and sad, with home at the core of it all. There are tall tales, such as Haul Away The Whale, basically a road trip around Cape Breton, while Down At The Shore could only come from an East Coast fishing village, where a storm's hit hard, "a real trap-smasher."

Plaskett was an inspired choice, a guy who knows both rock and folk, and he adds a vibrancy (and some choice harmonies) to Rankin's signature sound, steering him back home after some more mainstream country albums. The party really got going when the friends dropped by, local monsters such as J.P. Cormier (banjo, mandolin), Bill Stevenson (piano), Geoff Arsenault (drums), Hilda Chiasson (piano) and Ashley MacIsaac on fiddle, natch. Those last two join Rankin for a down-home, real Cape Breton medley of reels to close the album called Dirt n' Potatoes, done just like they used to make 'em, sitting around one mic and letting fly.

Welcome back to Nova Scotia, Jimmy. It suits you better.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ARETHA FRANKLIN - THE ATLANTIC SINGLES COLLECTION 1967 - 1970

This collection was in production before Franklin's death, so no, it's not the quick cash-in. While the Queen of Soul gave us a lifetime of musical highlights, this is undeniably her peak, a string of superior 45's that never wavered in excellence. Not only that, the B-sides were often as good, and occasionally better. Smartly, this two-CD set includes both A and B-sides from the 17 singles recorded in these years.

It starts with her debut for Atlantic Records, when the company sent her to Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama to record with the famed Swampers rhythm section. While the sessions were cut short due to some weird drama involving her then-husband, the results were spectacular, the Southern-flavoured I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) and Do Right Woman - Do Right Man. After spending the '60's struggling with repertoire and style on Columbia Records, now Franklin had the freedom to stretch and let loose. She returned to New York for more recording, but the Swampers were flown in at great expense to continue the magic.

What followed was a complete conquering of soul music. In truth, she wasn't just the Queen, she was the King too. With her amazing skills as an arranger, and her ability to use the excitement of Gospel in her performances, as well as jazz underpinnings, Franklin set fire to the genre. She took Otis Redding's Respect, a song where he was begging for it, and turned it into an anthem where she was demanding it. Goffin and King's A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) was a statement of ownership, letting the world know she was in charge of her own emotions and sexuality. Her own song, Think, expressed freedom from the tired roles placed on African-American, and all, women. And her Spirit In The Dark saw her leaning back towards the church, which was always her backbone.

Given the constant flow of 45's and albums a new hit every two or three months, Franklin turned to covers for much of her material. She was unafraid of tackling recent hits by others, and often outdid the original. Her version of Bacharach/David's I Say A Little Prayer, already a tremendous but gentle song by Dionne Warwick, became another powerhouse for her, a classic that even overshadowed the A-side, the excellent The House That Jack Built. Her Beatles covers were not quite as superior, although it was pretty impossible to better Eleanor Rigby and Let It Be, but she certainly held her own. The Weight wasn't quite right for her, but hey, it's got Duane Allman playing lead so it's still pretty darn great.

Franklin had more hits through the start of the '70's, and this doesn't tell the whole story, but for two CD's it's about as excellent as possible. By the mid-'70's, even Aretha fell victim to the advent of funk and then disco, before The Blues Brothers movie, of all things, brought her back and expanded classic soul's reach into the white record-loving fan base. The fact that her passing was treated with such sincere respect is a testament to the fire found in these three years of music.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL MCCARTNEY - EGYPT STATION

Paul McCartney is always competing. He's competing for hits, always wanting to get a song on the charts, for his album to hit the top, to sell out his shows. Good for him, he's always trying to prove he's still got it, and to win your affection once again. He sure gives us what we want, still touring, still playing Beatles hits, doing all sorts of TV work, and that simply wonderful Carpool Karaoke video. All that hard work is paying off of course, giving him his highest profile in many years. The concerts are selling great, the album went to #1, although that's not that big a deal in this day. The only thing that hasn't worked are the new singles, which have proved duds. All in all though, he's got the social media profile of a Drake or Rihanna, and that's the real measure of popularity these days.

Actually, the only person McCartney is truly competing against is himself. He obviously craves the fame, and knows the insane levels just a precious few have reached. He always seems to want to get close to Beatlemania again, or be the most respected musician in the world, the Sgt. Pepper Paul, or to be biggest ex-Beatle, from the 1976 Wings tour. I will leave it up to the psychologists to decide what that says about him, but I know what it means for the albums. He tries really hard, and lately it's meant some truly great music for fans. Not all of it, but a large amount.

Every new McCartney album gets tagged as the best one he's done since, oh, Band On The Run or something, and it's important not to get trapped by that tired review. McCartney has a habit of sabotaging his own albums by overthinking and overworking them, swapping producers and following trends, then second-guessing his own instincts and recording more material than needed. Usually that results in bad singles he's trying to push, the one area where he's most out of touch, and probably the one place he's most desperate to conquer. And once again, that's the reason this isn't the best McCartney album since Band On The Run, or Flowers In The Dirt, and it isn't even the best album this decade. Go back and get his last one, 2013's New, which is a remarkable, modern set that shows his still-vibrant creativity and artistry, truly exciting and, yes, youthful work. Egypt Station does actually continue this streak, and lots of fans have pointed out it's an album that actually gets better as it goes, which the very best coming in the second half of this generous, hour-long collection.

The chief problem is the two focus tracks that have been presented, Come On To Me and Fuh You, the latter a dumb joke, a classic McCartney attempt to be cheeky, thinking faux-swearing and singing about sex is pushing the boundaries. They do sound good though, just not quite catchy enough to overcome the clunking lyrics. But that's really it for my complaints, and if you want those rich McCartney melodies and brilliant production, it is all here in spades, from piano soft ones to rockers to wildly imaginative longer tracks. Best of the bunch has to be Despite Repeated Warnings, a seven-minute track near the end that has changes scenes a couple of times, a la A Day In The Life or Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsay. Producer Greg Kurstin did the whole album (except for Fuh You, which says something) and what stands out for me is the vibrant audio mix, crisp and clean and punchy. It also doesn't sound like it's a copy of old Paul or Beatle production, this has a life of his own. Nobody has understood the depth of field in the stereo mix more than McCartney in the rock era, and for that alone I can listen over and over all day.

More highlights: The other long cut, which ends the album, a medley called Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link is fun and the most Wings-like cut. People Want Peace goes way beyond the cliche, showing McCartney stills knows how to right that kind of uplifting message. Caesar Rock has lots of guts, and Happy With You uses Paul's aging pipes to good effect, taking the raspiness you hear when he's live and making it tender. And, there's lots of great backing vocals throughout the album, often his own, again part of his layering mastery. Go in respecting his many talents, and you'll be rewarded. It's just too bad he can't come up with that one killer single, but don't count him out for next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN WORT HANNAM - ACRES OF ELBOW ROOM

This is the week Alberta singer-songwriter John Wort Hannam visits these East Coast parts where I reside, so here's a timely reminder (and repeat) review of his latest, along with the show dates:




Sometimes its hard to describe certain musicians, and other times, it's pretty obvious. Veteran Alberta folk singer John Wort Hannam makes it really easy. He took the time to explain himself on his latest album, in the cut I Believe. He rattles off a few things, saying he believes in a good pair of boots, post and beam construction, love at first sight, words on a page. "That's me in a nutshell. Really not a whole lot to tell."

Well, that's a modest statement, pretty simple. But simple is often the best when it comes to songwriting, especially in the folk genre. Make your case, make it plain, get out. Of course, it takes ages to get to that point for a writer, if they ever get there. Hannam gets there over and over on his latest. Part of that is the recognition he's hit 50, and he pauses to take stock in the song That's Life: "Lessons I should have learned. New leaves I should have overturned, and oh all the money I have burned." But age also helps him recognize the good things more clearly, such as the positive effects of his relationship with his child in Song For A Young Son. And in Acres Of Elbow Room, he sings the praises of nightlife before admitting the whole time he misses family and rural life.

Effective writing is often at its most powerful in a live setting, and lucky Maritimers, Mr. Hannam is on his way for a lengthy stay. Check him out at the following:

September 26 - Halifax - The Carleton
September 27 - Fredericton - Wilser's Room
September 28 - Fredericton - Landsdowne Concert Series
September 29 - Saint John, NB - Dancing Tree Concert Series
September 30 - Annapolis Royal, NS - Strong Will Barn

Monday, September 24, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRADEN LAM - DRIFTWOOD PEOPLE

Here's the latest EP from the Halifax-based Lam, a six-track set that boasts strong singles and lots of feel-good energy. But it's got substance too, with its theme of losing one's self to find the real you. Driftwood People is about getting out, looking around, and appreciating what you have, and what you find. The fact he can fit that into catchy, upbeat folk-pop is a significant accomplishment.

Into The Light came out as a single last year and made some best-of lists and won a SOCAN young songwriter's award, driving folk with some Maritime fiddle for local colour. His life moving around is reflected in a couple of snapshot tunes. Halifax Girl is about moving from Ontario and maybe finding that East Coast love, while Dawson City has the most modern edge, some sonic tricks and a Call Of The Wild Reference. And the title cut explains the most about the album theme, Driftwood People being those who move around and mess things up instead of making positive connections. Good topic, lots of personal growth on display, and fine melodies to drive the message home.

Catch Braden Lam and the Driftwood People playing around the Maritimes in the coming days, including the release party at the Carleton in Halifax, Thursday Oct. 4.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ANDREW WAITE - TREMORS

P.E.I. rocker Waite returns with album #2, after his debut Burning Through The Night, which grabbed the 2016 Music PEI Rock Recording of the Year award. Conceived as a full album in the old school sense, the tracks blend together, especially effective on vinyl, which is the desired format. After a brief, wordless Prelude to start, in comes the intense build of the new single, Out & Out, a promise of excitement: "I'll be the Bonnie to your Clyde." It's great to hear a real organ get the big solo in this one, and no shortage of energy.

That leads into Faith, no less driving, but with a catchier chorus and some pop fun. But then the cut turns a couple of corners, with different sections and a horn break, a deceptively complex number that still rocks like a monster. Bible Belt slows the pace but ups the mystery, with Waite singing as passionately and powerfully as he can. Then Let Me Down Hard shows his singer-songwriter side, "I'm not made of glass, I won't fall apart, you can let me down hard." Listen for one major, passioned-filled guitar solo at the end as well. And flip the record.

Side two starts more on the roots side, with the mournful fiddle of Cash It In. No surprise, it's the most East Coast of the tracks. Skin & Bones is another thoughtful one with an easygoing pace, while closing tracks Ontario and Dandelion Wine continue the emotional songwriter theme of the second side. Waite's presented two solid styles, proving he's a high-quality writer, strong singer and can rock a crowd too.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROXANNE POTVIN - ALL IT WAS

Potvin's musical evolution continues, after 2016's roots surprise For Dreaming LP. This five-track EP is an even wider, wilder ride, from the dreamy and psychedelic title cut, to the pop-calypso of Lonely Island, to the closing, French-language Nuit Électrique.

Just to remind, Potvin has gone from being a blues performer early on to becoming a self-contained artist, engineering and producing her songs, and now experimenting in all sorts of styles. This set includes more personal lyrics, changing moods, and the continued feeling that she's growing by leaps each new release. Nice new 'do, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MORRISSEY - THIS IS MORRISSEY

Morrissey in North America remains an acquired taste, and polarizing. You either revere him, hate him, or have never heard of him. In the U.K., he's royalty, which explains the constant flow of best-of's and catalogue reworking. This one's an odd duck, but of course so is he, which means he probably picked the tracks himself.

It leans almost completely on earlier solo works, late '80's to mid-'90's, and largely on non-album singles and b-sides (Jack the Ripper, Have-A-Go Merchant). That might make sense if they were rare, but they've been on some of the various collections over the years. And why nothing later? There's one lone album cut, but again, it's older, from 1991's Kill Uncle album, The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye. And it's not a very good one at that, rather dull and whiny. The A-sides are uniformly excellent, especially The Last of the International Playboys and Ouija Board, Ouija Board. But trying to include rarer tracks, two better singles Suedehead and You're The One For Me, Fatty are diluted by alternative takes. The former is a remix by Sparks which will attract some buyers, as it does not appear on any other albums, while Fatty is taken from the Beethoven Was Deaf live album. One other live track, another non-album track and the only modern cut here, is Morrissey's cover of the Lou Reed classic Satellite Of Love, marking its first album appearance.

So it's a strange collection, sometimes exciting, other times dull, even frustrating, and a tough listen, with the mood never settling between the peaks and valleys. And just 10 cuts? Morrissey is hardly concerned with modesty. Confusion has always been one of his tactics, and I'm not sure whether this is aimed at the completist fan, or the rookie.

Friday, September 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN WORT HANNAM - ACRES OF ELBOW ROOM

Sometimes its hard to describe certain musicians, and other times, it's pretty obvious. Veteran Alberta folk singer John Wort Hannam makes it really easy. He took the time to explain himself on his latest album, in the cut I Believe. He rattles off a few things, saying he believes in a good pair of boots, post and beam construction, love at first sight, words on a page. "That's me in a nutshell. Really not a whole lot to tell."

Well, that's a modest statement, pretty simple. But simple is often the best when it comes to songwriting, especially in the folk genre. Make your case, make it plain, get out. Of course, it takes ages to get to that point for a writer, if they ever get there. Hannam gets there over and over on his latest. Part of that is the recognition he's hit 50, and he pauses to take stock in the song That's Life: "Lessons I should have learned. New leaves I should have overturned, and oh all the money I have burned." But age also helps him recognize the good things more clearly, such as the positive effects of his relationship with his child in Song For A Young Son. And in Acres Of Elbow Room, he sings the praises of nightlife before admitting the whole time he misses family and rural life.

Effective writing is often at its most powerful in a live setting, and lucky Maritimers, Mr. Hannam is on his way for a lengthy stay. Check him out at the following:

September 21 - Canning, NS - Sea-Esta
September 22 - Mount Stewart, PEI - Trailside Cafe
September 26 - Halifax - The Carleton
September 27 - Fredericton - Wilser's Room
September 28 - Fredericton - Landsdowne Concert Series
September 29 - Saint John, NB - Dancing Tree Concert Series
September 30 - Annapolis Royal, NS - Strong Will Barn