Monday, November 30, 2020


Nobody that I know has a stronger sense of community than people from Newfoundland. Maybe it's that Island thing, because I certainly feel it in P.E.I. and Cape Breton as well. But Newfoundlanders in particular never lose that visceral need to feel connected to their home. 

Maybe that's why Alan Doyle and company felt compelled to take strength from their friends and fellow musicians from Newfoundland in this new six track E.P. A road warrior by any definition of the term, Doyle has spent the best part of the past quarter century either on tour or getting ready for the next one, so Covid put him off-kilter. He couldn't even hang with his musical friends at home thanks to the virus. He needed to rekindle that sense of community, to strengthen the bonds rather than let them slip away.

The result is this all-star set, featuring a track each from all five: Doyle, Fortunate Ones, The Ennis Sisters, Rachel Cousins and The Once. Plus, there's a final tune that features all of them, "It's OK," a reworking Doyle song from his last release, Rough Side Out. That was the only time the artists saw each during the process, working in a socially-distant recording session. Instead they formed a community around the common goal of this release, proving that there's always a way to connect.

These are some of the best singers from NL, whether it's solo, duo or trio, and all of the songs here reflect that, rich ballads with emotional vocals shining through each cut. Home comes into play often, mostly through missing it, or the spirit of it. It seems these travelling musicians all share that, whether it's the dreamy folk of The Once on "Lost Are Found," or Doyle's lonely hotel number from Nashvillle, "A Tennessee Whisky and a Newfoundland Song," which evokes Ron Hynes and "Sonny's Dream." It's going to be a long winter, and if any record can help you get through it, it's this one.

Thursday, November 26, 2020



The Toronto singer-songwriter adds some new dimensions to her sound, as her acoustic music gives way to more and more pop production and adornments. There are lots of strings and bigger arrangements, and a more upbeat feel to several cuts on her latest, six-song EP. As usual, she explores themes of love and relationships, with as many questions as answers, but stays positive throughout.

That topic, and the new layers of production are best heard on the recent single "Tightrope," where she's walking the thin line between fun for now and the real deal. Meanwhile, clipped percussion and rich strings move the tune to dizzying effect. A chill but sweet synth line leads toward the big question, "Are we falling in love, do you want to be loved?" She continues to seek hard truths in the most gentle song here, the title cut, where she asks "If you don't care, why are you still here? If I'm not the one for you, why hold me like you do?" These examinations make the songs a lot more powerful than your basic lovey-dovey tales.

Catch Melanie Peterson's album launch, a Facebook Live Event, on Monday, Nov. 30 at 8 PM ET.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020



One of the most interesting '80's bands made barely a ripple in North America, while plenty of its British contemporaries ruled the airwaves. Maybe Paul Weller's post-Jam band was too smart for its own good. While the colourful likes of Culture Club and Bananarama had no trouble crossing oceans, The Style Council was about style and content, with much more substance than most of those other post-punk groups.

Weller was only 24 when he killed the golden goose that was The Jam, but he was already sick of that pub-punk sound and its trio limits. He envisioned a new way to mix his pop and politics, and instead of being young and snotty, the new band was cool and clever, shot through with left wing thinking. Youth culture was taking on Thatcherism in England, and Weller was going to make it hip and fun. In the best British tradition, clothes would be important, the same as they were for punk and mods before them. Rather than haranguing the audience with musical lectures, the band always looked like they were enjoying life, the way it should be. While it was a pop sound in the end, the records went from '50's and '60's cool jazz to northern soul to rap with ease, stretching into deep grooves and the burgeoning house music scene. Horns would be featured, then strings, some wistful, bucolic ballads and Cafe Society chill all on one album.

So yeah, there was a lot going on, certainly more than your usual synth-and-haircut MTV hit. Plus, it was hard to market the band in North America, since most of the hit singles weren't released on the albums, in that old British style. Not that Weller gave a toss, of course. He let the band run its course, before returning as the Godfather of Britpop, a mantle he still wears for better or for worse, a most English pop star.

Our loss, when reexamining the band on this crammed, two-disc set. The singles blast out with hooks and rich sounds: "Long Hot Summer," "My Ever Changing Moods," "Wall Come Tumbling Down!" and "Shout To The Top!" were the ones that made some impact on my '80's ears, but there are plenty of others that make the set go from peak to peak. The albums were equally well-crafted affairs, making this compilation a rich listen and great discovery for all of us who passed them by back in the day.

Monday, November 23, 2020


Is a fiddle tune still a fiddle tune if it's played on guitar? That's just the latest intriguing musical question and adventure from Maxim Cormier, Cape Breton's genre-defying guitar virtuoso. In the past he's rewritten the rules on how to play classical guitar, flat-picking his way through Bach, and made his own melting pot, mixing Acadian, Celtic, classical, jazz, bluegrass and whatever else tickled his fancy. This time, playing live during the Celtic Colours International Festival, with his father on second guitar, he makes all the fiddlers stand back while he takes the lead.

The six song E.P. features four different sets of Cape Breton fiddle favourites, flawless transpositions of the tunes from four strings to six. For much of it Cormier keeps up a relentless pace; you know how fast those Celtic fiddlers fly, and it may sound even more impressive on guitar. On the other two selections, Cormier reaches into his bag of tricks for a bell-like bluegrass set, "Blackberry Blossom/Big Mon," and the atmospheric Parisienne gypsy jazz of "Nuages." It may not be the music the French soldiers heard in Fortress Louisbourg in the 18th century, but there sure is a lot of history and culture packed into this charming concert disc.


Friday, November 20, 2020



"One foot in the door, the other foot in the gutter," sang Paul Westerberg on "I Don't Know," fully aware of his situation. In 1987, his band teetered on the edge. One little push and The Replacements might implode, as Westerberg had assumed they would in the lead-up to recording their fifth album. Or they just might score a big hit, given the interest their label Sire was showing in them, even throwing decent money at them. That lyric also spoke to the group's image, a bunch of screw-up indie punks now ensconced on a major label, taking the cash but hoping not to sell out. And as always, Westerberg and his mates were personally teetering, all booze and neuroses.

The major dilemma was the firing of lead guitar player Bob Stinson, who was acting out more than the rest of them, uninterested in growing past punk as Westerberg's writing matured. But instead of ripping them apart, the rest grew tighter, drummer Chris Mars and Stinson's brother Tommy more determined to continue. Management and Sire decided to up the ante and find a name producer, plus get them out of Minnesota They settled on Jim Dickinson who worked out of the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis, one-time cohort of The Rolling Stones, producer of Big Star, and a noted character himself.

Surprisingly, it all came together, with only some minor hiccups along the way. Without Bob Stinson in the camp, the 'Mats allowed Dickinson to add some big league tricks to their sound, with some Memphis horns and even strings getting added. While there were moments of mayhem, including "I.O.U." and "Red Red Wine," Westerberg was writing even better pop songs with great melodies, "Can't Hardly Wait" and the grand "Alex Chilton" among his very best. He even tried lounge jazz on "Nightclub Jitters" and gentle balladeering with "Skyway."

This deluxe box features three CD's, one LP and a coverful, full telling of the whole story in a lengthy booklet. Disc one features a new remaster of the album, plus the associated b-sides, most of them quite hard to find. Disc two has the original demo sessions for the album, which saw Bob Stinson show up for the first day but not for the rest, which led to his ouster. Disc three includes very different rough mixes of the sessions, before Dickinson did more cleaning and tidying, plus a bunch of outtakes, some for fun, others serious tryouts. Most of discs two and three feature never-before released stuff, great finds for fans. And in a very smart move, the album included isn't the original vinyl release, which you can get elsewhere, but rather the rough mix versions, so fans won't have vinyl duplication.

In the end, neither of the dramatic results happened. The band stayed afloat, but there was no major breakthrough either. The album did okay, wowing critics and the cult, but found few new fans. The hoped-for buzz stalled when the single "The Ledge" got rejected by MTV due to its subject, suicide. Instead, The Replacements did what they always did, and teetered forward, at least for another year. Pleased To Meet Me remains one of their best, given a thorough and loving repackaging here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020



Everything comes together beautifully on Spencer's new album: words, melodies, sounds, arrangements, instruments, it just keeps going from one shining moment to the next, and usually two or three together. Gleaned from winter writing sessions over the past three years, the songs have that reflective quality we all know from the shorter days and deeper moods. Winter and nature shows up often, and they almost all offer observed stories, personal and those of friends, that touch our own deepest feelings.

Spencer's own production, captured by engineer Lil Thomas (Mike Hastings on "In The City"), is warm and cozy, usually centered around her vocals, piano and light drums and brushes from Jordi Comstock. It's uncluttered and clear, allowing each sound to stand out. Wonderful choices were made for the solo instruments, such as Luke Fraser's mandolin in "Lunenburg Moon," the heart-touching French horn from Sarah Kasprzak, and David Campbell's pedal steel on Coyote. When background and harmony vocals are used, they lift the songs to new heights.

The emotional heart of the album can be found in cuts four and five, "In The City" and "Training To Fly." Spencer's descriptions in the former recall the vivid writing of Rufus Wainwright in his songs such as "Art Teacher," as she tells about moving from home to the city (in this case, Halifax), going from warm memories to sad events, highlights to youthful mistakes: "My mom cried, and Lady Di died the day I left for college/Where I stayed up too late writing papers and faking my knowledge." "Training To Fly" makes the easy and welcome comparison of young Canada Geese learning their flight to mothers seeing their children leave the nest: "Sometimes I can't tell if I'm still in my shell/or I've started stretching my wings.

She's not all bunnies and hearts and flowers either; "Coyote" falls in the 'nature can be cruel' category, as a cross-country skier meets a grisly fate in the woods. But even that is an affirmation of nature's way, how we fit in and how it rules our hearts.

Sunday, November 15, 2020



Let's go back to that crucial year in Dire Straits' career, 1985. The band's new album, Brothers In Arms, was coming out, and dates were announced for a North American tour. To give you an idea of their popularity outside of the U.K., the tour featured a string of Canadian dates, where the group was much bigger than the U.S. That included my once and future hometown of Fredericton, where they were booked to play the 3,500-seat hockey rink.

Well, that all changed with a little guest vocal by Sting, singing "I want my MTV," and the huge success of the album, the band's fifth studio set. Dire Straits finally broke through world-wide, Brothers In Arms became the first huge hit of the CD era, for a time the biggest-selling album in U.K. history, and all of a sudden that date in Fredericton was unceremoniously cancelled due to scheduling difficulties. In other words, they booked some much bigger and better dates in the States.

So what happened? Basically, leader Mark Knopfler went back to tighter, singable numbers. After filling up album sides with lengthy, moody pieces, including the epic "Telegraph Road," 14 minutes worth of 1982's Love Over Gold,  Knopfler offered up actual hit-length favorites, including "So Far Away" and "Walk Of Life." But Knopfler proved a reluctant rock star, and allowed only one further studio set, 1991's On Every Street. Since then, it's been a low-key career of roots and country-styled solo albums by Knopfler, steering far away from hooks and hits.

So that leaves us a legacy of just six studio albums, all packaged in this convenient box, CD or LP. 1980's Making Movies has long been my favourite. While there were some lengthier numbers, they weren't stretched out, slow-boiling numbers. Instead they featured intriguing stories and a true cinematic feel. Knopfler had a unique lyric style, letting us watch characters such as the Roller Girl in "Skateaway," living inside her headphones as she speeds through the city.

Brothers In Arms is so familiar, it's almost difficult to listen to these days, kind of like Paul Simon's Graceland. Maybe it's because we only had a few CD's early on, and they got played to death, but it feels like there's nothing left to learn from Brothers. The album I loved reliving was the debut, Dire Straits, from 1978. Sure, "Sultans" was the anchor, but there's not a bum track on it, and it's perhaps the most varied of their records. You have the chicken-pickin' country of  "Setting Me Up," the moody voyeurism of "Wild West End," and plenty of Dylan influences throughout. And very few players have ever introduced their own guitar sound so thoroughly. It's still a marvellous thing.

The rest? Communique was that classic difficult second album, underwhelming compared to what preceded it and what would come next. Love Over Gold remains a snore, even with the witty "Industrial Disease" kicking off side two. On Every Street has some fun, including "Calling Elvis," "Heavy Fuel" and "The Bug," but it suffered from the early CD mistake of including too many songs, about 15 minutes worth. There's some tremendous music across these six albums, but you're also left wondering if Knopfler was holding back. Oh, and that bloody '80's drum sound, I'd love somebody to remix that some day.

Thursday, November 12, 2020



Do you know the whole Northern Soul thing? Basically, soul music fans in some big U.K. dance halls started having these dance nights in the 1970's, where they would play all their beloved Tamla Motown records and other similar artists. Then the disc jockeys started to compete with each other, trying to find obscure, great songs that would then become weekly favourites. Then the thing went crazy, with nutsy collectors going to unheard lengths to scour the archives of record labels, looking for unreleased or barely-issued tunes they could turn into hits decades after being recorded, the more unheralded the better. Northern Soul became a genre unto its own, and has resulted in dozens of such collections over the years.

It's still almost completely a British thing, although on occasion some of these collections get released on this side of the world. Here's a real killer, discovered in the archives of Cameo-Parkway of Philadelphia from 1964 to 1967. To say these are lesser-knowns is being polite. Only Chubby Checker, by then desperate for a hit, has any name recognition to even the bigger music fans. There are a few that might spark a memory, such as The Orlons, Bunny Sigler and Eddie Holman. Still, I'm a huge 60's soul fan, and do this crap for a living, and I've never had the occasion to hear from Nikki Blu, Vickie Baines or The Four Exceptions before.

It turns out Nikki Blu was an alter ego of Marlena Davis of The Orlons, and while her single "(Whoa, Whoa) I Love Him So" didn't bother the charts, it is a fine, uptempo pop-soul track. The Orlons contribution here, "Envy In My Eyes," may have been relegated to a b-side, but it was a whole lot better than the group's earlier dance craze hits like "The Wah-Watusi," and showed they had moved into sophisticated girl group soul. Poor Ms. Baines never managed to reach fame with her scant three 45's in the mid-60's, but "Country Girl" here is a scorcher. Honestly, I think many of these tracks languished because Motown so dominated the airwaves and charts.

Not everything is great here, of course. Ben Zine (not, I'm betting, his real name) just had a lone single, with "Village Of Tears" having a groovy beat that excited the British dance fans, but his voice was decidedly unsoulful. But it's the rare clunker in this 20-track set, all songs that became dancefloor favourites for weeks on end an ocean away from Philadelphia. Oh, and Chubby Checker? His 1965 move into more sophisticated pop than his string of novelty dance numbers like "The Twist" and "Limbo Rock" utterly failed. But darned if "You Just Don't Know (What You Do To Me)" is a gem. Those Northern Soul fans were on to something.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


I tell ya, it's next to impossible for musicians to play live, let alone mount a tour, so hats off to the intrepid Mav Karlo, who has travelled all the way from Ontario, plus spent two weeks in required isolation, just so he can play a few dates in Atlantic Canada. That's devotion. And the tour is called, naturally, the I drove here and slept in my car and only peed on the side of the road and quarantined for two weeks, oh and the shows are all socially distanced” tour.

Wait now, Mav who? Well, you do know him, it's Menno Versteeg, the frontman of the late, lamented Hollerado, always popular on the East Coast. The band called it quits last December in a blizzard of confetti, and Versteeg has reemerged with a new name but the same open and winning personality. The eight-song set, Strangers Like Us, sees him in fine form, albeit stripped back and bit more on the singer-songwriter side than his band days. That's because it's a more introspective set, tackling a rough personal patch and how to figure out what caused the pain.

Far from a pity party, instead Versteeg, er, Mav, jumps in with his bright melodies, good humour and pop instincts intact. Heavy topics don't have to be heavy songs, as he shows in lead cut "Elevator," about highs and lows. "There are days when I feel like I'm a superman," he tells us first, then "There are days when I feel I'm a bacterium."Another great help to the mood is the other main instrument, the voice of Katy Goodman (Vivian Girls), almost a co-vocalist on the album.

Versteeg is honouring the East, as these are the first shows he is doing under the Mav Karlo name. Come out and see him, he sure went to a lot of work to come see you.

November 11 - Trailside - Charlottetown
November 12 - Derby Bar - Halifax
November 13 - Bannermans - St. John’s
November 14 - Bannermans - St. John’s
November 15 - Bannermans - St. John’s
November 18 - River House - Newport Corner, NS
November 19 - The Capitol - Fredericton
November 20 - The Timber Lounge - Moncton
November 21 - The Old Sydney Society - Sydney


Monday, November 9, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: KEITH R. BROWN - TRULY UNFAMOUS: Tales From The Glory Days Of Canadian Rock

The fascinating early days of the modern Canadian music industry, after the arrival of CanCon in the early '70's, is a rich source of hilarious stories and great memories for boomers, those of us who developed their love of music in this era. Where Britain had its Beatles and Stones in the '60's, Canada had April Wine and The Stampeders and a couple of dozen other homegrown talents. These were the bands that treated so many of us to our first real rock concerts, usually at the local hockey rink with plywood covering the ice and a couple of thousand teenagers crammed into the arena. Those bands, including Crowbar and Lighthouse, Mashmakhan, the early Rush, and perennial opening acts James Leroy with Denim and The Ian Thomas Band were the heroes of the road, as famous in Northern B.C. as they were in Atlantic Canada. They were on the radio, and brought a lot of magic into our lives, at least as much as we could stand on a Tuesday night with school the next day. We're going to scream, they're going to let off a smoke bomb, and my dad is parked outside, waiting for the show to end to drive us home.

Keith Brown was right in the middle of the scene during all those days, starting as the kid cleaning the floor at the rock star bar of choice in Montreal, and ending up running Aquarius Records, home to April Wine, Corey Hart and Sass Jordan. The story of how he got there is classic, in the right place at the right time, and an eyewitness and insider to the stories of the stars and the behind-the-scenes characters who ruled the scene. As a tour manager he ran the show and babysat the musicians, ruling the roost on the road and backstage at the venues. That included the big ones, like The Forum in Montreal, and the duds like the arena in Yarmouth, with the floor still covered in hay and horse dung from the agricultural fair. He met the big stars, with big problems; The Who's Keith Moon in full Loon behaviour, The Rolling Stones' truck suffering a bomb attack, and getting hired to be a "Jim-Carrier," to carry a drunk Jim Morrison to and from the stage. But the best stories come from the beloved Canuck rockers, as Brown and the bands roll across the country, pioneers in the touring business in the country.

Brown worked for the Donald K Donald group, the gang that invented the coast-to-coast tour circuit. It's a rare treat to get a seat on those tour busses, hearing the craziness and dumb luck  that went on all day and night, wondering how Brown and any of them survived. He also lets us understand just how unglamorous it all was, from bad meals and worse sleep, car crashes and bike gangs, and Mounties trying to set up April Wine on a dope bust in Tisdale, SK.Then there are the cheap laughs, back break-ups and bad burns from faulty pyro.

Brown is a surprisingly strong writer, and if you were one of those kids in the hockey rink at your first rock show, this will be a page-turner for you. He's also done a great service, getting these stories down before they are lost to history.

Sunday, November 8, 2020



With her big personality, ubiquitous media presence and tremendous wit, we often forget what brought to her prominence in the first place, her songwriting. But it doesn't take long to zip through this best-of to remind us of the quantity and the quality of her writing chops. From her first hit, "I Would Die For You," through her break-out album Living Under June, with cuts like "Could I Be Your Girl" and "Good Mother," up to 2017's "Everybody's Pulling On Me," Arden's backed up all other charms with that bedrock talent.

Her other major weapon is dynamic voice, which lets her own the covers she chooses. That includes "Insensitive," still her best-known hit, and her very strong remake of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me," already a brilliant song that she manages to equal. This compilation does a good job of spreading the love a bit further than her biggest, early hits, leaving room for excellent later tracks such as "Cherry Popsicle" and "Sleepless." That does mean it's not a thorough compilation though, omitting huge fan favourites including "Unloved" and "You Don't Know Me," the Eddy Arnold cover.

Instead, this is a cross-promotion set to tie in with her popular TV show, Jann, now in season two. That means we get songs that are being featured in those shows, including the original cut "Mother Mine," with actress Zoie Palmer. There's a live version of "Insensitive," taken from a CTV-aired concert (quite good too, stripped back with piano and excellent backing vocals), and another new release, a cool cover of the Cure's "Lovesong," from Scott Helman's Hotel Sessions show. There's probably some new, young fans out there from the TV show who are just starting to learn about Jann, and this gives them a good primer, plus it has a few novelties for the hardcores.

Thursday, November 5, 2020



I know it's pretty much impossible to keep up with the constant flow of David Bowie albums and reissues, such is the volume of material being released. Lots of it is old, repackaged and tarted up, while others are new, out-takes, demos and the like, plus lots and lots of live material. A whopping six live albums from the '90's tour are being released over this fall and next spring, for instance. And don't get me started on coloured vinyl issues.

This one is even more confusing on first look, thanks to its title, and what's inside. It's old, because it's actually the album we've known all along as The Man Who Sold The World, from 1970. It's new though, because of this title, and the track versions. Original producer, bass player and lifelong Bowie pal Tony Visconti has gone back to the original masters and remixed the album, something he (and apparently Bowie) had long wanted to do. Visconti has no-one to blame but himself of course, since he both recorded and mixed the original, but it's more a question of technology at the time, and having the opportunity to do a remix. Its fiftieth anniversary has provided the hook.

The name change, by the way, is a return to Bowie's original name for the album, which was changed sometime after the recordings were made. The cover's different too, reverting to the original U.S. one. The album itself has never been one of the best-loved Bowie discs, coming as it did early on, before the Ziggy blow-up. But there are a couple of familiar tracks, including the title cut (thanks, Nirvana) and "Width Of A Circle," a live favourite. It's really a solid set, and kind of a one-off, coming between the folky Space Oddity album of '69 and Hunky Dory, stripped back and kooky. Here, Bowie was introducing his new team, the band called The Hype, basically The Spiders From Mars, but with Visconti on bass. It's a rock set, Mick Ronson in particular on fire, some of his best work with Bowie, matching up with the iconic work on Ziggy Stardust.

What's great about the remix is a more prominent and cleaner sound on each instrument, lifted out of the middle and given some space. MIck Woodmansey's drums in particular power through, and both Visconti and Ronson own their moments. This was a shit-hot band, and I think the fact they weren't noticed at the time was the fault of the material. Bowie was learning how to write these rockers, some of them felt rather dark, and they were hard to figure out. "The Man Who Sold The World" is a gem, for sure, but the album needed more of that, and not the unmemorable "Saviour Machine." Tell you what though, it's a better listen now, a good rock album for sure, and the remix will help its long-term reputation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020



I'm sure any Lennon fan worth their salt has at least one of the many greatest hits sets from over the years, whether it's Shaved Fish (1975), The John Lennon Collection (1982), Lennon Legend (1997), Working Class Hero (2005), Power To The People (2010), or one of the various box sets or soundtrack collections. So in order to celebrate John's 80th, something new would be required. What this set offers is pretty much the usual setlist, but now with newly remixed sound. The 36 tracks have been sourced from the original master tapes, and remixed according to the family's wishes. Yoko and Sean wanted first and foremost to have a cleaner sound, and increase John's vocals in the mix. They haven't messed around with the instruments, like the recent Beatles remixes for Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper, but instead gave them a basic cleaning-up.

This is most noticeable on the early productions, singles such as "Instant Karma" and "Power To The People," produced in a lump of sound by Phil Spector. Others, such as "Cold Turkey" and "Give Peace A Chance" were simply not made with clarity as a priority. So these simply sound better, warmer in the vocals, and less sloppy. Same goes for the tracks from Rock 'n' Roll, "Stand By Me" and "Angel Baby," another album crunched together by the erratic Spector, as his talents continued to erode. The live "Come Together" from 1972 sounds way better too, Lennon now way up from in your ears.

Time to use your surround sound too, as the 5.1 mix is put to great effect. There's a little more mix fun here with the extra channels, and a very enjoyable experience listening to these very familiar tracks. Well, not all of them are very familiar. There's a couple of deep album cuts from the Mind Games lp, "Out Of The Blue" and "I Know (I Know)," plus "Angela" from Some Time In New York City, a good song from a so-so album. It's there as a replacement for the usual inclusion on these packages, the minor hit "Woman Is The (N-word) Of The World," which isn't very popular at all these days.

The other big part of this set is the very gorgeous hard-cover book. I know, it's all packaging, and they charge a ton for it, but this book is simple and smart and attractive. Instead of wasting time on self-serving essays, it's mostly made up of great photos and great individual articles on each song. And the info comes largely from Lennon himself, excerpts from various interviews, essentially the stories of the songs from the horse's mouth. You have to decide whether you need another Lennon set, but if you're wondering if there's anything new, the answer is yes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020


Usually when veterans re-record their old hits, it's nothing radical. They may do acoustic versions, or add strings, maybe invite superstars for duets. Basically they don't change much, and the results are simply a way for their labels to milk a little more out of the same old songs.

Cat, or Yusuf, bravely reworks much of his 50-year old classic. That's mostly in the arrangements, instruments and melodies. He does make one notable lyric switch, changing "Looking for a hard-headed woman" to "found myself a hard-headed woman," which is more appropriate now for him. That song, and "Where Do The Children Play" kick things off, and are two of the least restructured tunes. But then you're hit with the beloved "Wild World." It's completely restructured, with a reggae beat and klezmer touches, accordion and clarinet.

And so it continues, more and more surprises and radical reinventions. There's even a brief hip-hop shout-out, nothing tacky, more like Yusuf being inclusive.  He does leave the venerated "Father And Son" largely unchanged, letting his older voice now handle the poignancy. But the rest of the album goes from quirky to unrecognizable, the acoustic flavour of the original replaced by bigger production and more instruments.  It's different and I still like it.

Monday, November 2, 2020



Halifax Juno Award-winning duo Neon Dreams turn the tables on '90's youthful angst with a cohesive seven-song set on how to find the positive. Singing to and for the wallflowers, loners and smart worriers, singer Frank Kadillac takes us through a semi-autobiographical trip, from being down and invisible ("Lifestyles Of The Broke And Nameless") to the closing, title track, dedicated to the friends who can help you make it through.

Along the way, the songs are filled with big alt-pop retro moments, triumphant synths and joyous choruses. Even better, these relatable and clever lyrics. "All The People is about trying to fit in, against your better instincts: "You use those words 'cause they're the words that everybody's using now/Those songs you hate, you sing along 'cause everybody's singing now." There's the crushing everyday blues, in "Lifestyles Of The Broke And Nameless," dedicated to Kadillac's younger self: "This for the young and hopeless, same pill, same diagnosis."  And even setting the scene becomes a moment of reflection: "Don't even know what I've been looking for/But I ain't gonna find it at a house party."

The band's been dropping singles and videos, and the full release comes out November 13. They've also managed to book a full East Coast tour for the month (with proper Covid-19 protocols in place). It kicks off in the Maritimes, before heading to Newfoundland for seven shows. Here are the first few dates:

Nov. 12 - Halifax Convention Centre
Nov. 13 - Halifax Convention Centre
Nov. 14 - Saint John Imperial Theatre
Nov. 15 - Moncton Capitol Theatre
Nov. 16 - Fredericton Playhouse