Friday, July 24, 2020


With Covid restrictions in place, many of us have been finding pleasure in touring our own areas in stay-cations, or just getting out for walks and drives to new or favourite places. I'm one of those, and these day trips have led to lots of discoveries. Many of these involve historic spots, and I've found myself reading up on New Brunswick history a few times. I'll admit, and I'm sure I'm not alone, to a woefully limited knowledge of our past.

Fredericton musician Mike Bravener has been helping people learn our history as a musician at King's Landing, the historic village that recreates 19th century New Brunswick. To take on the role, Bravener researched the traditional folk songs unique to the area. He used the scarce few resources in print, and even learned a couple handed down through generations of local families.

These are the songs of English New Brunswick, and the bulk of them Miramichi folk songs, celebrating that area and its rich logging history. Best known is "The Lumberman's Alphabet" ("A's for the axes..."), perhaps the only one a few of us could sing along to. There are history lessons, such as "The Miramichi Fire," the gigantic 1825 conflagration that killed hundreds and destroyed a fifth of the province's forests, regarded as one of the three biggest forest fires ever in North America. Others give the flavour of the times, such as "The Scow On Cowden Shore," which calls out the towns where the workers have come from, and "Peter Emberley" who watches the big ships sail majestically.

Bravener sticks to the traditional arrangements and instruments for the songs, with mostly acoustic guitar, fiddle, accordion and lots of gang vocals. He sings out the lyrics clearly, in the story-telling way these would have first been heard in lumber camps and around campfires. We're lucky in New Brunswick where we can still see remnants of these days in historic sites such as the Fundy Trail or the Woodman's Museum, and a history lesson goes a long way in helping build cultural pride (and the tourism economy) of a region. Kudos to Bravener for his important work.

There's an album launch concert happening at King's Landing on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 5:30 PM.

Friday, July 10, 2020


Given its legendary status in the Neil Young world, it's surprising this wasn't the very first release in his Archive series. But perhaps Young has been dickering with the track list all along, as it has a shifting target for fans since the album was first mentioned (and discarded) back in 1975. For those unfamiliar, Homegrown was to have been the follow-up to On The Beach that year, but at a listening party for it, his pals then heard the then-unreleased Tonight's The Night album after. Some listeners were adamant that Young needed to release that album, and the mystery of Homegrown was launched.

It was around this time that Young acquired his reputation for stockpiling great songs for a later date. Frequent tours with Crazy Horse, CSNY or solo would feature unreleased gems, and where and when they would appear was anyone's guess. The Homegrown sessions were first mined for release on American Stars 'n' Bars, There he placed one of its best songs, "Star Of Bethlehem," featuring harmonies from EmmyLou Harris. Also present was the title cut, but recorded by Crazy Horse. The original "Homegrown" here is much different,
faster and funkier, more of a country groove number. Also that year, Young's Decade collection, career highlights to that point, included the brilliant "Love Is A Rose," which had been handed to Linda Ronstadt back in 1975.

Young went back to Homegrown time and again for songs, either on tour or for albums. "Little Wing," a classic Young acoustic/harmonica track, made Hawks & Doves, while the mellow "White Line" showed up on Ragged Glory. Here though it just has Young and fellow Canuck Robbie Robertson, the Band leader, picking on acoustic lead lines to mirror Young's harp.

Most of the rest showed up on tour, and there are lots of other tracks from this series of '74-'75 period that Young has considered Homegrown numbers over the years. But he's finally settled on this 12-track version, and the ones he has picked include more stellar tracks, and only a couple of clunkers. "Vacancy" is a full-band stomp with cohorts Ben Keith on slide, Tim Drummond on bass and Karl Himmel drumming, plus Canuck/Band associate Stan Szelest on piano. It features some great interplay and Young electric soloing, plus the blue vibe of his "Ditch Trilogy" period. There are two tracks famous among Young acolytes, "Separate Ways" and "Try," which address his crumbling marriage with Carrie Snodgrass, the overall theme of the album. That day Levon Helm was behind the drums along with Keith and Drummond, and these feel most like the On The Beach vibe, intimate and bittersweet, lines about trying but really Young sounds more like he's given up on the relationship.

There are a trio of tunes named after U.S. states. "Mexico" and "Kansas" are somewhat slight, just Young on either piano or guitar, more interludes and partial ideas than fully-formed. Still they are nice enough, although not as catchy as, say, the similarly brief "Cripple Creek Ferry" from After The Gold Rush. But "Florida" is just odd, either a stoned-out studio chat or a bizarre poem, accompanied by spooky noises made on a wine glass. It's kind of funny once or twice, but wrecks the album flow. Worse though is a sloppy studio jam called "We Don't Smoke It No More," which seems like the kind of thing best wiped from the tape before you get down to the real business. At best, it's lesser Tonight's The Night material.

Of course it's impossible to say what would have happened to this album if it had been released instead of Tonight's The Night back in 1975. Young calls it the missing link between Harvest and Comes A Time, but it doesn't really have any of the good vibes of either of those albums, with only "Love Is A Rose" a potential hit in the "Heart Of Gold" vein. It doesn't really come together as an album, which may have been Young's problem with it in the first place. But as a collection of very good tracks from a fertile period, it's a must-own set for Young enthusiasts, and makes one long for the rest of the tracks of that period to arrive. When that happens is, of course, at Young's whim.