Friday, November 30, 2018


It must be time for some more Bowie releases, it's been what, a whole month since the release of a huge box set of 80's material. So now we get not one, but two chunks of previously-unreleased live material. The big one is the first-ever release of a beloved later show in his career, the 2000 concert at Glastonbury Festival in England. It was the first time Bowie had played the festival since 1971, when it was a little hippy thing, and so was he. Now he was closing the show in front of 250,000 or so.

Bowie had spent the '90's in partial denial of his past. He famously announced he was "retiring" his hits after the Sound & Vision tour of 1990, and running off with Tin Machine. That noisy group only lasted a couple of albums and tours, and throughout the rest of the decade, Bowie did several lesser-loved albums and stuck somewhat to his pledge, leaning heavily on later albums with only a handful of old favourites being trotted out. But the Glastonbury show felt different; he'd be back home, in front of a huge crowd that was there for the spectacle. Bowie decided it was time to embrace the fame again.

He hadn't toured in a year, so a couple of warm-up shows were done in NYC before hitting the festival. The band was still a little ragged, but for Bowie, this turned out to be fun. He turned it on for the huge crowd, hamming the vocals in places, smiling lots and enjoying the effects of these great and well-loved songs. After a relative calm opening number, his Station To Station song Wild Is The Wind, the hits came fast and often. China Girl, Changes, Ashes To Ashes and Rebel Rebel all hit the spot, and Absolute Beginners was a great addition, one of his best soundtrack songs from the '80's. When he did dip into later albums, he chose well, Little Wonder and Hallo Spaceboy two of his better, crowd-pleasing songs. Station To Station was perhaps the highlight, the power of that cut perfectly suited to a massive outdoor show. His version of Under Pressure, with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey taking Freddie Mercury's part, was a graceful close to the main set, and the encores of Ziggy Stardust, "Heroes" and Let's Dance took it over the top. In a classic Bowie move, he left the crowd with a reminder he was still making strong music, the intense I'm Afraid Of Americans, which seems quite a prescient statement these days.

I also got a kick out of seeing Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner in the band, doing backing vocals and keyboard parts, part of her two-years in his employ. The set comes as either a 3-LP set or a two CD/DVD combo, thanks to the BBC being there to capture the show, and it's great to see the joy on Bowie's face during the show.

The other new release is a 4-track live EP, part of the ongoing 40th anniversary series of picture disc 45s. This time it's the 40th anniversary of the live single, Breaking Glass, from the Stage album. This is different though, because instead of the usual reissue of that single in question, they've chosen a different performance, from Earl's Court in London in '78, and added three more songs from that show, Art Decade, Hang On To Yourself and Ziggy Stardust. I can't say that they're remarkably different performances from what you'll find on the Stage album, although I'd say the two Ziggy tracks are more intense and better versions.  Hey, at least it's not the same old thing, which is a nice nod to all the people buying up each of these cool picture discs.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Who the heck is Judy? Judy Garland, of course. It comes from the rather stony story Young tells the crowd in the opening monologue from this, his latest live album in the ongoing Performance Series of concert collections. This one comes from his U.S  tour of November 1976, when he'd start the shows with seven to nine acoustic songs, then bring on Crazy Horse for the second set. The songs would change nightly, a mix of hits, album cuts and lots of unreleased tunes. It was a great tour for Neil watchers, with lots of revelations and obscurities.

On the tour was wunderkid journalist Cameron Crowe, and Young's photographer pal Joel Bernstein, who took it upon themselves to gather soundboard tapes of each night, and make a compilation tape of the best. Years later, they were called on again by Young to produce this little wonder, based on their experience of the tour. The result is one of the best of these history albums. It features 22 cuts, Young bouncing from guitar to piano to banjo to one crazy organ for A Man Needs A Maid. While he would dole out hits to soothe the savage beasts in the crowds, they were given no more importance than new, unknown numbers or deep cuts from the catalog.

The flashy news here is the first-ever release of No One Seems To Know, a song that has been featured on five different tours over the years, but never on an album. It's a good one, with a better melody than a lyric, but he had better ones up his sleeve to unveil. Several of the shows opened with Campaigner, a new song unveiled during the aborted Stills-Young Band tour earlier that year. It has that fantastic line, "Even Richard Nixon has got soul," which must have been a mind-blower to crowds back then. White Line is here, years before its appearance on his Ragged Glory album of 1990, with different lyrics. Too Far Gone wouldn't show up until 1989's Freedom, and might have been an instant classic if it had been on, say, Comes A Time. Love Is A Rose is played for the only the second time, and just once on the tour.

Young seemed to dig out cuts on a whim, with past tunes such as Mr. Soul, Journey Through The Past, The Losing End and Here We Are In The Years popping up beside hits and big favourites Heart Of Gold, Tell Me Why, The Needle And The Damage Done and After The Gold Rush. There are now lots of Neil Young live albums, and more to come he promises, but this one is home to the only live performances of several songs, thanks to his varying setlist. As for the performances, there are many instances of him stretching and trying out different deliveries, so that's another mark in the album's favour. Certainly there's been no shortage of releases from Young the last few years, but if you've been ignoring these historical albums, this is one not to miss.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


White Christmas is the biggest-selling single of all-time, with Bing Crosby's original selling over 100 million copies, but Nat's The Christmas Song has a good argument at being the best. Written by the singer Mel Torme and his partner Bob Wells in 1945, Cole did the original version the next year, and re-recorded it several times. The version we hear these days is one done in 1961 to have it in stereo. It was also at that time added to his existing Christmas album, originally titled The Magic Of Christmas, but re-named after his most famous holiday song after that.

It's such a favourite, that Cole's voice is now associated with Christmas, his gorgeous tones immediately calling up that feeling of warmth. The rest of this album is mostly typical holiday standards and carols, from Adeste Fideles to Joy To The World to The First Noel, Cole joined by choral voices and an orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. Each song is stirring, and immediately puts you in a sentimental, Christmas Past mood, recalling childhood and family memories. It's partly due to the old-fashioned treatments of course, but I still argue that Cole's voice, an amazing instrument, affects us in a special way. I can feel the stress leaving my mind when I listen to him.

For this reissue, some bonus cuts have been added, including God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, which was the cut dropped off the album when The Christmas Song was added, and a non-album holiday single, Buon Natale/The Happiest Christmas Tree, the latter a cute novelty number from 1959. = Plus there's another of those edits where his daughter Natalie was added to his original vocals, creating a posthumous duet. This was done to The Christmas Song in 1998, and given how familiar we are with the original, it's very successful and seamless.  This is the ultimate album for those late nights just before Christmas, when the children are nestled all snug in their beds.


Warm, that's the word for this one. Isaak and some of his favourite Vancouver pals holed up for an old-school play-along, using minimal studio effects, and just jamming like a band should. The album features 13 Isaak originals that feature a friendly vibe and classic styles. That includes acoustic picking and grinning, up to horn-driven soul jams like I Wanna Be Your Man. His Can't Do No Wrong features some great jazzy guitar by the man himself, grooving along with acoustic bass, drums and his own honkin' harp. It could be a '40's track except for the line "She smokes reefer just like Cheech & Chong."

Adept at bass, drums, dobro, harmonica and more, Isaak could have made this all himself, and did play lots of the parts, but much of the vibe is that group effort and fun approach. Joining him are local musicians he admires, such as Powder Blues' Jack Levin on bass, Twisters Chip Hart and Dave "Hurricane" Hoerl on drums and harmonica, and Willie MacCalder on piano. The songs are stars too, and Isaak has lots of fresh lyric ideas, classic blues themes but said in new ways. His PhD In The Blues name-checks the greats while coming over like a blues version of Little Feat's Rock and Roll Doctor. Best of all is that it comes across so inviting, proper and pleasing. That's the warm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Most people know Glen Campbell was a hot-shot guitar player in L.A. in the '60's. He played on hundreds of sessions, for The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones and other top producers, as part of the famous Wrecking Crew. Here's another side of his session work, as a demo vocalist. Those were the singers hired to do trial run recordings so the stars would have an idea of what the song should sound like before they laid down their vocals.

Campbell did that work for songwriter Ben Weisman, who was a quiet force in pop music, the composer of hundreds of tunes from 1949 on. Most significantly, he wrote 57 songs recorded by Elvis, the most of any songwriter. He was the kind of writer for hire who could compose for specific projects or artists, and had the right style for Elvis, plus was able to knock 'em off for films, which was where the King was at in the '60's. Writing with lyricist Sid Wayne, he came up with the title songs for movies such as Clambake, Stay Away Joe and Spinout.

If you know your Elvis, this wasn't the best of his material. They were catchy and memorable, but lightweight. It's more interesting hearing Campbell putting Elvis-style energy into the songs. On the track There Is So Much World To See, from Double Trouble, Campbell at times sounds exactly like Presley. On others, his country twang comes through and his voice is instantly recognizable, but he does through in some Elvis-like yeah's. He certainly wasn't mocking Presley, the two were friends and the respect is obvious. He's trying his best, even with dubious cuts such as Do The Clam.

Of course, the producers couldn't resist the opportunity to create a posthumous duet between the two singers. Oddly, they chose the bland gospel number We Call On Him, which showed up on the 1967 Elvis gospel album How Great Thou Art. I would have chosen the only track here that was close to a hit, Clambake, which also has a lot more life. Oh well, it's the least important part of this set anyway. It's more interesting as a document of what Campbell was doing, and another way to appreciate his many talents.


Bonnell continues to gather acclaim for her third album, Separate Rooms. The title cut, co-written with Donovan Woods, grabbed the #1 spot on CBC Radio 2's chart, and the follow-up, Your Voice, landed at #4. She's been doing a ton of touring, a favourite road pal of Great Lake Swimmers, and about to start an East Coast jaunt with The Once.

Separate Rooms covers a lot of styles, ranging from piano ballads to folk songwriting to intense, intricate production numbers with tons of sounds. She has a highly appealing voice, which can leap into higher note flights and go to calm and soothing melodies in the same tune. The track California goes from country-fantasy with pedal steel to quirky rhythm sections, Radio Silence is an ethereal piano number with strings, while Someday I'm Going To Kill You is 80's alt-pop. At the heart of the collection are Bonnell's essential and powerful lyrics. "Just let me lay here, no one has to know that I'm having a breakdown," we hear, not overly dramatic or emotional, just part of life for many. The title cut looks at the downs in relationships, just as important as the ups  These are challenging and mature themes, and all the various parts and styles add up to quite a meaningful album.

Catch Bonnell on tour starting tonight, with The Once.

Tuesday, Nov. 27 - Charlottetown, The Mack
Wednesday, Nov. 28 - Riverview, N.B., Riverview Arts Centre
Thursday, Nov. 29 - Halifax, St. Matthew's United Church
Friday, Nov. 30 - Fredericton, Wilmot United Church
Saturday, Dec. 1 - Pictou, N.S., deCoste Performing Arts Centre

Sunday, November 25, 2018


Another tour means a new best-of collection is in order for the Mac, although this one also marks 50 years for the group. And in true band form, it also is being marked with yet another controversy. With Lindsey Buckingham fired and suing the other members, it proves once and for all that there just won't be a happily-ever-after ending for rock's ultimate soap opera.

I'm always amused by the idea of a casual Mac fan getting one of these collections, listening to the first song, and being completely confused by the old blues tune they hear. "This isn't Rhiannon," you can imagine them saying, confronted by the rowdy Shake Your Moneymaker. This three-disc set starts off with a hefty helping of the blues band originally called Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, at that point major players in the British blues boom. Their first leader was one of the true guitar heroes, plus the author of several fantastic tracks, including Black Magic Woman, Oh Well and The Green Manalishi. The whole first disc is devoted to the pre-Buckingham/Nicks era, and quite rightly. Even with various guitar player departures and revolving lineups, they still managed to put out high-quality albums, with excellent tracks such as Sentimental Lady and Spare Me A Little Of Your Love highlighting players such as Bob Welch and then-newcomer Christine McVie.

Disc two is the glory years of smash hits from the Buckingham-Nicks-McVie trio of writers, from the megasellers Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk. These are no-brainer choices, as such highly predictable, with no room for anything other than hit after hit: Monday Morning, Over My Head, Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, The Chain, Sara and more. There's no point trying to find a different way to tell that part of the story, and as familiar as these tunes are, they still remain strong and vibrant.

Disc three is a more complicated story, as the band fought to survive through constant lineup shuffles, as the three singers kept leaving and returning. While Rumours always gets treated as the ultimate Mac album, people forget how wonderful 1987's Tango In The Night was, featuring a run of hits to rival any of their others: Big Love, Everywhere, Little Lies and Seven Wonders. That was the last great album though, and after that the collection has to find odd tracks from lesser lights such as 1990's Buckingham-less Behind The Mask (Save Me), the no-Nicks or Buckingham 1995 album Time (I Do), or the Christine-missing Say You Will in 2003 (Peacekeeper). It's a sad fact that the band has been unable to recapture a recording vibrancy in its later years, but who knows? Maybe they'll be inspired to record with new members Neil Finn and Mike Campbell. Stranger things have happened in Fleetwood Mac's career, and no matter what, you can never count them out.

Friday, November 23, 2018


Interesting timing for this release, unplanned I'm sure. But it comes hot on the heels of Buckingham's latest split with Fleetwood Mac, and given their ages, perhaps the last straw in the fractured fairy tale of Buckingham's tenure. He's been ambivalent about the group since the mid-80's anyway, as this wide-ranging, lengthy collection shows. There's three 70-minute CD's worth of music, which shows how much he's wanted to follow his own path.

The stage was set for Buckingham's solo work with the Tusk album. After the inconceivable success of Rumours, money was never going to be an issue, nor fame, so he felt far less pressure to crank out hits. Tusk saw him starting down an idiosyncratic path. When that sprawling double album proved less than popular with many fans, solo albums became his outlet. Still, over the years he's had to hand back tracks to Fleetwood Mac when they felt like releasing new albums, so it's never felt like he really had a complete career in either camp.

If you're looking for Mac-like hits, there aren't many that would have worked on radio. Trouble was his lone solo success, a quirky, bright track with catchy moments, a piece of candy really. Love Runs Deeper, from 2008's Gift Of Screws is a great rock track and deserved to be a hit, but somehow stalled at radio. It's one that sits with his very best tracks, with a huge chorus and lots of Stevie-like backing vocals. That's rare for his solo work though, as Buckingham preferred to go for surprises, confections and delights. For the most part, these were the sounds he'd fine experimenting by himself. As has become obvious, he's a lousy bandmate, and wants to create by himself, for himself.

Talent? Oh my gosh, lots of that. Listening to some of the live tracks spread throughout the collection, there's great guitar mastery. His imagination is boundless, and the songs range from dreamscapes to confrontational, in-your-face boldness. Conventional tracks seemed to just not interest him. Since so much was solo work, there's a little too much drum machine, and lots of that fiddling, fast guitar he does, so he could use more variety, but every track is interesting, which is saying a lot.

For those who prefer more of his popular songs, disc three is devoted to live tracks, featuring several of his Mac hits. That includes Big Love, Tusk, Go Your Own Way and I'm So Afraid. Sometimes it almost feels like he's playing with us, saying he can do that pop stuff any old time. As much as that has infuriated his band, and frustrated fans over the years, there's still lots to appreciate in this challenging career collection.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


With Ryder's powerhouse vocals and a cast of stalwart players, this is a holiday must for Christmas music fans. Produced and arranged by the esteemed Bob Ezrin, it sounds super, and Ryder makes sure it's fun too, enthusing it with lots of her personality. There aren't too many surprises in the choices, with the usual fare including Jingle Bell Rock, White Christmas, Let It Snow and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, but it's great hearing them via Ryder's distinctive pipes.

The arrangements also stand out, with lots of room for excellent work from the A-list ensemble. Most notably, the players include jazz guitarist Rob Piltch, who shines throughout, especially on Santa Baby, and veteran Nashville keyboard whiz John Barlow Jarvis (James Taylor, Vince Gill), who knows just where to go on these classics. Ryder contributes a nice new tune, the lighthearted Christmas Kisses, and seems like she was born to sing these favourites for us.

Serena Ryder has some East Coast dates coming up in December, so I imagine she'll have some of these ready for the shows:

Wednesday/Thursday, Dec. 5-6 - Casino NS, Halifax
Friday, Dec. 7 - Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown
Saturday, Dec. 8 - Tide and Boar, Moncton

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Anybody attempting to do a Cohen covers album has a big yardstick to which they must compare. Jennifer Warnes' landmark Famous Blue Raincoat from 1986 set the mark, still considered one of the best-recorded albums ever, with performances that many critics then and now feel outdid Cohen's own. Of course, she had advantages; a co-writer and co-conspirator of Cohen's, she made the album with veterans of his touring group, and even the man himself showed up with new material and did a duet. Plus, Warnes was "born with the gift of a golden voice" as well.

Still, after 50 years, I haven't heard enough of Cohen's songs, so bring it on. Ramolo has both the right, and the right stuff to do this project. The Ontario roots singer-songwriter takes her cue not from Warnes, but Cohen's icier touch. She gets Suzanne out of the way first, and gives it a European feel, cool and distracted. Then comes a nice surprise, a later cut, My Oh My from 2014. A slow pace, a beautiful vocal and distorted guitar make it memorable and a standout here. Her Famous Blue Raincoat emphasizes the sadness in the love triangle story, and some guitar and ambient effects bring on the mystery. The Future is slower, focusing on the groove, not as harsh, and quite successful.

That's the first four of ten cuts, and each has its own spin, without deviating too much from the original. The songs aren't overcrowded, and the focus stays on Ramolo's vocals, certainly a strength. She stays understated but solid, and mixed with producer Michael Timmins' gentle drama, we're drawn into the songs. It certainly adds to our appreciation of Cohen's songs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Okay, this is just plain nuts. It's well over a month until Christmas, but the snow is already a foot deep on my lawn and it's still coming down. Certain preposterous neighbours already have their houses lit up, and I had one friend telling me how beautiful the snow was. And yes, people are playing Christmas albums.

I used to have a rule that I wouldn't start reviewing the new holiday albums until Dec. 1, but that's out the door. I'm blaming global warming or Trump or something.  When I see people sharing photos of themselves with egg nog, holding up this Clapton album, well, I guess I might as well give in and try to get in the spirit.

Everybody does a Christmas album at some point, and it's surprising it took this long for Clapton to get around to it. He's a natural, and sounds right at home, especially on the relaxed, warm-hearted material. His version of Christmas In My Hometown, an old Sonny James tune, has a little bottleneck guitar, fiddles and old-timey feel, and his friendly delivery makes it a winner. The Charles Brown blues favorite Merry Christmas Baby is a natural for him, and he digs in with an inspired version. Guitar fans get a few licks here and there, especially on a couple of modern tracks written by R'n'B singer Anthony Hamilton. Clapton came up with one original as well, For Love On Christmas Day, it's mellow and sentimental, fair enough. There's more life in the bluesy stuff really, and by far the best cut is the version of the 1950 Lowell Fulsom song Lonesome Christmas. The band really cooks, and ace drummer Jim Keltner kicks it up a notch.

I know Clapton was going for variety, and most of these Christmas collections usually do, but the difference between the blues cuts and the soft ones, such as the slow reggae take on Silent Night, is a little two drastic, the blues ones being so much better. So basically, it's a standard Clapton album; too much soft stuff, not enough blues. As Christmas albums go though, it's a cut above the norm.

Monday, November 19, 2018


No, The Beatles, The Kinks, Frank Zappa or any other 60's rock act didn't invent the concept album. Sinatra was doing them way before them, with a run of his very best music in the '50's. Working with arranger Nelson Riddle, he put out an unparalleled run of records starting with 1954's Songs For Young Lovers, followed by In The Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin' Lovers, and this gem from 1958, all considered career highlights. Each had a theme, and for Only The Lonely, it was music for the heartbroken and sad, best heard late at night with a stiff drink.

Several of these songs became standards, including What's New?, famously covered later by Linda Ronstadt, Blues In The Night ("My mama done told me..."), and one of his signature songs, One For The Road. It was pure hurt, songs about one thing only, a guy who'd lost that big love, and nothing could change it. And nobody could sing hurt like Frank, with that image of a guy in a crumpled suit sitting at a bar at 2 A.M., with no amount of alcohol able to dull that pain.

This 60th birthday edition is expanded to two discs, with the original mono release on the first, and a brand-new stereo mix on the second. Now, there's not a whole lot that can be done to the original tapes, which were only three tracks, but you do notice a bit wider sound on the orchestra, more space. But given the subject matter, I prefer the more claustrophobic, focused mono. There are four other bonus cuts, including an interesting series of takes on Angel Eyes, with Sinatra bothered by one note. You get to appreciate his control and knowledge, and at one point he quickly realizes he's a semi-tone lower than he should be. He was more than just the voice. Long-time fans are excited by the inclusion of his attempts at Lush Life, which he was considering doing, but couldn't get a good feel for his vocal over several takes. He eventually gave up on it, and never released a version of the classic. It's not done, but it's close.

Got the late-night blues? This won't cure them, but it feels better to have Frank around to share the woe.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Given her long silences, it's been a virtual hurricane of activity in the Kate Bush world of late. This decade has seen her rework some of her material into a whole new album (Director's Cut), release another new one (50 Words For Snow), return to the stage for a limited run of London shows, and put out a full live album from that. Now comes the big bonanza, box sets of her entire studio work, vinyl or CD, remastered. The first set has arrived, covering the early years, and the rest will show up in a couple of weeks.

On CD, Remastered Part 1 covers her first seven studio albums, ending with 1993's The Red Shoes, when she took a 12-year break. This is certainly her most popular era, which peaked in 1985 with the huge success of Hounds Of Love. Many of us had already become devotees by then, right from her first notes heard in 1978, from the remarkable album The Kick Inside. While those two are her very best I'd venture, every album she's made is fascinating and worth owning and lingering over. This is a great way to fill holes in your collection and dive in. It's certainly rekindled my interest.

The Kick Inside was certainly like nothing else in 1978, and there really hasn't been anyone similar to Bush since. Still in her teens, a prodigy brought to light by Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, she was certainly out of time with those punk years of England, singing about Wuthering Heights and strange phenomena and imitating a saxophone, with a voice that stretched over a couple of octaves and pierced the soul. She wasn't a child or an adult, more like a sprite, feeling very British circa 19th century at times, modern at others, and above all, sensual in all aspects. Songs such as The Man With The Child In His Eyes and Them Heavy People remain powerful favourites.

Follow-up Lionheart came very fast, that same year, since Bush had plenty of songs stored up. While it includes gems such as Oh England My Lionheart and Symphony In Blue, it wasn't quite as commanding as the debut. But it did get a little louder and less fanciful, with big rockers Hammer Horror and Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbreak proving she could dish it out in the volume department.

A short break (for her) followed, and in 1980 she was back with a vengeance and a lot of growth. Bush was now producing herself, and much of the lushness of her early work was gone. Now she was making big songs and big sounds, and the album Never For Ever was her first to feature the Fairlight synthesizer, which she used to great advantage over the next several albums. She continued with fascinating songwriting, coming up with full narratives in four minutes for hits such as Breathing, Army Dreamers and Babooshka. A huge hit in England, it made her the top female artist of her day in that country.

On a roll, Bush followed up with The Dreaming in 1982, and while a hit, it was more experimental, especially in its second half. She looked to other cultures for sounds, bits she could sample and layer on with the Fairlight. Her voice was lowering as well, giving her a more cinematic feel, which worked well with her story-songs, such as There Goes A Tenner, which feel like movies. That would work well on her next album.

The Hounds Of Love hit at the heyday of MTV, and Bush's visual imagery was ripe for the medium. Her own hits, The Big Sky, Running Up That Hill and especially Cloudbusting, as well as her memorable duet with Peter Gabriel on Don't Give Up, made her a star in North America as well, and the album was another #1 in England, and on the best-of-the-year lists for many critics. It was easier to digest after the experimental The Dreaming, with the first half devoted to those catchy tracks. But side two saw her going back to conceptualization, as she presented a suite called The Ninth Wave, about someone floating adrift in the ocean. With all its parts and voices, it's a fascinating listen.

With success comes freedom, and for Bush that meant working at her own leisurely pace. It was a full four years until her next release, The Sensual World, and now she was emboldened to create a full album in the vein of The Ninth Wave. She picked up on the James Joyce novel Ulysses and rich and sensuous language, how it could be hypnotic and exciting. Sounds became as important as lyrics and melodies, and she incorporated Irish instruments and dialogue, and in a brilliant move, brought in the vocals of The Trio Bulgarka from Bulgaria. While none of the tracks were hits you could hum, this was stuff to take home and study and get lost in.

A further four years went by before The Red Shoes, another conceptual piece, also accompanied by a short film, The Lion, The Cross and The Curve. The album takes its name from the 1948 British film, about a dancer who can't take off her shoes, but the visuals aren't important to the music. The songs are much more straightforward and self-contained, especially the single Rubberband Girl. It's a funky, sensual number obviously indebted to Prince, who shows up as a collaborator on another track, Why Should I Love You? Eric Clapton appears as well, and it seemed Bush might be edging back to the pop world. Nope. She instead disappeared for a full 12 years. But that's another box set.

Sometimes these multi-album collections get cheaper packaging for the individual discs, but that's not the case here. Each one has a new three-fold jacket, and a booklet featuring the lyrics to each song. Handy that, I finally found out what she was signing in half those early songs. No matter, it all sounds fresh and groundbreaking, and quite a creative arc too.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


I'll tell you what, you can't accuse The Beatles Empire of playing it safe with this one. And actually, they rarely play it safe. They've messed with the classics on many occasions, from reworking old John demos into posthumous singles (Free As A Bird) to putting out albums the way they should have been (Let It Be ..Naked) to remixing the whole catalogue (the Cirque du Soleil show Love). Whereas last year's Super Deluxe package left Sgt. Pepper basically intact, The Beatles (AKA The White Album) has been remade and remodeled, and already causing tons of debate. Basically it goes, "Who does Giles Martin think he is, messing with art?" to "Wow, I can't believe what this sounds like!"

I'm in the latter. It comes down to this: Yes, Martin the younger has taken the White Album we know and turned it into something different. But why the heck not? It's not like he's thrown out the original, it is and will always be readily available. What he has done is given us another version, one that his father and The Beatles didn't imagine back then, but certainly laid the groundwork for in the first place. Plus, we also get about four hours of demos, rehearsals and early takes. In a world that has been without The Beatles for nearly 50 years, quit complaining, they just opened a very big vault.

The Super Deluxe box differs from the Sgt Pepper reissue in many ways. Most strikingly, its the radical remixing done to the original. That covers the first two discs. For the bonus features on the four others, this time we get a whole different focus. The Pepper box concentrated on showing how the tracks were assembled, as they developed over the course of the production. It was a forensic study of a masterwork of the studio. The White Album is a different beast altogether. Rather than being a series of meticulous arrangements and complicated ideas, The White Album was more about songcraft, wild and experimental, unfocused, fighting sometimes, struggling. They might have been having troubles, but they had songs, lots of songs. So instead of the works-in-progress bonuses, we get basically the rolling tapes of the sessions.

That's not a bad deal, and in fact, includes some long-hoped for (and sometimes long-bootlegged) unreleased material. Disc three is the famous Esher Demos, made at Harrison's house after the group returned from India. Most of them are early, acoustic drafts of the tracks that made the forthcoming album, but also songs that went elsewhere. Harrison's Sour Milk Sea was given to his Apple signing Jackie Lomax; McCartney's Junk would grace his first solo album, while Lennon's Child Of Nature became his Jealous Guy; Harrison's Not Guilty and Circles would also be resurrected for his later solo works, and Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam were saved for Abbey Road. While some of these have been allowed out on the Anthology projects, to hear so many more of them finally is a long-awaited joy. They are loose, and themselves, no outsiders or onlookers, save constant companions such as Mal Evans. They get the basic ideas done, but also have some fun. This is where Lennon tells the story of Prudence Farrow's breakdown in India in the opening to Dear Prudence, and ad-libs a spoken word part in I'm So Tired. George had exploded as a songwriter, evident on the quiet, bare bones version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Paul had developed the soft-side writing that would typify his latter Beatle days, presenting Blackbird and Mother Nature's Son. There was every reason to assume that great things would happen with their next album.

The infighting that marred the recording is well-documented, with spats and tension leading to George Martin's displeasure and Ringo's brief resignation. You won't find any battles on these discs, but you won't find too much evidence of great teamwork either. Mostly there were just lots of takes as they tried to capture the original fun of theses songs in a long, five-month studio incarceration. But that does give us lots, like three CD's worth, of early versions, jams and out-takes to enjoy, gleaned from the multiple attempts, often in the many dozens. They just weren't particularly complicated productions, like Strawberry Fields Forever.

Included in the takes are another version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, still acoustic, before it's decided to bring in Eric Clapton and have him spice it up. We also get an early version once he joins the fray, working out his iconic lines. We hear first run-throughs of songs under development, such as Helter Skelter, which shows it was a piece of wild abandon right from the start. One of the most interesting is Good Night, that Ringo-warbled album closer that few got to, thanks to the confounding fray of Revolution 9 preceding it. Ringo shows he's a much better musician than he's given credit for (his croaky voice is the problem), with some solid instinctive singing. Meanwhile George has to back off his attempts at soulful singing at one point, admitting, "I tried to do a Smokey (Robinson) but I'm no Smokey."

Most intriguing are the early versions of songs not further pursued at that time. McCartney's first attempts at Hey Jude and Let It Be are heard, the latter at that point featuring Brother Malcolm instead of Mother Mary. Not Guilty is still in the running, dropped from the album in the final days. And there's a notorious studio jam that has shown up illicitly over the years, called Los Paranoias, named after a Lennon quip. It was part of a general goofing around that came out of a take of I Will, with McCartney running through his Step Inside Love, which had been given to old Liverpool pal Cilla Black, and ended with his little adlib Can You Take Me Back, which was edited onto the album as a linking bit after Cry Baby Cry.

All this studio stuff is fascinating and informative, and normally I'm all about the bonus tracks. But what really blew me away was the remixed original album. It is brave and brazen on Giles Martin's part. On almost each song, he's done a complete overhaul, with parts salvaged from obscurity, others featured that were merely background, extros extended and different takes added on. Usually with these remixes of classics, the work is subtle, where you think that the bass might be louder or the echo lessened. Here, the differences are so many and so often, you loose track. Only the very hallowed tracks remain roughly the same, Back In The U.S.S.R. and While My Guitar staying pretty true. But Happiness Is A Warm Gun's first half has a new prominence on McCartney's bass playing, Piggies is greatly cleaned up with a crisp sound to Harrison's acoustic. Even quiet songs such as I Will sound remarkably different, with the percussion effects a greater part of the song. Yes, there are quibbles. The drums on Dear Prudence seem too intrusive now, to my ears. But that's not really the point. What's happened is it's now new. It sounds bright and alive, which is really amazing considering how well we know this album. 

Much of the most drastic rearranging comes on disc two (sides three and four of the original). That's because many of the most experimental tracks are on those sides. Lengthy rockers Yer Blues and Helter Skelter get played with, the electric stuff moved around. And the whole Revolution project really gets turned inside-out. Revolution 1 has its horns and harmonies more prominent, and Revolution 9, well, I'd have to get out a pen and paper and mark down all the differences, except it's, you know, not that interesting to bother.

Here's the end result: Disc one, the old sides one and two, is, I think, a better album with this mix. I love lots of what Giles Martin has done to clean up and highlight the originals. Disc two, it's a different album all together, there's so much new happening. I know there many who feel its too much, it's messing with the original intentions, but I feel stoked to spend hours more studying this, and I haven't done that with the White Album in years.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


From Guelph, ON, comes the acoustic duo Tragedy Ann, made up of Braden Phelan and Liv Cazzola. They blend harmonies in songs both heartfelt and humourous, sometimes just for fun, but often rich observations and tender life moments. When they're fun, they remind one of New Brunswick's Tomato/Tomato, and when things get more poignant, they present a folkier version of John K. Samson.

There's lots of energy to the cuter material, and it's easy to appreciate lines such as "We had one straw left and I think it sucks." But the real killers are in songs such as Regulars, where we hear the sad stories and dementia of daily visitors to the neighbourhood lounge. Try not to shed a tear saying goodbye to beloved pet, a rescued stray, succumbing way too young to an illness. And for out-and-out, but effective sentimentality, there's "I'll be the dude you snooze on," a song about being an accidental pillow for your beloved who can't stay awake during a movie.

The duo is hitting the road to launch the album, and is currently on the East Coast touring with Moonfruits, and you can find them at:

  • Thursday, Nov. 15 - Five and Dime, Saint John, NB
  • Friday, Nov. 16 - Salty Towers, St. Andrews, NB
  • Saturday, Nov. 17 - Grimross, Fredericton
  • Sunday, Nov. 18 - Chez Loius, Moncton, NB
  • Monday, Nov. 19 - House Concert, Sackville, NB
  • Tuesday, Nov. 20 - The Tare Shop, Halifax 
  • Wednesday, Nov. 21 - Tall Sips On Stilts, Bear River, NS
  • Thursday, Nov. 22 - Boulangerie Grains de Folie, Caraquet, NB
  • Friday, Nov. 23 - House Concert, Kedgwick, NB

Monday, November 12, 2018


It's the early '90's, and America is all about grunge. While those angsty types are in their parents' basements, moaning about their awful teen years, what do we have in Canada? We have songwriters, of course. Not Lightfoot though, I'm talking about punkish/rock and roll songwriters. Hugh Dillon had lots to say, and it wasn't all woe is me. And the hard-rockin' Headstones weren't about posing, they were the real deal. Sure there was anger, but it was directed at the right sources, not just cries for help. And they could laugh about it all too.

The band built a sizeable following with this debut album, won some awards, broke up and came back, and they still have a loyal fan base. The roots of that are all here, from their high-energy performances to dark but thoughtful lyrics to rebellion to punkish fun. The delightfully twisted Cemetery both shocked and amused: "Went down to the cemetery, looking for love/got there and my baby was buried, I had to dig her up." The tale of poor J-Jude-Judy was definitely an early warning, when people didn't talk about mental health. The group managed to bring out the dark side of The Traveling Wilburys, with their well-known cover of Tweeter and the Monkey Man. And there's even a bit of unabashed sentimentality in When Something Stands For Nothing, with its "rock'n'roll, comic books and bubble gum."

This 25th anniversary reissue adds four bonus tracks. There is a trio of demos for the album, Cemetery, When Something Stands For Nothing, and a very fine song called Sweet Pea that didn't make the album, maybe a little on the cartoonish side. Then there's Skin Me Alive, and interestingly, the current band has re-recorded that original song from their first demo tape for this set. It's darn hard, lots of energy, and it's surprising it didn't make the album 25 years ago. It also shows the band has no problem doing it these days.  The Headstones are currently on tour, playing the entire Picture Of Health at each show.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Jethro Tull, blues band? You mean that flute-wielding, tights-wearing, concept album-making, prog band? And lets not forget, winner of the first-ever Grammy for hard rock/metal album (chortle). But yes, dear reader, this was 1968, and every respectable new band in England was in blues, whether it was Fleetwood Mac or the New Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin. So you had Mr. Anderson and crew appearing on the BBC covering Sonny and Brownie, singing "My baby left me, my mule got lame/Lost all my money in a poker game." Plus, he was playing blues harp.

The thing is, they were a very good blues band, and Anderson did take out the flute and make it sound pretty good in that style. About half the songs on this debut album are instrumental, and the fledgling band had a smooth jazz/blues style, which hinted at interesting things in the future. Vocal numbers such as My Sunday Feeling were more modern and melancholy. Others, including Beggar's Farm, had a Mose Allison-meets-Aqualung mix, and allowed for lots of riffing, from both our favourite flautist and the guitar stylings of Mick Abrahams.

This 50th anniversary edition is actually being used to bring This Was in line with the other reissue boxes in the Tull catalogue. When it was first expanded, it was a smaller package, but over the last few years all the '70's records have come out in these excellent small box packages, with several discs and an excellent on-going book treatment, featuring very comprehensive notes and interviews, including most group members and the ever-pithy Anderson. Fans cried for this one to join the club too, and it's an excellent effort, adding even more bonus material. It's now a three-CD, one-DVD set, with plenty of previously unreleased out-takes, versions and BBC sessions, different mono and singles mixes, and a stereo remix by Steven Wilson, whose work has been featured on all the Tull reissues. The DVD has all the digital sound, except that it's only a 4.1 mix rather than 5.1, which bothers some people, but hey, there were only four musicians playing anyway. And purists get the original stereo and mono album mixes too. Interesting, that Anderson was one heck of a good harp player.  But I'd hate to have had him stick to that course, and miss out on Thick As A Brick.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


MacDougall is so talented, she has two countries claiming her; Canada, where she now lives, and her birthplace, Sweden, where she's considered one of the country's best songwriters. Too bad, Swedes, as she now lives way up north in Whitehorse. Of course, between Sweden and the Yukon, she's bound to have people searching for icy and isolated themes, but I'd say there's a lot more warmth to her songwriting, certainly an empathy for humanity. The songs on her fourth album go through the ups and downs of life, from years that seem too long, to moments (like the birth of a child) that go past way too fast. She's not afraid of making big statements, such as "I love you like the sky loves a bird," the kind that make you stop and take in the words.

There's an epic, wide-open feel to the music, which I guess is the most northern aspect to find. If left alone, these would be gentle folk songs, but the grand production from Montreal's Marcus Paquin adds a largeness to the music, to counter the intimacy of her interesting voice, slightly quirky in a Jane Siberry way, and tender too. They even manage a Euro-dance beat in the closer Shed No Tears For Me. Give it up Sweden, we're not letting go of her now.

Saturday, November 3, 2018


Village Green has been reissued before, with bonus tracks galore and in mono/stereo, but this is the most meticulous version, sure to excite fans of this classic 1968 release. BMG has released it as a huge, 11-piece super-deluxe box, with 5 CD's, LP's and 45's, housed in a monster package with memorabilia and a hard-bound book, at $170 bucks. We'll look at the more affordable 2-disc set however, and you crazed fans (well, me) can decide to upgrade later if you want.

Like The Beach Boys at roughly the same period, The Kinks started making their best albums as their popularity plummeted, their pop audience not making the transition from hit 45's to art rock with them. Such were the vagaries of success, the album wasn't celebrated like other classics of the time. Still in the same month we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the White Album, this birthday party will be much more subdued, even though Village Green stands equal if not higher to that set. So be it, it just means more folks may come across this for the first time and be amazed.

The great irony of this album is that we have Ray Davies singing about an England that was fast disappearing, about steam trains and village greens and other institutions, looking back with sadness at boyhood pals and lost girlfriends, going through old photos, and he was all of 24. But we're not quite sure if he's celebrating the old empire days, mocking them or simply catching on to the sea change that was changing his family and all the others. There's lots of winking going on, and by the time the original album closes, with People Take Pictures Of Each Other, he sounds pretty fed up with nostalgia. By the way, that should be the theme song for the selfie generation.

Davies was writing like crazy during this period, and at one point this was going to be a double album. It was also hauled back from the original release, with different tracks added, so there are a ton of bonus cuts to fill up this double CD. There's also the brilliant single Days, surely one of The Kinks' very best, and other associated cuts, with both mono and stereo mixes, so lots to choose from. Although the bulk have come out in the various reissues and box sets, and made up part of the 1973 Great Lost Kinks Album, fans will find some exciting, brand new things here. There's a cut called Time Song which comes from 1973, when Davies was revisiting the Village Green period, with its logical successor, Preservation Act One, which apparently was supposed to have been started right after Village Green but got delayed. At those same sessions, the band recorded brand-new versions of four Village Green numbers, including the title cut, and Picture Book/People Take Pictures Of Each Other in a medley. These are quite different and very fun, with the band now able to afford real horns and stringss and backing singers, and give the songs more of a theatrical approach. This is a real highlight for us well-familiar with the other bonus cuts. For you comers, let in all soak in, and then start saving that 170 bucks.