Wednesday, January 31, 2018
The dreamscape music is a remarkable, gentle folk blend featuring a trio of harp, electric guitar and banjo, then layered with synth effects. Again, like the lyrics, it often builds to a quiet intensity, never jarring but a little unnerving if you're listening close. Gulkin uses close, soft vocals, sometimes without a clear melody, a bit like Julie Doiron's quiet material. Matched against the unique tones of banjo meeting harp, the effect is powerful in its beauty. When she sings "I forgave but I can't forget", after meeting in "The Room", it's a stunning conclusion.
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
All but one of the cuts are Ellis' own, and fall into three categories: raging and raw, mid-tempo and fun, and slow and scorching. It's the latter that showcases his playing the best, especially on "Don't Turn Off The Light", where his lead playing (on a 2000 Les Paul Standard) is intense throughout, without the flashy fast work others need to impress. I do like his fun stuff too though, and the cover, Leon Russell's "Dixie Lullaby", shows him able to lighten up and still throw out a few killer licks. He might be best known for fireworks, but he's truly got all the bases covered.
Monday, January 29, 2018
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and certainly Mick Fleetwood threw a Hail Mary pass when he recruited Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. Up until December of '74, they were still a four-piece band with smoothie Bob Welch in the lead guitar/vocals/chief writer spot, but when he quit, the group was on the ropes. It couldn't have come at a worse time, since they'd actually finally dug themselves out of a long stagnant period, and the most recent album, Heroes Are Hard To Find, had actually broken into the U.S. Top 40 albums chart, the group's first in the States. Luckily Fleetwood heard a tape of the Buckingham/Nicks album in a studio, and sought out the Californians.
Merging these two relative rookies into the established band proved miraculously smooth, as they brought all the missing pieces: harmonies, songwriting, guitar fire, personality. The three Brits immediately upped their game as well, adapting to the new material with suitable fireworks, while Christine McVie was inspired to come up with great songs herself, including "Say You Love Me" and "Over My Head". There was existing Buckingham/Nicks material to get started on, including "Crystal", which was updated from the Buckingham/Nicks album, Nicks brought the exciting "Rhiannon", and Buckingham had "Monday Morning". McVie and Buckingham even started writing together, working up "World Turning", which featured their co-vocals on the album.
One other crucial element doesn't get enough mention. The studio where Fleetwood first heard that Buckingham/Nicks album was the soon-to-be-famous Sound City, and engineer Keith Olsen was the guy who played it for him. That's where they made the Fleetwood Mac album, with Olsen engineering and co-producing, and the brilliant mix and sonics of the record, especially the vocals and the drums, set the standard for clean sound.
This big box includes the original album on 180 gram vinyl, sounding even better than ever remastered. There are three CD's, the first featuring the regular album plus the four single mixes from the album, and there are some significant differences there, fun to spot. The second is made up of early versions of each song from the album, in mid-production, plus a short live set from the Warner Bros. Sound Stage. Disc three is all live, from the first year of touring for the new group. There's also a DVD with the surround sound and hi-res stereo versions for you folks blessed with huge honking expensive systems.
Discs two and three are quite fascinating, hearing the band feeling out the arrangements, learning out how to bring out the best in each other. There are some noticeable differences in some of the early versions, especially in "Rhiannon", as Nicks struggles to come up with a difference verse for the second chorus. Even in the early live version, she's trying out new words, all abandoned for the final studio take. "Monday Morning" is a much heavier number early on, McVie and Fleetwood pounding it out in a power trio with Buckingham, a harder edge they would rarely employ after that.
The live material has some real eye-openers, as the group went out to fans still thinking they were a blues band, with some decent-sized hits in the repertoire. For those first shows, Buckingham and Nicks had to learn several old Mac songs, including favourites "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi". Buckingham especially proved he could handle not just the vocals, but also the guitar heroics, something that had always been central to the Mac show. McVie was still doing some of her material, such as the lovely "Why", which now boasted grand harmonies from Buckingham and Nicks. That duo brought a few of their old ones to the table as well, to fill up the show, and then there was the dynamic new stuff that had just hit the stores.
Eventually, the album became a hit, thanks to great word-of-mouth and solid singles that kept coming to radio. It kept building and building, hitting #1 on the album charts more than a year after it's release. While Rumours racked up even greater sales and became the album most talk about now, this one had pretty much the same magic, and none of the messiness that came later.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
There aren't any tricks here, no production wizardry, it's plain instruments, voices and basic recording, sounding ever so '70's. Coull's not channeling any one performer, he's channeling lots of them, all good ones, a bit of Elton here, some Stones there. The piano leads, but it's surrounded by gospel singers, trumpets, strings, big guitar solos, and that's just on "The Troubadour Returns", an epic at 7'56". "I'm Fine ('Cause The Girl Is Mine)" is a big ol' Bo Diddley beat mixed with a pop tune, something fun. "I Left My Baby Grand In New Orleans" is the song Billy Joel always wished he was good enough to write.
And the words, so many, these are stories that unfold over several verses, complex, rich, and marvelous to hear. He gives us full descriptions of his characters and all the places he visits, from calloused hands placed inside hair, to the stink of the swamp and empty beers in New Orleans. It's going to take me a few more listens to figure them all out, but it's all part of the journey he's on, and goodness me, it's an adventure for sure.
Saturday, January 27, 2018
It was a 1973 gig the band had to do, thanks to a contract, but they were barely functioning at the time. Their debut, #1 Record, had flopped, and Chris Bell, the founder of the band, had quit. Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel showed up well-rehearsed though, pros at least, to open for Archie Bell and the Drells, with the crowd caring less about their music. But that didn't stop them from giving all they could.
Without Bell, Chilton somehow manages to fill all the guitar roles, with some fine lead lines and chopping Beatles Rubber Soul chords. They somehow manage to approximate the complex studio work on songs such as "In The Street" and "When My Baby's Beside Me", including many of the tight harmonies. And even new material such as "Back of a Car" gets introduced, months before being recorded, and a year before it's release. There's a lovely four-song mini-set in the middle of acoustic material, include the tender "Thirteen" that is as strong as the record, but the mics also pick up the indifferent crowd chatting away during the songs at one point. At the end of another, there's virtually no applause.
To fill out the hour, the group does some fun covers, including The Flying Burrito Brothers' "Hot Burrito #2", the T. Rex cut "Baby Strange", and Todd Rundgren's "Slut". The whole show has been released before, but it was on the 2009 box set Keep An Eye On The Sky, so this is stand-alone release lets you grab it if you don't have that. For completists, it comes with something new, a download code of an interview with Chilton and Hummel from 1972.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Whereas Blue Rodeo might shy away from the pop delights of "Beauty and Rage", the Cuddy group revels in the electric piano and big backing vocals. That's not to say you wouldn't find any of these songs on a Blue Rodeo album, but you certainly wouldn't find all of them, it's just too upbeat a set. Even the ballads don't have the big drama , it's simply more easy-going. The band, featuring Rodeo mates Bazil Donovan on bass and guitarist Colin Cripps, violinist Anne Lindsay, drummer Joel Anderson and keyboard player Steve O'Connor, keep a smooth groove throughout, and there's no great amount of soloing, just the occasional parts where the organ pops up or the mandolin cuts through. The emphasis stays on Cuddy's voice, the aural equivalent of a hug and a smile.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
This is an all-instrumental set, with Gomes' clean guitar leading the way, and each track featuring very specific instruments for each mood and style. Steel drums and trumpet start us out on "Happy Landings," setting up the trip down south. If that's a surprising combo, next comes tenor sax and Paraguayan harp. Various percussion parts feature throughout, Latin rhythms offering easy grooves. It's very gentle for the most part and also very soothing, something to take you somewhere warm in the winter, or somewhere healing, just as it was intended.
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
In addition to six originals, the pair go back to classics and covers from the likes of Son House, Elmore James and Muddy Waters. Rather than slavishly emulating the originals, these are playful romps through much-loved numbers where they leave their own mark. "You Got To Move" gets a faster tempo and nifty slide from Hager. "Long Train Blues" is a 1929 classic from Robert Wilkins, and features great harp and guitar interplay.
Meantime, the duo's originals have the same spark. "Hell In A Handbasket" stars Delgado's playful piano and a lyric filled with laughs. "I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish)" has the same light heart, and helps make this a thoroughly enjoyable set from two very able reborn Delta blues men.
Monday, January 22, 2018
While the band plays it straight, Morrison goes meandering, both on vocals and his alto sax. Sometimes that means a few grunts and groans and mumbled lyrics, and he weaves around the melodies of time-honoured classics such as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "A Foggy Day." He's using his voice like a sax of course, but the range is starting to go, and the pitch ain't perfect at times. At its best, there are some inspired numbers, and even a chestnut like "Bye Bye Blackbird" can be fun. At times though, there's a sharp contrast between the smooth and spot-on playing of the band, and Morrison's meanderings. Of the new material, lead track "Broken Record" is the best, and fun, with Van imitating skipping vinyl, repeating the title phrase several times, in scat style. Who knows what's next for the unpredictable legend, now 38 albums into his career.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
The production leans towards the polished and crafted, and I wouldn't call East a natural. But hats off (pun intended) for choosing to go in this direction, recognizing high quality music, and having the skill to write and create in the soul school. Sometimes it's over the top, such as the throat-tearing yowls on 'Surrender,' or the too-big adaptation of Willie Nelson's 'Somebody Pick Up The Pieces.' But the rest is right on the money, whether his own tracks, or a gritty take on the street poet Ted Hawkins' 'Sorry You're Sick.' The album closes with a sensitive ballad, 'Cabinet Door,' but the rest is a rich groove. So, not a whole lot of subtlety, East goes for volume on most tracks, with big choirs and even bigger horns, and plenty of heart.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Few tickets remain, but there are scattered shows open, including the co-presentation Thursday night of Songs of the City, a free event for the United Way featuring Catherine MacLellan, The Symphonium, Josh Bravener and others, presenting songs and stories inspired by positive change in the community. Yours truly is also part of the festival Friday, when I'll be joining Catherine MacLellan for her show If It's Alright With You, which presents the songs and stories of her father, Gene MacLellan. We'll do a Q & A after the performance about the detective work we've both been doing the past few years, tracking down all this information about her dad.
Meanwhile, our hosts are at it again, using Shivering Songs as a platform to launch their latest effort. This is the fifth album for Olympic Symphonium, called Beauty In The Tension. The laid-back quartet are masters at creating big, soft pillows of beautiful sounds, highlighted by soaring harmonies, heart-tugging lyrics, moody mixes, and sweet lap steel and electric guitar.
There's some glorious interplay throughout the album, especially when the guitars and pedal steel start weaving together. 'The Middle,' a somewhat upbeat number for the group, features some twin guitar lines in harmony, along with the steel sweetening it all, like some cowboy dreamscape. 'Glory of Love' directly references that old Peter Cetera power ballad, but it's a hazy memory from a distant road trip, bittersweet and more America than Chicago. New single 'Comedy' borrows John Lennon's Mellotron from 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' and features lovely harmonies from guest Jennah Barry. 'Lost In The Party' features the nifty trick of making horns sound lush. More beauty than tension, really.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Now, Sainas shows another side, focusing on his songwriting skills for this largely acoustic collection. That doesn't mean it's soft; drummer Kelly Stodola and bassist Chad Matthews are around to add a fine groove throughout, and there's lots of energy in the guitar playing from Sainas as well. For these songs, he moves into more singer-songwriter/roots style than blues, with lots of emotion on display. Not love song-emotion, but rather personal happiness that we all strive for, including concerns about what's happening in our communities and societies.
You could dwell on those topics for a long time and get pretty depressed, but instead Sainas comes at it with a positive message, offering us a glimpse of hope. The title cut sees him wondering why we can't just live a less-complicated, more satisfied life, while My Darkest Days Are Done and Everything's Gonna Be Alright offer good advice to all of us, disguised as personal pep talks. I can see why he's considered such an inspirational teacher.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
My Love features the fall hit Bend in two different versions, the regular one and the Thomas Gold remix, which cranks up the dance floor to '80's. Also included is the new single, Red Light, a break-up song with melancholy vibes but still with strength (and a beat). There's a journey through the E.P., a drama that follows relationship ebbs and flows. Guesting on the track Broken is Tegan Quin, Mae getting to sing with her musical influence and now friend, after they toured Europe together this past year, as she opened for Tegan and Sara.
Mae's moving forward with her mix of pop, dance and hip-hop, keeping the lyrics and stories well-crafted and central. It's smart music you can move to, and which moves you back.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
There's few sadder stories in modern music than what befell Redding. After making several incredible albums and singles through the '60's, and building his talents to become one of the truly great stage performers as well, he broke out of the Chitlin' Circuit with a festival-stealing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. That was no easy task, as it also boasted the likes of The Who, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and the first major U.S. appearance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
With a new, wider (and whiter) audience, Redding was ready to try some new sounds, away from the Southern soul shouters he was known for. He started writing the track in California, where he was staying on a houseboat after playing San Francisco. The lyrics pretty much describe the scene, someone from Georgia out in San Francisco, watching the ships and the waves come in on the bay. Producer and legendary Stax guitar player Steve Cropper helped him write the rest, and in was recorded in November. Redding was killed in a plane crash Dec. 10, and the song released as a single on Jan. 8, 1968, becoming a number one hit.
It was no mere sentiment, it's a tremendous song, and still sounds as haunting and important as it did five decades ago. And bonus, the B-side, Sweet Lorene, is a keeper too. York University ethnomusicology prof. Rob Bowman, author and leading expert on Stax, argues that the company's B-sides were often better than the A's, so it's wise to flip 'em over.
I find it interesting that the vinyl revival has spread to 45's. That's an offshoot of the ongoing Record Store Day releases, which always included singles for the collector market. This is aimed more at the newcomers though, that new generation still discovering the likes of Redding. It's packaged up to be special, pressed on gold vinyl, although I'd argue with their colour choice. It looks more like the shade of Dijon mustard, edging toward tan, rather than nice bright gold. And as it was a huge hit, it's almost impossible to find a used record store without a copy of the original single, or one of the many represses over the years. But if you want a new, unplayed copy in lovely shape (except for the mustard stain), you can buy this one for 10 bucks, sealed.
Monday, January 8, 2018
This latest release is much like that latter set, this time a chronicle of the controversial Christian period from 1979 to 1981. Over three albums and two lengthy tours, Dylan presented a new fundamentalist faith that came close to derailing his entire career. It was pretty much a total condemnation. Fans hated the unflinching preaching found in the lyrics, most of them Bible-based. On the first tour he did, following the release of 1979's Slow Train Coming album, he refused to do any of his old songs, playing only that album, plus as-yet unreleased material, much of which would end up on the next year's Saved release. Audiences booed, hurled insults at the gospel singers on stage with him, and walked out in disgust. It was hard to find anyone who would stand up for these songs. I knew one other person who thought the way I did, that there was actually some good music being made, no matter the message.
This collection, two CD's (or eight plus a DVD on the pricey deluxe version, filled with lots more live material) looks at the live tours, when these songs really came alive. Dylan always had a tremendous band, such as The Band, and this one was certainly up there. Anchoring it all was the brilliant Jim Keltner (Traveling Wilburys, John Lennon) on drums, along with Tim Drummond (Neil Young) on bass, Fred Tackett (Little Feat) on lead guitar, another Young favorite, Spooner Oldham, as well as Willie Smith on keys, and a troupe of five or six gospel singers, including the great Clydie King. Ahd while some might not have enjoying Dylan asking them When You Gonna Wake Up?, there was a fire coming from the stage. Dylan, always a fan and sponge of all the great forms, had toured with and loved the Staple Singers for instance, and got a great groove going.
The beauty of this set is hearing how the songs worked so well on stage, and how Dylan changed them up. Always tinkering, he led the band through different arrangements in shows and rehearsals. On the two-disc collection, each disc starts with a version of Slow Train, one from '79 and the other from '81, in quite different tempos. New songs were tried out, some of which made the Saved or Shot Of Love albums, while others, such as Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One, remained unreleased until now.
By 1981, Dylan was backing away from the commitment to his gospel music. That year's tour saw him bringing back several of his greatest hits, after pressure from concert promoters who warned he might not sell enough tickets. The Shot Of Love album had a couple of songs that weren't gospel at all, and he was writing new, tremendous songs that were getting tour play, including The Groom's Still Waiting At The Alter, Caribbean Wind, and Every Grain Of Sand, all included here, the first two with significantly different lyrics. Now that we know he didn't stay there, it's easier to appreciate Dylan's gospel period for what it was, a prolific and intense two-plus years, a wild left turn from the master of surprises. And as a bonus, it features some of his very best and intuitive singing. It's another must-own.
Friday, January 5, 2018
It's never too late to talk about a greatest hits, and in Canada's blues world, Toronto's Jack De Keyzer certainly deserves such a set. He's been making solid music since the late '70's, consistently polished and soulful. I always think of De Keyzer as making tight, melodic and very enjoyable tracks, lively and fun music. Gambler's Blues from 1999 shows he's comfortable in the jump blues style, while 1994's Cotton Candy is a solid, Stones '69 riff rocker, showing his edge.
This is a generous 16-track collection, clocking in over 70 minutes. It concentrates on discs from the '90's and 2000's albums, 12 in total, but there are also four bonus cuts, three unreleased and one guest appearance from a Willie Big Eyes Smith live album. These are no mere add-on's however; My Love Has Gone is a tremendous live cut, De Keyzer turning up the passion. Rock 'n Roll Girl is the oldest cut here, a CBC recording from 1985 when De Keyzer was nearing the end of his rockabilly days (he was in The Bopcats), and sizzles. Good times follow this guy.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
Beauty And The Beast was the second single from the "Heroes" album, after the title track, which, despite it's enduring classic status, was hardly a hit. This one didn't come close, only barely entering the U.K. charts, and not placing at all in North America. Its negative tone and freaky sounds pretty much secured that fate, but it's a little gem too, just not something for the Top 40. It's a great example of the Bowie-Eno-Fripp-Visconti teamwork on the sessions, Fripp blazing away on a strange guitar sound that kept away the wider audience. Of course, this was also the Bowie period that influenced all the synth and New Wave bands out of Britain for a generation, so the legacy is solid, and it does have a bouncy chorus that makes it more lively than the dirge-like tracks on Low from the year before.
As usual, the original b-side of the single has been replaced by a previously-unreleased cut to entice buyers, thanks very much. This time, it's a live version of the "Heroes" cut Blackout, not the same one on the live Stage album of that tour, but a more rocky take from a Berlin show. The collector in me says thanks, and as always, there are a couple of great photos on the A and B sides, making it a nice visual addition to your collection. He apparently couldn't take a bad photo.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Finley has a tremendous, evocative voice, full of power and soul. He sounds, I kid you not, like Tom Jones, in the very best way, all that richness and none of the histrionics. Auerbach has written or co-written all the tracks, along with folks such as John Prine and Nick Lowe, and, put Finley into a whole bunch of fascinating, modern settings, refusing to do the traditional gospel-blues sound. That's certainly at the core of the songs, but Auerbach brings all his production tricks to the table. So a tune like You Don't Have To Do Right might have a basic shuffle behind it, and regular slap bass, acoustic guitar and small choir of gospel singers, it also has various layers and levels of echo and effects, plus the legendary Duane Eddy on a twangy guitar break. The soulful complications rings through like an early '70's Four Tops cut, when they got serious about civil rights, pollution and the issues of the day. But then Auerbach reaches into his bag of tracks for more quirky sounds and mixes.
These productions aren't ever completely over-the-top, Finley and the blues are always out front, but they are proof-positive that this music, these great performers, have so much to knowledge and talent to bring to new sounds as well. It's probably a bit more along the lines of the Dap-Tone Records sound than the deeper blues Auerbach has worked in before, and I'm very happy with that, Finley is certainly one of the very best singers I've heard in a long time, and obviously very rooted in this core sound, as well as able to sound great for 2018 as well. What a treasure.