Tuesday, July 31, 2018


The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) has a bunch of great things going for it, from the intimate listener venues to the always-stellar lineup. It's the kind of event where you feel like you've seen something special, rather than another night on the road for the performers. Part of that is the wise move put in place to attract artists that might not get to the region any other way. Instead of booking a performer and their full group, they go after singer-songwriters who are willing to play with (very, very good) local players, vets who can do their music justice. Then they are booked over three nights, one night as headliner and the other two as part of a songwriter's circle. This keeps hotel and travel costs down for the festival, and the artist is promised a working vacation, getting to enjoy the famous Maritime hospitality. In other words, stuff them full of lobster until they're happy.

This year's surprise choice (there's always at least one that you'd never think of beforehand) is Nashville's Lilly Hiatt. The up-and-coming singer-songwriter comes by it honestly, the daughter of the revered writer John Hiatt, but that of course only goes so far. She's clutching no-one's coattails, already an accomplished and passionate writer and performer. Her latest album, Trinity Lane, is a rowdy, rocking, emotionally charged release, full of fresh writing. There's a bit of twang to her sound but it's more roots-rock than country-folk, and her F-bombs will ensure there's no Opry invitation anytime soon.

Things are pretty intense when you delve into Hiatt's lyrics, with lots of lines about being on the edge emotionally, trying to get it together. She admits, "I just wanna rock 'n' roll/scream out my lungs and burn real slow." There are lots of old relationships hanging around, like the one in The Night David Bowie Died, where the singer wants to call a recent ex, but sits alone and cries, blaming herself for the split. No matter how much biography is in the songs, a key line seems to be "I'll take lonely if it means free." There's a whole lot of fire in the songs, and a bunch of life experience and survival wrapped up in that one line.

Lilly Hiatt will be at the Carleton in Halifax for HUFF Friday, Aug 31, Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2, in the songwriter's circle the first two nights, and headlining the Sunday. Tickets and schedule info for all the shows and venues can be found at www.halifaxurbanfolkfestival.com.

Monday, July 30, 2018


Quick, when did the British Invasion begin? You know, when The Beatles took over North American hearts and minds, starting a year of insanity that changed music and popular culture forever. The Ed Sullivan Show, right? When everybody tuned in? Well guess what. That was Feb. 9, 1964, and The Beatles were old news by that time in Canada. This country had been going wild for the Fab Four since December, and it had been building for a year already, way before those slowpokes in the U.S. had paid any attention.

That story has been completely told in the meticulous, essential The Beatles In Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! by Toronto author and music historian Piers Hemmingsen. A life-long Beatles fan, Hemmingsen had a unique view of the group's rise, living in England in the early '60's as the group broke in that country, and then moving in Canada just prior to their ascendance here. A lifetime of research has led to a series of books on The Beatles in Canada, including the most exhaustive discography of their releases in this country. It all came together with this huge, hard-cover coffee table book released first in 2016, jammed with photos, historic articles, first-time interviews and truly the whole story.

If you don't know, The Beatles first broke in England in late 1962, and over 1963 Beatlemania raged in England, as well as parts of continental Europe and Scandinavia. The group's label in the U.S., Capitol Records, was not interested at first, and didn't bother to release any of the group's music. But in Canada, a wise Capitol exec named Paul White, whose job it was to choose which U.K. artists to release here, took an interest. At first, not much happened, with debut single Love Me Do selling under a 100 copies. But White was determined, and over the year, four singles and a Canadian-only album release, White convinced radio, and radio convinced Canada. Hemmingsen follows the path, and documents each piece of that journey. So when The Beatles showed up in New York to appear on Sullivan, they were already stars back in Canada. No wonder Paul White was one of the few people allowed into the group's inner circle during that visit. And as Hemmingsen tells us, as fans lined up for their Carnegie Hall appearance, The Beatles were studying their chart numbers from Saint John, N.B., in their Plaza Hotel suite.

It's all a fantastic story that shows Canada's crucial role in launching the group world-wide, and a must for Beatles fans. The book has just been released again, this time as an eBook via Amazon, or a special edition by Apple iBooks. That's an exclusive enhanced edition that includes audio clips embedded in the book with interviews, rare radio recordings and info from the author. Especially interesting is hearing the story from Paul White, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Just fire up the iTunes and grab a couple of your old Beatles albums to listen to as well.

The book features a red colour scheme, and is known as the Red book, in keeping with those famous Beatles hits albums from the '70's, the Red and Blue albums. That's because Hemmingsen is well on the way to completing the second volume, which will cover The Beatles in Canada the rest of the way, until their break-up in 1970. So get caught up quick with the new eBook or iBook version.

Sunday, July 29, 2018


A third release for singer-songwriter Coupland, a rising folk favourite in the Toronto scene. This is a five-track EP highlighting her emotionally charged writing, heartbreak with an edge, and a beat too. This One's For The Road is a break-up song with defiance in its tempo, hitting the road with a groove going on. She's also got a knack for spotting the problem and saying it clearly: "You're always asking questions, searching for holes in my words, you don't trust me." Nobody likes that feeling,and kudos to her for putting it so plainly. I find her writing highly effective.

First single Bound For Love showcases her guitar style and gives her an opportunity to let her vocals soar, an optimistic song for those who believe that love will prevail. Love In Your Eyes is filled with tender beauty, a special moment and some poignant pedal steel by guest Fats Kaplin (John Prine, Jack White). It's another fine example of smart writing. We don't get a long lead-up, or the ending, just the important moment where a romance could happen, might not, a song pared down to the emotional drama. Definitely looking for a full album soon.

Saturday, July 28, 2018


Here's the latest in the on-going From The Vault series, which has seen a bunch of live Stones shows from several different tours made available. You get the whole show, on two discs audio and one disc video, then you get to compare 76 different versions of Brown Sugar from over the years, and the increasingly leathery texture of Keith's skin.

I mock, only because I love. But it was quite the conglomerate they had going at this point. They put out an album in 1997, Bridges To Babylon, then did a year-long mega-tour in support of it, then released a live album from the tour (No Security), then did a six-month tour in 1999 in support of the live album. That's when this San Jose show happened, during the No Security tour supporting the live album (whew!), if you follow all that. Anyway, the good thing about the second tour was that they stripped things down a bit, moving from stadiums to arenas under 20,000, scaled down the sets and costumes, and concentrated more on the music than the showbiz. Even Jagger chose t-shirts for the most part.

Even so, the band always ends up playing mostly huge songs, afraid of disappointing the general audience, so as usual, it's late '60's to late '70's favourites, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Tumbling Dice, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, Start Me Up, Sympathy For The Devil and, you guessed it, Brown Sugar. There's the obligatory recent cuts, in this case Saint Of Me and Out Of Control from Bridges, neither memorable hits but the latter is a good concert number. You Got Me Rocking, a very good song from the underrated Voodoo Lounge album has by this time made its way into the regular lineup, and it is probably the best later Stones song from the post-1989 period, so always welcome. The biggest surprise of this tour, and one that makes for the best footage, is when the group moves to the second, smaller stage, just the core four members plus bassist Darryl Jones and keyboard player Chuck Leavell, doing a mini-set of blues versions of their old fave cover Route 66, Get Off Of My Cloud and Midnight Rambler. When Jagger lets lose on harp on the latter tune, the old spirit comes right back, the vastness of their empire falls away, and we're left with a brief but shining reminder of the real magic, so impossible to capture on the giant stage. Ah, but then it's back to the business of being The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band. Cue Tumbling Dice.

Friday, July 27, 2018


It's hard to get too excited about another Davies solo album, particularly a Part 2, when he's out fanning the flames for a Kinks reunion yet again. This isn't the first time it's supposedly been happening, but there did seem to be a little more substance behind it, confirmations of phone calls and interest from all three surviving members, if they can stomach being in a room together. Or, it all could have been Davies drumming up headlines to bring attention to his latest solo album. He's always been a bit of an actor.

And a wannabe playwright too. He's been writing concept albums since the late '60's, often with large autobiographical content, or at least based on his family experiences. He's awfully nostalgic too, and was so back then too, writing about his sisters and his childhood and his London home. Then came his fascination with America, and his Muswell Hillbillies concept (having his Muswell Hill neighbourhood taken over by U.S. hillbilly culture). That behemoth of a country has loomed ever larger in his life, as his band effectively moved there in the '70's and became arena rock stars, and then from the '90's on, Davies lived there, got shot there, and got completely obsessed.

That's culminated in Americana Act I and now II, where he describes to us his journey, looking for the source of the music and culture that inspired him as a kid, hitting the long road through middle America as a rock star, and finding himself at the end of the search. On paper, it seems like it might be a winner, especially since once again he's engaged The Jayhawks as his backing band. Trouble is, the story keeps getting in the way of the songs. From the spoken word segments to the conceptualized lyrics, somewhere all the fun got squeezed out. There's no memorable hooks or choruses. The most interesting is a song about a run-in with a groupie in Minneapolis who has the best of him, although he blatantly makes the song sound like a classic Pretenders cut. This is where I remind you that Davies and Chrissie Hynde had a relationship, and Indianapolis, her hometown, sounds a lot like Minneapolis. It's a rare energetic track for the record, but it also seems like a cheap shot too.

The story ends with Davies leaving New Orleans after being shot, wiser and a winner really, because he found his music source, paid his dues and survived. He returns to the Muswell Hillbillies theme with the closer Muswell Kills, describing how he'd avenge himself if he ran into that shooter again. Like most of the Davies concept albums, including Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Schoolboys In Disgrace and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One (there was no part two, thankfully), this is a story that is just not that entertaining to follow, and doesn't have much to offer as individual songs, either. If getting The Kinks back together will mean he returns to some basic rock writing to let brother Dave bash away on guitar and Mick Avory do the same on drums, now that will get me excited.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


On the surface, this looks like a basic, though strong, '60's soul collection, featuring familiar names Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. And it is a solid set, with many well-known hits and a few surprises to attract fans. But there's also a cool back story.

Originally this was an album released in North America and England in 1968, but the U.K. version was drastically different, featuring an almost completely different track listing. It featured songs that were bigger hits there. It also proved quite influential, rising to #16 on their album charts. A favourite compilation, it's now been reissued for the first time, and greatly expanded, from the original 12 tracks, to 29 total, almost 80 minutes long.

The original mix was pretty cool, kicking off with Pickett's Mustang Sally, sliding into Carla Thomas's B.A.B.Y.. and then gearing into party mode with Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music. After Percy Sledge's immortal When A Man Loves A Woman, the cuts get lesser known, with Sam and Dave's I Got Everything I Need and Ben E. King's title track probably not recognizable by the average listener, but still top-drawer. The rest of the original 12 are bigger hits, including Redding's singalong Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) and Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood.

In case it wasn't obvious, these are all songs from the Atlantic Records label who had the cream of the crop of soul in those days, from its own roster and its distribution deal with Stax. The 17 bonus cuts here are taken from that same Atlantic stable of those years, with some repeats from Sam & Dave and Otis and Pickett, but also some period classics and a few very welcome one hit wonders as well. For those of you who thought Some Kind Of Wonderful  was a Grand Funk original, the first version, by Soul Brothers Six, should make for a pleasant surprise. The Mad Lads rarely make compilations, but their Get Out Of My Life is a fine example of group vocals of the day. Barbara Lynn needs to be better known for sure. Even some of the name artists get some exposure for their deeper cuts, including Eddie Floyd's excellent Big Bird (an airplane, not the Sesame Street character). Yes, you get Dock Of The Bay and Hold On I'm Coming for the umpteenth time, but the overall mix presents one of the best soul collections out there, with enough surprises to ensure that almost every buyer will get lots of tracks they don't already own.

Friday, July 20, 2018


This is some mighty mandolinin', from Canada's eight-string king. Happy both singing and playing, Collins gives us the best of both worlds over these two sets, one all vocals and the other instrumentals. Like all good bluegrass players, he has a sense of humour in his choices, as well as a sense of adventure. On the instrumental side, that sees him rework Pink Floyd's Goodbye Blue Sky, while on the vocals disc (the Tongue one, of course), he has a go at everyone from Nick Drake to Roger Miller to The Hollies. A relaxed singer with that rustic quality to his vocals, he turns both Just A Gigolo and King Midas In Reverse into numbers that sound like folk wisdom.

When it comes to the pure playing on Groove, the whole trio shines, and shows off some multi-instrumental skills as well. Collins moves from mandolin to mandocello to violin. Mike Mezzatesta handles guitar, mandolin, and violin, and James McEleney covers bass and bowed acoustic double-bass, depending on the needs. This lets them jam in imaginative combos such as dueling mandolins on David Grisman's classic Dawg Grass, twin fiddles on Collins' own Kentakaya Waltz, and several jazz/bluegrass numbers featuring fast tempos or old-time fun. There's tremendous interplay among the trio as they come up with twists and turns, always in glorious harmony. As much as I love the story-telling on Tongue, my jaw dropped over Groove.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Baby-hating, foul-mouthed liquor pigs, mired in debt and often in jail, even their mothers have denounced The Galpines. Well, not their real mothers I'm sure, and New Brunswick festival-goers and party animals have taken these four Moncton women to their hearts. The comedy country outfit sends up our redneck ways, from online shopping addiction (Visa Bill Blues) to living via Instagram (Hashtag Blessed). And sometimes, it's just for the shock value ("My dog is better than your baby.")

Fans will know many of the songs on the group's second release and first long-player, as they've been playing them to great reaction for months, and pretty much every song they write is instantly memorable. Go To Sleep has served as a lovely opening number, with those old-timey harmonies, like something that could have been on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Except that movie didn't feature some drug-and-booze addled festival goers trying to have a three-way but the baby wakes up and ruins everything.

If you shock easily, you don't want to go here, but if you have a sense of humour about four-letter words and questionable morals, and like comedy with your harmonies, The Galpines are absolutely entertaining. Plus, they don't like litterbugs, so there's a good lesson in here. One at least. 

The group is launching the album this Saturday, July 21, at the Parkindale Hall in Elgin, N.B., and are promising surprise musical guests, so I'm sure it's going to be a party. Then the band is continuing a busy summer of tour dates, including (gasp!) their first shows in Ontario and Quebec, including one at the Dakota in Toronto Aug. 31. That oughta show them stuck-up Upper Canadians.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Formerly of the Nova Scotia group Drift a few years back, Jennifer Irving did drift away for a bit, into a photography career, kids, a move to Saint John and other adulting. Music was just on the back burner though, and now she returns with a debut solo EP, four cuts from three different sessions. It's an interesting variety from the singer-songwriter, thoughtful lyrics across the board but some dramatic style shifts.

The first two cuts, Weight and Well Enough, were made with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell, and feature his well-known layers and textures. Irving adds to that a level of mystery, and intriguingly, a Spaghetti Western flavour. The third cut, Lines, was done with Charles Austin, another Halifax mainstay. While still featuring a rich sound, that track highlights the acoustic guitar sound of Irving's music, along with a bit of atmosphere. The final cut, Someday, is less spacious, Irving's vocals echoed and less prominent, brushed percussion joining the acoustic guitar along with a few bells and a haunted vibe. Toronto producer Snappy Homefry is the collaborator on this bit of electronic folk.

Irving proves a bit of a chameleon on the EP, adapting her voice to each atmosphere. On the mystery movie cuts at the start, she's moody and distant, while the acoustic tracks feel more warm and transparent. In each song though, her singing is compelling, and I like that she has these different sides.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


My biggest complaint about modern blues artists is that a lot of the run-of-the-mill ones put such little effort into their lyrics. You know the ones, singing about being done wrong by their baby, or waiting for the weekend to let loose. Then comes the guitar solo. Ones who work hard on their lyrics stand out, and Al Basile is certainly one of the best. No surprise, since his other career is as a well-respected poet. While those two aspects always meet in his music, his new album is something special, a true combination of poetry and the blues.

The album is made up of spoken word pieces before each song. Some are part of a narrative, while others are true poems. The story is about a fictional musician, who has a stroke of blues luck. In drastic need of inspiration to help him write songs, but not being good at words, he deserves an old trunk filled with writings, author unknown. The journals are easily adapted into lyrics, and they help his band become stars. We here about how that all goes down, how the musician notices the lyrics mirror his own life, and how, in true blues fashion, fame and fortune doesn't mean happiness. His band mates and friends turn out to be not so trustworthy, his marriage fails, but life's ups and downs bring his strength.

The songs relate to the narrative, and were made to follow the arc of the story. They were recorded with the musicians knowing the spoken section each was following. Produced by the redoubtable Duke Robillard, the mood is right for each one, and it's one of the most engrossing listens I've enjoyed. Basile, already a strong performer, is an equally captivating narrator. His plan almost backfires, as the stories are so engrossing I found myself waiting for the songs to end to hear the next bit of reading. That was just the first listen though, and the music proves strong as well, giving me renewed appreciation for his lyrical abilities. I can't think of a similar blues/story album before, and it's certainly a fascinating listening experience, half-audio book, half-cruising music.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Here's a pleasant-plus surprise. Veteran jazz sax and flute player Lloyd fronts a group of consummate players, including guitar maestro Bill Frisell and pedal steel and dobro giant Greg Leisz. They also play with Lucinda Williams, and Lloyd and Williams met and developed a mutual admiration. First she asked him to guest at a show, then he asked her, and then this collaboration was born. Lloyd and the Marves do five jazz instrumentals, and Williams takes the lead vocals on the other five songs. Four of them are her compositions, three older ones, one brand-new, and the last a cover of the Hendrix classic Angel.

Jazz fans will find lots to enjoy, as the genre-bending Lloyd has quite a team in the Marvels. The rhythm section is made up of Lloyd's longtime team of Reuben Rogers on bass and drummer Eric Harland. Frisell and Leisz help Lloyd veer off in every direction, from blues to country to free-form squonking. It's adventurous, mostly melodic, and fun, hearing players who can work in so many styles.

For Lucinda fans, it's a revelation. Here she stretches past her usual roots style, and adds a whole new level to her vocal style, with extra notes and nuances. On her own robust albums, there isn't a whole lot of room for such vocal subtlety, but here there's more pacing and less volume, allowing her to shine. She clearly enjoys the changes made to her material by this group. She's also chosen songs that are from her more poetic side, and that brings extra strength to the verses. Match that with the exceptional performances from Lloyd and the group, and it will lead the listener to a whole new appreciation of Williams.

Monday, July 9, 2018


Come on, we all know it ... Everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight. There. Don't you feel better getting that out of the way? Darn catchy though, and a pretty brilliant move, putting the band name in the hook of the song. We'll never, ever forget it.

The bigger question is whether there's anything else to remember. And you know, they actually aren't a one-hit wonder. If you'll remember, Dance Hall Days was a pretty decent-sized hit, a couple of years before Everybody Have Fun Tonight. And the follow-up to that monster, Let's Go!, was also hit the Top 10, and it's a quite good track. Then there was the soundtrack to the film To Live and Die in L.A., which produced a decent title cut. So there's a few things there, and if you skip over the ubiquitous you-know-what, this isn't a bad listen, even with that glossy 80's production. A version of the group still tours the oldies circuit, with pals Cutting Crew. Oh by the way, Wang Chung is the Chinese phrase for yellow bell, the first note in their classical music scale. Which makes no sense, "everybody yellow bell tonight." Go figure.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


The Halifax Jazz Festival gets underway this coming week, has a stellar lineup, and opening night features a fantastic free show. It's starring none other than Canada's premiere jazz-soul singer, Molly Johnson. And wouldn't you know, she's got a killer new album out too.

It's produced by none other than Larry Klein, who has managed to do a decent job in the same role for Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Norah Jones over the years. He knows how to showcase the finest female singers, and that's just what you want with Johnson. She has one of those voices, the kind that you want to enjoy every syllable she sings, the last faded "sss..." on the end of a line. This is a particularly punchy, upbeat set for her, mostly originals, and some well-chosen covers. There aren't too many singers who can bring out the groove in Leonard Cohen's Boogie Street, and make a classy version of Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues as well.

Her previous release was her tribute to Billie Holiday, Because Of Billie, so Johnson had a bunch of her own songs saved up for this one. Gone has a big groove, almost a rocker, while Stop, written with Klein and David Baerwald (David & David) is a jazzy modern ballad, with an emotional lead from Johnson at her smokiest.

See Molly Johnson at the free show Tuesday, July 10 at the Waterfront Stage at 8:30 pm, along with the Halifax All-Star Jazz Revue. That features the city's top players, including drummer Dave Burton, Jamie Gatti on bass, Geordie Haley on guitar, keyboard player Sylvio Pupo and Chris Mitchell on sax. There are plenty of other tempting shows throughout the week as well, including sets from Chaka Khan, The War On Drugs, Alvvays, Matt Andersen and the Mellotones, Whitehorse, Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson and lots more.

Friday, July 6, 2018


I like this format quite a bit. Disc one is a basic best-of, all the hits written by Nash for CSN, Crosby-Nash, and his solo albums, while disc two is all demos, most of them previously unreleased. Some of the demos are those favourite hit tracks, while others are lesser-known but really charming stripped down. It's two very different ways of going through Nash's career, both of them worthy.

You can argue who was the better writer in CSN until the cows come home, but certainly Nash was the best commercial writer. His melodies were always catchy and his lyrics easily digested. Those delightful ditties, such as Marrakesh Express, Our House and Teach Your Children, were the singalong favourites that cleared the way for Crosby's hippie trips and Stills' guitar workouts. And he pretty much saved the band by writing the hits Just A Song Before I Go and Wasted On The Way, which propped up middling efforts later in the group's career. When pushed, he could get angry too, and Chicago, Immigration Man and Military Madness gave him an another dimension rather than just being a softy. No question though, of his colleagues (not including Young), he has been most consistent and deserving of a hits collection. It also allows folks unfamiliar with his solo or duo efforts to hear fine songs such as I Used To Be King.

The demos collection is more exciting, since it's almost all new, and quite interesting. We hear him putting down solo versions of Marrakesh Express and Horses Through A Rainstorm back in London, the former famously rejected by The Hollies, a final straw for Nash as he quit the band and fled to L.A. Horses was supposed to be a CSN track, and was first heard on that group's '90's box set, fully recorded, but here we get the acoustic treatment. Marrakesh is obviously a quality number even in its raw state, but the CSN treatment was magic. Teach Your Children was pretty bare-boned as a demo, again one that came alive with the band. Nash moved to piano writing shortly after that, and his demos became more vibrant at that point, more melodic. Simple Man is gorgeous, and could have been released just like that. Wind On The Water, a little bit more advanced of a demo, with piano and guitar, is a clear blueprint for that solid Crosby/Nash cut. Just A Song Before I Go, with piano and harmonica and none of the layered harmonies, is more haunting. And Wasted On The Way is far less jaunty, which makes this easily the better version. This set could have been another ho-hum best-of, but instead is really a must-own for CSN and Nash fans.

Thursday, July 5, 2018


I submit, for your consideration, the next hero for the Marvel Universe. Real name: Ken Kawashima, born to a Japanese father and a Korean mother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960's. Raised in Bowling Green, then moved to Chicago. Day job: Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. Avengers name: Sugar Brown. Nighttime job: Blues superhero. While going through his studies in Chicago, Kawashima became immersed in the famous blues scene, and began a tutelage under some of the local legends with names such as Taildragger, Rockin' Johnny and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. He walked away from it all to get that Ph.D., but after establishing himself in the rarefied air of Upper Canadian academia, found himself unable to resist the call of the wild. In 2014, he reclaimed the Sugar Brown name, and now has issued his third LP, all of them stellar.

Brown has that gritty, real sound that every blues player wishes they could get, but seldom can. It's authentic, and authoritative too. Seems our scholar was studying up on a few subjects in Chicago, as he deftly moves from style to style, including the good-time jump blues of Dew On The Grass, the acoustic country blues of Brothers to the low-down, hard times cut Lousy Dime. He's aided by some superior players, including Toronto roots guitarist Nichol Robertson, stalwart drummer Michelle Josef, classy piano man Julian Fauth, and even his old Chicago mentor, Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar. Brown's a deft writer, able to hit classic themes, and is doing all original material, fresh and articulate, but still sounding like all those classic influences.

The final piece of the puzzle comes in the overall sound, captured on two-track analog tape, and vocals recorded using a vintage 1930's microphone pre-amp. It adds that special bit of low-fi, and makes it easy to compare Sugar Brown to the greats. He's definitely got the stuff. Somebody call Stan Lee.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Now here's some Canadiana. Folks from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. end up living in Montreal and making a country album. Well, alt-country, or in other words, old school country with folk melodies and thoughtful lyrics, and in this case, a beautiful sound and haunting vocals and harmonies. The six-member group came together from Friday night kitchen singalongs. There are three singer-writers; Katie Moore, Michelle Tompkins and Angela Desveaux, and players Joe Grass (dobro, pedal steel), Mike O'Brien (guitar) and Andrew Horton (bass). All are experienced performers in various Montreal groups, and this is their first release under the El Coyote banner.

Each of the singers has a true, classic roots voice, natural and easy to enjoy. The harmonies are gorgeous, soothing even, so comfortable do they blend. Mostly these are country ballads, with 19th century folk touches, and even some Western influences. But there's still that little alt- edge, so it's never a homage to old timey sounds. The best I've come up with as a description is Cowboy Junkies visiting the McGarrigle family for a parlour session. The language is certainly older rather than modern; they sing of time and tide, and a false-hearted lover. But even cuts like Lighten up Diane and the uptempo cut Tip Jar feel more like they are set in the 1950's than today. Delicate acoustic picking and Grass's hypnotic pedal steel and dobro dominate the instrument sounds, while wisely never getting in the way of the voices. I haven't heard a combo like this since the Trio recordings of Emmylou, Linda and Dolly.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


There are certain musicians that are crucial members of a music scene. Their work, not just the art they create, but the service they do, is what makes a scene vibrant. This is done via support, camaraderie, influence and leadership. I think I'll call them "backbone" musicians, for lack of a better term. Denis Parker is certainly one of them. The blues singer has weathered the changing scenes of the music industry for 50 years, and is the dean of the scene in St. John's, NL. He's put out his share of albums, and for almost 20 years was head of the Music Industry Association of NL. He's celebrating that 50 years with a new album, and a launch party Saturday, July 7.

Interestingly, his recording career actually began in England, where he's from. Parker was part of the British blues scene in the '60's, and eventually got his recording start in, wow, Abbey Road Studio. He even recorded his debut around the same time as The Beatles were recording their Abbey Road album. Parker was in a group called Panama Limited Jug Band, the chief songwriter, and that group's two albums on the hip Harvest label are hugely collectable this days. But he soon after cross the pond for Newfoundland, and has served as a player, educator and organizer since. So hats off to a remarkable career.

Meanwhile, the new album is just what Parker knows best, acoustic blues, just him, his guitar, a little accompaniment when called for, and something special, harmony vocals from his daughter Sarah Parker-Charles on a few cuts. It's a grab-bag of 19 tracks, recorded intimately, which is the perfect way to hear Parker. He owns this style, his vocals are mesmerizing, and the simplicity captivating. You can hear every bit of that 50 years' experience, on old favourites Trouble In Mind, Kokomo Blues, Canned Heat, or on his own material in that vein, some of them numbers he had composed and set aside years back, only to be rediscovered for this.

Like the best blues performers, Parker has improved with age. You can join the birthday bash Saturday at Fred's Music in St. John's with Parker doing a full set at 5 PM.

Monday, July 2, 2018


A relatively new recruit to the East Coast, Mark Fossen has spent a decade busking and gigging the country and beyond, playing festivals and releasing single tracks and videos. Now the B.C. native has landed in Antigonish, N.S., and has celebrated with his first full-length, called Restless. Produced by Jim Bryson, who's been quietly doing novel things for Canadian folk acts, this set has Fossen's emotional and searching tunes given a whole bunch of cool levels and shifting soundscapes. Like he's done on P.E.I. singer Meaghan Blanchard's upcoming release The Great Escape, Bryson has emphasized the mood in each of Fossen's cuts. It's not with unnecessary noises but rather with moments of quiet and calm, beautiful tones, mystery, and just the right bit of volume at the right time.

That leaves lots of room for Fossen's warm delivery and searching lyrics. Rocky Mountain Kiss looks back at an old West Coast love, thinking about it at a vulnerable time, and realizing it wasn't aching for the person, but missing that feeling of being in love. The cut Sometimes gets into intense territory, Fossen clearly one able to tap into his feelings, such as when he has to "..search for you in bottles of wine/when my heart is beating overtime." Songs with such heart on display could be mushy, but Fossen and Bryson add lots of power throughout, from gutsy guitar to some sneaky banjo to subtle strings. Or in Ghost, Fossen adds a falsetto harmony to a couple of lines, sounding a bit like Robbie Robertson in Somewhere Down The Crazy River. That's a good vibe, and this album has lots of that kind of warmth.