Sunday, April 29, 2018


Thanks to a little bit of serendipity, I happened to be in Toronto for a brief trip a couple of weeks ago, and caught Graham Nicholas at his weekly residency at the Cameron House. It just so happens he's gearing up for a big East Coast trip with another favourite, Jerry Leger, so I'll be able to see more of him soon. I liked what I saw that night, and what I'm hearing on his latest, Dial Tones and Pretty Notes.

Named one of Toronto's Musicians To Watch In 2018 by Now Magazine, Nicholas has developed a twangy sound that has some straight country, some alt-country, and plenty of sizzle when needed. There's a tremendous amount of emotion flowing through his songs, with his characters hurt by love and struggling to keep afloat, such as Keeping My Soul Alive, with its sad mandolin, and it's chorus "Cause my heart is blind to the things you do/Yeah I lost your love a thousand times, and it changes you." Sometimes it's old wounds that still hurt, as an old lover comes back to a dying town, reviving memories in Ghost Town: "After all this time it's kinda hard to say/Well was it me or you or this place that changed." There are just as many songs shot through with keyboards and a stronger beat that give the album a solid mix of moods, and a bit of hope that love will win in the end.

Nicholas and Leger bring their double act to a bunch of Maritime venues in May, starting May 11 in Bass River, N.S. at the Community Hall. May 12 they are in Berwick, N.S. at the Union Street Cafe, then the 13th it's the Carleton in Halifax. May 14 sees them at Paddy's Pub in Wolfville, N.S., and on the 15th they cross the province to Antigonish and the Townhouse Brewpub. Then it's on to New Brunswick for a May 16 show at Plan B in Moncton, and then an early festival gig at Paddlefest in St. Andrews on the 17th. May 18 sees the duo at the Trailside in Mount Stewart, P.E.I., the 19th is reserved for Pepper's Pub in Saint John, N.B., and then the whole big jaunt in the East wraps at the beloved Dunk in Breadalbane, P.E.I. on May 20.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


I'm so out of touch with teenagers and whatever they are into right now, whether it's Nicki Minaj or Instagram or video games, do they still play video games? I seriously couldn't have a conversation with one of them. Well wait, there's one anyway, this East Texas talent, all of 19, leading her own band, and with two albums to her name. Lo and behold, she's actually beholding to the blues, a lead guitar shredder with a serious interest in Texas electric, and a growing fan base, including lots of impressed pros. Guesting here are guitar fiend Gary Hoey, a certified surf rock champ, and Texas harmonica favourite Steve Krase, who also co-produces.

While she's obviously taking the guitar thing seriously, and handles herself very well alongside the guest aces here, Venable is looking toward the long term too. She wrote eight of the 10 cuts here, moving toward her own voice in the blues world. And it's a pretty loud one; there's not a ballad or acoustic track here, it's all flat-out tough stuff, even pushing into some old-school blues-rock. I like that, I might even follow her on Instagram.

Friday, April 27, 2018


The gritty Quebec blues singer and reigning Maple Blues winner for Female Vocalist of the Year for the past five years sums up her 30-year career with this sprawling two-disc live album. Recorded at one show in St.-Hyacinthe, QC last October, Forrest and her crack band show they don't need any after-the-fact sweetening or choosing the best tracks from several dates, they put on a great night when the pressure's on and tape is rolling.

With her major vocal abilities, Forrest has become known for her own energetic material, and her masterful versions of the classics. Lots of people do well-known covers, but hardly any make them their own, and that's what she's able to do time and again, in a variety of styles. Of course, there's her Janis Joplin choices, a specialty since her days doing her tribute show, which first caught the public's attention. Here she brings back Piece Of My Heart and Me And Bobby McGee, and I wouldn't want to have to choose between her versions and Joplin's. But just as successful are her interpretations of Robert Johnson's Walkin' Blues with modern power, and a House Of The Rising Son that wails. The thing is though, she makes every song sound like a classic with her intense takes. Her own Crucify, from 2016's Angel's 11 album, is a heart-breaker, with tremendous emotion. All through the show, lead guitar player Ricky Paquette is a revelation, and would probably be raved about more if he wasn't next to that vocal powerhouse. This is a group on fire, on a special night, but I get the feeling they do that every night.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


1990's faves The Lowest Of The Low have turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does the Toronto group have its own fine legacy, including the now-classic Shakespeare My Butt album, there was a fine new album last year, Do The Right Now, and the continued solo excellence of Ron Hawkins' career. Now, add founding member Stephen Stanley to that list. He left TLOTL in 2013 for good, and formed this band a couple of years later. Now he unveils a terrific set of songs that take us right back to that level of excellence we came to know and love back in '91.

Since I haven't heard him in awhile, what leaps to mind is how much John K. Samson and The Weakerthans were influenced by Stanley, in his vocal style, his delivery and his most literary way with lyrics. Like Samson, Stanley packs tremendous visuals and story-telling into his songs, placing us in the middle of lives of interesting characters. Stanley puts us right downtown in Toronto for several of his songs, including Under The Mynah Bird, the coffee house in Yorkville Village, circa 1966 with Neil Young and Rick James playing. The title cut, set on Gerrard St., is about the ridiculous amount of construction that rips apart the history and culture of much of old Toronto, as seen by one 60-year resident, bemoaning the loss of his view of the moon to another dull condo complex or office building. Geez, don't get me started on that topic. Stanley's speaking for lots of people there.

The band, augmented by producer Hugh Christopher Brown (Bourbon Tabernacle Choir), some fine backing singers and guest sharpshooters such as Jane Scarpantoni on cello, have that great indie rock energy that to my ears has never gone out of style, with tracks such as Talkin' Bout It and Birthday Clown filled with power and joy. The title cut and The Troubadour's Song have length and breadth, epics worthy of their stories. A most welcome return for Stanley.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


After a string of much-appreciated, alt-country songwriter albums, P.E.I.'s Ellsworth has embraced his power pop side, and plugged in. Teaming up with producer Joel Plaskett at his Dartmouth studio New Scotland Yard, they formed a little East Coast all-star unit, along with Emergency drummer Dave Marsh and The Super Friendz' Charles Austin on bass. Those guys are all soaked in melodic '90's guitar pop, and it just so happened Ellsworth had written a bunch of tunes in exactly that direction.

Plaskett has so many ideas, all great, that he can sometimes overwhelm artists he's producing, standing out a little too much in the material. Ellsworth though has enough experience and confidence to step forward on each track, and it's his voice that dominates. He has great pipes, and Plaskett wraps a bit of echo around them, making sure the singer is always out front. The result is an album that's cohesive, and the strong players involved really do sound like a band. Caught In The Waves is a cool, mellow production that features a dreamy chorus, Austin's distinctive bass line and sweet vocals and backups. Couldn't Care Less has crunchy chords and She's Never Wrong has an early '60's bounce.

But Ellsworth has always been a thoughtful writer, so there are just as many reflective songs here, ones that start acoustic but build up with the band into catchy choruses. Like the changes he made in his sound, Ellsworth's words show he's always searching for deeper meaning, pushing himself. It's always better when things change.

Monday, April 23, 2018


You have to have a lawyer with you to listen to the new album by UB40, or rather, UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey as they are officially known in North America. That's because these three original members of the group all quit in disgust at various times, the group being in financial disarray and personal tumult. Heck, Ali Campbell said a whole bunch of very angry things about his brother Duncan taking his place and ruining his songs. Anyway, this trio has won the legal battle and the battle for listener's hearts as well, since they have the original two lead singers in their ranks.

They're calling this A Real Labour Of Love, because Labour Of Love 5 would seem like flogging a dead horse, no? Actually Labour Of Love 3 and 4 were pretty much doing that, but here there is a significant difference. For the most part, this is a jump to '80's reggae, or the dancehall days. Most of the tracks here were dancehall hits in at least Jamaica, if not wider. There are some exceptions, such as Ebony Eyes, which was a Stylistics cut before it was reggaefied, and here the group keeps that easy, sweet soul style with just a slight added beat. Then there's Stevie Wonder's '60's cut A Place In The Sun, which makes quite a nice transition to reggae, and Ali Campbell once again proves his worth with a great vocal.

The bulk though come with that trance-inducing dancehall bass line, drum machines and several shots of the infamous auto-tuning software. Now, I barely know my Eek-A-Mouse from my Beenie Man, but I can tell the group is playing it somewhat safe with their choices here, and smoothing things out for the broader audience, even on certified classics of the genre such as Barrington Levy's Here I Come and Wayne Smith's Under Me Sleng Teng, as rendered by Astro. Of course, that's what the Labour Of Love series has always been, making reggae more commercial for the broader audience. It's watered-down a bit, yes, but in the end in probably helps the original artists and the whole genre.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, so did white British electric blues guitar heroes. There was the A-list of Clapton, Beck and Page, and then there several more in the next tier, including Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, Steve Marriot of Humble Pie, and Ireland's Gallagher. Of course, if you were a fan, you'd swear your guy was the best. I find it interesting now that so much attention went to the guitar player, it's quite out of fashion these days. But anyway, a small but vocal portion of rock/blues fans thought Gallagher was the best of them all.

Gallagher's North American heyday was at the end of the '60's with his power trio Taste, and then into the early '70's as a solo act, most famously with the live Irish Tour '74 album. He never quite broke through into superstar status, but he sold a ton of albums, especially his live ones, and was best known for his exciting stage shows. He also was quite a big deal across continental Europe into the '80's, before his death from liver damage in '95. During his time, he did dozens of different TV and radio broadcasts, always a favourite for those media, and especially on the BBC. This double-disc set was compiled by his brother and long-time keeper of the flame, Donal.

Chosen from several hours of available material, this set includes one disc of live concert tracks, and another of studio recordings done of the Beeb. The live stuff is mostly from the late '70's, except for one 1973 cut, while the studio work was done from 1971-74, with a side trip to the '80's for a number. Unsurprisingly, the live cuts are full of fireworks, especially when Gallagher steps away from his own material to riff on some classic blues. The traditional number Roberta is a great example of his speed and energy. Other cuts feature his passionate vocals, often overlooked, and he certainly was one of the better singers among the guitar heroes. He was like a rawer Clapton, without the softness but with lots of melody. Meantime he could blaze away between vocal lines, and totally command the song, the same way Pete Townsend could dominate. I Take What I Want here matches, I feel, the sheer mastery of Hendrix. This is a decent place to start with Gallagher, and a real treat for this old fans.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Leave it to Neil Young to release two albums less than a month apart, but such is the pace he works at, and the fact he leaves these matters to chance and randomness, or the muse as he calls it. Myself, I'm much more excited to get the Roxy: Tonight's The Night Live album, which comes out next Friday (unless you shelled out 40 bucks for the vinyl on Record Store Day). It's a release of a 1973 concert where he debuted that album, and it should be a monster. Paradox is a soundtrack to the new movie starring Young, the band Promise Of The Real, and directed by Darryl Hannah, a lowish-budget family affair. It's been badly panned, one of those Western-themed ideas that Young loves, made up largely on the spot and in the editing room. The only thing people seem to like is the performance sequences and the music, and that's what you get here on the soundtrack.

The collection is a seamless set of 21 cuts, some brief instrumental passages for the movie, other longer chunks and the occasional full song. Most of them feature Promise Of The Real, or Neil solo. As is often the case with his projects, the music comes from a variety of sources. There are a couple of older recordings, including the song Show Me from the 2016 album Peace Trail. There's also a version of the title cut of that album, but instead of the original, this time it's a new take done with POTR. The old favourite Pocahontas is included, a newly-released live version from a concert in Calgary in 2014. The acoustic version of the song Tumbleweed comes from the deluxe version of the Storytone album of 2014, and the 10-minute Cowgirl Jam is an instrumental concert workout of the beloved Cowgirl In The Sand by Young and the Promise guys.

There's also a charming section with Young and the band sitting around a campfire jamming, with Lukas Nelson singing his dad Willie's Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground, that's taken directly from the film, and some other lighthearted bits, even a brief stab at The Turtles' Happy Together. I do quite like the ease, ebb and flow of the whole set. Is it a major effort? No, it's actually quite close to the soundtrack of the 1972 film Journey Through The Past, in its mix of various source material into a single listen. It's a pleasant-enough experience, and maybe he needs to dabble in such things as part of the journey. Anyway, next week there's the Roxy album, and probably much more still to come.

Friday, April 20, 2018


Well, this is embarrassing. Here I was, going to plug Elise Besler's album launch show for the Carleton in Halifax May 20, but it turns out it's already sold out. No surprise, really. People there know that she's one of the finest vocalists in the region, a true singer with range, emotion and spectacular tone. Plus, word is out that this is an artistic leap for her, with an increased focus on songwriting and soulful sounds, so, you know, sorry I didn't tell you earlier.

Truth is produced by no less than Erin Costelo, the Halifax songwriter/producer currently making waves in the U.S. The pair met up to try a little co-writing, and that took off to this album partnership, with Costelo also handling the keyboards and guiding the way to that gentle groove and big-hearted sound at which she excels. Besler meanwhile had a set of lyrics coming from that same source, all truth and heart. A little bit jazzy, another part Bill Withers, and some nice modern touches like the drums-forward verses and high harmonies on first single Never Learn, this is pure class. Hey, there will be more shows, and meanwhile just get the album.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Although he didn't know a whole lot about his father Muddy Waters (Mud was one of several children born out of wedlock to the blues master), he nonetheless felt the blues calling through his life. Still, he was in his fifties before giving in, and now Morganfield is making up for lost time, with a fourth album since his emergence in 2008. With his deep, rich voice, he's a natural, and when he sings "The blues is my birthright" on opener They Call Me Mud, it's hard to argue.

The blues, and a bit more actually. His last album, the award-winning For Pops, was a straight tribute to his father, but this has more of the soul feel that he grew up admiring in the '70's on several tracks. Cheatin' Is Cheatin' is smooth as silk, a fine ballad with horn accents, and Who's Fooling Who? is funky stuff. But Howling Wolf is definitely gritty Chess stuff, of course, and Mud has no problem looking back. He's the main writer on most of the cuts, and makes sure we know he's keen on moving the music forward. There's lots of fine playing throughout, especially from harp ace Studebaker John, and if you took away the famous name, there's no question this would still be a strong new blues album, from an especially fine singer and writer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Oh coloured vinyl, how I love you. Of course, it means nothing to the quality of the music or the pressing, but nothing spruces up an old favourite like a little splash of colour. Bowie's 1973 hit has been reissued several times, most recently in 2015 on vinyl, so it's hardly rare now, so something had to be added for this 45th anniversary version, and that would be the silver vinyl to match the mercury shade of Bowie's skin on the cover.

While Aladdin Sane never gets the acclaim given to its predecessor Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, it really has to be considered part two of those heady days, coming just 10 months after. The album is just as consistent, is better produced, and has more tremendous performances from the Spiders. The only thing that keeps this set a notch below is the sequencing, with too many of the very best cuts on side two, and less than satisfying opener in Watch That Man. Along the way, it includes the immortal The Jean Genie, the claustrophobic Panic In Detroit, and his inspired cover of Let's Spend The Night Together, which led to the next record, the all-covers Pin Ups.

Audio-wise, this uses the same brilliant remaster as the 2015 vinyl version, which is a revelation for any fan more used to the old '70's album. During the quick pauses in Time, there's a rich echo unheard before. The delightful horns on The Prettiest Star now stand out, and the mandolin and piano on Lady Grinning Soul have a shinning quality. It's a great album that doesn't always get its due, and now it's silver.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


There's no question Bob Dylan has had the blues for a long time, and that's certainly influenced his writing. There have been a few collections of Dylan songs done in blues, soul and gospel styles, and most turn out quite well. This one, from the veteran soul singer LaVette, is cool as can be, her rich, rough voice a fine match for these warnings and weary life lessons from Dylan's catalogue. The songs chosen come from all phases of his career, from the well-known (It Ain't Me Babe) to buried album cuts (Going, Going, Gone), but all of course of the highest calibre. Of the many, many singers who tackle Dylan, soul/blues/gospel singers, especially women, arguably do the best versions.

Sometimes they do a better version in fact. Listen to LaVette dig into Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight, not the most inspired Dylan performance, but she finds an emotional reading the composer only hinted at. And what LaVette does for the vocals, producer Steve Jordan does for the arrangements. A song that's a real clunker from the '80's, Seeing The Real You At Last, is now slinky and funky. Lavette gives it an update too, with new lyrics. Instead of referring to Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, she's rewrites it as "You could sing like Otis Redding/You Could Dance like Bruno Mars." And it works great, you purists.

Sometimes it's pretty much just awesome singing from LaVette. Mama, You Been On My Mind has spare backing, and a heartfelt and sentimental treatment that will have you reaching for the Kleenex box. Where Dylan was singing about a lover, LaVette sings it to her own mother. Ain't Talkin', one that Dylan himself does a mighty job singing, here gets an eerie and subtle arrangement with a string quartet. Others have a grade-A cast to catch a great groove. Jordan handles drums and some guitar, long-time Dylan guitar player Larry Campbell is all over the record, Leon Pendarvis (James Brown, SNL Band, etc.) handles keys and Pino Palladino (The Who) covers bass. Guests include Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, and one Keith Richards on a couple of tracks. Honestly, the arrangements and playing are so fresh, it would be worth hearing these reinterpretations of the Dylan material with almost any vocalist, they are that good. But it's all sublime with LaVette's passion leading the way.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


I love getting around the country, at the very least via the audio route, and this time we stop by Peterborough, Ontario. We'll drop by the Black Horse Pub, well-known for live music seven night (and some matinees) a week. If you go Monday nights, you can get half-price wings (yay) and catch the Crash And Burn show, with Rick & Gailie (double yay). They have a long-standing residency at the pub, also doing matinees Friday and Saturdays, honing a sound that's a little bit prog (think Moody Blues) and a lot pop (think British Invasion). That's resulted in their latest disc, which collects a solid 16 originals with classic songwriting and warm vocals and harmonies.

From the lighter, happy style of the '64 era (Thank You, Be My Baby), which echo early Beatles/Dave Clark Five singles, to the more mature pop for Falling For You, to the adventurous opener Deity, echoing those Procol Harum/Moodies productions, everything on this album is familiar, fun and fresh at the same time. Rick and Gailie don't recreate, instead they are inspired by this beloved era, and create new works that sit perfectly in that style. Don't Take Time is a great piece of early rock 'n' roll, but as heard through British ears and then sent back to North America, the same way those '60's bands were interpreting Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, etc.

When Rick and Gailie do get a bit more modern, such as on Faster, it's the same way it happened in the early '70's, when pop bands heavily influenced by The Beatles et al, like Badfinger, sharpened up the sound. The production here is crisp and new as well, there's nothing screaming 'vintage' but rather it's all refreshing, for folks with an ear to those proven qualities. Worth a trip to Peterborough, huh? Well, that and the wings.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


A stunning album from Montreal's Officer, who makes the brilliant sound so casual. This is subtle blues/jazz/roots, his vocals so easy-going and comfortable you're lulled into a pleasant listening spot. Then, just when you're taking the music for granted, he blows you away with an awesome, short guitar line or a raw riff or two on his violin.

Produced by the drummer here Charlie Drayton, who Keith Richards uses for his solo work, this is multi-genre, all-class. There's a bit of country-shuffle (Dream Of You And Me), some gospel, and the lovely, indescribable sound of Driving Back From Three Rivers, a late-night drive at a slow pace, Officer caressing each low note. Where Has This Come From reminds me a bit of J.J. Cale, a little more uptempo, but that same ease, at least until he knocks off a twangy solo. Meanwhile Drayton is equally subtle, lots of snare, stick work on the rims, no big booms, and bassist Zev Katz, the only other player here, is tasty but never overpowering, filling that crucial bottom.

As much as I love the fact the songs travel so easily among the various styles, there's a particular magic Officer brings to the more blues-based numbers here. He's Got It All is one of the most spectacular new blues numbers I've heard in years, very simple in structure, but sung and played with so much feel. His guitar work and tone is almost shocking, sure to light up the face of any fan. I can't throw enough accolades at this collection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Here's a charity project that's all about Ireland, but with enough interest that it's made it's way across the ocean. The charity in question is a children's hospice in that country called LauraLynn, and the album includes mostly new and upcoming Irish musicians who aren't known here, except for a couple of exceptions. The real star here though is the material, one of the best-known albums of Irish origin ever, U2's landmark The Joshua Tree. It just had its 30th anniversary, which was the impetus for this new version.

Each track on the original album has been covered by one of the groups or solo artists, either in loving recreation, or with a new and novel arrangement. The known names here include Imelda May, who puts her tremendous vocal talents into a spare version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, slower and dominated by her mighty pipes. The only other act I'm familiar with is The Strypes, youngsters who weren't even born until almost a decade after Joshua Tree's initial release, who put their considerable energy into a far-more rocking take of Trip Through Your Wires. That's the main flip-flip for cuts here, the bigger songs are done slower, and the moody ones toughened up.

Gavin James, a star singer-songwriter at home who has been making waves here on TV shows and opening up for Ed Sheeran, will probably be a well-known name soon, gets the honour of doing Where The Streets Have No Name, a more thoughtful cover certainly. The Academic, the current hottest band in the country, who went to number one with their debut album, put a sharper edge (pun intended) in In God's Country. It's actually an interesting way to be introduced to a bunch of new groups.

And what of the superstars originally responsible? Well, they are always charity-minded and nationally-focused as well, and go above and beyond for the cause. The compilers here make note of the fact the band and their publishing company are donating all the publishing royalties from the sales and airplay, plus they show up too, with the final cut. It's a live version of Red Hill Mining Town, recorded on their anniversary tour last year for the album. This set is win-win for everybody.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Toronto's Bourbon Tabernacle Choir were certainly one of the country's most eclectic bands of the '90's or ever, and founding member Chris Brown has continued in a varied career. A producer, co-conspirator and activist, Brown has turned the old post office in Wolfe Island, ON. into his studio, and has also run a respected program in prison to help inmates with music careers. His new album corrals many of his ideas and influences, starting with a Latin prayer, adding a host of guest co-vocalists, allowing room for a serene piano instrumental, and filling the rest with inspiring, thoughtful lyrics.

A keyboard player first and foremost, Brown lets the meditative qualities of piano feature prominently on some songs, including penultimate song The Wave, even handing over the vocals to longtime partner Kate Fenner, another original from the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir days. It's imbued with this gem of wisdom, like some ancient Eastern text: "If goodness is what sorrow saves, then let these tears roll like the waves." Others spring from acoustic guitar, accented with only the most peaceful of instrumental help, from cello and violins, mandolin, pedal and lap steel. Pacem, indeed. There's decency, humanity and fine musical innovation at work here.

Monday, April 9, 2018


One of the saddest, and oddest stories in music has to be the superstardom of Cassidy, who first came to fame 20 years ago with this landmark album. Sad because she was recently deceased, discovered only when she was succumbing to cancer. Cassidy was just another singer doing what she loved, singing jazz and blues in clubs in Washington, D.C., recording when she pieced together enough cash and offers. She had some local respect, but nobody outside her hometown had paid any attention.

After her death in 1996, people started people her music a bit more, and eventually tracks got to England, where BBC Radio got tremendous response playing her material. A compilation of sessions called Songbird was released, featuring her versions of classics and covers such as Over The Rainbow, Sting's Fields of Gold, and the Fleetwood Mac favourite as the title track. One of the few stars who had heard of her before was Mick Fleetwood, when she had played his Washington-area restaurant. He wrote a piece in a British magazine about her wonderful voice and collection, which was selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.K., making the Top 10. Eventually word spread to North America, and it became a massive seller for the recent Amazon chain, as well as a PBS favourite and coffee shop standard, marking a new kind of retail hit. It eventually sold a staggering five million copies,
The success of the album led to a great demand for more, and live tapes, demo sessions, collaborations and more were mined for subsequent albums, both family-approved (all good) or not (not much Eva involvement). Since everything has been repackaged already, there wasn't much to left to supplement this anniversary edition. What the label has done is taken acoustic versions of versions of four of the favourite tracks here that have already been out on the Simply Eva set, and appended them here. My guess is only the bigger fans will have that other album, so if you're knew to Cassidy or looking for another copy of this classic, it's worthwhile.

How good was she? Songbird will make you forget it was ever a Christine McVie song. Oh, Had I A Golden Thread will turn you religious, and Over The Rainbow will reduce you to tears. The acoustics versions are, if anything, better.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Six albums in, Ottawa duo Sills & Smith have a reputation for alt-rock and prog rock, but this is calmed down, and leaning heavily folk/singer-songwriter. Perhaps that's because they've got some things to get off their respective chests. Frank Smith, who handles almost all the lyrics, has some harsh words off the top in On The Edge for those senators and congressmen Dylan called out years ago, and who haven't learned in all that time: "A pox on all your house." The song puts us near the precipice, foolishly getting too close, just lucky we're not falling over. It's a warning that seemingly nobody's taking. How we got in this mess is pretty clear, Smith once again pointing the finger at the greedy in Kings: "Opportunists in tailored suits collide with Fascists Sloganeers Carnival barkers. Although the song is looking back at the old captains of industry, the parallel is plain to see.

There's a lot of different subject matter over the 14 cuts here, and for such a lengthy album to steer away from love songs for the most part is pretty remarkable. Several times they return to current affairs, echoing feelings a lot of us are having of late. Grave Fascination looks at how bigotry and greed have become so open in society, and how brazen the perpetrators are. Mercy is simply a call for some of it. There are moments of hope spread about, and the record doesn't have a negative tone. It's more a plea for a little sanity, putting their lot on the side of the righteous. It feels like something we should all be making clear these days.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Canadian rock's most enduring democracy soldiers on, proving a good band is worth nurturing. Album 12 sees the group rules firmly entrenched: Four writers, each getting equal treatment if they desire, each creating their own tracks, with or without help from the others as requested or required. Oddly, while that should lead to a fractured collection at best, instead this has to be the most cohesive album the group has ever made. I don't know that anybody put out the word to make a pop album, but 12 is, start to finish, hooks and harmonies and catchy moments galore.

Chris Murphy kicks things off with the song that rocks the most, Spin Our Wheels, although All Of Our Voices is guitar-edged as well. After that, it's a cavalcade of fun. Andrew's Gone For Good has CSN vocals, whereas Essential Services sounds more '70's British, piano and cheery harmonies. Don't Stop (If It Feels Good Do It) is a brilliant celebration of that cliche, with an insane chorus. Every song is clean, crisp, sharp, and features some of the best guitar playing they (all of them) have done. Usually you go through a Sloan album thinking Jay's songs are this and Patrick's that, but on 12, you get 12 potential hit singles. I know there are lots of different opinions of what the best Sloan sound is, favourite eras and such, but for me, this is the group's pinnacle.

Friday, April 6, 2018


They don't make like this anymore, except for this one. Toronto swing/jazz singer Pangman took her trio into a studio in New Orleans that specializes in antique gear and sounds, and recorded this seven song set onto an old 78 RPM cutting lathe, the way they did it back in the Dirty '30's. What you lack in fidelity is more than made up for in presence, as you really feel like you've been transported back in time. While the sounds are tinny and flattened out, the magic is in the skilled musicians making room for each other in the limited space, and the vibrant tone of the instruments cutting through the atmosphere.

Pangman chose several hot tunes, some of which have a bluesy feel, others a European sensibility. All three of her players handle solo work, passing the lead back and forth; mostly violinist Matt Rhody and guitar player Nahum Zoybel take spotlight, but for me bass sax player Tom Saunders is the key, handling the bottom end, always present and the counter to Pangman's singing. She's always a joy, whether it's today tech or this ultimate oldies gig, and takes this way past retro chic. It's really an appreciation for that whole style of music-making, and lets us realize new technology isn't better, it's just part of the package.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


Mix the Andrews Sisters with Amy Winehouse and you'll get the sound of Rosie and the Riveters, a trio of strong women letting loose. Their retro/modern mix includes vintage clothes, hair, look but voices very much from today. They rip apart mansplaining on Ask A Man, singing "I Need a man to explain things to me/the space in my head is quite small you see/I am uncertain, what are my concerns/Can you spell them out in more simpler terms?" Point made.

The title cut says it's nobody's business how a woman acts, demanding an end to the old cliche of lady-like behaviour. Gotta Get Paid is about the most soulful way of campaigning for pay equity you can imagine. They aren't bashing anyone with these message songs, it's just plain, and they do it with good humour, stating the obvious while entertaining at the same time. Great harmonies, jazzy and groovy arrangements, and a positive way to get women's voices in the mix of crud that's slammed at us daily. The biggest point to take away is that these issues and societal changes should have been over with back in the '40's, but 70 years later we still need Rosie and the Riveters fighting the fight.

The group is bringing its dynamic live show to the East Coast to launch the new album. They'll be performing Saturday, Apr. 7 at the Kings Theatre in Annapolis Royal, NS, Sunday at Le Richelieu in Metaghan, NS, Wednesday, Apr. 11 at the Playhouse in Fredericton, Friday the 13th at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside, PEI, and Saturday the 14th at the Mermaid Imperial Performing Arts centre in Windsor, N.S.

Monday, April 2, 2018


If you've spent any time in the gritty downtown core of the city, any city, you'll know there's a subculture. Most musicians and lots of the arts community are familiar with that scene, from the very late nights to the shell-shocked mornings, where the reality of sex and drugs and rock and roll is far from the glamourous lifestyle often portrayed. And that goes double in ports, for a variety of reasons. Or so I'm told.

Hynes knows the deep city, the port of St. John's. Yes, he's a close relation to Ron, and yes, it runs in the family. He's already a hugely successful writer, his recent We'll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night winning the Governor General's Award for Fiction. This is his first studio album, after a live collection, and it sounds like he's just as comfortable in this role as he is on the page. As befits his edgy lyrics, there's a punkish, searing feel to the music, lots of rough guitar and his gritty vocals. Hynes' characters are in various points of disarray, from the barfly frustrated at being downtown "going home, all alone, in your tightest pants" (Last Call) to the "cold and callous, mean and cruel" love interest in Bad Boy. And he closes the album with a real Zevon-worthy rocker with a classic observation, Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead).

Usually, people in one artistic discipline who try to move into music end up sounding like they're on holiday. Hynes sounds like he's belonged there all along, and if he wasn't already a tremendous writer, I'd be calling him that for this album alone.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


Starting with the saucy strut Shoe Boot sets the right tone for another great soul reboot from Rateliff. Thick organ and greasy horns lead into a drum break that, if it was 40 years old, would be seized by samplers upon rediscovery. What I like most is, despite all the correct and proper instrumentation, is a loose and uncluttered sound, lots of room to enjoy Rateliff's country-flavoured vocals.

What sets Rateliff apart from the equally-fine Daptone label soul groups is that old folk-roots side that he had starting out. Cuts like Babe I Know feel like the country soul of Arthur Alexander, slow and thoughtful, with strong lyrics. And he plays around with both forms, much the same way Otis Redding wanted to go with Dock of the Bay. Usually we spend time studying folk-style lyrics for deep truths, but Rateliff is reminding us the real truths can be found in the soulful places too.