Tuesday, April 30, 2019


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


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.