Friday, August 31, 2018


It's been a year since Lighthouse leader and drummer Skip Prokop passed away, and hopefully in that time a little more appreciation has come his way. Prokop was a seminal figure in the Canadian rock scene of the '60's, with his Toronto band The Paupers the kings of the Yorkville scene. When that band hit a string of bad breaks in the U.S, he got drafted into Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield's Super Session live band, worked with Janis Joplin, and then Mama Cass. It was during Cass's Vegas show, back by a full orchestra and horn section, that Prokop conceived of the idea of a huge group, featuring a rock section of four, a horn section and a string quartet, 12 players plus a singer. He high-tailed back to Toronto and put together Lighthouse, famously debuting at the Rock Pile club with an introduction by Duke Ellington.

At first, the band leaned jazz, and built a strong reputation on the U.S. festival circuit. With the Lighthouse Live hit album, they became the first Canadians to be awarded a platinum album in the States. Then they started getting radio hits, along with other big-sounding groups such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. We all know the big ones, One Fine Morning and the ever-popular Sunny Days, sure to be heard the first nice day in the summer on nearly every radio station.

Those with any memories of '70's radio will recognize a lot of the deeper cuts here too, with such CanCon favourites as Take It Slow, Hats Off To The Stranger, Pretty Lady and I Just Want To Be Your Friend. The glory period featured Bob McBride on vocals, although Prokop himself sang Pretty Lady and Sunny Days, and wrote most of the band's hits. Keyboard player Paul Hoffert and guitar player Ralph Cole were the other mainstays, and Howard Shore was in the horn section before heading to fame leading the original Saturday Night Live band, and then becoming a noted film composer (Lord of the Rings), winning several Academy and Grammy Awards. Prokop and Lighthouse are cornerstones of the Canadian rock scene.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


The much-anticipated debut album from the Halifax favourite, a singer of great renown before she ever recorded, thanks to her years of live performing. Much of that came from her church background, although you won't find any sign of that here, other than the topic of her ear-worm single, Good Girl Swag. "I'm the type of girl that you take home to mommy," she advises, turning the tables on the old Rick James Super Freak lyrics.

Apart from gospel, you do get lots of fantastic singing, and a whole bunch of styles. You Got It is old school, uptempo R'n'B pop, where Smith proves she can sound great in the diva/Whitney role. Good Girl Swag is going to stand out and drive everybody nuts, a dance hall/hip-hop cross, all hooks and bravado. Survive has an alternative edge, with lots of atmosphere behind her, and Is It Too Late is a big, heart-stirring ballad. Last Call is another ridiculously catchy track, funky and dance-ready, with a guest rap from fellow Haligonian Quake Matthews.

Through it all, Smith shows what a versatile and inspiring singer she is, filling each song with lots of positive vibes and confidence. It's about time the country found out about her.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Ah guitar rock, it still brings a big smile to my face, especially when it's ear-friendly and hook-filled. That goes double when it's new and current, proving if you do it right, it's a sound that lives in quite nicely with lots of melodies left to discover in those six strings.

Marlon Chaplin is a relative newcomer from Toronto with one well-received E.P. under his belt, and now this debut full-length. It's a rock'n'roll record for sure, with lots of punch, but plenty of thought too. There's introspection in the lyrics, lots of variety, quirky songs (One Man Show, Where Did We Go?), a fun lyric (Imaginary Mary K.), a couple of ballads and a few flat-out rockers. The first single, Elevation, has that bite, and the feel of a Chris Murphy (Sloan) song. 

Oh look, Toronto folks can go see the album launch show this very night (Thursday, Aug. 30) at the Piston Bar, with more Ontario and Quebec dates coming up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Hey, nice one Ben Kunder. For his second album, the Toronto native (with some P.E.I. living experience) hits us with some very listenable songwriter-pop, with lots of great harmony moments and country-ish highlights. But he's also not afraid to pull out the synth, anything that makes some sweet sounds. Better Days gets the pedal steel, Fight For Time the Jackson Browne treatment ("I don't want to fight for time with you, there's never enough.")

Kunder's tapped into the search for joy we all struggle with, trying to make happiness about more than just posting pictures of what our lives are supposed to be like on Instagram: "Now I'm living the hard line, and I'm losing all the good times/can you tell me how to get back to you?" he asks in Hard Line, with dramatic strings and piano making this one of the richest songs on the album. Searching albums, when done properly, can be tremendously uplifting, just knowing our worries are shared by like-minded folks, and Kunder has the ability to heal us a little with his songs.

And, he's on the road with an East Coast tour kicking off Saturday, Sept. 1 in my very own bucolic home of Fredericton. Join me, Maritime friends at one of these fine establishments.

Sept. 1 - Grimross Brewing Co, Fredericton
Sept. 2 - Plan B, Moncton, N.B.
Sept. 5 - The Carleton, Halifax
Sept. 7 - Iona Heights Inn, Iona Heights, N.S.
Sept. 8 - Back Alley Music, Charlottetown (in-store)
Sept. 9 - Trailside Cafe, Mt. Stewart, P.E.I.
Sept. 11 - Ross Creek Arts Centre, Canning, N.S.

You can check out his music at

And here is his website link:

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Lennie Gallant's been holding out on us. Oh sure, he's had his hit musical Searching For Abegweit going the last five years, and he's put out two live albums, winning the ECMA Entertainer of the Year award for 2017. But it's been nine long years since he released his last studio album. Worth the wait? You bet.

The veteran is acting positively youthful, teaming up with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell for this set. Ledwell, known for his rich, radio-friendly layers for recent hitmakers Rachel Beck and Gabriel Papillon, didn't turn on the atmospherics for this set though, instead keeping Gallant natural and comfortable. Instead, the acoustic tunes are accompanied by strings (The Fretless, Atlantic String Machine) and guest singers (Jenn Grant, Mary Jane Lamond, Rose Cousins). That's the right kind of accenting for these songs, as Gallant has come with his some of his finest, polished lyrics, a start-to-finish set of reflective and thoughtful insights.

The title cut is a clever mix of the complexities of the universe, mortality and love, making Einstein's big picture pretty simple in the end. Selkie is one of always-fine songs about spirits and ghosts, in this case an old Scottish sprite sort able to change from seal to human, and Gallant turns the tale into a haunting love story. There's A Storm Comin' is going to be played every time a Nor'Easter blows into the Maritimes for years to come with its snowdrifts and howling gale, all the time a metaphor for a relationship in crisis.

The final cut will also be remembered a long time, a beautiful and powerful tribute to the late, great Ron Hynes. The Newfoundland songwriter was known for his own tributes, penning memorable ones for Gene MacLellan and Rita MacNeil, and Gallant does those songs, and the man himself justice with Saying Goodbye To Ron. He name-drops Hynes' best-loved songs, taking us all to St. John's to share one more memory.

Full of emotion and gentle power, this is Lennie Gallant at his very best. The album comes out Friday, Aug. 31, and that night he'll launch the album at the Indian River Festival home on P.E.I.

Saturday, August 25, 2018


These are three troublesome Young albums from the '80's, released again on vinyl in the ongoing Archives series. Troublesome because, like so many Young albums, they are each flawed but also contain some important material and glimpses of magic. Some of the tracks are weak, some just dull, yet at some point you'll snap back to attention when you recognize that spark.

Hawks & Doves was a classic Neil move, following up one of the biggest hits of his career, 1979's Rust Never Sleeps' punkish heaviness with an acoustic, country-ish set. It was also a hybrid, with some cuts left over from the mid-70's, and others newly recorded. The Old Homestead was an odd duck, a lengthy ramble that was part of the unreleased Homegrown album, featuring Levon Helm on drums, with a naked rider, a Crazy Horse, and a prehistoric bird. It's been 38 years and I still can't figure out. Captain Kennedy was one of the cuts that came from the Hitchhiker sessions of 1976 (and finally released in full last year), and fits in with the Powderfinger/Pocahontas kind of spacey lyric. Side two of the album saw the switch to country, featuring Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle. The title cut was strong, but the tracks also showed Young's blue-collar hokey streak, trying to make sense of Red State thinking in cuts like Union Man.  The biggest sins here are the lack of focus, and lack of memorable songs. was the follow-up, at first greeted hopefully because of the return of Crazy Horse, but then the reaction was downright hostile. Young was trying to change his electric sound, going for a more contemporary, choppy style and even starting to use synths (he'd go wholly that way on his next release, Trans). The worst track was the pointless jam T-Bone, a nonsense lyric stretched over nine minutes. The rest of the tracks offered little excitement, until Young dropped a bomb at the end, the epic Shots, which was more than a keeper. The moody track had the feel of the On The Beach numbers, and certainly deserved to be played much more over the years.

From later on, 1988, This Note's For You, marked Young's return to the Reprise label, after his controversial stay at Geffen Records (where they sued him for making willfully non-commercial albums). Instead of coming back with something more popular, instead he pulled another of his genre switches, introducing the new band The Bluenotes (later called Ten Men Working, because of a legal issue with the first name). It was a ten-man group, six of them horn players, and the major cuts could fit in the blues category. The first track, Ten Men Workin', is another of Young's cliche cuts, where he pushes the theme of his genre exercise, in this case a hard-working blues band, with bad lyrics: "Well we work all day/Then we work all night." But he follows that with the brilliant This Note's For You, his one-man stand against corporate sponsorship. Its success as a video mocking Michael Jackson and others won him an MTV Award for the year's best clip, and brought him renewed respectability. Frustratingly, this excellent tune is edited to a brief 2'05" on the album. As usual with Young's experiments, he tires quickly of the joke, and several of the cuts here are more thoughtful, and precursors of the work on his next album, Freedom.

Of these three albums, This Note's For You is the best, as there was actually a lot more than blues going on. Hawks & Doves is interesting at times, and it's still Young, so it's never less than tolerable. is a dud, but as it's still the only place to find Shots, whattya gonna do? So yeah, troublesome, that Neil, and the trouble is, you have to love his flops along with his classics.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


Bridges was all the rage three years back with his debut Coming Home, a Grammy-nominated hit that had everyone raving about his '60's soul sound, right down to using original instruments and gear from that time, and dressing in vintage clothing. Many of those same fans have been disappointed in this follow-up, as he's shifted from that rawer soul to smooth R'n'B, including some modern beats. I've waited a little bit to review this (it came out in May) to see whether the initial reaction held, and to properly gauge my own reactions, as I was one of those very excited initial fans.

First, I can't say I'm surprised at his switch of sound. That debut was meant as an homage to his mother, and her music. Bridges is a young man (29) and certainly wouldn't enjoy standing still in somebody else's sound, no matter how good we think it is. He's been out there with Pharrell and Macklemore and Lewis, and has his own spin. Now that's not to say he's abandoned soul, and in fact, this set shows he's successfully bringing some very strong, melodic stuff to contemporary R'n'B. There are lots of echoes of Philly soul in the singles Bet Ain't Worth The Hand and Bad Bad News, some deep grooves that '70's Marvin fans will appreciate, and even a little acoustic Van Morrison, Into The Mystic mellowness on Beyond. It's quite simple, he's brimming with ideas of how to merge new music with some of the more melodic music of the past, and I'm all for that. Let him grow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


The latest from the Nova Scotia hip-hop artist is a six-track E.P. jammed with singles. That includes his moody Changes featuring Anjulie, the funky riff number She Ain't Gotta Do Much, and the strong message track Powerless, about the national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

As always, Classified offers up challenging, thoughtful and relatable lyrics, direct and powerful. He's able to say in short rhymes what others struggle to address in lengthy stories. In Fallen, which could easily be another single, he goes after social media: "We used to talk face-to-face now we talk face to face-time/lately all I see is more race, gay and hate crimes/reported live on my Twitter and on Dateline." All the while, he jams the tunes with hooks and surprising breaks, always making sure there's something to groove to as well. These are six compact, well-crafted cuts with no wasted space, some of his very best.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Impossible to pin down, The Punch Brothers continue to cut asunder our notions of bluegrass, classical, jazz and acoustic music, with their intricate, yet wonderfully listenable songs. These five lively players, on mandolin, violin, guitar, banjo and bass, jam like crazy with their bluegrass backgrounds, but stretch way past the usual band dynamics and structures. Songs veer into asides, as the troupe becomes quickly becomes a chamber ensemble or a stringband jazz group, each move seamless and beautiful.

The lyrics sound as swell as the music, and are just as hard to pin down. The songs feature lines that are inscrutable but wonderful to follow, such as "As I lie like the colours of the rainbow," and "Momma cuts through the morning like a man-of-war." Lead singer/songwriter and pretty much the world's greatest mandolin player, Chris Thiele, says the songs are about committed relationships during these turbulent times, but you'll go snaky trying to figure out how that fits in. Better just to enjoy hearing him sing "Don't let him get to you with his 'Hey batter batter swing,'" words as graceful as the music.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


A young man with an old voice, this Nova Scotia artist is doing outlaw country and sounding every bit the wily veteran. Formerly the leader of The Rockabillys, this is Nickerson's first solo album. It came out at the start of the year, but is getting a new push with the release of the single Gettin' Out Of Dodge.

From the mystery Western feel of opener Jeremiah to the Southern rock of the new single, Nickerson knows the difference between good and bad, or authentic and phony country rock, and he's clearly following the right path.The album has lots of sizzle, courtesy producer and lead guitar player Blake Johnston (Christine Campbell). Even the heartache ballad If She's Like has some crunch, while showing off a tender side and pretty decent pipes from Nickerson. Of course, all good outlaws have that side.
Nickerson has a couple of gigs coming up this Sunday, Aug. 26 at the Lunenburg Concert Series.  He'll play the Bandstand at 2 P.M., then he's at the Grand Banker at 9.30.

Friday, August 17, 2018


Here's a Montreal folk trio with a debut album, although individually they have lots of varied experience. Main writer Bruce Jackson has put in lots of miles in the Quebec rock and folk world, Elisabeth Rousseau is a classical/choral vocalist, while Jane Critchlow has sung Celtic, jazz, blues and rock. So it's your basic bilingual, multi-genre, multi-voiced group that could only happen in Montreal. In this case, they found each other teaching classes, and discovered that they loved singing together.

The opening folk tune, Take It With You, starts a cappella and you get the point right away. This trio has one of those beautiful vocal blends that immediately warms your heart, and stays with you long after. Wisely, they play to their strength, and the harmonies flow right through each song, two or three voices the norm, a single singer only heard for a line or two, before the others chime in. Jackson's songs move from style to style, matching the group's experience, a little Celtic here, contemporary sounds in some, more traditional elsewhere, but all can be called harmony folk, even their cover of Seals and Crofts' Summer Breeze. That's as close to pop as they venture, but still a good indicator of the type of beauty they present in their material.

Dig a little deeper, and Jackson turns out to be a strong lyricist, his Down In The Valley River an effective number about having to move away from family for work, set on the Quebec-Vermont border. The closer, The Company I Keep, is a strong East Coast-styled lyric (says the East Coast native, meaning it as high praise), and I know a few Newfoundland folk groups who would love to have that one in their name. The group keeps the instrumentation spare and acoustic, Jackson providing all the guitar and percussion, with only a little guest piano sneaking in. When you have voices like they do, you don't want to cover them up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Copeland has already made a case for being the most powerful blues voice of this generation, and of late she's been crossing lines, working in the roots field as well. This album is potentially her biggest statement, inspired of course by the dire straits face by her nation. Quite rightly, she realizes the need for the right people to claim ownership of that flag, for the truth it represents, not the ignorance.

Copeland is a masterful interpreter, able to imbue well-written songs with added gravitas, even with the authors present. John Prine joins for a duet on his 1990's cut Great Rain, and that number gets new strength in this protest setting, while Prine's vocal seems to come up a notch to match, too. Her reworking of The Kinks' '60's cut I'm Not Like Everybody Else uncovers a bold, empowering statement that's been overlooked for decades.

It's the new material that really drives the album though, especially two from Mary Gauthier, Americans and Smoked Ham and Peaches. In the latter, Copeland is able to sum up the national nightmare with lines such as "Are you under the covers with a flashlight like the rest of us now? Does the world make you think that everything's coming unwound?" Later, she offers a respite, for now: "When the whole world seems fake, give me something real/Hank Williams singing, a whistle, a far-away train." All the while, Copeland's ruling with her vocals, all the authority of Mavis Staples and the intensity of Etta James.

The album also includes lots of variety, including the ballad Promised Myself, an old cut from her late father, Johnny Clyde Copeland, a Stones-style rocker In The Blood Of The Blues, and the calming closer, the traditional Go To Sleepy Little Baby. With plenty of stinging lead guitar from producer Will Kimbrough, and guest appearances by Emmylou Harris, Steve Cropper, Rhiannon Giddens, Prine and Gauthier, this is also a real statement about Copeland's artistic prominence as well, claiming a place as a major cross-genre artist today.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Here's another in the four-album collection celebrating the 60th birthday of Warner Bros. Records. This double vinyl set features tracks from the late '70's to early 2000's, key cuts from punk, new wave and alternative groups and artists. It's especially strong on the early days of those movements, with Ramones, Dead Boys, Flamin' Groovies, Talking Heads, Richard Hell & the Voidoids and Johnny Thunders here. That's because of the foresight of Sire Records boss, the recently-retired Seymour Stein, who signed all those groups, and understood the art behind punk.

Warner picked up the ball when the Sire boutique label sold so much, it became a big deal. More bright signings followed, and their major tracks are here. That includes Blister In The Sun by Violent Femmes, The Pretenders and Talk Of The Town, the B-52's with Roam, and The Rezillos charming Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight. They got to release major British post-punk groups as well, including New Order (Love Vigilantes), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies) and Echo & the Bunnymen (The Killing Moon).

With such strong results, the company stayed brave, signing less-than-safe bets The Replacements, Jane's Addiction, Ministry, and Husker Du, while deep pockets let them grab prizes such as Elvis Costello and Wilco. It's all good, and even if you already have some or most of these cuts, it's pretty hard to pass up an album with a Side Two like this:

  • 1. Blister In The Sun - Violent Femmes
  • 2. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory - Johnny Thunders
  • 3. Alex Chilton - The Replacements
  • 4. Jane Says - Jane's Addiction
  • 5. Jesus Built My Hot Rod - Ministry

Saturday, August 11, 2018


Houston harp hero Krase pulls a fast and fun one on his fourth album, with a batch of uptempo tunes, some unexpected. The old Hank Williams number Settin' The Woods On Fire kicks things off, putting some boogie into the legendary country sound. And on one of the most out-there covers in years, he turns the beloved theme of the Beverly Hillbillies, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, into a zydeco party number.

Party tricks aside, Krase once again delivers plenty of energy, injecting some new life in a couple of Howlin' Wolf numbers. Even the slow blues, Nobody Loves Me, features searing licks from guitar player David Carter. And the very fast (1:56) Blame It All On Love, a new cut from producer/bassist Rock Romano, is full of zip, reminding me of the beloved Canuck group Doug and the Slugs. For a blues album, this sure rocks.

Friday, August 10, 2018


Accordion-fronted bands are normally either polka or comedy, so Nova Scotia's Lewinskies stand out immediately. There's no novelty factor here though, this is a modern, unique folk based around the portable keys, voice and composing talents of Kristen Hatt Lewis and her partner, guitar player Matthew Lewis. Thoughtful and compelling, Kristen's words and delivery have an old-world feel with contemporary approaches and attitudes.

The set was recorded live off the floor of the Old Confidence Lodge in rural N.S. by producer Charles Austin, along with some flown-in parts by folk pals in England, and it has a fascinating aural quality. That starts with the accordion of course, but also gets rich Euro-touches from the clarinet of Phil Sedore, especially on the minor key klezmer of Icy So Long. Deep acoustic bass and woody percussion from the dynamic Halifax duo of Tom Easley and Geoff Arsenault is featured throughout, and guest violin from the UK's Matt Steady help give the music everything from a Parisienne cafe atmosphere to a beat poetry recital. Matthew Lewis flourishes sometimes give the songs Gypsy touches, so it's a absolutely a blend of their own.

With the slower tempos and dramatic moments, there's a distinct power in each song, especially when Kristen Lewis moves into crucial lines and a higher, forceful delivery. It's highly effective and moody, and I'm betting even more so in a club setting, the duo recently having return from a lengthy tour of England. They do have a few upcoming Maritime shows, so catch details at

Monday, August 6, 2018


Much excitement greeted the news of the discovery of this previously-unheard music from Coltrane. For his fans, it's the same as, say, a full unknown Beatles album uncovered from 1965, or a Robert Johnson 78 from 1936. It's from his most important era, 1963, when he was leading his so-called Classic Quartet, with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and drummer Elvin Jones. That's right after My Favorite Things, and just before A Love Supreme. Coltrane was by this point a star, albeit a controversial one, with free jazz dividing the jazz community.

Recording sessions were very different events then, not spread over days and weeks, with parts layered on multiple tracks. Bands went in, played complete takes and in Coltrane's case, planned to make an album in one day's work. Exactly why this day's work at Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio didn't result in an album is now guesswork, but considering there were four other Coltrane albums released that year, including one with vocalist Johnny Hartman recorded the very next day, it might simply have been too much of a good thing.

The tapes remained on the shelf until Coltrane's untimely death in 1967, when Van Gelder handed over everything he had to the record label. Those were shipped to storage in Los Angeles, and classic bureaucratic thinking, all non-master tapes were destroyed to save space. As luck would have it, Coltrane was also given second, mono copies of his day's work when he left the studio. Those he had given to his first wife to hear, and decades later, that's why we get to hear them as well.

It's remarkable what can be done in a few hours, when you have a band at full stride. The quartet was just finishing a two-week run at Birdland, and had been playing some of this material, including one of Coltrane's major live works, Impressions. He was also working on versions of two well-known melodies, Nat King Cole's Nature Boy, and Vilia, best known as an Artie Shaw big band number. There were also untitled pieces, or at least those titles weren't recorded and aren't obvious now. Added up, the different selections would make an album. For this release, the different full takes done by the group are here as well, adding up to nearly 90 minutes, spread over two discs. Before you worry about wading through different takes of the same tune, a practice which bogs down so many retrospective rock albums, remember that this is a group of improvisational genius. On some takes, Tyner doesn't play, leaving the solos to Coltrane. On others, he switches from tenor to soprano sax. The group never plays it the same way twice.

As for the music, it's a fascinating session where Coltrane plays some old, some new, some conservative, some ground-breaking, both playing it safe and stretching. He was willing to be more accessible, but also wanted to take his music and perhaps his audience further. That's quite a day's work. Coltrane fans are making a fuss, and for good reason. It's providing a clearer picture of a crucial time for one of the giants of jazz.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Happy 60th birthday to the celebrated Warner Bros. record label, certainly home to some of the biggest records of our time, and generally regarded as a class act among companies. Thanks to a roster of artist-friendly producers and A&R execs over the years, many careers have been nurtured, and beloved stars have reached our stereos, radios and laptops because of the company's dedication. Of course, you don't usually hear that about record companies, but Warner was known to stick with acts they thought deserved to be heard (Little Feat, Gram Parsons) or give a home to true talents who probably were a little too weird for the mainstream (Van Dyke Parks, Capt. Beefheart). Of course, they also had plenty, I mean plenty of stars too, from James Taylor to Seals & Crofts to The Doobie Brothers.

For their birthday, the company is releasing a series of vinyl double albums, compilations that reflect the various sides to the roster. This set shows the company's California roots, as the label did start out as an offshoot of the Warner Bros. film company. During the singer-songwriter heyday, Warner (and associated label Reprise) had a lock on that cool pop style of writer. Even though the artists weren't all from that area, they were drawn there, as L.A. became the recording capitol over New York and Nashville. Even our own beloved Gord Lightfoot is featured here in a California collection, with his U.S. breakthrough If You Could Read My Mind, after he had signed up to the Warner empire. The former folkie was immediately rewarded with pop stardom, which continued right through the '70's.

Just to prove there's no real California music style (it's more a hip thing than a sound), you have such diverse artists as Norman Greenbaum (Spirit In The Sky), Christopher Cross (Ride Like The Wind) and Maria Muldaur (Midnight At The Oasis) here. There's a bit of the hippie vibe from Arlo Guthrie (The Motorcycle Song) and John Sebastian (She's A Lady). Master writers are included, Jimmy Webb doing his own version of Galveston (a little overwrought, Glen did a better job), and oh my goodness, the great Randy Newman, with Sail Away. You could knock this a bit by dragging out that old term, soft rock, but come on, Summer Breeze, Fire And Rain, and Willin'? This stuff has stood the test of time. Sadly, no Neil or Joni, both of whom were California standard-bearers by this era, but they routinely refuse to be part of such compilations, I'm assuming that's why. Also available are a New Wave 80's set, a Punk Nuggets collection, and still to come, I Wanna Be Sedated, a very strong underground set with Ramones, Replacements, Talking Heads, etc.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Block's Mentor Series of six collections was her way to celebrate the greats who inspired her in the blues. They were all originals who she was lucky enough to meet and study as a teen in New York in the '60's. Her tribute albums to Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the rest were not simply covers collections. They set Block apart as the leading interpreter of classic country blues today.

Now she has started a new series, and it will no doubt prove as excellent, and perhaps even more important than the Mentor Series. She's calling this Power Women Of The Blues, and she'll be following the same format, a full-length release on each of the legends selected. There's certainly no better place to start than Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, from the '20's and '30's. Her voice was like no other, so utterly real, filled with the reality of her struggles but also her absolute joy with what life could offer. Smith's lyrics still resonate, and can still even shock with the raw sexuality she describes in the flimsiest of codes.

"Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot
Never fails to touch the spot
I can't do without my kitchen man."

Then there's that description of a Harlem party on Saturday night:

"Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer
Send me again, I don't care, I feel just like I wanna clown
Give the piano player a drink because he's bringing me down."

It takes someone with experience and their own true quality to do justice to Smith's songs, to give them not only a proper airing but a believable one. Block plays every bit of every song here, all the percussion, bass and of course, her own acoustic guitar, including the stirring slide parts. These are also her own new arrangements. Smith recorded with piano and jazz combos, while Block has re-imagined the material as guitar-based, a whole new way of listening to these classics, and very satisfying.

It's worth noting how needed this collection is, and no doubt the rest to follow. You can't go a day without another blues album being released by some guy or band, doing yet another cover of the same Robert Johnson or Howlin' Wolf songs. Yet there are so many great women pioneers barely recognized today. Block acknowledges the lifetime work of Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur in her liner notes, long-time keepers of the flame, and having started this series, she'll also do lots to remind us of these incredible early performers.