Tuesday, June 29, 2021


There's no more intriguing story in Canadian rock circles than that of Hamilton's cult classic group Simply Saucer, and it's leader, Edgar Breau. Now it's become even more interesting, with this set, Breau's previously unreleased first solo album, from 1990. The group started out in the '70's as a no-hit wonder, with a failed single to its credit and a smattering of interest in the southern Ontario punk scene. But they had done some demos in the Lanois brothers studio (Bob recorded them, Daniel says he was away for the sessions), and a live show was taped. Over a decade after the band split, a local writer released an album called Cyborgs Revisited, and over time it became an underground favourite, with press raves in North America and Europe. It was a unique, missing link album that fit somewhere into between prog and art rock bands such as The Velvet Underground and Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and later visionary acts Talking Heads and Television. 

Meantime, Breau had reconsidered his place in music and become an acoustic folk performer, albeit a quirky one. He had mad skills on acoustic guitar and admired British players. But here he was in a quandary, with a growing rep for Simply Saucer. By the 2000's, Breau had come to grips with past and present, reformed the group and embarked on a career both solo and with the band, which continues with aplomb.

One part of the story remained unresolved though, those 1990 sessions he recorded. Breau had basically given up on music as a career at that time, and shelved the project. Eventually he reworked some of them over a decade later when he revived his career, but this set remained a full, unheard piece.  

It's a gem, no surprise, and finds Breau at an intriguing crossroads in his writing. While they are acoustic based, the cuts are full-band numbers, with old Saucer bandmate Kevin Christoff on bass, plus drums and electric guitar. Breau's quirky vocals are augmented with harmonies from Compton Roberts, and his acoustic licks weave gently with the electric instruments. It's somewhere between his future solo folk and his previous Saucer psyche, but like all his work, utterly unique. The melodies are dreamy and quite beautiful, a contrast with Breau's warble. The lyrics are equally eclectic, mesmerizing stories that seem like fiction from an unknown country or a parallel world. Nothing bizarre, just nothing we've heard before. 

If you're new to the Saucer world, this isn't a bad place to fall into the rabbit hole. For fans it's a great joy, the best of both worlds Breau solo and Saucer-shaped.

Monday, June 28, 2021


The album that made CSNY superstars sounds as great as ever, certainly the pinnacle of the band's many iterations and reformations. It's also the best of the first three letters of the bunch, but not of course Young, who always held back his best for his own albums. While this is the album that gave us "Helpless," one of Young's most famous cuts, there's not much else to speak of from him (I've never thought much of the "Country Girl" suite), and the other three really provide the bulk of the greatness. "Carry On," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," "Almost Cut My Hair," these would have been just as good if it was another CSN album, so credit should go to that trio. I've often wondered if Young's presence hijacked and ultimately destroyed the band, rather than made it better.

The big surprise here is how much alternative material was left in the can to beef up this fine box set. It's now a full four-CD set, which also includes a vinyl pressing of the original album, with sets of demos, outtakes and alternate mixes making up the new CDs. While a few of these tracks have slipped out over the years, on the career-spanning CSN box and Young's many historical releases, the vast bulk, 29 cuts, are new to us. As always, some are diamonds in the rough, some were deservedly rejected, some are cool as historical documents, and some leave you wondering why they didn't release them in the first place. 

The demo disc shows all four writers working on their own on the songs they brought to the album, those that made the cut and others that got rejected. There are two versions of Nash's "Our House," the second the most compelling, as it features Joni Mitchell, the object of the song, trying out some home harmonies on the beloved classic, a moment to treasure. Crosby tries out his controversial "Triad," given to the Jefferson Airplane after the Byrds rejected it, Crosby still itching to do his own version. Stills, dripping with songs, offered several that never made it to the studio sessions, although his embryonic work was hit-and-miss at best, vehicles for licks and jams. The big surprise here is Young trying out a demo of his "Birds" featuring Nash on harmonies. Ultimately he pulled it back for "After The Goldrush," but if it had been included on Deja Vu, it's presence would certainly have made it a better album, as a replacement for "Country Girl."

The outtakes group of songs is dominated by Stilla, with a few more of his works-in-progress that sound pretty good but don't really take off. He was tinkering with a couple of songs that would show up on his later albums, including the fine "Change Partners" and "Bluebird Revisited" but they weren't ready. There are some great CSN moments, featuring the classic vocal mix that still amazes, especially on one called "Ivory Tower." The best is "Horses Through A Rainstorm" which came out on the CSN box, and if you don't know it, you should. It's another cut. lead by Nash, that could have fit nicely on the original album, a good closer instead of "Everybody I Love You," the other weak track on the disc.

The alternates disc is another fun set, with some significant differences to the well-known originals. It's quite surprising to hear the changes in arrangements in "Woodstock," for instance, in the vocals and timing. Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" features completely different singing, and you can hear him striving to get the right attitude into the song. This one is too cocky, and wisely they chose the other take. Clearly, as heard on "Carry On," "Deja Vu" and "Teach Your Children," the key to this album is the famous vocal blend, and that they worked hard to get just the right take.

The big takeaway from the box set is that Stills really was doing all the heavy lifting. He brought the most songs and was the musical and recording leader. He wasn't holding anything back, and neither were Crosby and Nash. All their best songs were considered, and a fine, equal blend of them made up the bulk of the album. Young's addition probably put them over the top, getting them more press and public interest, but his focus remained as a solo artist. As for a listening experience, it's fun. These are such iconic songs that demos and different takes are surprising to hear. The outtakes and rejects pile isn't that interesting, with a couple too many similar Stills songs, but there are more than enough moments to make this a great start-to-finish listen

Thursday, June 10, 2021


Fredericton troubadour Fowlie has been patiently trying to launch his latest album with a live show, having already been through a Covid-caused postponement. But things are looking good for June 19 now at the Playhouse. Tickets are available now, and the opening act is N.B. blues songwriter Kendra Gale.

East Of Nowhere is Fowlie's second full album, after 2019's Party Music, and a series of EP's. Produced by Winnipeg's rising roots star Ariel Posen, the songs have a warm and subtle feel, the focus on Fowlie's story-teller vocals. Over 12 tracks, he takes us on a tour from town to town, in private homes, a couple of bars, behind the wheel, and down familiar streets. These are normal folks, in good times and bad, dealing with all the crap life throws at us.

That means Fowlie drops a bunch of emotional bombshells on us, about premature deaths in families, small towns drying up, bigotry handed down through generations, times changing faster than we'd like and not fast enough. There are some personal moments here too, including the single "To Mend," for his daughter. Rather than hearts and flowers, he's there for strength:  "When it hurts you can't help but feel like you're broken/but I know just how far you can bend in the wind." We also get a glimpse of life on the road, which is all about travelling in bad weather, coffee at the same gas station stops, and being on stage: "I've weathered the storm and I can't wait to see my family/But up here tonight I'm singing someone's favourite song." For more on the launch show and new album, visit www.colinfowlie.com.