Thursday, June 13, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MICHAEL DARCY - SIMPLE DROP OF RAIN

He grew up in Country Clare, immersed in trad music and the accordion and such, but somewhere along the line Darcy got charmed by singer-songwriters such as Christy Moore. Then he moved to Toronto, where he's been deep in the scene for several years. The accordion's gone, but the Irish brogue is still evident, and nothing sounds more forlorn than that voice singing "Walking down Yonge Street in the snow/Shiver as the cold winds blow."

Truly though, I think he's settled in just fine, as this homey collection shows. His first album features more North American than Irish instruments, his acoustic guitar along with pedal steel, dobro, banjo, mandolin, piano, fiddle and drums, sometimes rollicking, as on opener "Ballad Of A Rambling Man" ("Oh, don't be afraid to ramble/This life is nothing but a gamble"), sometimes tinged with life's struggles. He sounds a lot like that guy who's been out and seen a lot, soaked up the sadness and good times in equal measure, and knows you can't appreciate the latter without experiencing the former.

"Simple Drop Of Rain" sums it all up nicely, a partially biographical tale about taking in a new city, feeling out of place but fitting right in at the same time. He's caught the drifting bug, knowing there's a song around every corner. Ably produced/engineered/played by the many-handed Aaron Comeau (Skydiggers), who contributes bass, keyboards, electric guitar, mandolin and vocals, there's a fine blend of folk, modern roots and trad throughout. There are nods to Darcy's homeland, folk past and troubadour present. Remember that time you stumbled into a club by accident and there was a singer on stage who immediately wowed you? Darcy's that kind of singer.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JONT- GENTLE WARRIOR

Halifax's Jont is one of the most positive, empathetic souls in music. A complete optimist, he makes music to express that inner flow, and to spread it around as much as possible. Previous albums such as 2013's Hello Halifax (his first after moving from England) expressed his belief in the beauty of life, while 2017's An Old Innocence proclaimed his "big open heart."  Now his ninth features what he calls singing in more powerful way than ever.

That new voice is heard in a gentle intensity on the new album, recorded as intimately as possible. A true acoustic record, this is just Jont and his nylon-stringed guitar, no backing or overdubs at all. Mellow as all get out, the magic is in the power of the words and performance, an attempt to channel all that healing energy directly to the listener. "Teardrops and Pennies" says it as simply as possible, "I've got all this love for you," and you couldn't sing it more sincerely.

So, this isn't the album to have on for background sounds. Rather, it has a purpose, if you're someone who wants/needs/appreciates some mental medicine. I think we've all had an experience or two when we absolutely connect with a singer/songwriter, when their words cut through all the static and negativity, and strike us as profound. This is what Jont's aiming for, that meaningful moment that can change your day or your life. This could be the one for you.

Jont's taking the experience on tour, and in fact he has something called the Gentle Warrior Ceremony for his shows. Wisely, they don't take place in the bar. Instead, he's doing shows in yoga studios, meditation centres and natural food spots, keeping the crowds small on purpose, and the vibes good. Check out jontnet.com for the whole trip.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - SPYING THROUGH A KEYHOLE, CLAREVILLE GROVE DEMOS

Wow, if you thought the plethora of Bowie box sets, hits packages and live albums from the past couple of years was over the top, it turns out they were just getting started. Announcements of new collections are coming every few weeks, some releases arriving at a rate of two or three a month. If you're a fan, it's fantastic, unless of course you have something else to do with your disposable income. This Bowie collecting is getting expensive.

April and May bring us three new offerings, all 7-inch, 45 RPM sets, but even they are pricey. It is exciting and new-to-you however, hard to resist. Two of the collections are demos from the early years of his career, centered around Space Oddity and the 50th anniversary of his first hit. These are packaged in deluxe boxes, one with four 45's, the other with three, and will run you around fifty bucks a piece.

The first is called Spying Through A Keyhole, at set of 9 demos from the 1968 era. Bowie had been a recording artist since the mid-60's, first as an R'n'B singer, then more folk-styled material, crossed with a fascination for the theatrical singer Anthony Newley. He had recorded several singles and a failed album already, and was still desperately searching for the right formula of hype and talent. He'd try mime, acting, form an arts lab, all in search of broader recognition, and was relentless in that pursuit. Luckily, he wrote lots too, and recorded this batch at home as acoustic demos to send to record companies and publishers. 

The first known Space Oddity is here, in two versions. The first is just Bowie, the song recognizable, the words a bit different ("Ground control to Major Tom, you're off your course, direction's wrong") but pretty much already sounding great. The other is with his musical partner John Hutchinson, who featured in duos and bands with Bowie at that time. This version is a little closer to the final version, with Hutch backing vocals and some of the drama added.

Bowie's late 60's songs were often a little wacky and produced as novelties, so it's great to hear them without that theatricality. London Bye, Ta-Ta is a lively but campy tune in its released version of that time, but the demo heard here is actually better, not so fast and fancy, more of a singer-songwriter version and shows he was becoming a strong writer. Other songs making their first-ever appearance here include Mother Grey and Love Is All Around, both excellent songs that surprisingly weren't developed further. Since these are home demos, the fidelity isn't that great, but its not bad either, easy enough to listen to and appreciate.

The second set is called Clareville Grove Demos, named for the London area where Bowie had a flat in January of 1969, and recorded these six tracks. All of them feature Hutchinson on vocals and guitar, and are a bit more polished than the other demo set because of his presence. Bowie was also getting closer to his breakthrough as well, and we get another version of Space Oddity here with the lyrics now set, and Bowie using his weird Stylophone to create the familiar sound effects.

There are other known songs here. An Occasional Dream would feature on his first RCA album later that year, David Bowie (a/k/a Space Oddity), while the demo here known as Lover To The Dawn would evolve into Cygnet Committee for that record as well. Ching-a-Ling had been recorded in 1968 and has been featured on various Bowie collections over the years, but here he and Hutch do a loose version the way they performed it live. Let Me Sleep Beside You has had a famous run in Bowie's long career, written in 1967 and even recorded later and released in 2014 in a best-of. These are high-quality songs, obviously Bowie's current favourites and best hopes for stardom. He wasn't wrong.

Finally, another of the ongoing picture disc 45's marking the 40th anniversary of the release of each of his singles has arrived. This one is for 1979's Boys Keep Swinging, and features a different mix of the track, one done in 2017 by producer Tony Visconti. As usual the b-side is a rare cut, and this time it's I Pray, Ole, a hard-to-find cut that came out as a bonus track on a now out-of-print reissue of the Lodger album. It's actually a really good cut, so good news for those who have been searching.

There's lots of complaining about these sets, focused on the price tag, questioning why they weren't offered simply as a CD/download at a reasonable price. The criticism is fair, although I do admire the 45 packaging. It must be working though; there's another whole set of demos, 10 more from later in '69, again with Hutch, coming on an album in late June. You can either jump for joy, or shake your head.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MARVIN GAYE - YOU'RE THE MAN

In 1971, Marvin Gaye changed pop music forever with the landmark What's Going On album. Considered too risky with its political content, Berry Gordy Jr. didn't want to release it, but Gaye insisted, and it became a massive hit both at radio and most surprisingly, in the albums chart. That was a place Motown hadn't conquered before, and now Gordy was rolling in new-found dough, all thanks to Marvin's vision.

By 1972, it was time for something new, and the pressure was on Gaye to deliver. But he was a mercurial talent, and not one to worry about feeding the mill for Motown. Gaye wanted to make another big statement, akin to his ecology/economy/anti-war opus of the year before. This time, he created an anti-Nixon song for the '72 election, You're The Man. While a hit on the R'n'B charts, this time he'd crossed the line Gordy had worried about, and the record stalled at 50 on the charts. Too bad, it's another gem from this important period in Gaye's career.

With this relative failure, Gaye retreated to regroup, and find a different concept. Motown kept knocking on the door, and several different staff producers offered up tracks, which Gaye dug into with his typical huge talent. But they sat in the vaults, and eventually Gaye found his footing again. He followed Isaac Hayes's example and success with Shaft, and did the soundtrack to the Trouble Man film.

Those other tracks languished in the vaults for years, Gaye not interested in returning to them. After his death, Motown haphazardly added them to several different reissue projects over the years, including boxed sets, greatest hits and deluxe editions. So there is actually nothing truly new among these 17 cuts, all from '72 era sessions, it's just that you had to have all these different compilations before to have them.

It's being marketed as a "lost" album, but there was never a plan to make an album out of the songs. Truly, it doesn't flow as one, it feels like what it is, a disjointed bunch of trial runs. However, this is Marvin Gaye at the height of his powers, and he could turn any material into something special. You get to hear his early fun with a Moog synthesizer, a gift from Stevie Wonder, on a couple of Christmas tunes, predictably fantastic but not exactly festive. The World Is Rated X was another hard-hitting topical tune, and again would have made a fine single, but Gaye put it away. There isn't a weak track among these numbers, and even a studio jam, Checking Out (Double Clutch) featuring Hamilton Bohannon, is a solid funk groove.

No, there's no lost masterpiece here, but this set rights a typical Motown wrong of the past, shoddy handling of am important artist's legacy. Any Marvin fan will love hearing these classic-era tracks all in one place.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE POLTZ - SHINE ON

Eclectic, eccentric and awesome, Steve Poltz left Halifax for California when he was a kid, but continues to bless us with his presence in the Maritimes at least a couple of times a year. His shows are legendary, his wit unmatched and his positivity infectious. You can forget trying to get tickets to his shows at The Carleton in Halifax, he always sells out, three different nights on this upcoming tour. But nicely, he's spreading the joy around the region this time with a bunch of different locales, and I'd advise snapping up seats ASAP.

Poltz's latest has just arrived, and it marks his first since moving to Nashville from his long-standing San Diego home. While California was good to him (he co-wrote Jewel's massive You Were Met For Me there, for instance), he is settling into Nashville just fine. Teaming up with producer Will Kimbrough (Shemekia Copeland, Rodney Crowell), Poltz highlights his wide-ranging roots, a hodge-podge of acoustic numbers from story-songs to bluegrass, gentle picking on ballads to quirky sounds for quirky tales. Windows Of Halifax starts off as a meditation on snow before Christmas, and turns into a conversation between windows (yes, windows), about flunking out of Dalhousie University and the Halifax Explosion.

Poltz can crank out a catchy country-rocker like The Pickup Song that most of Nashville would die for, and a moment later turn to a gentle mandolin ballad, 4th Of July. He can write a song about a guy having a crush on his pharmacist: "You can tell me that my prescription is only for my lower lumber/And I could ask you if you have something for a chronic emotional fumbler/And could I have your number?" Then, he breaks your heart with the tender Furthest Star: "I cried in front of you in bed the other night/You said, 'Come here' then you held me tight." And only Poltz could write a feel-better song featuring a mass shooting and a terrorist bombing. That's part of the magic.

Catch the magic at the following:

Tuesday, May 14 - The Vogue, Miramichi, NB
Weds. May 15 - Dolan's, Fredericton
Thursday, May 16 - The Carleton, Halifax (sold out)
Friday, May 17 - The Carleton, Halifax (sold out)
Sat., May 18 - The Union Street, Berwick, NS
Sun. May 19 - The Frolic & Folk, Iona, NS (sold out)
Mon., May 20 - The Cellar Cafe & Bar, North Sydney, NS (sold out)
Tues, May 21 - The Carleton, Halifax (sold out)
Weds., May 22 - Strathspey Performing Arts Centre, Mabou NS
Thurs. May 23 - The Frolic & Folk, Iona, NS

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TEENAGE HEAD - TEENAGE HEAD

Hamilton's heroes have been enjoying a victory lap of late, with a career retrospective last year, and now this Record Store Day reissue of the group's classic 1979 debut. Originally released on the IGM it's now come out on heavyweight vinyl through Warner with cool memorabilia and creation stories on the inner sleeve. As well, there's a copy of the group's single for Picture My Face/Tearin' Me Apart, different versions than were featured on the album, nicely also on heavyweight vinyl.

Still largely unheralded, this was both a landmark album for Canadian music and hugely important for the nascent alternative scene in the country. Punk had only grabbed a toehold in major centers, New Wave wasn't faring a whole lot better, and there were precious few Canadian groups the underground could call its own. All of a sudden there was a Great Northern Hope in the playlists of college radio and the few discos that allowed the odd New Wave night for those odd New Wavers. From the iconic graphic design of the band's name to their obvious middle finger-salute to star status on the cover, those outside the Toronto-Hamilton axis had hope that Canada finally had someone to play alongside The Ramones and The Clash.

As for the tunes, well, they had those too. Picture My Face and Top Down were full of energy, and had roots going back to rockabilly and '60's garage sounds. If you wondered about their bona fides as actual punks, check out Frankie Venom's party anti-anthem, Kissin' The Carpet. You should also pay special attention to Gord Lewis's guitar, which actually does cut like a knife.

Teenage Head were, like other great bands, well-rehearsed, huge music fans who knew what they were doing and what they wanted. Unlike later '80's Canadian acts they never sold a million copies or conquered international charts, but I'd argue their importance (and music) outranks a whole lot of much-honoured stars of the decade. It's not too late to love this album, especially in this nice new package.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ROLLING STONES - HONK

This compilation was supposed to compliment the group's No Filter tour, but Mick's heart surgery cancelled those plans. But since it was in the pipeline already, it's arrived anyway. I'm sure you know how these work by now. Since the Stones don't own their '60's catalog (Allen Klein walked away with that), the "very best" of the band doesn't include Satisfaction, Jumpin' Jack Flash, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint It Black and a bunch of other classics.

Of course, there's more than enough to amply cram this collection, starting at Brown Sugar. Every album from Sticky Fingers on has at least one cut featured, for better or worse, but of course they give extra to the real hits, the '70's and into the '80's. It feels odd to see all these brilliant numbers, such as Wild Horses, It's Only Rock 'N' Roll and Happy broken up by numbers that most of us can't remember. Quick, what album was Don't Stop on? How about Streets Of Love?

There are some decent later cuts included, and I think Rock And A Hard Place and You Got Me Rocking have earned a spot in the hits package. Plus, I'm glad that the group's most recent album, the all-blues covers Blue and Lonesome gets four cuts, because it's the best studio disc they've done in decades. And to add some extras for fans who already have two or three or seven Stones' hits albums, there's a generous bonus disc if you get the deluxe version, featuring 10 live tracks from the last decade. This helps get them around the '60's problem, with versions of Under My Thumb and Get Off My Cloud, and features some guest stars, including Florence Welch, Brad Paisley and Ed Sheeran. None of it is must-own, especially since the Stones have released tons of live albums from all over their career, but if you feel the need of Stones collection, this works as well as most of them.

Monday, May 6, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVIE NICKS - STAND BACK: 1981 - 2017

For a newly-minted Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame'r, Stevie Nicks has surprisingly few recognizable hit songs to her credit, at least solo. Of course, the bulk of her fame comes from her Fleetwood Mac membership. But she's also now in the Hall a second time, as a solo artist. On her own, Nicks amped up the lace-and-mystery image she'd developed with Rhiannon, and her videos from the '80's really solidified her individual star status. The first thing that comes to mind are those billowing shawls and a white-winged dove.

Available as an album-length best-of, or a triple-length career set, the solo hits do seem a little slim on the smaller collection. Edge Of Seventeen is the big one, Stand Back a close second, If Anyone Falls, Talk To Me and I Can't Wait among the "oh yeah" remembrances. Even the triple set ignores failed 90's single Sometimes It's A Bitch.

Interestingly, the triple set comes across much better, thanks to the inclusion of her many guest appearances, duets, soundtrack cuts and some live Mac hits. That goes to show that her greatest claim to fame is her unique voice, which stands out on any track. It first became a hit-assuring weapon shortly after she broke through in the mid-'70's with Mac. Guesting on John Stewart's Gold and Walter Egan's Magnet & Steel, she brought those rather obscure artists huge hits. It worked for stars too, such as Kenny Loggins on Whenever I Call You "Friend". It became obvious in 1981 she would have to have a solo career, after that year brought her massive hits with Tom Petty (Stop Draggin' My Heart Around) and Don Henley (Leather And Lace). Duets have continued to be an important part of her career, and disc two of this set includes the above hits, plus more with Lady Antebellum, Sheryl Crow, Chris Isaak, right up to Lana Del Rey's Beautiful People Beautiful Problems.

The third disc features her solo tour versions of iconic hits she wrote for Fleetwood Mac, including Dreams, Rhiannon and Gold Dust Woman. She even shows off a harder edge, with a more-than-decent cover of Led Zep's Rock And Roll. She gets to stretch on Landslide as well, on a version with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I've never been too keen on any of her individual studio albums, and the '80's have especially dated production and overbearing synth. The triple version of this set proves a much better career overview, making a strong case for Nicks being among the elite vocalists.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS - THE BEST OF EVERYTHING

Thoughts on Tom Petty:  I find it impossible to feel bad when I play a Petty collection. Whether it's the old classics, the mid-period hits such as Free Fallin', or later, lesser-known material, it doesn't matter, the quality roars through. It's all in retrospect now, shot through with sadness and a huge sense of loss, but my first feeling, and the enduring one is simply, this is great stuff.

There are several Petty collections now, but what artist doesn't have a few best-of's these days? This one is thankfully a complete overview, not split by record company contracts, so all the early hits owned by Universal are joined by the Warner years for the first time. The 2.5 hours of music is billed as covering his full career, from The Heartbreakers to solo to Mudcrutch, and that's almost correct, with just the Wilburys missing. I'm okay with that, those fun cuts don't fit the plot anyway. I'm more interested in having the later, less commercially successful material such as Walls (Circus), Wildflowers and The Last DJ sitting alongside the well-known greatest hits, so their status can be raised. These are some of Petty's best, and slowly but surely they are climbing in fan appreciation.

The compilers here have done a masterful job at sequencing the tracks. Rather than going by chronology, or top-loading the hits, this builds and flows, pacing well-known numbers with deep cuts, rockers to medium tempo to ballads. Placing You Wreck Me between the big hits Mary Jane's Last Dance and I Won't Back Down shows what a strong rocker that 1994 track is, while 2002's Dreamville becomes a dramatic, gentle pause sitting before a return to old favourites Refugee and American Girl.

The attraction for collector fans here is an unreleased track, For Real, a 1994 outtake. It's a darn good one too, one of Petty's strongest statements about refusing to sell out. That's why we loved him, he always, always had the best moral compass in rock. Sure, you might have most of the big hits in your collection already, but this will no doubt make you appreciate many of his other songs as well, and it's one heck of a great road trip sets you'll ever get.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MIKE BIGGAR & BAND - LIVE AT THE BMO THEATRE

It's East Coast Music Award week, this year in Charlottetown, and I'm on my way. It's always an exciting time for music, and not just because of the shows. There are always new albums being released as well, musicians using the event to grab a little more attention for their projects. I always come back with several new ones, and the promise of more soon.

Saint John's Mike Biggar is launching his latest, his first-ever live disc. For some performers, the live album is simply a standard move, to bridge a gap between their latest releases. In Biggar's case though, it's a much-needed introduction to his stage talents for those who haven't seen him in concert. He has three major talents that come across clearly live: 1.) That big voice he offers on record is even more effective in person, intense and heartfelt, with a great command of higher notes that tear through the atmosphere of the room. 2.) He's funny as all get out, and here you get a taste of some of his lighthearted moments in between songs, plus a mom story that almost everybody will relate to. 3.) His story-songs work really well in a show context, and it lets the listener appreciate how fine a writer he's become.

Recorded in his hometown, the audience is made up of supporters who recognize some previous favourites, such as Hero, an inspirational number that could easily be a Mellancamp or Bon Jovi anthem. There are some originals, and even a bit of fun with Bonnie Raitt's Love Sneakin' Up On You, where Grant Heckman stands out on slide. Biggar clearly loves playing with his full group, as he often performs in duo or solo shows, and they add a lot to his already-enviable energy.

Mike Biggar's playing the ECMA festival if you're in Charlottetown. The day to catch him is Saturday, when he'll be playing the Blues Matinees, at the John Brown Richmond St. Grille, starting at 1:45 PM.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KATE BUSH - THE OTHER SIDES

If you are a Kate Bush fan, you have probably been in a conundrum whether to shell out the bucks to buy her recent career-spanning box sets. The remasters sound great, but if you have all the albums, it's perhaps an unnecessary expense. Unless, of course, you want the four extra discs in the second box.  They feature a bunch of oddball tracks from over her career, from b-sides to charity cuts to 12" remixes.

The fan above, who didn't buy the second box, will no doubt be thrilled to find out those four discs can now be bought in this break-out collection, at a much cheaper price. Of course, those who bought the box just for the rare cuts will now be cursing. But as Record Store Day has taught us, most of what is marketed as exclusive and limited eventually becomes widely available if there's demand.

What I can tell you is that there are lots of interesting cuts here for the Bush fan. The remixes disc features five cuts, four from Hounds Of Love, and the other one being the one-single Experiment IV in an extended form. The Big Sky is wilder and richer, with the drums pounding and the intensity greater. Running Up That Hill is a denser, more hypnotic version, and Hounds Of Love features radically different vocals and chorus. Of course, these are some of her best, and best-loved songs as well, so there's certainly nothing boring about these lengthier tracks.

Discs two and three feature b-sides from her career, and non-album tracks. Most of them come from the first part of her career, while she was still putting out lots of singles, recording more and labouring less on each track, so she had more extras. These date back to 1975, when the precocious 16-year old was already working with Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour on her own compositions. The big gem is a track called Humming from that era, previously unreleased, which has a raw energy that was smoothed over by the time her debut The Kick Inside came out three years later.

The rest of these 20 tracks have been out before, but you'd have to be a big collector to have them all. There's the updated version of Wuthering Heights from her 1986 best-of The Whole Story, the single version of Experiment IV, and her much-admired 1980 Christmas single, December Will Be Magic Again, tracks that are pretty common. But there's another Christmas cut, this one from 1993, Home For Christmas, that never gets played or included on holiday compilations. There's a b-side from The Red Shoes era of 1994, that shows the influence of Prince in her sound of the time, and a rich gem that should have been on the album. And the piano ballad Warm and Soothing from 1980 is another must, for those who can't get enough of her early, simpler sound.

The final disc is called In Others' Words, nine choice cover versions from various sources, mostly tributes and charity albums. She's long been an Elton fan, and here we get both Candle In The Wind and Rocket Man, candy cuts, but she does fine readings. Better is her Sexual Healing, which shows that side of her personality, something she has addressed on a couple of her albums. And cuts Lord Of The Reedy River (Donovan) and the traditional My Lagan Love give us a clear vision of what she would have done as a folk/trad artist.

Bush strictly controls what's released in her name now, and some of her decisions are confusing and frustrating. There are a bunch more rare cuts, remixes and the like which she did not include in this set, and there was certainly lots more room to add many or most of them. But you can't argue about the quality of what's she's placed in the box, it's all grand, and for a set of secondary tracks, this kicks most people's hits collections.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ADAM BALDWIN - NO REST FOR THE WICKED

Dartmouth hero Baldwin continues to forge his own solo path apart from his duties in the Matt Mays band. On his latest six-track EP, he vividly describes the price rock 'n' roll can extract. The songs come from a dark place, as he was kicking the destructive habits of substance abuse, and he poured it all out, not holding back in his words or intensity.

Able to view his addiction from the outside, Baldwin gives the other guy, his dark side, a voice in the story as well. In Salvation, he tempts Baldwin in the cold church basement, while he sits at a 12-step meeting. It's raw, loud and scary, like the stories the members were telling, and that constant voice in the back of his head.

True to form though, Baldwin's songs dark songs have strength imbued throughout as well, guitar epics that drive the words home with grandeur. In the best Springsteen/Petty tradition, there's defiance in the voice, guitar and drums, the rock 'n' roll a metaphor for survival. But there are no simple victories. As he sings in the closing cut No Rest For The Wicked, "Hope is a deception of the weak of mind/I'm here to tell you gently there's no peace to find." In other words, this work isn't going to end soon, and the dark guy will always be around, hard to keep at bay. The music alone here will inspire you, but so will Baldwin's honesty and humanity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WINTERSLEEP -- IN THE LAND OF

Our old Nova Scotia pals Wintersleep unleash their latest on Friday, March 29, so it's more than fitting they kick off an East Coast tour tonight (see dates below). In The Land Of contains songs from on the group's two great strengths, extremely catchy tunes albeit slightly unsettling and eerie ones. Check out Beneficiary for instance, with its disco-beat chorus and downright happy-sounding verse, until it sinks in that it begins "All my days I open up my eyes/Beneficiary of a genocide." The point is don't get too comfortable, remember how you got there.

Land is the theme of the set, how we relate to our surroundings, and how we can feel out of place. And isn't that perfect for this band, which always make songs where singer Paul Murphy seems at odds with the happy tune the group has concocted. Never Let You Go has a cheery Paul Simon/Me & Julio rhythm going on, but the lyric relates, "I can't communicate with friends and family/I can't communicate with anybody." Other cuts, such as Soft Focus, are tougher, with crunchy and angular guitar chords, but still have lots of uplifting melody to lean on.

Don't fear the themes though, this isn't some hackneyed prog concept album, Wintersleep is too experienced and thoughtful a group to fall for anything trite. They've made every song captivating and a listening pleasure, and having the lyrics so thoughtful is a gift that keeps giving each listen. A pleasure all around.

Catch some 'Sleep at the following:

Wednesday, Mar. 27 - Moncton, NB//The Tide & Boar
Thursday, March 28 - Fredericton//Boyce Farmers Market
Friday, March 29 - Halifax//The Marquee
Saturday, Mar. 30 - Halifax//The Marquee
Sunday, March 31 - St. John's//Club One

Monday, March 11, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE COMPLETE SOUNDTRACK - TRUE STORIES

David Byrne's quirkiness made for great, original music during the '70's and '80's with Talking Heads. That same oddball artiness didn't quite work out when he moved into film. After the surprise success of the Stop Making Sense concert film Byrne was given a budget and free reign to make True Stories, the 1986 movie that failed to find an audience. It was a musical comedy set in a fictional town, Vernon, Texas, with a series of stories Byrne took largely from tabloids, imagining what it would be like if these wild yarns were true. Music played a big part, with new songs written by Byrne sung by the actors or himself and Talking Heads. 
 
There was a full album of the same name by the band that year, a strong seller that included the hit Wild Wild Life. But it wasn't the soundtrack, it was the band versions of the same songs. A soundtrack album was released, but it just included the instrumental portions. For the first time, to coincide with a Blu-ray reissue of the film, the full soundtrack has been compiled, all the songs by the actors, and the incidental music and themes in one place.

The music is better than the movie for sure. The eerie ballad City Of Dreams, the driving Puzzlin' Evidence, and the punchy Love For Sale are all highlight tracks, and Byrne certainly put together a fine set of material, much better than the next and last Talking Heads album, Naked. But having the actors sing didn't always result in appealing versions. Dream Operator, for instance, is a bit annoying sung by Annie McEnroe, when compared to the Heads version. And even a legend, Pop Staples, doesn't really have the right voice for Papa Legba. Surprisingly, John Goodman does a fantastic vocal on the highlight People Like Us, sounding more believable than Byrne delivering this outsider anthem.

As for the instrumental sections, that's a real bonus here, with some very imaginative themes and off-kilter creations. Best are the tracks recorded on a cheesy Casio keyboard, complete with '80's drum machine, meant to be a hip version of Muzak. While it's not overall as strong as the Talking Heads album of the same name, it's a different animal, and as a soundtrack, its really quite novel and enjoyable. You might want to pass on the film, I haven't seen it since it came out, and I can wait another 33 years.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TOMATO TOMATO - CANARY IN A COAL MINE

Here's a big, and exciting surprise from the New Brunswick folk duo. The couple (John and Lisa McLaggan) are fun and full of happy energy, and have rightfully won a strong reputation for their positive, upbeat tunes and performances. However, they were also in danger of becoming a novelty act, with their bare-bones setup; just the two of them, his guitar and her washboard, plus that unending cheerfulness. But as this new album shows, there's lots more depth coming to the fore these days.

Enter Nashville producer Jon Estes, who has worked with everyone from Kesha to Dolly Parton, Robyn Hitchcock to Loretta Lynn. He brought the duo into his studio, and brought a whole new light on all their considerable talents. It wasn't a case of Nashville pros propping them up, but rather a sympathetic producer recognizing their unique abilities, and challenging them to do their best work yet. Lisa McLaggan has stepped up with her best-ever vocals, signing with power and confidence. Her husband's songwriting has never sounded better and more varied.

Variety is a key on the release, with the songs going in several directions, from the thumping rock of You Don't Know Anything to the soulful twang of the title cut to the breakup ballad I'll Keep The Frame. John McLaggan's lyrics have followed the cheerful path in the past, but there's a new edge in several of the songs. The couple arguing in a hotel lobby in You Don't Know Anything are truly pissed, he's abusive, but her resilience and courage wins the day. It's about as far from the couple's real life as we can imagine, and good for them, stretching to show there are a lot more tricks to this pony.

While they brought all the goods needed, it is great to hear them surrounded by some fine Nashville players, and all manner of roots instruments. Estes could have gone for a mini-Mumfords sound, slapping on the banjo and organ and made it like a thousand other bands, but instead the 12-track album keeps surprising, even including some searing electric leads.

All that, and there's a couple of attention-grabbing covers too. Their cover of Take On Me has already made the rounds and won smiles and even the kudos of A-ha themselves (I believe it also predates Weezer's current cover). John singing The Band's Ophelia will certainly help endear them to the festival crowds this summer as well. But it's all about the band growth on Canary In A Coal Mine, which has redefined the band.