L.A. veterans The Skylarks have honed their sound over the course of four albums and lineup changes, moving from more of a singer-songwriter project for original member Sam Mellon to the current Americana focus, more of a band approach. With harmonies and occasional lead vocals from Amy Luftig-Viste, there's a solid guy-gal approach right across the album, which helps it stand out from the majority of roots-rock releases. They're also not afraid to have a trumpet do solos on a couple of tracks, trading off with guitar heroics and driving rhythms.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018
Lots of musicians can testify to friendship and inspiration from the late Ron Hynes. He was generous with his time and advice, especially for up-and-coming Newfoundland songwriters. Of course, some shared a bit more, including Tizzard who toured with Hynes as his bass player for a time. A member of The Watchmen and Thornley, and now a solo artist, got to know Hynes' songs well, and learn some of what drove their creator.
For the community of musicians, fans, and fellow NL'ers, Hynes' loss is still fresh and keenly felt. It's an album that needed to be made, and heard widely, as Tizzard does Ron right, and does him proud. He's chosen a cross-section of the well-known and lesser-known, but of course they're all gems, every one. He's put his own spin on several of the tracks, nothing too off-kilter, just different arrangements or productions. "Man Of A Thousand Songs" gets a slower take, some are a little more country, and Amelia Curran, another of Hynes' friends, duets on St. John's Waltz. Sonny's Dream is here, how could it not be, and bigger fans will be pleased to hear deep cuts such as 1962 and the title song, as perfect a lyric about the depths of emotion as exists.
Sunday, October 28, 2018
The Arkells take their jobs seriously, and the group is certainly not resting on their now-solid laurels. With album number five, the band is pushing envelopes both lyrically and musically, yet still sounding catchy and exciting.
There's a great deal of empathy across the album, with songs about mental health challenges, people struggling with the crap stuck on them as kids, and friends who are hurting. But there's some new-found anger too, as they found they couldn't hold back from taking aim at what they're witnessing in the U.S. The cut American Screams is like witnessing a nightmare out of the tour bus window: "You keep repeating that wicked catch phrase, painted on the Interstate/All the billboards, they get me lonely/I can't sleep off these American Screams tonight." Later, in People's Champ, they call out Trump for his vanity and worse, and point out we know this ain't going to end well: "I already know how the history books will react."
Saturday, October 27, 2018
This is a good move for Mays, giving us a different way to appreciate him. He's taken his entire album from 2017 ("Once Upon...") and remade it as an acoustic record. Best known for rocking out, Mays the singer-songwriter sometimes gets lost in the electricity. He'll never be mistaken for Leonard Cohen, but there's lots to appreciate in his plainspoken lyrics, much of it self-examining, and wise through experience.
This is pretty bare bones, although not just acoustic or demo-level. Mays is joined by Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel for a few cuts, Anthony Carone on piano for a couple more, and backing vocalists on most of them, plus hand-and-foot-made percussion. The songs, some of his career best, lose none of the tunefulness, and Mays has a compelling voice that draws us in for a closer listen. Now with the emphasis on the words, we can appreciate a track like Sentimental Sins more, trying to capture love's intensity he tells us "You gotta chase that teenage feeling back to how it used to be." Songs that sound like a party on the electric album are revealed as more conflicted, like Howl At The Night: "I’m at this party they’re all talking too much/I should be home with the wife and two kids in my clutches." The only thing wrong with this idea is that it will now be a struggle to decide which version to play.
Friday, October 26, 2018
Easley first came to acclaim with the East Coast roots/blues group Hot Toddy, earning Maple Blues and ECMA trophies. He also developed a parallel career in jazz that now has his emphasis, most notably in a Halifax trio with Geoff Arsenault and Bill Stevenson, and as the go-to guy when acoustic bass is needed. Now he has this new project with some of the stalwarts of Halifax jazz, in a two-guitar, drums and bass quartet. Mark Adam is the percussionist, while Geordie Haley and Kevin Brunkhorst cover the six strings.
These are all Easley compositions, and mirroring his background, the all-instrumental album certainly falls under a jazz heading, but has lots of elements from other genres peaking through. There are atmospheric moments, including the first couple of minutes of opening track The Dreaming, bowed bass over soft waves before cymbals help find a meditative theme. Thicker grooves and rich guitar tones can be found on other tracks, yet there's certainly a contemplative feel across the album, not ambient but definitely dreamy.
There's lots of fine interplay between the guitars, bass and drums, very controlled, not in a scripted way, but collaboratively, plenty of rises and falls. The guitars are for the most part pretty sweet, but every so often things get a little dirty, a hint of noise and intensity to set a top bar of intensity. All in all, it's really ear-friendly and melodic, and probably great to enjoy live. That's handy, as there are album launch shows happening in N.S. and N.B. over the next while:
Friday, Oct. 26 - Halifax - 1313 Hollis Street
Saturday, Oct. 27 - Glen Haven, N.S. - Paul's Hall
Friday, Nov. 23 -Saint John, N.B. - BMO Studio Theatre
Saturday, Nov. 24 - St. Andrews, NB - Sunbury Shores (1 pm)Saturday, Nov. 24 - Fredericton - Wilser's Room (8 pm)
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Is there Hawaiian blues? Well sure, blues is about what you're feeling, not where you're from. John Akapo lives in Hawaii, his heritage is American Samoan, but actually picked up on the blues when he was growing up in Alaska. He's developed his own idea of the music while working as everything from a luau musician to hip-hop producer so this is definitely his own take on the genre.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
As explored in the documentary "Sweet Marie: In Studio with Erin Costelo" that aired this year on CBC, Costelo pushed herself to record this album in a mere 10 days. Honestly, if I didn't know that on first listen, you could have told me she worked on this for a decade. Nuanced, dramatic, meticulous, I can't think of another album like it, certainly not an East Coast one at any rate. As with the Halifax songwriter/producer's other four releases, it's a rich soul album. This time though, it's far more mellow and subtle, a moody piece, soulful-emotional.
There's a story here, or a theme, a personal yet universal one about a woman finding confidence and freedom. Costelo's ability to tap into those feelings, both lyrically and musically makes the album a profound statement, while each track pulses with a tight groove. If you want a comparison, think Bill Withers or Roberta Flack, tremendous singers who seemed to feed off the textures in the music, and vice-versa. The core band performs tremendously and in complete lockstep with Costelo and her piano: Leith Fleming-Smith on organ and keys (Matt Mays), her long-time guitarist Clive MacNutt, bass player Anna Ruddick (Bry Webb, Sarah MacDougall) and drummer Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo).
There are a couple of more uptempo numbers here, including first single Lights Down Low and All In Your Head, and I certainly wouldn't suggest it's a slow, or ballad-heavy album. It's intense for one thing, in its depth of emotion and the sheer power of its beauty at times. The arrangements alone are enough to keep you riveted, especially the strings on tracks such as Epilogue and the closer and lone cover, Randy Newman's I'll Be Home. It's so rare to hear a contemporary album made in such an uncompromising way. It seems unburdened by those old commercial considerations, of will it sell? Is there a single for radio? A big-name guest star? Instead, it feels like a fully executed artistic statement.
Erin Costelo is launching the album with a series of dates including the following:
Wednesday, Oct 24 - Cavalry United Church, Kingston, ON
Thursday, Oct 25 - Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, Montreal
Thursday, Nov 1 - Marigold Cultural Centre, Truro, NS
Friday, Nov 2 - Sanctuary Theatre - Saint John, NB
Saturday, Nov 3 - Pourhouse - Charlottetown
Wednesday, Nov 7 - Lane’s Privateer Inn - Liverpool, NS
Thursday, Nov 8 - Fort Massey United Church - Halifax
Saturday, Nov 10 - Evergreen Theatre - Margaretsville, NS
Saturday, Nov 3 - Pourhouse - Charlottetown
Wednesday, Nov 7 - Lane’s Privateer Inn - Liverpool, NS
Thursday, Nov 8 - Fort Massey United Church - Halifax
Saturday, Nov 10 - Evergreen Theatre - Margaretsville, NS
Monday, October 22, 2018
The debut album from Sam Roberts, a band, don't forget, named after the singer-songwriter, confusing I know. They eventually changed it to Sam Roberts Band to make things easier. That didn't stop the excitement 15 years ago, when this album went double-platinum and won three Junos, Album, Artist and Rock Album of the Year. To me it always feels like the last of the great Canadian guitar albums, or at least the end of an era.
Maybe it's that turn-of-the-century vibe, with hip-hop, alternative, electro, Idol winners, pop disguised as country, everything else flourishing from that point on, that We Were Born In A Flame feels rather forgotten in the time since. Perhaps this deluxe will remind a few folks of its importance. It is a heck of an album, loaded with recent hits from the band (Brother Down, Don't Walk Away Eileen), new ones (Where Have All The Good People Gone?, Hard Road) and no shortage of strong album tracks.
Roberts had first broken through the year before with The Inhuman Condition EP, which had shockingly managed to go gold and made national stars of the group. It was essentially a set of demos, so good they just got rush-released. Entering the studio with producer Brenndan McGuire (Sloan, By Divine Right), there were no shortage of other grand ones, including Taj Mahal and Every Part Of Me, showing a more contemplative side to the rockers. The group could also work a groove into a great track, The Canadian Dream not much more than four lines, but strong ones: "S.O.C.I.A.L.I.S.M. is here to stay," a track that deserves to be blasted across the border as part of the trade wars. The only minor criticism I have of the original album is the length. It's nearly an hour and 15 tracks, which feels about two too long, but of course length was still an issue in those CD days.
Friday, October 19, 2018
Easy-going. That's the feel of Alberta singer-songwriter T. Buckley's fourth album. Not easy listening, no, not that derogatory term for old-style popular crooners. Easy-going, as in friendly, pleasant, easy to enjoy, good-natured and natural. Buckley straddles all the roots genres, a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, the songs coming at you with toe-tapping tempos and singalong melodies, making you relax and feel just fine.
There's nothing light about what he's doing though. Songs this easy to understand and enjoy are crafted and polished, every thought precise and each line a little gem. Take this scene at the local hangout, from Twilight Diner: "Shining up the counter, the coffee starts to flow, a nightly congregation gathers in the glow." Already you can picture the characters and setting. You don't know what's coming, but you're ready to hang on every word. Or how about this admission, from rural life: "I'm just a rock stuck in the country, trying to be a rolling stone."
Thursday, October 18, 2018
From the ashes of the much-loved 24th Street Wailers comes the debut from lead singer/drummer Lindsay Beaver. The Halifax native has now departed for Austin, and tapped into the rich roots there, resulting in this dramatic and sizzling set. It features a nasty '50's deep R'n'B vibe, along with a little bit rockabilly, and on opener You're Evil, some Howlin' Wolf, albeit with one truly raunchy guitar solo.
Beaver does much of the writing, along with some choice covers including Art Neville's Let's Rock. The Little Willie John number You Hurt Me proves a great showcase for her rich voice, and when she's not drumming too wildly, she can put tons of emotion into a deep blues like that. This album sees her signed to the esteemed Alligator label, and they've put a lot of faith in her, letting her produce this label debut herself, using her new band for most of the music. Guitar player Brad Stivers proofs quite a weapon, with lots of strong Texas licks and a good-time duet vocal on Don't Be Afraid Of Love. Beaver has put her own vocals in '50's setting, with a bit of echo and a bit off-mic, the better to let her wail.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Oh, what to do if you're Cape Breton's Mullins, and feel comfortable in so many songwriting styles? Pop, folk, country, a little hip-hop, heck, even a children's choir shows up in his music. The solution is this double album collection, loosely separated into one pop set (Onward) and the other (Upward) more on the folk/country side, although there's plenty of blending back and forth.
The pop set has a more beats, bells and whistles, for the most part supplied by Halifax producer Jason Mingo (Meaghan Smith). This sounds completely in character for Mullins, with his smooth, higher-pitched vocals and lots of great harmonies. Songs such as For Tonight have excellent melodies, and lots of upbeat warmth. Lightning Strikes moves into some R'n'B, and grooves along enough to hit the dance floor. And the collaboration king, Classified himself, takes the producer chair for Free Falling On A Feeling. It's one of those hybrid country/hip-hop tracks, complete with Duane "D.O." Gibson's bridge raps, but still with room for harmonica bites.
So it's already a programmer's nightmare, but who cares except them? It all sounds great no matter what genre you try to stuff it into. Free Falling On A Feeling alone would sit well on pop, country and urban playlists. And that's just the first half. Over on the Upward side, you get Mullins' more story-telling material, and a whole different kind of production. This is roots-oriented, starting out with the fiddle-driven cut Love Will Conquer All, but with a rock 'n' roll organ and rhythm, a barn-burner. You get more life snapshots here, like Howlin' At The Moon, a true tale of young Mr. Mullins and his crew painting a Sydney train bridge one wild night (rotten kids). And more kids, these ones good, show up on Where The Rivers Meet The Ocean, this time the school choir from Tatamagouche, who help explain that's the translation of their town's name. That one comes out as a gorgeous folk anthem.
Monday, October 15, 2018
It was great having Bowie become a huge star in 1983 with Let's Dance, the biggest he'd ever been, at least in North America. It was very catchy music but still retained some of the edge and smarts of his adventurous, late '70's music. It was great, yes, but also it was about the worst thing for artistic output. After nearly two decades of struggling with the financial side, even during the Ziggy years, he finally had a huge album and tour bringing in lots of wealth, and that must have felt good So good, he spend the rest of the decade trying to give those new pop fans more of the same. It's an old story, but it felt even more disappointing coming from Bowie, who had always been an innovator first, not someone trying to stay at the top of the pops.
If you're keen to write off the entire decade, first I'd suggest going back to Let's Dance, enjoy the groove of the first side of the album, then hit Ricochet, which contains all the experimental wordplay and off-kilter music of anything on Scary Monsters, but still has a great groove courtesy of the production work of Nile Rodgers. It did truly feel like Bowie had found the magic formula to combine success with art. Turns out it was part poison, and he drank deeply.
So it falls to this boxed set to try to reclaim the rest of the '80's music, and make it seem as valuable as the previous three box sets that covered the glorious '70's. Times had changed in the music industry, which meant that instead of an album a year, Bowie only did three studio albums, plus lots of soundtrack cuts and a couple of tour videos (on VHS, remember that?). Tonight, the too-hasty followup to Let's Dance, is just too troubled to rehabilitate, so the compilers have attempted to change our opinions on the other set, 1987's Never Let Me Down.
That album sold a bunch, which initially pleased Bowie, and led to his year-long, massive world tour called Glass Spider. But it wasn't long before he echoed the poor reviews, and started trash-talking the album, ultimately using it as an example of how he'd lost his way. His dissatisfaction led to the formation of Tin Machine, a complete left turn from the synth-pop he'd been doing.
Bowie blamed himself for not caring or being involved enough in the production, and that he'd let the songs down, that they weren't the problem. To partially prove his point, he had engineer Mario McNulty remix a track in 2008 for a compilation, liking it much better, and wishing he could do the whole album. So with that pre-posthumous blessing, McNulty was brought back for that, and more. Instead of simply remixing the tracks, he jettisoned much of the original music, and brought in players from later in Bowie's career, such as Reeves Gabrels from Tin Machine, and his long-time drummer Sterling Campbell. Using Bowie's original vocals and some of the original parts, brand-new versions of the songs were made, usually quite different. As well some buried parts were brought to the front, and the biggest change was removing the dated synth sounds, replacing them with real strings.
Without getting into the morality of this, there's little question that the end result is better. They do make it easy for you, including both versions of the album. In short, the tracks are a lot less shrill and oppressive, there's more space in them, and the mix is far livelier. I'd disagree that these are great songs, but such tracks as Beat Of The Drum, Zeroes, Time Will Crawl and Day-in, Day-Out have their charms. Shining Star (Makin' My Love) still isn't much of a toe-tapper, even though the horrid rap by Bowie and actor Mickey Rourke has been tossed, replaced by a new spoken word bit by friend Laurie Anderson.
Still, the whole Glass Spider concept was overblown, part Bowie cliche (umm, spiders again?) and the rest cheesy, narration always a bad idea on rock albums. It was conceived to fit the huge stage show he designed, which was certainly adventurous. There was a dance troupe, acting lines, narration, a spider several floors tall, one of the very first uses of wireless headset mics, a flying Bowie, and all performed in massive outdoor stadiums and giant indoor bowls. I've seen the video, it was still hokey live too, and the emphasis on the theatrics, costumes and set took away from the songs themselves.
Included in this box is the live concert, two CD's worth recorded at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Having just audio makes some of it confusing (the talky bits), and like the album, the music is too glossy, even the old favourites such as Fame and The Jean Genie. Better is the other live set here, two discs from the Let's Dance show, Bowie at the height of his success. In addition to the obvious hits from that album (China Girl, Modern Love), there's a full set of greatest hits, plus some edgier material just to keep the crowds honest. It's head-and-shoulders more enjoyable than Glass Spider.
Like the previous three Bowie boxes, there are also discs that collect the various off-album cuts, from singles, soundtracks and the like. These have been disappointing in the past, as they've been filled with minutiae such as radio edits of 45's. This time, while those are there, also included are cuts from the soundtracks to Absolute Beginners and Labyrinth, where Bowie did several non-single tracks, and a couple of very rare b-sides not included in other compilations.
Friday, October 12, 2018
The Alberta blues singer/songwriter gets deep and rich on her fifth album, with a set of songs that reach back decades for their Southern feel, yet feature a solid, modern smartness. Working with producer Steve Dawson and his cast of roots stalwarts, the ensemble swings throughout, while letting Danser's rich, smooth voice shine. She has a really mellow tone in a lower register, which works very well with the woody grooves the band cooks up.
Thursday, October 11, 2018
Well this is a nice birthday present. Not mine, it's for one of Jerry's kids. His debut album, You, Me And The Horse, has just turned ten, and he's celebrating in a couple of ways. His touring through the Maritimes, and he's reissued the album digitally with a previously-unreleased bonus cut.
The track is called Beating The Storm, and features Jerry's vivid scene-setting, and warm vocals, an outtake from the album sessions that never got past the acoustic guitar point, but sounds all the more authentic for it, a touch on the Dylan-Blood On The Tracks era quality. You, Me and The Horse helped Jerry break out of the Toronto scene to a national audience. It was produced by Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers and Tim Bovaconti (Ron Sexsmith, Burton Cummings), and was part of the wave of acoustic/roots Toronto music that caught my attention at that time. Jerry's come through every album since, one of the best young troubadours in the land. His most recent is Nonsense And Heartache, produced by Cowboy Junkies' Michael Timmins.
Jerry's hitting the road with drummer Kyle Sullivan in tow for a couple of weeks in the Maritimes, before heading overseas for a few European dates. Catch him before his continental excursion at:
Oct. 12 - Grimross, Fredericton
Oct. 13 - Townhouse Brewpub, Antigonish, N.S.
Oct. 16 - The Carleton, Halifax
Oct. 17 - The Port Grocer, Port Medway, N.S.
Oct. 18 - Five and Dime, Saint John, N.B.
Oct. 19 - Union Street, Berwick, N.S.Oct. 20 - Trailside Cafe, Mount Stewart, P.E.I.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN LENNON - IMAGINE DELUXE, JOHN & YOKO - IMAGINE/GIMME SOME TRUTH (Blu-ray)
While the big excitement of Beatle fans this fall is the upcoming reissue of the White Album, all done up in Super Deluxe ways, this Lennon number will please a lot of fans too. The 1971 album includes his most-loved solo song, a bona fide classic, and certainly gets some votes as his best. It's a good cross-section of everything he did; there's protest, anger, love songs and unflinching self-examination. In addition to the title cut, it includes the lovely Jealous Guy, the raging Gimme Some Truth, and the bitter How Do You Sleep?, his scathing attack on ex-pal Paul, its pettiness saying more about the singer than the subject. Such was Lennon in the '70's, all raw nerves and honesty, warts (lots of them) and all.
A ton of work has gone into this major excavation of the tape vaults and sessions for Imagine, and the many hours of film shot at the same time. The Super Deluxe box has four CD's and two Blu-ray discs of audio, brand-new transfers from the master tapes, newly mixed to improve the clarity and separation, and highlight Lennon's voice. These "Ultimate" mixes are warm and close, one of the best examples of giving the impression you're right in the studio. There are no unheard out-takes from the sessions, but for bonus cuts, associated single cuts from the time period are here, including Power To The People, and a new mix of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) that is much less muddy that the version we're used to hearing each Christmas.
The rest of the music, whether it's the multi-disc box or the two-disc version, features various takes of the evolution of each song, from demos to early studio attempts to highlighted parts. That last feature is especially nice on the "Elements Mix" versions, which have such gems as just John's vocals for Oh My Love, only the wonderful strings for Imagine, and a piano-bass-drums track for Jealous Guy. There are some striking demos, including the first--ever Imagine, just John on piano, and Lennon and Yoko singing Oh Yoko! on holiday in Bahamas in 1969. The biggest fans will love all these insights, but there's several versions of each song, so you'll have to decide how much of a fan you are, and spend accordingly.
Also brand new is a Blu-ray (sold separately) that includes both films made from the footage collected during the sessions. Originally intending just to make a proto-video of the recordings, John and Yoko kept shooting little ideas each day, and released they had enough for what became the 70-minute movie Imagine. It featured no dialogue, just scenes with the two of them doing silly things, set to songs from his album, and Ono's current one, Fly. Like the great majority of folks, I'm no fan of Ono's music, so that's a distraction. So is the overall avant-garde approach, with scenes stretched out to fill the length of songs, including a segment of the two of them playing chess with all white pieces, an anti-war statement apparently, why do we fight when we're all the same? Being famous, the couple managed to convince Fred Astaire, Jack Palance and Dick Cavett to do cameos. George Harrison looks less impressed.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Two of the most successful songwriters of the 20th century got together in L.A. in 1970 for this album, and it sold ...squat. Of course, this was a bit before either J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey became hitmakers, but they were an early part of the blooming Los Angeles country-rock community. Frey left to join The Eagles, Souther went solo (and partnered in the Souther/Hillman/Furay band) but they stayed BFF's, co-writing many of the Eagles' hits. Souther also wrote with Frey's friends too, including Don Henley and Bob Seger (Heartache Tonight). Plus he had songs on Linda Ronstadt's albums, partnered with James Taylor (Her Town Too) and had his own smash, You're Only Lonely, so he didn't begrudge Frey's huge break with The Eagles, he was doing just fine.
This album was simply just ahead of its time. The songs are good, the close harmonies really nice, and the playing is really A-1. That's because they got to use some of the very best L.A. players, including two of the very best guitar players of our day, James Burton and Ry Cooder. Larry Knechtel handled piano, just after he played the legendary part on Bridge Over Troubled Water. Then there's Jim Gordon on drums, Buddy Emmons on steel, Doug Kershaw on fiddle and Joe Osborn on bass. This is one of the best bands, like, ever. That explains why this sounds so polished now, and leads one to question how this missed.
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE TOWN HEROES - EVERYTHING (Will Be Fine When We Get To Where We Think We're Going)
Everybody's favourite music/fun duo is now twice as big, and arguably twice as musical with this gem of a new album. It's the first album as a four-piece, with guitarist Mike Ryan and drummer Bruce Gillis now joined by Aaron Green on more guitar, and Tori Cameron playing bass. The results are obvious on this album, with its thickened sound and wider scope.
The songs are filled with beautiful guitars, great ringing notes over big pulsing washes or strong chords. It's a post-New Wave sound, energetic, melodic and very urgent, each song filled with drama and the feeling there's something important being passed on. Topping all this is the passionate voice of Ryan, often at the top end of his register. He ups the ante on songs such as Only One, as he grows more intense as the song progresses, matched by the sharp guitar lines and Gillis' increased punch. It's crazy-danceable, hypnotic and haunting all at the same time, even euphoric in places.
Oct. 12 - The Seahorse Tavern, Halifax
Oct. 13 - The Cave, Sydney, N.S.
Oct. 19 - Hunter's Ale House, Charlottetown
Oct. 20 - Glasgow Square, New Glasgow, N.S.
Oct. 26 - Pepper's Pub, Saint John, N.B.
Oct. 27 - Plan B, Moncton, N.B.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
Waiting For The Sun hasn't had the best reputation over these 50 years, but a lot of that has to do with the back story as much as what got put on the record. Reacting badly to his fame and fan reaction to his image, Jim Morrison showed up drunk to the sessions, and some of the energy of the group's first two albums was missing. Also, they'd exhausted their stage repertoire of proven material, and had to stretch for more. Famously, Morrison was unable to come up with a usable version of his new epic, The Celebration Of The Lizard, supposed to be a full album side, which instead got truncated to the unmemorable smaller cut Not To Touch The Earth. To make up for the shortfalls, the band returned to some old 1965 demos for cuts to record.
Lucky. That's where they found and reworked the cut Hello, I Love You, a huge hit that helped propel the album to the top of the charts. And there were other major songs, especially The Unknown Soldier and Five To One, the latter including the memorable line "No One Here Gets Out Alive." And it's not like the rest of the album was junk, as cuts such as Love Street and Spanish Caravan enjoyable. It's just that they weren't The End.
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Well, what to do with the Bob Marley catalogue? All his major albums have been reissued not once, not twice, but now three times in the dying CD era, but there's still demand for new editions, especially when those magic anniversary dates show up. For Kaya, his biggest chart success of his regular albums (excluding the mega-selling Legend collection, of course), it's the big 4-0, and labels are loathe to pass that by. But it's already had a bonus track added one time, and a whole live album including last time. And it's not like there were a lot of out-takes, since the friggin' album was made up of leftovers in the first place, as Marley had recorded way too much for the previous album, Exodus, and scrapped this together a few months later.
That leaves the riskiest option, the remix. Risky, because unless you really mess around with the tracks, people will just say, 'Why bother?' And when you do start deconstructing and dramatically changing things, you open the results to criticism from purists. The Marley family however hasn't shied away from such projects, allowing outsiders to come in for attempts, and letting the kids have their way with the original masters as well. In this case, it's son Stephen doing the project.
For those without the original album, it's included on disc one, with Stephen's remixes on the second. As for the original, it has a spotty reputation. Coming off the wildly successful Exodus, which solidified Marley as the crusading Third World superstar, Kaya sold great, but let down lots for its lack of political and social material. That had all gone on Exodus, and Kaya was meant to show the more easy-going side of Bob. These were love and relationship songs, plus a couple about ganja. including the title cut. It's best known for the charming Is This Love, certainly a grand track, but there's really nothing else that reaches that lofty grade. Two of the cuts are remakes of his early, pre-star Jamaican hits, Sun Is Shining, and Satisfy My Soul, and don't better the originals. However, these are all done with his great later band, and the easy feel of the album is enjoyable, if not exactly inspiring or a call to revolution.
The remixes are pretty major, with the younger Marley going back to the session tapes, and finding old demo vocals, then matching those with different takes than the final versions, often at different tempos. So rather than the usual studio effects and buried parts brought up, what we have are essentially all-new versions. So, better? Hmm, different, most of them. He leaves This Is Love pretty much alone, but a track like Crisis gets a different feel altogether. My main problem is that on a few tracks, the lead vocal from Bob now sounds odd; for some reason he was singing strangely, and the best I can do to describe it is to say it sounds a little like Adam Sandler singing Marley. That's disconcerting, right? That's how I felt. While Stephen has brightened the sound, I miss the old-school echo and more spacious mix of the originals.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Thirty years on, Love Junk sounds just as good, if not better. Better, because we can appreciate what a remarkable achievement it was and how much it outpaces most other music of that year. This baby holds up, outside of trends and techniques. It rocks, rocks a lot. And it's well-written, both lyrically and musically, great blasting pop songs with smart and fun lyrics. Dig it out again, or get this expanded deluxe reissue, and you'll be surprised.
It's the home of THAT song, I'm An Adult Now, the insanely catchy and buzz-worthy cut that won the band much coveted airplay on MuchMusic at the height of its power. Cut as an indie single and self-produced video, the band went from nothing to national heroes, and even sparked a U.S. bidding war for their services. Signing with Chrysalis Records, Moe Berg was asked who he'd like as a producer, and in the same way one might blurt out "George Martin" or "Quincy Jones", he named Todd Rundgren. To this day, Rundgren calls Love Junk one of the very best albums he ever did, and he did Bat Out Of Hell and We're An American Band and a whole bunch of other million-sellers. By all accounts it was a perfect relationship, Rundgren making the young group sound great, but leaving their unique qualities intact. letting them play much like a live band.
After THAT song, there's not a weak track on the album, and very little similarity among the cuts. Just think of the three best-known cuts; Adult, She's So Young and Hard To Laugh, each with a completely different tempo and structure. This is a master class in songwriting, How To Mix It Up. Then there's the connective material, the stuff that defines the band. What always stands out to me is the vocals, Berg's everyman delivery along with the slightly off-kilter harmonies from Kris Abbott and Leslie Stanwick. There are great dynamics, with choruses that slap and shine, huge sugary blasts that last. It's super-punchy and sneaky loud.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Jones is a sneaky fellow. He plays it pretty cool on the first couple of numbers in this live set, some easy-going, good time cuts, no guitar heroics. But then, on I Don't Believe A Word You Say, he absolutely shreds, tearing a new F-hole in his guitar. Then he turns Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' At Midnight into something new, a little bit of a Hendrix-psych excursion.
Guitar's only part of Jones' show, as he proves on this album recorded in Gatineau. He throws a big mixed bag of a party, from the jump blues of B.B. King's Early Every Morning to the vocal R'n'B of The "5" Royales' Catch That Teardrop. He even finds a groove for Dylan's Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, one of the 11 previously-unreleased songs by Jones found here.
Monday, October 1, 2018
As Benmont Tench explains in the liner notes to this four CD collection, there was much more to Petty than Free Fallin' and Refugee and Runnin' Down A Dream, and his friends and family want the world to hear it. Compiled by Petty's longtime bandmates Mike Campbell and Tench, plus his daughter and wife, the set is all about love. I'm not being trite about that, the liner notes and track-by-track comments make that perfectly clear. The goal is to allow fans to find new sides to Petty, and to focus on exceptional music that has perhaps been glossed over by most in favour of the hits.
To do that, the group (essentially his family) has chosen tracks from several different sources. Of major note is the inclusion of a handful of previously unreleased tracks, completed songs that for minor reasons were left off albums. Without a doubt, each of these is of the high quality expected of Petty albums. There are no throw-aways and certainly no duds. That includes the powerful opener Surrender, a long-time live favourite first recorded in 1976, that was used to open the group's early concerts. Again quoting Tench about why it never made an album, "I don't know what we were thinking." More such cuts follow, including an unissued single from the pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, and songs from sessions for albums such as Long After Dark, Echo and Hypnotic Eye. There's about an album's worth of such material here, and if that alone had been released, it would be considered a major addition to Petty's legacy.
There are plenty of new live tracks included, again from all over his career. These have been chosen for their intensity, emotion, and for radically different arrangements. One of the very first live versions of Listen To Her Heart comes from a radio station, small audience recording, and it's a treat to hear the group still having to fight to prove themselves. I Won't Back Down is offered in an acoustic stage version, highlighting the harmonies. Insider, from 2006, features guest vocals from Stevie Nicks, who had joined the tour. There are lots of live Petty albums, EP's and tracks out there already, but these different versions add a lot to appreciate his varied stage shows.
In addition to unused studio cuts, Petty and the group also tended to work through songs in more than one arrangement, finally settling on the one to make the final list. There are quite a few alternate versions, including the track Don't Fade One Me from Wildflowers, here presented with Mike Campbell doing a lot of fingerpicking throughout. Rebels, in an early version, has a bigger sound, more drums and a more rocking take. A string section on You're Gonna Get It is moved up in the mix on the version here, making it quite different in the Petty catalogue. And some wrongs have been righted from the '80's, as several cuts with added, dated effects like drum samples have been stripped off, returning the songs to the more organic band versions first cut.
Lastly, the compilers picked a bunch of album cuts from over the years to highlight, definitely not the well-known numbers, but examples of what they believe feature the very best qualities, especially focusing on Petty's songwriting. Yes, fans will own them already, but they really fit the flow, and remind us all of the ongoing excellence, especially from the later, lesser-heard records. Money Becomes King from 2002's The Last DJ is a great example of his storytelling, how he'd take a character and tell a wise tale, giving us a good look at his morals and true heart. While these songs have gone under the radar in his career, their excellence shines in this format.