Thursday, May 30, 2019


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 for the whole trip.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.