Tuesday, July 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LILY FROST - REBOUND

Always enjoyable chanteuse Lily Frost gets bolder and brassier than ever on this five-track E.P. Lead cut Rebound Bitch is about having had enough of the latest guy, and deciding the other team looks pretty attractive. She's playing the adventurous tourist on Sex Trip as well. "Mama's got needs," indeed. Red Flags unfolds like a nightmare encounter, as a creep comes on to her, but Frost pays him back with a withering string of put-downs.

Meantime, big-time horns fire through each song, and some favourite genres figure in as well, from the surf guitar on Rebound Bitch to the spooky lounge on Red Flags. Frost sounds like she's having a ball, getting a little payback and giving it all some pop fun too. With her previously jazzy albums, I guess we always knew Frost was a swinger.

Monday, July 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - CRACKED ACTOR, BE MY WIFE (45)


Released first on vinyl only for this year's Record Store Day and now a 2-CD set, this is a live album recorded in 1974, as Bowie toured the U.S. in support of his Diamond Dogs album. Wait, say the knowledgeable Bowie fans, isn't that the very same tour which the David Live album came from, released back in the day and still in print? Why would we need two live albums recorded just a few weeks apart?

Well smarties, here's why. David Live was done at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia in July, but shortly after Bowie took August off to start recording what became the Young Americans album. That soul-infused album completely changed his outlook, so when he got back on the road in September in Los Angeles where this was recorded, it was a brand-new show. It was now called The Soul Tour, and was starting to lean towards the new sound he'd been working on. The band went from 11 to 16 pieces by adding a bunch of singers, notably the young Luther Vandross.

The setlist is pretty much the same as David Live, with a couple of notable differences. Added was the cut It's Gonna Be Me, which at that point had been recorded for Young Americans, but would later be cut so that Bowie could add the fruits of his one-day session with John Lennon, which resulted in Fame. It was later added as a bonus cut, but remains somewhat obscure. As an encore, Bowie trotted out his new re-make of the British John, I'm Only Dancing (Again), which had been turned into a full-out funk dance number.

But the bigger difference was in the sound of the band, as the emphasis switched from the rock of Diamond Dogs to soul, which crept into almost every song. That was heard in the big group of singers, now numbering seven, and the larger role for sax player David Sanborn. If there was ever a player who could handle the spotlight in that role, it was Sanborn, who positively shines from start to finish. The album isn't without its flaws, notably a couple of blown lines from Bowie, but I'd rather have a document than some patch job to fix things up. In October and November, the show would change even more, with unreleased numbers such as Young Americans, Win and Somebody Up There Likes Me debuted. Maybe down the line we'll get one of those shows as well, to complete the picture.

Also just out is the latest in the ongoing 40th anniversary reissue series of Bowie 45's, coming out as picture discs. This one is for Be My Wife, from the landmark Low album. By now, Bowie had fallen out of favour with the charts, doing his experimental, largely instrumental work, but of course it went on to be highly influential for '80's synth bands. As always, the B-side features a rare cut, this time a previously-unreleased live version of the instrumental Art Decade, to make us collectors have to buy it. But really, the fabulous photos on these picture discs make them hard to resist.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN MARTYN - HEAD AND HEART: THE ACOUSTIC JOHN MARTYN

The brilliant but troubled Martyn was already one of great names of modern British folk in the early '70s when he shook the scene to the core with a new style. Martyn discovered an echoplex system that let him loop and swoop his guitar, leading to an explosive new sound. That was coupled with his developing writing and singing, which saw him bringing in more of a jazz approach, making him a unique figure. However, there are fans who would have preferred he never plugged in those pedals, and this is the set for them.


Well, it's still for any fan, since his acoustic material is just as winning. When he wasn't dazzling us with his percussive finger-picking, he had a melodic style that sent shivers up your spine, coupled with his remarkable lyrical turns. Plus, he was almost always accompanied by the incomparable Danny Thompson on double bass, the two as musically connected as possible.

Curator Joe Black has done a marvelous job finding not just the best acoustic album tracks, but alternates of others that originally were more electric. For this, he's gone to everything from unreleased demos to BBC recordings to alternate takes. What that means is all the best-loved Martyn cuts are here in some form, from a live May You Never to the original Solid Air to a previously unreleased Bless The Weather from the Old Grey Whistle Test. The two-disc set therefore operates as kind of an alternative history of Martyn, and the quality is always so high, even the echoplex fans won't mind.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MICHAEL NESMITH - INFINITE TUESDAY

This is the companion soundtrack to Nesmith's new autobiography of the same name, and it sounds like his life. It's varied, exploratory, fun and underestimated. Life started out fascinating for him, as the son of a single mother that invented liquid paper and made a fortune. Things went uphill from there, from writing Top 40 hits for others (Different Drum for Linda Ronstadt), himself (Joanne from 1970), hanging in London with The Beatles when they were making Sgt. Pepper, sponsoring Jimi Hendrix in the U.S, being the conceptual father of MTV, coming up with various long-form video projects, working in virtual reality, etc., etc. Then there was that band he was in for a couple of years in the late 60's.

Even with his attention split in so many different ways, he can still put together one strong best-of, with music going up to 2005. It opens with a rare solo effort from pre-Monkees days, the black satire of The New Recruit, an anti-Vietnam piece he recorded as Michael Blessing in 1965. He was always struggling to get his compositions on Monkees albums, and those that did make it showed he was a true talent. Papa Gene's Blues, The Girl I Knew Somewhere and Listen To The Band certainly hold up as country-tinged pop.

When the band fizzled out, Nesmith was ready on the cutting edge of the L.A. cosmic cowboy scene. Bringing pedal steel into pop was a bold move, and resulted in the excellent Joanne along with the should-have-been bigger Silver Moon. From there, he got progressively more eccentric, often with excellent results, especially the groundbreaking music video concept Rio. More South American influences came in, and the excellent Laugh Kills Lonesome from 1992 features the rather remarkable merger of Latin and Western, from the album "..Tropical Campfires...".

There has been so much more to this man over the decades, but even he has come to realize he'll never escape the two-dimensional image television thrust on him in that crazed few years of hysteria and fame. Do yourself a favour and find out what he was up to when he wasn't monkeying around.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GAVIN SIMMS - FAR CRY

"I want your love, you want war," sings Newfoundland's Simms on this set of wrenching break-up ballads. When he and the backing singers hit the word 'war', the mostly gentle acoustic album gets thrown into distortion, a chilling effect. The album is filled with sad reflections that pack a punch: "I don't know what to say, you can't stop the pouring rain, you're already gone," is found in Already Gone, while opener See It Coming includes the line "I counted on your love like I counted on time." But there are other songs that speak of better moments, like in Your Side: "The harder it gets, the harder we try."

While the emotions may be raw, the sound is beautiful. SImms and his co-producers Jake Nicoll and Ilia Nicoll crafted a rich bed for each number, tender playing with soothing layers behind. Ilia Nicoll adds strings to some numbers, while providing a duet vocals throughout much of the album, almost as a sympathetic voice to ease the pain. Pedal steel, airy guitars and light percussion help soften the blows as well.  This effective mix will leave you a little shaken, but ultimately better for the journey.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DELTA WIRES - BORN IN OAKLAND

Just the other day somebody brought up the great Tower of Power, and I thought to myself, yeah, where are all the horn bands? And then this arrived in the electronic mail. The first thing I noticed was the title, the same hometown as T of P, which seemed too much of a coincidence to ignore. And wouldn't you know, opening cut Sunny Day is a delightful slice of that very same East Bay grease, and this is indeed a horn band.

However, there's lots more to the group, and they don't trade exclusively in that king of funk. And for a horn-based blues band, they don't stick to any one style either, with their share of jump blues, and lots of modern things. The band has 30 years of playing, and knows how to put together story-songs such as Devil's In My Headset that update the blues into century 21. There's always lots of energy, and the tight horn arrangements and sharp guitar lines provide a punch straight through. In the end though, there must be some fine funk in the San Francisco Bay water, because the instrumental In The Middle smokes from start to finish. Timely of you folks, thanks.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN GRACIE - HOLLOW STREET

Nova Scotia's Gracie has covered a lot of ground over 15 albums, from jazz vocalist to Christmas crooner to his tribute to songwriter Gene MacLellan. Now he's bringing it all back home on his latest, going back to singer-songwriter material, both famous covers and his own acoustic material, how he started his career.

The idea is to capture the spirit of what he grew up with, the music and ideals of the immediate post-Woodstock era. To that end, there are favourites from Dylan, Gord Lightfoot, CCR, and Ian Tyson, some older stuff such as Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind, to later, like-minded writers such as Steve Forbert. He's going more for emotion and mindset than political writing, most effectively on a sparse, intense reading of Leslie Duncan's Love Song, best-known from Elton John's version.

Gracie's own songs come with more of the Woodstock generation message, including the title cut, about sympathy for your fellow humans. His Hideaway is more direct, a tribute to MacLellan and the songs he left.

The acoustic playing gives a good intimacy to the performance. Wisely there's a small bit of extra instrumentation for more atmosphere, including acoustic bass for depth, some gentle electric guitar for texture and a bit of nightclub sax for some occasional richness. This certainly captures the feel of those folk club nights and coffee house shows from simpler times.