Friday, September 30, 2016
This is the latest deluxe reissue of Mac from the multi-platinum years, available in a couple of variations. The economically-minded buyer can get a no-nonsense two-disc version, the regular album with a new remastering job on the first, while the second features a whopping 20 cuts in the alternate version/outtake/leftover category. Those with collector/audiophile tastes can grab the set with a third CD of a live concert from 1982, a DVD with the 5.1 surround and 24/96 stereo mixes, and a heavyweight vinyl pressing to boot.
One thing about these Fleetwood Mac albums, they do sound spectacular, thanks to the no-expense spared way they recorded at the time, the top talent involved and the very precise, clean production led by Lindsay Buckingham. So all the versions leap out in this latest upgrade, which may be the peak of Buckingham's crafty work. I'm not saying it's the best of the group's albums, just the best-sounding. It needed a couple more catchy singles, a couple more of the Rumours-style strong numbers.
The band did however get back to business with the album, after the sprawling Tusk double album, viewed as Lindsay's folly. The emphasis here was on more concise tracks, with the single Hold Me having that upbeat Mac signature sound and Gypsy a made-to-order Stevie Nicks hit. But listen closer to Buckingham production treats such as Love In Store and Book Of Love, with the ringing notes, quirky sounds and overall eccentricity, and you'll find him completely subverting the cliche rock band approach. Most amazing is how many cool sounds he could conjure from his guitar.
The outtakes and early versions are pretty interesting, as for the most part they are steps along the journey. Most groups would have been satisfied at this point, but most groups didn't have a visionary like Buckingham, and deep enough pockets to let him play around for months more. There are three cuts left off the album, including the Nicks track If You Were My Love, which showed up on her 24 Karat Gold vault collection, Smile At You, another of hers that was resurrected for the Say You Will album, and Buckingham's Goodbye Angel, reworked for the box set The Chain in 1992. It's great to finally have the b-side to Gypsy on an album, the group's take on the old Western number, Cool Water.
The live concert on the big box shows the group still struggling with identity, or at least Buckingham's idiosyncrasies. The Chain, Rhiannon, and You Make Lovin' Fun are there for fans, along with strong new songs Gypsy and Eyes Of The World, but with an overabundance of favourites to choose from, Buckingham comes out with Not That Funny and Tusk, eye-raising if not downright mood-killing at a big show. Well, Go Your Own Way and Songbird always saved things at the end.
There's never a whole lot of talk about Mirage, partially thanks to Rumours colossal success, and Tusk's buzz kill before it. But it's actually a charming set, and either deluxe version gives you much more to discover.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
One of my favourite Lauderdale songs is The King of Broken Hearts, but you could also call him the King of Americana. He glides effortlessly from genre to genre, and is able to not just fit in, but to add to the form with top-flight new songs. He's a songwriter admired across all country and into rock and even Memphis soul, and back to bluegrass.
Add Western swing to that mix, or at least Lauderdale's own take on it. Stopping off in Austin for a quick recording session, he laid down a Texas dancehall set, fiddles to the front, pedal steel on the side. With his huge catalog to work from, he pulled out some older and newer cuts that fit the bill. But this being Lauderdale, he always has his own particular style in there, even when largely adhering to tradition. There's just that little surprising blue note or chord change, And don't worry about cliches; he just can't write them.
All The Rage In Paris features a guy looking back at his time in a Bob Wills-inspired band, that was huge, but only within the Texas boundaries. You Turned Me Around has that classic Big Band-meets-Swing Band style, and one of Lauderdale's killer couplets, "Just like we had never met, my heart did a pirouette." With his great drawl, he sounds halfway between high lonesome and George Jones on It All Started and Ended With You. I loved his take on the common ground between Tennessee's hubs of Nashville and Memphis on last year's Soul Searching, and would have been happy for more of the same, but this is equally pleasing.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Like all things Bowie, his most-admired movie, the 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell To Earth, is getting a grand new reissue, with an upgraded special edition coming Nov. 1. First though, is the the soundtrack album, which has never been released before because of the usual contract muddle. So 40 years later, they've cleared that up and about 90 minutes of music is now available, on this two-disc set.
Now, let's clear up what this isn't: There's no Bowie. Nothing, no movie music, no old hits as used in the film He's an actor only, and that's why his face is on the set, he has the lead role. He was originally supposed to provide the soundtrack, but once again, it was those old contractual difficulties in the way. Bowie, a movie about a stranded, alcoholic alien, it would have been great. We know it probably was, as the cover of his next album, Station To Station, used a still of the movie and included at least one awesome song inspired partially by the script, TVC 15.
Without Bowie, the soundtrack fell to another star, former Papa, John Phillips. He did what is supposed to be done in movies, and came up with music for the scenes, to fit the visual cues. This was a combination of existing music, and score segments composed by Phillips. He put together a studio group to record everything from some jazz-influenced sections to mock-country stuff, the players including Stone Mick Taylor. There's even a zippy little instrumental version of Rickie Nelson's Hello Mary Lou.
The collection is more dominated by the six selections from Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta. These weren't written for the film, but the airy, unique instrumentals have an undeniable presence, with their fusion of traditional Japanese and prog rock and jazz of the day.
All together, it's a varied and striking set, going from the Yamashta breeziness to the Phillips novelty numbers, and the occasional vocal piece, such as Louis Armstrong doing Blueberry Hill. It's surprisingly effective and listenable, but again, there's no Bowie, got it?
Monday, September 26, 2016
I've been a fan of bluegrass singer Claire Lynch for a long time, and it turns out I'm not the only Canadian. A while back, a fan in Toronto wrote her, saying she should play up here sometime. That turned into a continuing conversation about Canadian music and songwriters, and the fan got to introduce Lynch to some of the wide variety of great writers that fit in with her style of performing.
It must have seemed like a well of discovery, and a glorious opportunity. Lynch has responded with a full album of songs written by Canadians. While bluegrass isn't that huge in this country, there are many folk and singer/songwriter musicians who easily fall in the fold when the border is opened. The album starts with a Ron Sexsmith cut, not a very well-known one, Cold Hearted Wind from his 2006 Time Being album, a breezy track that features the giant of the dobro, Jerry Douglas.
Lynch continues going to surprising places for the songs, choosing another deep album track from Gordon Lightfoot, It's Worth Believin' from Old Dan's Records. Somebody tipped her to the East Coast, with a cut from Old Man Luedecke, Kingdom Come, and our banjo hero will be pretty pleased to hear none other than Bela Fleck take over the five-string on this version. There's also a superior tune from J.P. Cormier, the sad sea tale of the Molly May. Ottawa's Lynn Miles is a perfect choice, and her weary Black Flowers is excellent for Lynch's voice. The best-known cut here closes the album, and Lynch adds wonderful harmonies to Bruce Cockburn's Canuck classic, All The Diamonds In The World.
Tantalizingly, Lynch gives a nod to several other writers in the liner notes, other ones there just wasn't room for, including Ron Hynes, Dave Gunning, Stephen Fearing, Stan Rogers, Jimmy Rankin, Gene MacLellan, and on and on. Could a second collection be coming? There's reason to think it may. Remember that fan, who talked up Canada to her in the first place? Lynch ended up marrying him. That's some fan appreciation.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
If you've read anything about the great Zappa family feud, you'll know that there's bad blood between his kids, and Zappa's late wife Gail stirred the pot with her divisive will. This new compilation from the so-called Zappa Family Trust is the first basic best-of set in ages, which one might assume is an attempt by Ahmet, who is in charge now, of getting the catalog back in some comprehensible order. Forget it. There are some 100 different Zappa albums out there, and it's just getting more and more confusing, as the family minders keeps trolling the archive for different mixes, live tapes and discarded ideas, piling more and more two-and-three CD collections out there. It may be glorious for the coterie of Zappaphiles, but I'd bet that group is dwindling rather than growing.
I'd argue instead of more confusing releases (What is Lumpy Money supposed to be, anyway? Some sort of alternate look at two different albums), they need to get back to the core catalog that once earned Zappa a lot of attention. Go the Deluxe set route on such gems as Freak Out!, Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe', let a new generation in on the gems the way they came out in the first place. Instead, we're getting 12 (yes, freakin' 12) new sets in 2016 that I can count, between these out-take/alternative mix sets and new-to-disc live shows. I've known a few Zappa fans in my time, and while they may be devoted and even obsessive, none of them were particularly rich.
Ah well, back to this best-of, which they won't call a best-of since Zappa didn't really have a lot of hits. Valley Girl, his lone actual Top 40 number, is here, as are several of the beloved treasures, including the grand Peaches En Regalia, the icy words of wisdom Don't Eat The Yellow Snow and the still-relevant 1966 racism warning, Trouble Every Day. As usual, there's lots of the bodily fluid/sexual depravity numbers that so delight a certain part of his audience, including Bobby Brown Goes Down and Titties and Beer, Frank exercising his First Amendment rights as vociferously as those who scream for their Second Amendment ones. One was never sure if he was a patriot, an anarchist, a homophobe. sexist or just a pervert.
On a single collection, it's impossible to sum up Zappa, and while this admittedly leans towards the rock side, the compilation probably suffers by trying to do too much, ending off with a selection of his instrumental work, even Strictly Genteel with the London Symphony Orchestra. I don't think Zappa would have ever wanted to continue to appeal only to the converted, but rather catch 'em young and twist their minds his way. This seems like another confusing move when clarity was needed.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Last year, former singer/songwriter Dana Beeler of Halifax pulled a u-turn and got off the country/bluegrass road she'd been traveling, and instead embraced some inner oomph. Reemerging with a band she dubbed Hello Delaware, Beeler grabbed an electric guitar and vented a lot of anger, directed at some manipulators and fools, your basic lousy boyfriends among them, including one horrific break-up in particular.
Now, this would certainly give license to really thrash away loud and crazy, and there's some YouTube evidence of that, but Beeler is also one fine song-crafter, as shown on her 2012 debut, while she was still in that earlier phase. So instead of totally punking out (which would have been kinda cool too), she took the high craft route, and went into Daniel (Jenn Grant, Gabrielle Papillon) Ledwell's studio for all that magic that happens there. The pair came up with lots of dynamics, hooks and enjoyable complications, all the while keeping the pissed-up factor intact.
My Mistake is centered around a plucky electric piano, and a punchy rhythm, something to dance to, with a screw you, Loretta Lynn lyric. We Were The Ocean is funky, fun and summery, sounding like the product of somebody who has embraced having a good time after living through some lousy ones. Black Cherries is the chippiest track, all angles and anger, but cushioned by a chorus that couldn't be more catchy. What works best of all is that Beeler's voice is right up front, as she's a dynamic singer, with lots of punch and sweetness combined. She might have been angry while writing them, but the songs make me very happy.
Hello Delaware launches the new album Friday, Sept. 30 at The Seahorse in Halifax.
The Searchers are often the forgotten band in the British Invasion story, but they were a fellow Merseybeat band to the Fabs, and had done the same Hamburg/Liverpool club circuit. They probably would have been snapped up by Brian Epstein as so many others of the city had, except that producer Tony Hatch got to them first. In total the band charted 16 times in North America, including seven in the top 40, and of course did even better in England.
The Searchers had a great vocal sound, and a good two-guitar attack, the hallmark of the beat groups. What they didn't have was solid songwriters in the band, so they had to rely on grabbing material from the top writers of the day, often battling it out with other versions of the same songs. Twice they took Jackie DeShannon singles and had better success, probably the best two songs they ever did. They bested her version of Needles and Pins (written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche, Phil Spector's studio hands), giving them their best-known and enduring hit. They also had the hit version of the DeShannon-written classic When You Walk In The Room.
But 1964 to 1966 were tremendously competitive times on the charts, and follow-ups were needed fast. Without a well of self-written material, the group bounced from U.S. cover versions (a big hit with The Clovers' Love Potion #9) to hot new hitmakers (P.F. Sloan's Take Me For What I'm Worth) to Jagger-Richards' cast-offs (a cut called Take It or Leave It, a minor album cut). Their last chart entry at that time saw them covering fellow Invasion group The Hollies, a low-level placing of Have You Ever Loved Somebody, which sounds like The Hollies with louder guitars. The group soldiered on for many years, and I recall seeing a 'new wave' version of them in the 80's which almost got them going again. Apparently there's still a version out there.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Discs one and two feature the original albums released by Ronstadt, Harris and Parton, in 1987 and 1999. The third, over an hour long, is all the out-takes and alternate versions, longer than either of the original albums. It's pretty obvious it was an embarrassment of riches, and talent. The song that stopped me in my tracks was a stunning version of the old hymn, Softly and Tenderly. There is so much compassion in that original verse, such a balm for the suffering of this world, and to hear the Trio's remarkable voices sing it is truly a thing of beauty. Harris begins it a cappella, Dolly takes over as the sound builds, and Ronstadt, most surprisingly, finishes it with a rousing conclusion. How this was left off the Trio II album is beyond me, but what we missed then is most welcome now.
Both Trio and Trio II did seem a little underwhelming at the time of their respective releases, mostly because they weren't very upbeat. Ronstadt described the music as genteel, not bluegrass or country or folk, but more like parlour sounds. Even the old-timey songs Dolly brought in became softer and more tender once the three raised voices together. They realized they had a magic blend, and decided to forego their celebrity in favour of that blend. It's remarkably soothing at 4 a.m. Look, it isn't all great, sometimes I'm up then listening to Bieber. That, that's hard work, that is.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
The duo of Luke Fraser and Sarah Frank approach folk music from a different perspective, both coming out of the classical music world. Fraser's an East Coaster, growing up near Halifax, while Frank's from Edmonton, and both arrived at McGill to study classical. She's violin, he's guitar, and serious studies gave way to live playing in Montreal clubs, where anything could happen, folk and jazz often on the menu.
That's the atmosphere the duo continues to bring to their highly-regarded shows and recordings, featuring folk tunes done with musical adventure and sophistication, and no shortage of friends with different talents broadening the experience. Flutes and pipes and accordion and a bass clarinet are all on call, plus many others. You could consider the arrangement to be the star of each song, except of course for all the instrumental expertise, fabulous vocal work from the pair, and strong compositions. The version of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson's Long Journey is achingly beautiful, with two voices in harmony and guitar and fiddle on a seemingly ancient melody giving way to a grand string arrangement which could only come from the classical side. Frank's Blankets has a modern bass line, flute and fiddle playing in gorgeous harmony, and mandolin plucked like a harp.
Of course, while I'm listening to moments like that, somebody else could be thinking 'What lovely singers, don't they sound good together?' And they would be completely right. Listening to the incredible new harmonies they found for Wild Mountain Thyme should become required listening in Canadian folk circles.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Hey ho, let's ... discuss this. Forty years on, did punk rock ever get any better than this? Maybe, but it didn't get any more influential. This one set the template, by seeming dumb but in truth being really, really smart. The Ramones took the energy and excitement of 60's garage rock, borrowed some metal and glam, and became the anti-stars for a small percentage of the population. Over the years, as the nerds took over, and Nirvana made punk an acceptable word, the group's image has become more famous than their music, and there are a lot more t-shirts out there than copies of this debut album.
Oh well, that happens with trailblazers. Everybody knows who Lou Reed is too, but they don't own any Velvet Underground albums. So maybe the various new 40th anniversary packages will entice some of those people who know who Joey and Johnny were, but can't remember the other ones, to actually learn some of the songs too. As much as they group has become a safe, comic reference for so many, it's always a bit of a shock to realize how far they did push the envelope in their time. It wasn't just the noise, it was the subject matter too: Sniffing glue, child abuse, male prostitution, Nazi iconography, dating violence, this stuff would get them shamed on social media if it came out today.
Somewhat hilariously, the album that was famously made for $6,000 has been remastered and presented in a "superior audio" 40th anniversary edition. I'm not hearing any subtle highs and dynamic lows that were previously hidden in the mix. It still sounds better when you turn it up louder. A super deluxe version is also available, with a mono mix, demos galore, two live shows (identical sets mind you) and a vinyl version to boot. What, no t-shirt?
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Do I have to make the case for Kaeshammer? He's now 11 albums into his career, one that is defined by his being more than a great piano player. He's that, in spades, and could just keep us happy with expert stride piano numbers. Or he could be that fun singer and entertainer, putting personality on top of the playing. But his influences and interests go much deeper, and in the end, songwriting is what drives him. On No Filter, he goes effortlessly from jazz to pop to soul, with strong songs leading the way, beefed up with his other considerable talents.
Everybody Catches Love Sometimes is a airplay-worthy number, a bright modern soul number, with some tasty playing from none other than Randy Bachman in a guest role. Back Into The Pen has a strong lyric, about an ill-timed letter to a lover at the end of a relationship, that puts the nail in the coffin, a mistake realized too late. And just to remind us he can evoke as much emotion with just the keys, the album finishes on the touching melody of Sunset, one of two instrumentals in the set. Calling Kaeshammer a jazz pianist misses the point.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Saint John, N.B.'s Rhaye goes a little more pastoral for this release, an eight-song set that keeps a relaxed, gentle vibe throughout. That suits her expression-filled vocals just fine, and gives her lots of room to glide smoothly through the songs. Producer Dale Murray (Christina Martin, Cuff the Duke) knows not to overwhelm the material, and keeps the emphasis on Rhaye's delivery. Plus, he adds some welcome pedal steel parts to add a little country feel.
A couple of Matt's add their talents as well. Fellow N.B.'er Matt Andersen co-writes the darkest tale here, Lovely Lady, and drops in one of his guitar solos as well. And Matt Epp makes his mark too, co-writing Time Will Only Heal Your Broken Heart, and proving a strong duet partner for Rhaye, not an easy thing.
Rhaye has grown to become a solid writer, but wisely grabs a cover version from her songwriting mentor, another Saint Johner, Ken Tobias. Her take on his Good To Be Alive In The Country, originally from a 1973 album, fits right in with the mood. And it's a much better version that the one done by the Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner, on a Nashville-based episode of that old TV show. I kid you not.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Well that's nice of Jimmy Page! While he was reissuing the whole Zeppelin catalog, he also included an expanded version of the BBC sessions album, not exactly part of the official canon, but certainly a welcome bit of insight into the early era of the group. What's new, other than a Page-managed sonic upgrade, is a further eight cuts not included on the original two-disc set from 1997, turning this into a whopping 3 CD or 5 LP set, running three hours and 20 minutes.
Unlike The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc., Zeppelin don't have as large a history with the BBC, since they were a late 60s/70s band, and the infamous "needle time" rules didn't affect them. Needle time was the union rule which restricted the BBC to small amounts of record playing each week, a holdover from the days of live orchestra. Pop groups had to go into the station's studios to record new versions of their songs to get around the rules, as these would be on tape, not records, see? Anyway, Zep only did five sessions back in '69 when starting out, and recorded one full live concert in 1971, and that's where all this material comes from.
Back in 1997, there was one full show they couldn't find, called Rhythm and Blues Session, but since then a tape of those three cuts has been found, which accounts for part of the new material here. There's a noticeable drop in fidelity, as it no doubt came from home tape off the radio, but this is a cool show where they were doing pure blues numbers. It's historically important because it includes the song Sunshine Woman, an "original" which was never put on an album by the group. The bad news is it's one of those blues where the group borrowed a couple of original tunes from Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, and certainly not near the level of Whole Lotta Love, another reinterpretation of Dixon from those days. But hey, we want it all, don't we, collectors? Also here are the rest of the 1971 In Concert set expunged from the original BBC release for time reasons, and some more cuts from the other sessions that were repeats. There's now a whopping five versions of Communication Breakdown here.
So, there's nothing really eye-opening in the new tracks, but more is more, and this is all grand stuff, especially since it's a good look at the band in their more blues-inspired days. Whether covering more Dixon classics, You Shook Me and I Can't Quit You Babe, or, as it's called in legalese now "contains interpolations" when they lift Robert Johnson's Traveling Riverside, they were a rawer and more spirited band. Even in the studio sessions here, there's more of a live-off-the-floor feel, as they weren't worried about copying their latest 45 or making glossy sounds for the pop audience, like so many of the other BBC Sessions albums present.
The In Concert set from 1971 even has a couple of interesting moments, as the band still hadn't become the concert behemoth of later years, playing grandiose versions to huge crowds. It's surprising to hear Stairway To Heaven in a less epic reading, still a brand-new song, acknowledged with polite applause at the end. I'm of the mind it all went downhill after that, but that's another story and bigger argument, let's all enjoy this, shall we?
Saturday, September 17, 2016
An intriguing look at what might have been for Townshend had he been able to escape the clutches of The Who. At this point in 1986, he may have still thought that was possible, as he was touring Europe with his own band, Deep End, for a relatively successful album, White City: A Novel. He even had a video hit with Face The Face. But despite all the bells and whistles around this tour, including a huge band, overall the public never bought Townshend as a solo act, preferring the nostalgia of The Who.
This set offers a DVD of a full show recording at the MIDEM conference in Cannes by the renowned German TV show Rockpalast. The video is a little degraded over 30 years, and there are some cheap-looking TV graphics from the time every few minutes, song titles that are largely unneeded, but the sound is good and overall it's a worthy viewing experience. There's also a bonus audio CD included for the folks who can't stand the sight of Townshend in a sharp suit, and dapper fashions for the rest of the band, kind of a retro gangster look. It does seem like he's trying too hard on the visual image side, even with some dance moves when he's not singing.
He's free to dance at times, because he's not the lead guitar player; on this tour, he had Dave Gilmour as a guest star, and the Floydian one provides some power, although not really the grand atmosphere he is known for for this own band and solo work. Pete meanwhile is bouncing about with an acoustic. I do like some of the rearranged Who material, especially the opener Won't Get Fooled Again, which starts out as a strummer before the full band, including the five-piece horns blow in. And there's a great solo acoustic Pinball Wizard, something you'd never get when Daltry is around.
The solo cuts, especially the White City ones, pale in comparison, but that's always been the problem with Townshend's non-Who stuff, it's been hit-and-eight-misses usually. Slit Skirts is the best of the bunch. Gilmour was generously given his own spot, and he chose a cut from his most recent solo album, Blue Light. While it gave the guitar fans something to watch, it also showed why his frontman routine always needed more life.
With five horns, five singers, a harp player, extra percussionist, two guitars, bass, drums and keys, 17 members in total, the show had plenty of razzmatazz. But when the best song of the night featured Townshend playing a Who classic alone on acoustic, it's no surprise that his solo career never took off.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
It's always a bit of a shock to hear Peter Dreimanis sing when it's been a while, with his horror movie growl, Tom Waits on the set of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Then it's such a relief when Leah Fay takes over, an angel appearing to take us back to the sweet music. But which one is the real devil here? Dreimanis may sound evil, but Fay puts him on the defensive through much of their material, fraught with tension and a lot of 21st century questions about relationships, desire and modern love.
There are cameras in bedrooms, strangers in the morning light, role-playing couples, voyeurs, and exes tumbling back to each other. Everybody is confused, and no wonder we're all listening on pins and needles; this is serious stuff, when the senses are so electric you both could explode.
Dreimanis and Fay are great actors in these roles, and the rest of the band concoct these dark, edgy songs, equally responsible for all the high drama in each number. With this, the group's second full release, they've perfected this scary/sexy/catchy blend.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
In case you hadn't heard, The Beatles are back. It's been quite remarkable how Apple (the original, Beatles record company, not the computer giant) still manages to have a big project out each fall, whether its a reissue of a movie with much better visuals, or a CD or LP campaign, with improved sound, or back to mono, or whatever is hot-selling at the time. They become must-owns for old fans and new.
This time, we're getting a new major documentary called Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years, a film by none other than Ron Howard. It is a fresh new look at The Beatles during their performing years, from The Cavern to their final show in San Francisco in 1966. Expect new footage, new interviews with Ringo and Paul, and hopefully some fresh insights. It premieres in theatres Sept. 16, and then The Movie Network will start showing it the day after, with the DVD/blu-ray due in November. But first we get this set, a companion to the whole project, a stand-alone CD from the group's performances at The Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965.
Fans of a certain age will remember this LP first came out in 1977, but has been out of print for ages, and has never been on CD. It wasn't a huge hit in the first place, thanks to less-than-perfect sound quality. If you've heard it, you'll remember the screams mostly. That's what Beatles shows were like; 17,000 screaming teens, and four musicians with small amps and pathetic P.A.'s, trying to be heard above the din. Although recording the best way they could back then (3-track), it wasn't great, and even the mighty George Martin wasn't too pleased with the final results. Supposedly certain Beatles were less than happy too, which explains its length withdrawal.
Technology has given this a second life. A few years back, some better show tapes were discovered in the Capitol vaults, and those were handed over to Giles (son of George) Martin, the current caretaker of Beatles audio. Using the latest gear, his team was able to separate the instruments from the screams somewhat, and create a superior version of the album. More great news: They were able to save some more tracks too, so in addition to the 13 of the original album, there are a further four, including I Want To Hold Your Hand, and a favourite of mine, You Can't Do That.
For comparison, I dug out my old copy of the '77 vinyl, not something that's been played a lot I can assure you. The screams did make it a bit of a trial at times. Certainly, the new mix is significantly better, and instruments and vocals are more present, the screams less so. But they are still there for sure. Really, the big surprise is that the band could play this well at all, given that they couldn't hear each other or their own voices. How they kept time alone is bewildering. But trusty Ringo shows his stuff here, playing hard and loud and solid throughout. Paul's vocals too are a wonder, powerful high parts. Lennon sounds more haggard, tearing his throat to belt out his beloved rockers. George and Ringo each get their vocals, and it's all over way too soon, the half-hour shows they did (extended here thanks to the bonus cuts) about as much as anyone could handle in the frenzy.
Really, the original album captured what you need to know about these shows, the speed, the craziness, the crowd noise, the band fighting to be heard, a great group despite the huge limitations. It's still not the best way to hear them, that will always be the finely crafted studio productions, which they were trying to replicate. Yes, this is better sounding, but the documentary is going to be more revealing. You kids though, you should hear this stuff, learn what your grandparents were like when they were your age, all the screaming and such...
Friday, September 9, 2016
Well, finally, the so-called "ditch" trilogy arrives on vinyl; at least affordably, it came out in 2014 in an exclusive, wallet-busting box, for those who could no longer wait. It's called the ditch trilogy after the comment Young made in the liner notes to the Decade album, referring to his massive 1972 hit Heart of Gold, which (I'm paraphrasing here) put him in the middle of the road, but he decided it would be more interesting travelling in the ditch. The next three albums that arrived were Times Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight's The Night, not exactly fan-friendly acoustic albums like Harvest.
The one that fans have really been screaming for, for years, has been Times Fades Away. It's been out-of-print all that time, and never available on CD. probably the most important rock star album that was missing in action. Word was that Young was unwilling to reissue because of the way it was recorded, live cuts, direct-to-disc, without master tapes to remix. That's one possibility anyway, most of Young's statements on such matters are suspect, and tend to change over the years. He's also said it has too many bad memories. One thing's for sure, the demand for this particular album has been mighty from the very vocal but small group of fans, while the vast majority of Harvest listeners haven't heard it and probably wouldn't much like it.
Much of what made that tour so chaotic was the OD death of his Crazy Horse comrade Danny Whitten. Still reeling, Young reconvened some of his usual musicians, and added Nils Lofgren in Whitten's place, calling them the Santa Monica Flyers. The edginess continued for these sessions, the acclaimed Tonight's The Night album, with its dark drug references and late-night loaded feel the fall-out from Whitten's, and roadie Bruce Berry's similar fate. Although recorded in '73, Young chose to hold it back until 1975 because of the intensity.
Everybody talks about Harvest, After the Goldrush, Rust Never Sleeps, but this is what I love best. These are albums where Young is out on a limb, and he's not even sure he likes the music sometimes. Not being personally attached, I have no such qualms.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Several of the songs are brooding and mysterious, heavy songs for heavy times. But the set is not without its humour as well. Good Clean Water is light-hearted in musical tone, a cowboy crooner number, referencing Cool Water by The Sons of the Pioneers, but politically charged with sly mentions of pipe lines and certain western provinces.
Especially effective are the interesting notes and textures coaxed out of the horns and strings, uncommon effects from the far reaches of their possibilities, the lowest strummed low or the bleatiest blast from a trumpet. They aren't overwhelming but rather used to further develop the atmosphere. The best instrument for that though, is Simard's voice, as dramatic as can be, with a natural tremor and compelling tone. Sometimes the most interesting weather is on those days with the darkest clouds and oddest shapes.
David Simard performs Friday, Sept. 9 at Thunder & Lightning in Sackville, N.B., Saturday at Wilser's in Fredericton, then heads off to some other less interesting parts of Canada.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Oh, it makes me so mad. Thanks to today's strict playlists, younger generations know who the superstars of the past are, but they don't know much more than one or two songs by most of them. Case in point, the Queen of Soul. Everybody knows Respect, and lots of people remember Think, thanks to that classic turn in The Blues Brothers movie. Recently, her amazing performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors for Carole King has brought that to a whole new audience. But ask most people to go further than that, and it's a challenge.
Yet we call her the Queen because of an incredible run of hits that started in 1967, when she switched to Atlantic Records, and the production team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin set her back down south with some incredible musicians and material, starting with I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). Finally playing with a great team and the right songs, Aretha ran up a string of non-stop, stunning performances, both on 45s and on special albums such as Amazing Grace, a Top 10, double-platinum live set of gospel songs in a church. Her interpretations of the classic songs of the day, whether the hits of The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel, featured completely different arrangements, proving over and over his ability to find the great truths and soulful moments inside every song.
This collection, now reissued on vinyl, came out in 1971, and was especially generous, for the times. Instead of the usual 10 or 12 cuts, it had 14, and even then, couldn't keep up with all the hits she had in those four glorious years since '67. Since she was putting out a single every three months, and every one was a smash, it was case of too much for one album to handle. Just to show the embarrassment of riches, Think, a Top 10 hit, isn't here. Neither is (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone, The House That Jack Built, and See Saw. All Top 10 hits. All from 1968 alone! In total, there were 29 chart hits in that time (and another in England), from which they could pull the 14, and 1972 started right away with Day Dreaming, a #5 hit and one of my all-time favourites.
So, as you can just imagine, here's a brilliant collection of songs, sounding great on vinyl, and this is why she's the Queen.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Here's another big benefit of the rebirth of vinyl; classic overseas collections are being reissued as well, and sent this way. The contractual and marketing concerns of record labels have faded over time for some of these sets, so nobody is trying to control what gets released where, when it comes to greatest hits. Case in point, this excellent best-of for Little Feat released back in 1986 in Europe.
Although I've seen this imported tons over the years, it's the first time it's been available on LP that I can discover in North America. It's just what you want from the great 70s band, all the biggies, from the Lowell George-led days. Dixie Chicken, of course, Sailin' Shoes, Willin' , Rock 'n' Roll Doctor, All That You Dream, Spanish Moon, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, etc. You could debate a couple of tracks along the way, and be absolutely outraged that Fat Man in the Bathtub isn't here, while they included the weak 20 Million Things from George's solo album, but it's pretty close to perfect.
Oddly, there's never been a really good best-of for the band in North America. There are good big compilations, notably the retrospective/rare cuts set Hoy-Hoy! and the box, Hotcakes and Outtakes, but the 2006 CD The Best Of was scattershot and wanting, with too many post-Lowell cuts for a single disc. With this, on vinyl no less, I'm very satisfied, and it will cut a ton of plays.
I have a few shortcuts when it comes to music reviewing, just to get through the sometimes-overwhelming amount of releases that arrive. One that has never failed me over the past 15 years or so is: If Colin Linden produced it, listen close, you're going to like it. He could probably make a killer Donny and Marie album. Usually though, we have the same tastes, rootsy singer-songwriters surrounded by lots of warm, wooden instruments. Case in point, this young Edmonton fellow.
Now, being an East Coaster, his last name provided another shortcut for me, and sure enough, he is one of those Chaissons, the P.E.I. clan, generations-deep in folk music on the Island. He's a cousin of Tim, the wicked singer/fiddler/songwriter of The East Pointers. And Lucas is about to tour the Maritimes for the first time since releasing this highly regarded set back in 2015. So, I'm in.
Telling Time has this rich depth on each track, centered around Chaisson's homey voice and personal stories. Maybe they aren't all his tales, but they are touching and rich with detail, thick with memories, tinged with melancholy. The characters show up as much-loved ghosts from the past, with stories that are sad because they are in the past, some beautiful memories that are gone too soon. Time does that; yes, it heals, but it means we can't go back there, except in memories like these songs provide. Linden wisely gives several of these cuts the barest of accompaniment, his usual A-team players including John Dymond on bass and Gary Craig on drums.
You can see Lucas Chaisson in concert at the following:
- Sept. 8 - Le Cagibi - Montreal
- Sept. 9 - Grimross Brewery - Fredericton
- Sept. 11 - Plan B - Moncton, NB
- Sept 14 - Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club - Ottawa
- Sept. 15 - The Company House - Halifax
- Sept. 16 - Governor's Pub - Sydney, NS
- Sept. 18 - Centre Stage - Souris, PEI
- Sept. 20 - Baba's Lounge - Charlottetown
- Sept. 23 - Red Brick Cafe - Guelph, ON
- Sept. 25 - Cameron House - Toronto
Sunday, September 4, 2016
The second of two albums released by The Hollies in 1967, and the second reissued on vinyl this summer, as a double album, the first copy in mono, the second in stereo. And actually this is the first time this album has been issued in Canada, as we got a totally different package first time out. It had a different cover, different title, and different track listing. While the British label still followed that practice of leaving singles off the albums, in North America, that was the standard, so this was named after two of them, bearing the unwieldy title Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse. And indeed that first song, just an album track in the U.K., was released as a 45, becoming a pretty decent Top 40 Canadian hit.
This was the last album featuring founding member Graham Nash, who had been in a struggle with the band and management over the band's direction for the past year. He saw the writing on wall, knew albums were where it was at, and doing all those cute singles wouldn't cut it much more. He got his way for awhile, and like its predecessor, Butterfly featured no outside material, at attempt to show the band was serious and hip. Nash's role had been increased, handling more writing and lead vocals, but the transition was rocky. The hits were drying up, and King Midas, one of their very best, was a huge failure in England. Pretty soon Nash was over in L.A. hanging out at Mama Cass's place, and meeting up with future cohorts Crosby and Stills. After he got back home and found out the group was keen on making their next album an all-Dylan covers set, he gave up, quit the band, left his marriage, left England and the rest was harmony history.
Despite the turmoil, like Evolution before it, this was a pretty strong L.P. The songs were breezy and well-made, and of course, had great vocals. Unlike Evolution, they weren't desperately trying to join the psychedelic revolution, so it's not burdened with clumsy effects, apart from the odd bird noise, and the trippy Try It. Nash's tunes especially were happy ear candy, Wishyouawish smart enough to be cool instead of bubblegum.
Bandmate Allen Clarke got the rest of the leads and songwriting, and was also growing, his Charlie and Fred a slice of British observation about a rag man and his cart horse, not too far away from a Kinks lyric, but with a grand brass arrangement. Tony Hicks, well, he wasn't keeping up, his Pegasus a lame attempt to find a topic, and yes, there's a line in there that mentions "flying horse".
What I like best about the album is the great mono mix, back when those things were an art form, and the sound of Nash's maturing voice, which he of course would put to great use over in the States. In the end, both parties were right. Nash's new songs, such as Marrakesh Express and Lady of the Island were much better for his new friends, and as for The Hollies, their Dylan covers album was a huge hit for them, and by 1969, they had He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, a #1 in the U.K. and Top 10 world wide. So, win-win. Pretty good album this, nice packaging too.
This is a documentary produced for, and running on Netflix, about turbulent life of the incredibly talent Nina Simone, and if you're one of the three households in Canada not subscribing to the service, you can now pick up a copy for yourself on Blu-ray or DVD. There are benefits to this of course; better quality, both visual and audio, there's a few bonus interviews, nothing spectacular but appreciated, and there's also the chance that Netflix will dump it from the playlist at some point. It's an excellent piece, so I'd hate for you to miss it.
If you've never been exposed to her music before, I would be surprised if you don't come away amazed and a fan. There's never been anyone like her, a classically trained pianist with a tremendous alto, who blended jazz and soul and pop and show tunes and civil rights anthems and controversy in an explosive career. If you don't know her very intense story, well, where to start? Let's just say she suffered; from abuse, from racism, from mental illness, from chauvinism, from every kind of societal pressure. Yet she reached dizzying heights, not only with her art, which was never comprised, but with her success as well, joining the great intellects of the civil rights movement, standing, unblinking with Dr. King, Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes. She became increasingly erratic thanks to her undiagnosed illness, and sadly her legacy has long been tainted by the stories. Hopefully the documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar last year, will go some way to restore her musical fame, as more and more people watch it.
Now, here's something they've done for this package which is darn brilliant and should be followed by many more video makers: Included in the package as a second disc is a well-curated best of. You can watch the film, get a thirst for more music, and go right to the cuts you've just had a sampling of. And of course, that's a good tempter even if you do have Netflix.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Of course, it was anything but a quiet, normal life for Zevon, and his ultimate demise, although poignant, was years in the making, through the many moods and various toxins in which he indulged. If you prefer the romantic image of the Letterman show Zevon, don't read the family-authored biography, which lays it out plain, the way Warren wanted. Really, what son doesn't want to clean out his father's extensive porn collection after he dies?
Anyway, I guess you have to live it order to write a song like I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, and Zevon was, during his 70s - 80s period, the ultimate chronicler of the dark side. Here was a guy who sang "I'd rather feel bad than feel nothing at all." Of course, much of it was tongue-in-cheek, for our amusement, including Werewolves of London, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, and Poor Poor Pitiful Me ("She really worked me over good, she was a credit to her gender"). Lawyers, Guns and Money came from a true story, not quite as dramatic, but still, he knew how to have adventures and turn them into great stories.
But there wasn't much laughing in Play It All Night Long. If Alabama thought they got a bad rap from Neil Young, Zevon took it further: "Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band's song/Turn those speakers up full blast, play it all night long." Later in his career, Zevon became known for tender, romantic tracks (oh, the irony), and those are here too, just overshadowed by the humour and violence and such. Bob Dylan sure noticed Accidentally Like A Martyr, naming a whole album after a single line, "Time out of mind."
As you can tell, I love quoting Zevon, and every song had one, two, 10 amazing lines. In Desperadoes Under The Eaves, there's this killer verse: "And if California slides into the ocean, as the mystics and statistics say it will/I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill." This greatest hits album has long been a favourite even of fans who own all the records, simply because it is non-stop perfect, from start to finish. Another great return to vinyl, and goodness, doesn't Waddy Wachtel's guitar and Zevon's piano shine through in good old analog?
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Quite a departure for the blues/roots singer-songwriter, who recently moved from the East Coast to the Prairies. Or rather, departures, as each song here features something different and new. Woman's Name is all swagger with a big, slow groove and nasty slide, but that's followed up by Devil Made You, which sounds like a whole different guy, a dark country number. A droning violin gives Ash Fault a haunting, far East feel, while gentle acoustic play on City Of Regret marks a tender moment.
Neilsen is aided by producer Steve Marriner throughout, including some quite different studio sounds, which help take the tracks into further surprising places. It doesn't have to be major; just the bit of different sheen on the various guitars, mandolin and stringed stuff on Nobody Gets Lonely sets this country-styled cut off into something more modern, and I can't think of anyone else making a track like this. Plus, following it up with a the sleek soul of horn-filled The Race, there's another whole new sound for both the disc and Neilsen, one he could easily follow for an entire new career, as it's the best song on the set.
There's a story arc to the album, as the darkness lifts as it goes along, The Arrow a fun and funky number, the mood much more positive. Neilsen describes the recording process as quite a personal journey in the liner notes, and certainly you can hear that. So, to sum up, it's a deep, dirty, sad, funky, uptempo, downbeat, country-blues-rock-soul-singer-songwriter-electric-acoustic-haunted-lively groove.