Saturday, April 21, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG + PROMISE OF THE REAL - PARADOX



Leave it to Neil Young to release two albums less than a month apart, but such is the pace he works at, and the fact he leaves these matters to chance and randomness, or the muse as he calls it. Myself, I'm much more excited to get the Roxy: Tonight's The Night Live album, which comes out next Friday (unless you shelled out 40 bucks for the vinyl on Record Store Day). It's a release of a 1973 concert where he debuted that album, and it should be a monster. Paradox is a soundtrack to the new movie starring Young, the band Promise Of The Real, and directed by Darryl Hannah, a lowish-budget family affair. It's been badly panned, one of those Western-themed ideas that Young loves, made up largely on the spot and in the editing room. The only thing people seem to like is the performance sequences and the music, and that's what you get here on the soundtrack.

The collection is a seamless set of 21 cuts, some brief instrumental passages for the movie, other longer chunks and the occasional full song. Most of them feature Promise Of The Real, or Neil solo. As is often the case with his projects, the music comes from a variety of sources. There are a couple of older recordings, including the song Show Me from the 2016 album Peace Trail. There's also a version of the title cut of that album, but instead of the original, this time it's a new take done with POTR. The old favourite Pocahontas is included, a newly-released live version from a concert in Calgary in 2014. The acoustic version of the song Tumbleweed comes from the deluxe version of the Storytone album of 2014, and the 10-minute Cowgirl Jam is an instrumental concert workout of the beloved Cowgirl In The Sand by Young and the Promise guys.

There's also a charming section with Young and the band sitting around a campfire jamming, with Lukas Nelson singing his dad Willie's Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground, that's taken directly from the film, and some other lighthearted bits, even a brief stab at The Turtles' Happy Together. I do quite like the ease, ebb and flow of the whole set. Is it a major effort? No, it's actually quite close to the soundtrack of the 1972 film Journey Through The Past, in its mix of various source material into a single listen. It's a pleasant-enough experience, and maybe he needs to dabble in such things as part of the journey. Anyway, next week there's the Roxy album, and probably much more still to come.

Friday, April 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELISE BESLER -TRUTH

Well, this is embarrassing. Here I was, going to plug Elise Besler's album launch show for the Carleton in Halifax May 20, but it turns out it's already sold out. No surprise, really. People there know that she's one of the finest vocalists in the region, a true singer with range, emotion and spectacular tone. Plus, word is out that this is an artistic leap for her, with an increased focus on songwriting and soulful sounds, so, you know, sorry I didn't tell you earlier.

Truth is produced by no less than Erin Costelo, the Halifax songwriter/producer currently making waves in the U.S. The pair met up to try a little co-writing, and that took off to this album partnership, with Costelo also handling the keyboards and guiding the way to that gentle groove and big-hearted sound at which she excels. Besler meanwhile had a set of lyrics coming from that same source, all truth and heart. A little bit jazzy, another part Bill Withers, and some nice modern touches like the drums-forward verses and high harmonies on first single Never Learn, this is pure class. Hey, there will be more shows, and meanwhile just get the album.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MUD MORGANFIELD - THEY CALL ME MUD

Although he didn't know a whole lot about his father Muddy Waters (Mud was one of several children born out of wedlock to the blues master), he nonetheless felt the blues calling through his life. Still, he was in his fifties before giving in, and now Morganfield is making up for lost time, with a fourth album since his emergence in 2008. With his deep, rich voice, he's a natural, and when he sings "The blues is my birthright" on opener They Call Me Mud, it's hard to argue.

The blues, and a bit more actually. His last album, the award-winning For Pops, was a straight tribute to his father, but this has more of the soul feel that he grew up admiring in the '70's on several tracks. Cheatin' Is Cheatin' is smooth as silk, a fine ballad with horn accents, and Who's Fooling Who? is funky stuff. But Howling Wolf is definitely gritty Chess stuff, of course, and Mud has no problem looking back. He's the main writer on most of the cuts, and makes sure we know he's keen on moving the music forward. There's lots of fine playing throughout, especially from harp ace Studebaker John, and if you took away the famous name, there's no question this would still be a strong new blues album, from an especially fine singer and writer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - ALADDIN SANE (45th Anniversary Vinyl Edition)

Oh coloured vinyl, how I love you. Of course, it means nothing to the quality of the music or the pressing, but nothing spruces up an old favourite like a little splash of colour. Bowie's 1973 hit has been reissued several times, most recently in 2015 on vinyl, so it's hardly rare now, so something had to be added for this 45th anniversary version, and that would be the silver vinyl to match the mercury shade of Bowie's skin on the cover.

While Aladdin Sane never gets the acclaim given to its predecessor Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, it really has to be considered part two of those heady days, coming just 10 months after. The album is just as consistent, is better produced, and has more tremendous performances from the Spiders. The only thing that keeps this set a notch below is the sequencing, with too many of the very best cuts on side two, and less than satisfying opener in Watch That Man. Along the way, it includes the immortal The Jean Genie, the claustrophobic Panic In Detroit, and his inspired cover of Let's Spend The Night Together, which led to the next record, the all-covers Pin Ups.

Audio-wise, this uses the same brilliant remaster as the 2015 vinyl version, which is a revelation for any fan more used to the old '70's album. During the quick pauses in Time, there's a rich echo unheard before. The delightful horns on The Prettiest Star now stand out, and the mandolin and piano on Lady Grinning Soul have a shinning quality. It's a great album that doesn't always get its due, and now it's silver.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BETTYE LAVETTE - THINGS HAVE CHANGED

There's no question Bob Dylan has had the blues for a long time, and that's certainly influenced his writing. There have been a few collections of Dylan songs done in blues, soul and gospel styles, and most turn out quite well. This one, from the veteran soul singer LaVette, is cool as can be, her rich, rough voice a fine match for these warnings and weary life lessons from Dylan's catalogue. The songs chosen come from all phases of his career, from the well-known (It Ain't Me Babe) to buried album cuts (Going, Going, Gone), but all of course of the highest calibre. Of the many, many singers who tackle Dylan, soul/blues/gospel singers, especially women, arguably do the best versions.

Sometimes they do a better version in fact. Listen to LaVette dig into Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight, not the most inspired Dylan performance, but she finds an emotional reading the composer only hinted at. And what LaVette does for the vocals, producer Steve Jordan does for the arrangements. A song that's a real clunker from the '80's, Seeing The Real You At Last, is now slinky and funky. Lavette gives it an update too, with new lyrics. Instead of referring to Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, she's rewrites it as "You could sing like Otis Redding/You Could Dance like Bruno Mars." And it works great, you purists.

Sometimes it's pretty much just awesome singing from LaVette. Mama, You Been On My Mind has spare backing, and a heartfelt and sentimental treatment that will have you reaching for the Kleenex box. Where Dylan was singing about a lover, LaVette sings it to her own mother. Ain't Talkin', one that Dylan himself does a mighty job singing, here gets an eerie and subtle arrangement with a string quartet. Others have a grade-A cast to catch a great groove. Jordan handles drums and some guitar, long-time Dylan guitar player Larry Campbell is all over the record, Leon Pendarvis (James Brown, SNL Band, etc.) handles keys and Pino Palladino (The Who) covers bass. Guests include Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, and one Keith Richards on a couple of tracks. Honestly, the arrangements and playing are so fresh, it would be worth hearing these reinterpretations of the Dylan material with almost any vocalist, they are that good. But it's all sublime with LaVette's passion leading the way.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RICK AND GAILLIE - THE LOST ALBUM

I love getting around the country, at the very least via the audio route, and this time we stop by Peterborough, Ontario. We'll drop by the Black Horse Pub, well-known for live music seven night (and some matinees) a week. If you go Monday nights, you can get half-price wings (yay) and catch the Crash And Burn show, with Rick & Gailie (double yay). They have a long-standing residency at the pub, also doing matinees Friday and Saturdays, honing a sound that's a little bit prog (think Moody Blues) and a lot pop (think British Invasion). That's resulted in their latest disc, which collects a solid 16 originals with classic songwriting and warm vocals and harmonies.

From the lighter, happy style of the '64 era (Thank You, Be My Baby), which echo early Beatles/Dave Clark Five singles, to the more mature pop for Falling For You, to the adventurous opener Deity, echoing those Procol Harum/Moodies productions, everything on this album is familiar, fun and fresh at the same time. Rick and Gailie don't recreate, instead they are inspired by this beloved era, and create new works that sit perfectly in that style. Don't Take Time is a great piece of early rock 'n' roll, but as heard through British ears and then sent back to North America, the same way those '60's bands were interpreting Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, etc.

When Rick and Gailie do get a bit more modern, such as on Faster, it's the same way it happened in the early '70's, when pop bands heavily influenced by The Beatles et al, like Badfinger, sharpened up the sound. The production here is crisp and new as well, there's nothing screaming 'vintage' but rather it's all refreshing, for folks with an ear to those proven qualities. Worth a trip to Peterborough, huh? Well, that and the wings.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JORDAN OFFICER - THREE RIVERS

A stunning album from Montreal's Officer, who makes the brilliant sound so casual. This is subtle blues/jazz/roots, his vocals so easy-going and comfortable you're lulled into a pleasant listening spot. Then, just when you're taking the music for granted, he blows you away with an awesome, short guitar line or a raw riff or two on his violin.

Produced by the drummer here Charlie Drayton, who Keith Richards uses for his solo work, this is multi-genre, all-class. There's a bit of country-shuffle (Dream Of You And Me), some gospel, and the lovely, indescribable sound of Driving Back From Three Rivers, a late-night drive at a slow pace, Officer caressing each low note. Where Has This Come From reminds me a bit of J.J. Cale, a little more uptempo, but that same ease, at least until he knocks off a twangy solo. Meanwhile Drayton is equally subtle, lots of snare, stick work on the rims, no big booms, and bassist Zev Katz, the only other player here, is tasty but never overpowering, filling that crucial bottom.

As much as I love the fact the songs travel so easily among the various styles, there's a particular magic Officer brings to the more blues-based numbers here. He's Got It All is one of the most spectacular new blues numbers I've heard in years, very simple in structure, but sung and played with so much feel. His guitar work and tone is almost shocking, sure to light up the face of any fan. I can't throw enough accolades at this collection.