Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Yacht rock?  Not quite, but Ontario's Don Oakie did put off his music career for 35 years to build, wait for it, yachts. But the muse that first hit him back in the '70s when he was traveling the world and playing coffee houses always stayed with him, and he's finally been able to devote the time to record and release his debut, at the modest age of 70.

Seems he kept up his chops, and his knowledge of the folk music trends as well. Oakie shows he can handle lots of different roots styles, featuring his finger-picking guitar work. There's a righteous bluegrass version of "Folsom Prison Blues," a gorgeous instrumental called "Angels and Devils," and lots of blues and ballads. Split between originals and covers, instrumentals and vocal numbers, old tunes and new, it's pretty much a showcase of everything he's soaked up and stored for decades.

He sure isn't rusty. His instrumental take on "Ain't No Sunshine" is full of masterful, jazzy licks, with a delicious, mellow tone throughout. And "Steel Guitar Rag" has lots of showy fun playing. Six of the ten cuts were recorded in P.E.I., with ace guests such as fiddler Gordie MacKeeman, and one of the last recordings of the Acadian trad group Vishtan before accordion player Pastelle LeBlanc passed away. That song, "Laura," was written 45 years ago as a tribute to Oakie's mother, and what a pleasure it is to realize all this great music didn't just disappear. 

Monday, November 21, 2022


Marchese is well-known in the Hamilton music scene as one of the strongest singers, but now she gets to show off her songwriting as well, with this vibrant debut. The seven tracks show off her pipes and stylistic range, but also highlight her brave and self-aware lyrics. She can open her heart, but also punch back, and also doesn't pull punches on big-ticket items such as climate change.

"Sirens" is the name of that tune, deceptively catchy and soulful, bolstered by big horns, which makes the song more of a call to action than a warning. It could have easily been just moaning and complaining, but instead, with the positive, uplifting music, Marchese is saying the situation is bad, but we all need to be willing to work: "If anyone knows how to make it better, call me now."

"Cigarette Song," which may or may not be just about quitting smoking, gets down to the nitty-gritty about giving up that habit, and how any addiction makes you vulnerable. It's "Cold Turkey" versus "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." Marchese's "Gimme More" is funky and strutting, while "Sunshine" is a vocal tour-de-force, where you really get the full scope of both her power and nuance, the song having a Zeppelinesque Eastern flavour. You get the feeling there's a lot more waiting to come out from Marchese.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Hey, if you're a "cult-inspired spinoff of the legendary Simply Saucer," as this disc is proudly stickered, then I'm in right away. Actually, I was in for the group's last disc as well, 2019's Golden Hits of The Shangs, which marked the return of David Byers' psych-pop band to the recording scene after many years. 

Again, the original member of Simply Saucer is joined by old cronies from the Hamilton band, and previous Shangs members The O'Neill brothers, to craft more of the cultish craziness they love. And they love two things in particular: 1960's girl groups (their name comes from The Shangri-Las) and tales of old, weird Hollywood, especially nasty deaths of stars and starlets. 

These stories serve as the inspiration for the songs, sometimes as lyrics, other times as titles for instrumentals and musical themes. The centerpiece is the psycho-psyche number "High Noon" which tells the tale of the murder of the father of the famous 50's & 60's singing group The Lennon Sisters by a deranged fan, with an eerie throwback to the group's most famous song, "Tonight, You Belong To Me." What I love best about Byer's keen interest in these stories is that for each one, he tells the background stories in the liner notes, from the death of Japanese pop star Kyu Sakamoto, he of the 1963 #1 hit "Sukiyaki", in the world's worst airplane crash (520 dead), to Hollywood acid casualty Craig Smith (aka Maitreya Kali), who wrote songs for Glen Campbell and The Monkees before going, you know, nuts. Then there's that ultimate girl group, the women of the Manson family. 

There's interesting musical archaeology as well, with songs taking musical cues from the stories. Joanie "Johnny Get Angry" Sommers went into Bossa Nova sounds after her one-hit wonder pop career, which led to Byers' gentle Tropicalia number (Lying Here) In Brazil. And he found an obscure 1960's song written by Chip ("Wild Thing", "Angel of the Morning") Taylor, called "Just As I Need You," revitalized here complete with stellar guest guitar work by Hamilton jazz wizard Kyle Pacey. 

The Golden Hits album had more of a poppy, fun sound in the mix, whereas this set goes completely left field, with almost all the songs existing in that rarefied air between psychedelia, ambient, and free jazz. That's challenging as a casual listen, but the point is for the listener to take a deep dive into this unique, sometimes unsettling, but mostly fascinating form of storytelling.