Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Wait, didn't he put this out already? No, that was The Concert in Central Park, with Art. This one was from London in 2012, one of those great mammoth shows that have also featured Springsteen, McCartney, The Who and others playing in front of enormous crowds. It comes as a two-CD or one Blu-ray set, and you'll want to watch for sure. The huge crowd is pretty cool, but most of the action is in the huge cast appearing onstage, including two different bands, guest artists and all manner of instruments. It was a big day, a big show.

The drawing card was the reunion of many of the original Graceland musicians, and much of the middle of the show is devoted to that album. That included Ladysmith Black Mambazo, so we get the one-two punch of Homeless and Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes. Those aren't the only guests though. Early on, Simon brings on one of his heroes, and a popular guy in England, Jimmy Cliff, who does a mini-greatest hits set, a nice bit of stage-sharing by Simon. He joins him for Vietnam, and then Cliff does the honours for Mother and Child Reunion, and you get to see Simon's original influence for that song. Near the end of the set, dobro great Jerry Douglas is brought on to play a reworked, more rootsy version of The Boxer.

Despite having just put out a new, and well-reviewed album the year before, 2011's So Beautiful or So What, only one new song was played, Dazzling Blue. The rest of the event was straight greatest hits, mostly Simon solo, only The Boxer and The Sound of Silence from the S&G years. But when faced with a few hundred thousand fans, it's hard to argue with playing Kodachrome, You Can Call Me Al, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Slip Slidin' Away and Still Crazy After All These Years. He still sounds great here too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Miller has always been an outsider in the music world, never quite fitting in with whatever scene he was working in. An early blues guy, he could have been hanging with players such as Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, but instead he and buddy Boz Scaggs ended up in San Francisco when the Airplane and the Dead ruled. Despite some hits, he dropped off the radar until The Joker made him an unlikely Top 40 star. Liking that, he squirreled away from a couple of years to craft a set of ridiculously catchy pop-rock hits that ruled the charts from the albums Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams. But Miller didn't have the star power to sustain that huge stature, and he drifted off in the '80's, returning to blues when he felt, popping up just enough to avoid the Where Are They Now category.

He's still a staple of classic rock, so every few years another best-of pops up, and this is one of the most comprehensive, two discs and 40 tracks. That's where the actual breadth of Miller's career becomes obvious. There are lots of tracks from the big two 70's albums, including the hits Take The Money And Run, Jungle Love, Jet Airliner, Rock 'n Me and Fly Like An Eagle, they are also supported by much-loved album cuts like Dance, Dance, Dance and Wild Mountain Honey. There's also an excellent, previously unreleased demo version of Take The Money And Run that shows the painstaking work Miller did crafting those two albums.

If that's all you know about Miller, there will be lots of surprises. It starts with a previously released, but not very well-known piece of tape, made when Miller was five. It features him singing for his godfather, the one and only Les Paul, who says Miller is a talent already. If it was another, higher profile rock star, this would be a legendary story, but it's barely known even by fans of the faceless Mlller. The list of tracks from his early days is impressive, including Living In The U.S.A., Space Cowboy, Gangster of Love and Kow Kow Calculator. For several of the songs of this era, Miller uses recent live versions instead. Although I'd rather have all originals, these tapes have been glossed up so much, they really do mirror the regular studio takes.

The post-Abracadabra era is rushed through in just six tracks, a bit of a slight really, and the near-hits Ya-Ya and Wide River are ignored, but certainly most of the highlights are covered. Even if you have a single CD of Miller hits, there's probably enough different here to beef up your collection.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Tommy Green Jr. and Sr. watch Matt Andersen at Harvest
Another Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival has finished, the 27th Fredericton has put on. I've seen almost all of them, including the very first, and watched it grow into one of the premier music festivals in the country. It has attracted plenty of big names over the years, certainly bringing in talent that would never play this far-flung, relatively small community normally, such as Phish mainman Trey Anastasio this year.

If you haven't had the pleasure before, Harvest takes over most of the downtown in Fredericton for six days, using every venue available, and making venues where they ain't. Tents huge and little are pitched in parks and parking lots, a few hundred to see Hollerado, a couple of thousand at Sloan, even more at Steve Earle and the Dukes. You can choose a local bar for a more intimate (but still crowded) evening, or snatch a coveted ticket to see Bruce Cockburn launch his national tour and new album in the soft-seat Playhouse. That's just for starters. Then there's all the free shows through the days and evenings, which can feature local newcomers or Juno winners such as bluesman Garrett Mason.

But I'll argue the stars of the festival aren't the music acts, as top-notch as they always are. It's the crowds. I don't mean the behaviour of the crowds, or the numbers that turn up, although these are both impressive. Crowds are made up of many individuals, and each person who attends Harvest makes their own unique experience. Each has their own story, which they are happy to share in between sets or in line. There's the group of six women, longtime friends, who go each year together. No partners allowed, nobody getting in the way of that special bond. They take the week off work, start early in the day, and don't let up the whole week, dancing and laughing at every show. There's the guy who moved away long ago, has spent most of his lifetime in Ontario, but returns just for that event each year, a holiday to see whatever old friends he runs into in the tents.

Those are common stories. Babysitters long ago found out there were small fortunes to be made Harvest week, as people would go out every night early and stay out late. It's getting to be as popular as Christmas as a holiday week, with many people requesting vacation days. There's actually a trending meme, musical notes surrounding the phrase, "It's the most wonderful time of the year," People greet you with Happy Harvest! And they talk. They talk to people they haven't seen in years, they talk to total strangers. They make new friends. and hang out for the night with people they just met.

After going to the Bruce Cockburn show, I was standing in the tent crowd watching the antics of The TransCanada Highwaymen, the new supergroup made up of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Steven Page (ex-BNL), Craig Northey of Odds and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness). All hits, and lots of laughs. Next to me was a woman holding the new Cockburn album, signed from the show, and we started talking about him and the Highwaymen. It was Phyllis Grant's first time at the festival, and she'd made the trek from Pabineau First Nation on the North Shore. Grant is an interdisciplinary artist, a filmmaker for the NFB, an animator, a rapper, a writer, and community leader. She was asked to be an official Canada 150 Ambassador this year, a tricky job for someone who is Mi'gmaq. The idea that the country is only 150 years old is a ridiculous idea for a people that has been on the land for millenia. But she accepted, so she could use the position to celebrate the resilience and achievements of First Nations people, and as a way to open up dialogue in the community. A Harvest hello led to an eye-opening conversation for me.

Another night I got a note from the musician Tommy Green Jr., in town for Harvest, asking if we could meet before the Matt Andersen show, so he could hand over his latest release. A good chat was had, and later we were joined by his father, Tommy Sr. It only took about two minutes to discover we were the same age, had attended UNB the exact same years, and knew about 50 of the same people. How we hadn't met during all that time was a surprise, and Tommy Jr. was loving it. He confided how great it was to have his dad join him at the concert, as the above picture attests.

These are small moments, but day after day they add up at Harvest, for me and everybody else that makes up that crowd. People often talk about community spirit, but it takes special events to bring out those moments when the chemistry is just right. Of course, not everyone will take part, have positive experiences, or even enjoy a music festival like this. But when so many do, it really is a special community event, and that's what has made the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival such a success.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


My first thought on hearing the lead track Night & Day was wondering what kind of effect producer Daniel Ledwell had used on Myles' voice to make him sound like a vintage rockabilly singer. It turns out, apart from a little reverb, he used nothing. That's because Myles, after a little vocal work on his tired pipes (he tours constantly), he has returned to his more natural range, which he used way back on his first recordings. He's able to croon almost Elvis-like on some low tones, as the Myles band grooves semi-acoustically on that cut and the title track, clearly influenced by late '50's singers and production.

This isn't a genre celebration though. Cut three, Night After Night, introduces a noir-orchestral sound, complete with Kinley Dowling's strings, a mysterious mood, a pulsing R'n'B chorus and the big backing voices of Reeny and Mahalia Smith. Knock Out has the sly Mussel Shoals country-soul sound, spare and all groove. If You Want Tonight could have been cooked up at a cowboy campfire, or the lead singer of a doo-wop group's solo number underneath the streetlight.

It's retro but it's not, because there's such a huge mix of styles, mostly old dogs, but a few new tricks too. Myles has grabbed bits and pieces from favourite records and performers, mostly '50's and early '60's, from all over the pop spectrum of that day, and used them at will, so that the influences are never really singular and are hard to identify. Meanwhile, the lyrics are mostly timeless, but if anything, are more modern. In the song Stupid, he asks "If you met Mike Tyson, would you try to start a fight?" In the end, it's simply a reflection of Myles, an old soul in a handsome new suit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Bruce Cockburn reaches another milestone later this month when he's inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, but instead of a victory lap, this new album sees him at the top of his game. It's a welcome return too, as he hasn't released a new album of songs since 2011's Small Source Of Comfort, after putting all his creative energy into his 2014 autobiography Rumours Of Glory, and a new daughter born during that time as well. But the bug returned when he accepted an assignment to write a song for a documentary on the poet Al Purdy, an experience when led to all these songs.

It's always good news when Cockburn puts his spirituality forward, a particular and unique faith that also encompasses his world view and personal politics. It's also heard loud and clear in several songs here that have a blues-gospel feel, aided by members of his church choir on lively vocals. Returning too are long-time producer Colin Linden (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings) and his core rhythm section of Gary Craig and John Dymond, pretty much the top roots group in the country. Everything from Cockburn's gentle trance-hymn 40 Years In The Wilderness to his cover of Rev. Gary Davis's Twelve Gates To The City is from that well where music is food for the spirit.

Of course, Cockburn's no softie, and his righteous anger and biting observations are still powerful. False River takes on the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in B.C., while Cafe Society puts us in the coffee shop overhearing the cappuccino drinkers making inane comments on current events. Elsewhere there's an instrumental, a song in French, and of course, Cockburn's tremendous guitar work, all the touchstones and moments we've cherished over his 50-year career. This album has the qualities that should leave it placed among his very best.

Bone On Bone will be launched Friday, Sept. 15 with a show at the Fredericton Playhouse during the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Martha Wainwright is still touring in what she calls the "record cycle", which means in support of her latest album, Goodnight City, which came out last November. She heads to the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival as a sidebar to a set of U.S. and Western Canadian dates in October, a quick jaunt east from her home in Montreal to play Fredericton and two nights at a small club in P.E.I.
That means she won't bother with her band for the trip, but she often plays solo, and lots of her fans prefer the openness that brings to her set. "It's gonna be me and the guitar," Wainwright says. "It's so different, obviously it's less about the record, and way more about the songs. When you're playing it solo you have the freedom to divert somewhat. And the connection with the audience when you're playing solo is a very different thing as well. I have a tendency to stop in the middle of songs and talk, I'm very chatty, so it creates a different vibe. Solo can also be a lonelier existence, so I would not want to do it all the time. I like the companionship of the musicians, but there's also a great power in being up there on your own."
It also means she doesn't stick to the usual promotional duties for a new album.
"I'll be doing songs from all of my records, and even some songs that aren't on records, so more of a retrospective at this point," she says. "It's more interesting for me to do it that way."
It's pretty interesting for the audience as well. She says people shouldn't expect a slick performance. "I show up with the guitar, sometimes I break a string and I'm scrambling around," describes Wainwright. "There's not much artifice. There's a preparedness from the last 20 years of doing it, but what I'm showing is myself, or these days, a side of myself that's on display. I enjoy it that way."
Much of Wainwright's career has been about honesty. She has laid a lot out there in her songs for people to see, and not much has to be read between the lines. Marriage, family, fears and feelings all are grist for the mill, but she points out it's not about the facts, it's the emotions that she explores.

"My most well-known song, which was about an argument that I had with my father (songwriter Loudon Wainwright III), I'm sure that was upsetting to him." It was called Bloody Mother F***ing A**hole. "It was something where you're really going for it, it was very beneficial for me, and I don't take that lightly. I think that people really appreciated the rawness of it, even more than it being about somebody in particular. And I think that that's sort of what I'm striving for, not so much talking about my marriage and my kids specifically, but more sort of about these feelings that we all share that sometimes don't get spoken about in pop music."
Although born in New York, Wainwright spent of much of her youth in Montreal, along with her brother Rufus. She's been back in that city for four years, but still doesn't quite know where she fits in the Canadian music scene.

"I've always felt a bit of an outsider," she says, "although I'm very much an insider, being that my family are musicians and coming from this Canadiana tradition through my mother (Kate McGarrigle). When I was in the States as a singer-songwriter, although my music was folk-based, it was never particularly Americana, and I wouldn't call it Canadiana either.

"My career really started in England, as happens to a lot of songwriters. It's certainly what happened to my father. I also play a lot in Europe, and a lot in Australia, so there's an international element to what I do, and certainly North American, but I don't find that the songs are particularly placed, in a sense of place. I find that they are more living in a kind of emotional state more than anything, certainly more than political or topical. They're a little borderless."
Borders and boundaries, geographical and personal, will be happily ignored onstage at The Playhouse in Fredericton Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m., as Martha Wainwright plays the first show of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Brent Mason and Jessica Rhaye open.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The backbone of the Saint John, N.B. music scene, Mason's always been a rootsy singer-songwriter, but here throws a curveball with a few "country-ish" numbers, as he describes them. The first two cuts fall in that description, especially The One That Got Away, aided by the excellent Ray Legere on fiddle and mandolin. But just as soon as I started the "Brent's gone country" notes, The Other Side Of Blue came grooving over the speakers, a tight little funky number with the Maritime master organ player Kim Dunn adding the smooth, and Saint John singer Jessica Rhaye providing a striking backing vocal, as she does on four cuts in total here.

Mason himself is singing strongly as well, perhaps inspired by the turnout of plenty of East Coast players, as well as his regular band and multi-talented producers Grant Heckman and Tim Davidson. With more Saint Johner's, such as Mike Biggar, Dann Downes and Tomato/Tomato's Lisa McLaggan involved, the disc threatens to break into a party at times, such as the boogie number I Can't Quit You. But there's still room for Mason's trademark observations of the real and sometimes rougher side of the local streets. Snowdrift is the one that will stop you in your tracks to think for awhile, a story about young women from First Nations brought into the city to turn tricks. Mason's never afraid to sing about things most of us would rather avoid or ignore.

Mason has album launch shows scheduled towards the end of September and into October, but first he's doing a special show Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Fredericton's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. He's joining Jessica Rhaye for a joint set at The Playhouse, opening for Martha Wainwright, starting at 7.30 p.m.

Saturday, September 9, 2017


On the surface, the pairing of veteran Cuban musician Alex Cuba and relative newcomer, soul/R'n'B singer Reeny Smith, seems an unlikely mix. But the two performers, who share the bill for a Saturday evening show at this year's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton, turn out to be an inspired double-bill. What they share is a belief in positive, life-affirming music.

Smith, from Halifax, opens the show, and while it's not her first time at the festival, it's her first star billing. Last year, she joined her friend David Myles for backing vocals, something she's also done for his brand-new album out this week. But this time, she's back with her full band, and Fredericton will finally get to hear what Nova Scotia crowds have been raving about for a few years now.
Michael Richard Photography
Although still described as an emerging artist at 24, Smith has been performing since she was five, including the choirs of her family's church, Saint Thomas Baptist in North Preston, N.S. Both her father and grandfather, Wallace Jr. and Sr., were members of the famed Gospel Heirs, and her father now directs the Hallelujah Praise Choir. If that's not enough, blues fans will know her uncles Carson and Murray of the Carson Downey Band.

Her own career took off in 2011, when she started winning awards and scholarships in the province. By 2014, she started performing major concerts such as the Halifax Jazz Festival, and Canada Day and Natal Day public shows.
She's now recognized as an extraordinary vocalist, and has just begun releasing her own singles, including the brand-new East Coast hit, Survive. A new E.P. is planned for later this fall.

For Smith, it all goes back to those choir shows she has spent her life doing, making sure the audience feels energized.

"Just try to have people talking about it afterwards and wanting more," she says. "We put together a show that's upbeat, and there's also some very strong ballads that we do. Overall it's such a great, musical show. I think that's the biggest thing that's missing from the industry right now, the musicality has just gone out the window. We want to play real songs, real music and give people what they paid for."

Alex Cuba may be a veteran, but he still has the same hopes for his audience. The Northern B.C.-based singer and guitar player is making his debut at Harvest this year, and comes with a truck-load of accolades. He has a couple of Junos, a Latin Grammy, and two Grammy nominations, plus a brand-new album, Lo Unico Constante. It was love that brought him to Canada in 1999, and on this new album, he returns to his roots, with songs influenced by the singer-songwriters of Cuba that he listened to growing up.

Cuba's songs have several direct messages in the Spanish lyrics, including advice to take it slow, know yourself, don't keep making the same mistakes. But the advice is aimed at himself, not the listener. "I think it's the most powerful way to communicate, when we put ourselves on the line," he explains. "You never want to come across giving people orders for free, nobody asked you. So the best way is to always talk about yourself, and chances are somebody will see themselves in it."

The songs on the new album are largely acoustic, with that rich rhythm and percussion behind. You don't have to speak the language to pick up on his affirmative lyrics. "I see music as the biggest, most precious gift we got from God or whoever we attribute these powers, so therefore why not use that gift to keep spreading love," says Cuba. "Music for me is sacred, very positive."

Cuba is bringing his three-piece band with him, comprised of bass, drums and a percussionist. He calls it his best group ever, as for the first time he's been able to work with all Cuban players, but ones like him, who all have a knowledge of North American sounds too. "When I want to funk, we can funk, when I want to rock, we can do that too."

Reeny Smith and Alex Cuba will be at the Fredericton Playhouse on Saturday, Sept. 16 starting at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, September 8, 2017


It's the best of both worlds these days for beloved Canadian alt-rock heroes Sloan. They are happily balanced between the past and the current, celebrating their legacy of hit songs and albums from the '90's and 2000's, and continuing to make new, exciting albums. The group members are in the middle of recording their latest and 12th new album, but are taking a break to play the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, headlining Thursday, Sept. 14.

Guitar player Jay Ferguson admits he gets to do everything he always wanted to do. "I basically have the job that I wanted when I was 12, so I'm still riding that wave. I like writing songs and I like recording, and I listen to music every day," he says. "I feel like I write songs easier and better than I did 10 or 15 years ago, so I feel encouraged, I feel like it's a well that hasn't run dry."

Along with Chris Murphy, Ferguson assembles the detailed archival releases the band's fans cherish, such as 2016's box set celebrating the band's One Chord To Another album for its 20th anniversary. That's work he loves doing, just as much as working on the new, as yet untitled album. He says he's happy playing the old stuff too for the festival crowds. "I think there's a lot of bands that are in that mode of, never look back, just always looking forward, nothing nostalgic. But the music is still good, it's not dated, why should time affect the music? A great song that Patrick wrote 20 years ago is still a great song today, and you know what? He's got another great, new one right here."

As usual, the group members, all four of whom are writers, work on the new songs individually, usually thinking of parts the others might add. Then as the songs near completion, they call in their bandmates to add to the final product. That's what Chris Murphy has been doing the past few days, working on Ferguson's songs.

"I love sort of defiantly creating a giant body of work, whether anyone's listening or not," laughs Murphy. "It's hard to compete with your old records when you're this far in. I always say even if you wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water now, people would be yelling out for Underwhelmed, which you wrote in five minutes."

Murphy is always happy to be on stage, so much so that he's now a member of not one but three bands, two of which are playing Harvest. Last year, he teamed up with some old Halifax friends to form TUNS, and this year he joined a group of '90's music vets in the TransCanada Highwaymen, who are playing Friday, Sept. 15.

That band consists of four like-minded, fun-loving songwriters: Murphy, Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies, Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness, and Craig Northey from the Odds.
The idea is four well-known people up on stage to sing their big hits, have fun and spread that feeling to the audience.
TransCanada Highwayman Moe Berg with Bob Mersereau

"Everybody involved is super-funny and wants to entertain," says Murphy, who plays drums for most of the set. "With the Highwaymen, everybody brings their top hits, most recognizable songs, and we just chirp on each other, make fun of each other the whole time, and it's a ball."

The TransCanada Highwaymen have only played eight shows so far, but member Moe Berg says the shows have been great fun for the audience and the band. "It's a very entertaining show, it's very funny. Chris and Steven are very funny, and it's new every night, we just riff off whatever's happening, and everybody's just playing their hits, so the whole thing is to make it as entertaining as possible, make sure everybody gets their money's worth."

Sloan will be at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the TD Mojo Tent at 10:15 p.m., and you can see the TransCanada Highwaymen on Friday, Sept. 15 at the TD Mojo Tent's late show at 11:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


Real rockabilly is deceptive. It seems simple enough on the surface, but the stuff from the late '50's was dangerous. Not the corny shtick that the era has been stuck with since American Graffiti either, there was actual physical danger playing country music mixed with rock 'n' roll, refusing to accept the status quo of race and religion. That was reflected in the music, not just the hard-driving songs but the lyrics too. This people did bad things, and you'll hear about people that crossed the moral lines of the day.

The Hypochondriacs get that danger. The Fredericton band fills its eight-cut debut with true love gone very bad, ex-couples putting themselves through hell via breakup and cheating. Opener Just Like Before sets that clear; this is not a relationship the singer is going to forget, and there won't be any forgiveness either. Like the rockabilly days, the guitar is loud and distorted, especially at the end, leaving us with a sense of foreboding. Two Bottles Of Whiskey is worse, a husband and father abandoned, not knowing if they can love again, giving up and downing the booze. At the end, we find out he has a bottle of pills as well, and he's about to swallow them too, the last line being, "I miss my wife." To remind us that we're now in 2017, there's some atmospheric sound at the end, kind of a Twin Peaks feel, which works just fine.

Hung Up and Hung Over sounds more fun, with its happy rhythm, mighty twang and rowdy backing vocals, but it's more on the same theme, getting dumped. This time though, the band has a tongue-in-cheek finish in store, first a reggae version, then almost a hair metal chorus to close. The title cut, a weepy ballad heavy on the pedal steel, has a strong lyric with a great central couplet: "That was the day that you waltzed out my door/in 3/4." That's waltz time for you folks who didn't get music education in our school systems. The Meeting Place breaks the woman dumps man mold, instead being about a preacher who runs afoul of his flock at the church he established, some of those fire and brimstone rural roots that fit the rockabilly playbook.

Rockabilly, like soul, r'n'b, reggae, folk and all those roots sounds, is still very much a working music, when it's done right. The Hypochondriacs do it right, make it their own, and make it vibrant and new. The group is releasing the album with a show in their hometown of Fredericton on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 9 P.M. at the Capital Complex.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Clearly energized by last year's good will surrounding the Stones' Blue and Lonesome album, Jagger surprises us with a two-track single, heavy on the groove. Gotta Get A Grip has a dark, funky mood, pretty much built around one riff, Jagger's gritty voice and a bit of his always-appreciated harp. He's called this a response to the political climate in England after Brexit, but really there's not a lot of analysis here, it's all in the slightly menacing delivery.

England Lost is another on the same theme, again a simple groove track. The lyrics are a bit more prominent, built around a play-on-words, England Lost either at soccer or politically. It's no great statement, but you can dance to it. Neither side feels like a desperate attempt at a hit, like Jagger used to do with his solo work, so consider that a success.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Another tremendous archive release from Young, this one from a very stony evening back in 1976, one of his famous full moon sessions when he told producer David Briggs to roll tape as the muse had hit. In the course of an evening he laid down 10 cuts, eight of which would grace various albums from American Stars 'n Bars to Rust Never Sleeps, right up to 2010's Le Noise, plus a couple that didn't escape the vaults at all until now.

This is Young alone on guitar, or piano for The Old Country Waltz, in his dark, mystical mood, with time shifts and altered realities. Pocahontas leads things off the same cut that appeared on Rust Never Sleeps, but in that version it's overdubbed with backing vocals and more players. Powderfinger is next, again a Rust cut, but that time it was played live with Crazy Horse. Captain Kennedy is the same track that appeared on Hawks and Doves, the only bit of full recycling here. Ride My Llama is similar to the released rust cut, because it was a solo live performance, but here it's a little more chilled. When Hitchhiker was used in Le Noise, it was done on electric guitar, so this is calmer, and probably more effective, its account of drug intake now casual and alarming, even 40 years on. Campaigner, long a favourite comment on the '70's ("Even Richard Nixon has got soul") gets a verse edited out for the Decade release restored, thank you very much. Human Highway, a much-traveled Young song, was supposed to be a title track for a cancelled CSNY album around that time, and later done with the country band on Comes A Time, but here the acoustic version works just great. The Old Country Waltz is creaky, Young a saloon pianist, and probably better than the band version on American Stars 'n Bars.

Of the unreleased songs, Hawaii is one with his obscure lyrics, describing an encounter with a stranger, on an "overdose of vitamins", who wants to explain something to Young about Hawaii. Young is uneasy about the man, and although he's not named, seems to be an evil presence. Since Young met Charles Manson during his Hollywood stay, I immediately leapt to the conclusion, but I have no proof. Give Me Strength is a far more straightforward lyric, with even a rare bit of Neil break-up wisdom on offer: "Give me strength to move along, give me strength to realize she's gone." I've actually enjoyed the last couple of new Young studio albums, including last year's Peace Trail, so I won't jump on the bandwagon of those shouting that his archives are far better than his new material, but this is far better than mere discards from the '70's. Hitchhiker will now take its place in the line of Young albums of that time, in its proper place between Zuma and American Stars 'n Bars.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Reggae and ska ruled in England in the late '70's and early '80's, and much of the energy and interest came from the politics of the day. Bands such as Madness, The (English) Beat and UB40 sang about economic and racial realities in England, and that meant it didn't translate all that well to North America. It wasn't until UB40 made its easily digestible covers album Labour Of Love that English-Jamaican bands broke through, and then only with the help of Neil Diamond.

UB40 were a much more political band when they first arrived, plucked out of Birmingham by Chrissie Hynde and thrust into the spotlight opening for The Pretenders. Quickly charting with their debut album Signing Off in 1980, the next year's Present Arms made it all the way to #2 in the U.K albums list. It was full of cuts that referenced the reality for young people in Thatcher's England, included One In Ten, the unemployment rate, and Sardonicus, a jab at Ronald Reagan.

For this deluxe edition, the companion album Present Arms In Dub is included. Its instrumentals, edits and remixes also provided a hit album at the time, the first dub collection to enter the U.K. top 40. A third CD is an exciting live show from that year, along with four BBC Radio sessions.

Labour Of Love arrived in 1983 when the band was solidly stars in their homeland, enough that they could stretch a little, and try to reach a broader audience. The disc was a tribute to the reggae hits that had influenced them as young people in Birmingham. Tony Tribe's reggaefied version of Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine, originally released in 1969, was pretty much unknown until then, but it became a hit not once but twice in North America for UB40, the second time a number one. Other reggae classics such as Cherry Oh Baby, Johnny Too Bad and Many Rivers To Cross were being heard by their biggest audiences ever. It was a mixed blessing for the band, as the pop success led them more and more away from the edgier, political side, and they kept trying to return to that level of success, with other covers albums.

This deluxe edition includes a second disc of single versions and b-sides, mixes, dubs and a live cut. A third disc is another live concert when the album was fresh, with a concert that included much of the Labour Of Love album, plus a couple of BBC sessions.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


After his very successful collaboration with Montreal vibraphone player Michael Emenau in the group Sussex, Lutes returns to his roots songwriter role, although there's certainly a touch more ensemble groove stuff going on. Tracks such as Pumping Love and Whistling Past The Graveyard take advantage of a full rhythm and keys section, Lutes' long-time guitar foil Rob MacDonald, and guests like Joe Grass on mandolin, Guy Belanger on harmonica and Ian Kelly on vocals.

By continuing to explore over the years and albums, Lutes has forged his own distinct approach, with albums that combine songwriter numbers, blues and touches of folk and jazz, with room for modern touches thrown in. The title cut is one of his best tunes ever, as well-crafted and heartfelt as a John Hiatt cut. Then comes a smoking instrumental, Spence, a tribute to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, a big influence on players such as Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. On it Lutes, MacDonald and Grass show off some serious string skills, another weapon in the arsenal. Its an album that deserves awards, if they can figure out which genre to slot it in.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


The idea that Art Bergmann would be up performing at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival Thursday and Friday night seemed pretty far-fetched just a few years back. Bergmann was suffering through osteoarthritis, and was gone from the music world for over a decade. But a career-saving back operation and some titanium support beams allow him back on stage now, and last year, he released his first full album in 18 years, The Apostate. That was followed this year by the re-release of his 1991 self-titled album, which is now called Remember Her Name.

Bergmann is a founding father of Canadian punk, starting with his Vancouver band The Young Canadians, and then his solo albums. He's been through it all, and come out exactly the way you'd hope, with a social conscience and empathy for those with a hard life. Along the way, he always proved to be a great rock songwriter with an edge, letting that punk energy fire up some decidedly hooked-filled blasts. That really comes to the fore on Remember Her Name, which features the chipper single Faithlessly Yours. and the title cut, which looks sympathetically at a tough case who seems like she could be Marianne Faithful. Latter-day Marianne Faithful, that is, the rough one. Most reissues, especially 26-year-old ones, sound of their time, but there's nothing here that doesn't sound fresh and exhilarating, and with it's new name and new, current cover art, it might as well be. If you did grab this back in the day, congrats, but you may want a new copy to grab the bonus cut Wide On/Hard Body, left over from the sessions.

Bergmann plays a full show Thursday night at the HUFF at the Seahorse Tavern, backed by the Halifax All-Stars, the ad hoc group of local killers that work with visitors for the shows. Then on Friday night, he'll be part of the songwriter's circle with Moe Berg, John K. Samson and Tift Merritt at the Carleton.


Summer may be waning, but festival season is still going strong. One of my favourites is on right now in fact, the Halifax Urban Folk Festival. HUFF took a break last year, but returns with the popular multiple-club format in the city's downtown. Headliners include Skydiggers, Moe Berg, Tift Merritt, Art Bergmann and John K. Samson, and while it's always great to see the outsiders, there are tons of local East Coast artists on parade as well.

Over at the Seahorse on Friday night, locals Floodland will be launching their new album as part of the festival. Always adventurous, the group prizes its ability to be inventive, especially with melodies and harmonies, and still go crazy. Tracks such as Decades, with its explosive opening, still have charming verses, but then things go guitar-nuts. Somehow it all happens in a sensible structure, but it's just barely on the rails at times. Sun In Their Eyes starts out mellow and folky, but also gets more of that twisted guitar, and some huge, stacked vocals, pretty and powerful.

New member Tori Cameron has taken over bass, and makes those vocal blends even more pleasing, her harmonies and softer waves making those moments stand out more against the guitar creations. This is an exciting collection that walks the line between challenging and catchy, quite a thing to pull off. Catch Floodland along with Beauts and No, It's Fine at the Seahorse in Halifax Friday, Sept. 1.

Monday, August 28, 2017


While Celtic and trad and folk and country get mentioned a lot as the core sounds of East Coast music, the foundation of the scene largely happened in the '70's, when the circuit of venues around the Maritimes was established and a gang of bands were in place to put bums in seats. By and large, the sound of those bands was blues-rock, and it's never really gone away. One of the big names, and big voices of that genre is Wayne Nicholson, who was with Truro's Horse, then lead singer for Oakley into the '80's, before going solo. He's now back with this group of veteran players, lured back into the game by a successful weekly matinee gig at Monte's in Dartmouth.

Nicholson got asked to do that slot about three years ago, and eventually the players evolved into a band, The Eastenders, that he just had to get recorded. The band features Brian Bourne (Rawlins Cross) on Chapman Stick (think bass-plus), James Logan (Drum!) on guitar, and Doug MacKay (Sam Moon, Minglewood) on drums.

In case you haven't heard him, Nicholson possesses one of those remarkable set of lungs that have always been the great weapons of the blues rockers, from Paul Rodgers to Steve Winwood to Robert Plant, just full of volume and energy, enough to keep up with a powerful trio. And once you have the right four people, there's an undeniable power. The next step is the right material to dig into, and I think the group has done a solid job picking the songs, including some surprising choices.

The album opens with a somewhat obscure Gene MacLellan track, Won't Talk About Love, and the group looks at the dark edge in the song. An older Johnny Lang track follows, and the Eastenders show they can get a groove on for Stop Pushin' On Me. There are only a couple of classic blues, the standard Key To The Highway, and the old Depression number Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, both showcases for Nicholson's expressive side. Harder numbers such as So Far So Good let Logan sizzle on guitar, and the most fun choice is a radical remake of Dylan's Watching The River Flow, which keeps the humour but toughens up the tune. It might be just one interpretation of the term, but to me, this feels like Maritime roots music.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Favourite roots performer Oh Susanna brings her latest out on tour, including a bunch of shows in my Maritimes stompin' grounds. This one is a concept album, and a very refreshing one. She's gone back to look at her teen years, when she was doing all those heartbreaking, crazy, fun, dangerous, and life-changing things so many of us did. For Suzie, it was being a bit of a punk in Vancouver, but it feels like it could be Anytown, Canada, something familiar for almost all of us. "Meet me tonight over coffee and cigarettes, by the neon light of the Varsity Grill." It was the Capitol Gardens for me, but whatever.

There's nothing particularly exciting happening in this view of the Vancouver punk scene, but that's the beauty of the album. It's the journey and the memories that are important, the story-telling we can all recognize bits of, and the shared emotions that inspires. Walked All The Way Home is a simple story of getting carded at a club and kicked out, and heading home mad in the rain. It's the feeling she remembers, as the mood changes on the long walk, "then you see the beauty of being alone." Whether you had good or bad experiences at that age, or probably a mixture of both, there's no denying what an important part of your life they were, and Oh Susanna does a masterful job of describing that time.

You'll see Oh Susanna at the Trailside Cafe in Mount Stewart, P.E.I. on Thursday, Aug. 31. Then she hits the Halifax Urban Folk Festival on Sept 1 and 2, before landing in Pictou at Fat Tony's on the 3rd. A small break occurs, before she's at Grimross Brewery in Fredericton Sept. 6, and the Maritime jaunt finishes up Sept. 8 in Cape Breton at the Iona Heights Inn.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


You gotta love the friendly, supportive P.E.I. music scene where friendship comes first. It's led to many fine collaborations over the years, and it also helps that the talent pool is ridiculously large, and crazy-fine for such a small region. Hence the team-up between these two, which went from friendship to writing to a full album in no time.

Ellsworth is the more established writer, with several fine roots releases to his name, and Dowling is the new hotshot, having just won Songwriter of the Year at the recent Music PEI awards, for her solo debut as KINLEY. Of course, her violin has taken her to the top with Hey Rosetta!, but this is another opportunity to stretch those new songwriting chops.

Ellsworth has never shied from the emotional, and Dowling's presence is absolutely an asset to that throughout. There's an ease and a lightness even in the sadder moments. In I Tried To Be Your Lover, she joins in harmony and seems to take the weight off a broken heart of a song. While Ellsworth takes the bulk of the lead vocals, her turn on Something Beautiful is warm and uplifting, a sunbeam to his misty summer morning.

Produced with part-time Islander Aaron Comeau (Skydiggers, Al Tuck), there's no tricks or heavy atmosphere, it's all up close and gentle, with two glorious voices helping us just....breath.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Eagles of Death Metal were, horrifyingly for them, the band playing the Bataclan in Paris on November 13, 2015 when 89 people were slaughtered in a terrorist attack. Vowing to return, the band first appeared as guests at a U2 show a month later, and then headlined their own event at the Paris Olympia on Feb. 16, 2016, resuming their European tour. This is the show of that concert, about 90 minutes over two discs.

Although co-founder Josh Homme doesn't usually tour with the group, he made a special appearance that night behind the drum kit. But as always, on stage this is Jesse Hughes' group, with his oversized personality and enthusiasm. Since the group is largely about celebrating metal riffs mixed with over-the-top pop attitude, there wasn't going to be a big cathartic statement for the city, more like an announcement that nothing would stop the rawk. There was a brief pause right at the start in the middle of the first song, I Only Want You, and then it was Hughes' circus act the rest of the night, except for a shout-out to the group's merch manager, Nick Alexander, one of the Bataclan victims.

The last EODM album, Zipper Down, was surprisingly polished and tuneful, but that hasn't translated to the live show so much. It's still more of a full-on guitar-boogie. and Hughes is happy to keep it slightly sloppy and loud. The memorable melodies here come from a couple of tongue-in-cheek covers, Stuck In The Middle With You, now called Stuck In The Metal, and their beloved take on Duran Duran's Save A Prayer. This won't be the concert of the group's career, but it was a statement that needed to be made.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Here's an excellent way to listen and learn all about the beginnings of the King. This 3-disc set examines all his known recordings from the crucial Sun Records period, from his first two $3.98 vanity booth recordings to his remarkable sides recorded by Sam Phillips, to the incendiary live shows that he put on across the South. Crucially, a 120-page book features a day-to-day timeline that takes Elvis from the first rehearsals with Scotty and Bill to sale of his contract to RCA at the end of 1955, when it all went crazy.

What the combination of the music and book lets us do is explore how that magic came about, the almost-accidental creation of this unique brand of rock 'n' roll. Presley was a talent, but not an obvious one, and certainly Phillips and others had their doubts. Yet Phillips stuck with him, listening to his affected crooning through years-old ballads. Finally on a lark, Elvis, Scotty and Bill started goofing on That's All Right, an eight-year-old cut by Arthur Crudup, and in their foolishness turned it into an uninhabited combination of rhythm and blues and country. All Phillips had to do was slap on the slapback echo.

Disc three, which features scratchy concert fragments from October 1954 to October 1955, shows us what happened when that sound got out in the public. The worldwide hysteria was yet to come, but certainly those crowds knew something was up. These are taken from radio station concerts, including the famous Louisiana Hayride, and even the disc jockeys interviewing Presley knew how different the sound was, and how the game was going to change. Because he was white, he was still operating in the country world, but they were soon going to have to invent a new category for him and the many that would follow.

These live cuts are remarkable, both for the excitement, and for the fact they exist at all. Most have been transferred from the only copies of acetates (one-time only recorded discs, notoriously flimsy), and have had to be painstakingly doctored to save the fragile recording. One acetate was even destroyed during the process. As such, the quality is far less than hi-fi, but this is all about history.

Sadly, the outtakes found on disc two don't really add much to our knowledge. There are no eureka moments, and many of the original session tapes were destroyed, taped over and even thrown out in the transition of ownership from Sun to RCA. As hard as it is to believe, RCA cleaned out their vaults in 1959, discarding completely unreleased songs, now lost to history. These are mostly breakdowns, takes that start and stop after a mistake is made, and as such a bit dull to wade through.

The magic is disc one, featuring the original Sun sides, which get more and more exciting as Phillips and the trio figure out the kind of songs that work for them, including Mystery Train and Good Rockin' Tonight. Disc three is great to have for anyone who likes to study big bang moments in music, and the book is just fantastic, filled with stunning photos, jaw-dropping facts and the kind of interesting minutiae collectors love.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


I haven't seen the movie, which I'm told is quite good, but the soundtrack is seriously awesome. You can tell when a serious music fan is involved (one Edgar Wright is credited), someone who delights in picking off-the-beaten-track gems that will wow folks, especially rare '60's or '70's cuts. They will also have too much pride to go for obvious, big hits to curry favour with crowds. For instance here, when a Motown cut is chosen, it's not the usual Big Chill soundtrack number, but rather neglected, beautiful Every Little Bit Hurts by Brenda Holloway.

While the '60's and '70's get a lot of cuts on this double CD, more modern numbers from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Young MC, Blur and Kid Koala make the cut too. It all fits, and the most wonderful aspect is how the selections just keep getting better and better, whether you know them or not. Whether it's the now seldom-heard rocker Hocus Pocus by Focus, the excellent Dave Brubeck cut Unsquare Dance or the long-forgotten soul hit Baby Let Me Take You by The Detroit Emeralds, each one is a delightful surprise. Any fan of the art of sequencing will smile when it goes from T. Rex's bongo-fired Deborah to Beck's Debra to Canada's old Incredible Bongo Band and Bongolia. Even the only two really well-known songs here, The Commodores' Easy and Radar Love by Golden Earring, fit so well it's hard to criticize their inclusion. The best thing is that these great cuts are largely such a mixed bag, you probably won't own more than a handful of the 30.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


A more laid-back Whitehorse album this time, with mood and lyrics trumping guitar sonics and vocal flights. That just goes to show how well McClelland and Doucet do in those departments as well. There's still lots of edge, and some pretty sharp observations as well. "Boys like you they live with their mothers, forever and ever and ever." McClelland jabs, while in Gracie, Doucet tells us "I can hear the sniffles from behind the bathroom door, is it cocaine or heartbreak, we never can be sure."

There's a significant amount of programming and synth going on to create the dark mystery mood. While they're cool enough to play the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, they're probably a bit too upbeat, and the couple's natural wit creeps through as well. Just to remind you of what he can do, Doucet lets out a sizzling solo finally on the last cut, Manitoba Death Star. Still, taking an album off from such stuff to throw the spotlight on songwriting is well worth it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Blues bands are a little like baseball teams, I figure. Once you root for one, you always like them, no matter how much the lineup changes or their fortunes rise and fall. Real good bands, like real good franchises, always seem to be able to put on a good show. I think of The Nighthawks as like the Yankees or Dodgers, always putting a good team together. I'll stop the baseball metaphor, hopefully you get my point.

I remember seeing the D.C. band back in the mid-80's, when there was a big buzz about them. They put on a steamy show led by singer/harpist Mark Wenner and guitar player Jimmy Thackery. Only Wenner remains of the original quartet all these years later, but that high quality and intensity still remains on this latest disc. Never purists, instead the group is happy to throw a lot of styles out there, as long as has that electric energy. Case in point, this disc ends with the beloved Dirty Water by The Standells, harped-up but still retaining the garage rock feel. I can't think of another blues band that has claimed that tune. Same goes for the Jesse Winchester cut Isn't That So, bringing more of a roots sound to the fore.

There's no short-shrift to true blues either, with the group's strong originals, such as drummer Mark Stutso's VooDoo Doll, and Wenner's mellow instrumental Blues for Brother John. And the band knows how to make those old rent-party blues numbers like Willie Dixon's I Want To Be Loved just as danceable as it was in the day. It's good to know the Nighthawks still wear the team colours with pride.


Here are the latest Neil Young vinyl reissues, part of his ongoing, ever-changing archive work, mastered for this release from the original analog tapes. The latest news is that he's going to put his entire recording legacy online in super high quality for streaming, but we don't know if that means he'll stop putting out physical releases now of his old music. If so, at least all the great original albums up to the end of the '70's have now been brought back to the market with these five albums. Originally issued as a boxed collection back before Christmas, you can now get each separately.

The weakest of the group here is the Stills-Young Band set, the result of another failed attempt at a CSNY album in 1976. Crosby and Nash left the sessions before the album was complete, so the other two wiped their contributions, and used only their own work. The title cut became a Young classic, but mostly due to its inclusion on his Decade collection. The rest of the tracks pale, with four more Young contributions and four of Stills'. Side two is better, with Young's Let It Shine and Fontainebleau approaching, but not worthy of his On The Beach-era work. The biggest problem is that it was Still's band on the recordings, and it just feels that Young wasn't putting out a full effort. Of all his '70's output, this is weak link.

Young's next two albums were a lot better, and still hold up to play. American Stars 'n Bars was a salvage job of nine songs from four different sessions dating back to 1974, after he scuttled the albums Homegrown and Chrome Dreams. There are different styles, from country rock (Hey Babe) to epic guitar (Like A Hurricane). The newer tracks from '77 are more of a lark, but with Star of Bethlehem and Homegrown on side two, it's an important piece in his puzzle. Comes A Time from 1978 went further down the country road, and was seen as a concession back to the Harvest sound. It's the most produced of his albums, featuring a ton of instruments, from strings to fiddle by Rufus Thibodeaux to harmonies from Nicolette Larson. The title cut and his cover of Four Strong Winds brought back a lot of fans of his softer side, but Young wasn't about to stay that calm for long.

It's hard to remember what a shock Rust Never Sleeps was in 1979, but it forever changed cemented Young's reputation as an unpredictable wild card. The wild, distorted guitar of Hey Hey. My My (Into The Black) out-punked the punks, and the surreal lyrics of Ride My Llama and Sedan Delivery showed he was delightfully out to lunch. Meanwhile, Powderfinger was another guitar classic up there with Down By The River and Like A Hurricane. Getting the concert album Live Rust shortly after seemed like an extra present, and Young left the '70's back on top.

Goodness me these vinyl editions sound great, and I don't think I'll ever want to play these albums in any different format again. The 20 minute sides are exactly the way they should be heard, well-sequenced and for me, full of fond memories.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Kelly has long been a leading light songwriter-rocker in Australia, and occasionally his stuff gets though to a small but mighty following in North America. It's fad-less and no-nonsense, with great stories and excellent ensemble playing, roots-rock if that's a category Down Under. I'd call it Antipodean Austinian.

Above all, Kelly builds solid songs based on smart, conversational lines and moving melodies. Even the break-up song Petrichor has words and a tune that inspires: "I walked straight, didn't turn my head, the hardest thing I ever did, seabirds wheeling overhead and cryin'." Everything is to serve the song, and Kelly even generously hands over the vocal duties on My Man's Got A Cold to backing singer Vika Bull, since it makes more sense, and she nails the wailing blues. Her sister Linda gets to do the same for Don't Explain. He's brave too; Kelly takes an old Roy Orbison hit and updates the story in Leah: The Sequel, thus seeing his name join the legend's in the writer's credits. But it's a darn good one, and I doubt the Big O would have a problem with an album of such fine writing.

Friday, August 11, 2017


It's no longer the Dave Rawlings Machine, as his first two albums were released as, but it's still the same deal. Rawlings is joined by Gillian Welch all the way through, only he takes the lead vocals. What is different is that this album is a lot more traditional than anything the pair have done, well over half the cuts pure old-time hill music. The songs are said to have been inspired and re-written old numbers, so it's difficult to know where the folk tradition stops and the Rawlings begins, and that is just fine. Certainly numbers such as Lindsey Button and Money Is The Meat In The Coconut sound 150 years old, and that's all that matters.

Rawlings is a master at the relaxed feel of these songs, almost hypnotic in their pace, the music serving the tales being spun. The song Yup is a laugh, each line of the story punctuated at the end with that knowing title word. Good God A Woman is a twist on the creation story: "That's when the Big Man made the little man, and all the animals too, but he saved the best for last." Most of these tracks keep a string band approach, but the pair do add drums to a couple of cuts, including the decidedly rocky Cumberland Gap, but it too is a classic 19th century story about traveling west. If this had come out under Welch's name and with the vocals more evenly shared, there would probably be a lot of talk about a masterpiece, so I hope this finds a large audience as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Fairport fans will go wacky with this new seven-disc box featuring a whopping 55 previously unreleased tracks. That includes two full live concerts from '73 and '74, and everything from outtakes to alternates to BBC tracks. And since it only covers the group's first decade, that means the glory days of their two brightest stars, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny are here.

The box does a great job of being a primer as well, and at a price of just under $100, is a reasonable way to begin the journey. You'll discover they actually started as more of a late '60's rock band with a nod to singer-songwriters, covering Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Dylan, while Thompson tentatively dipped his toe into writing, while firing off guitar-hero leads. With the addition of Denny and then fiddler Dave Swarbrick they started modernizing traditional material into rock band settings, and invented British folk rock. It differed from its American cousin in that it was a lot more folk, and a lot more rock. But the fragile mix was hard to capture for long. Whenever it strayed too far to one side or the other, defections would follow, starting with Iain "Shake It" Matthews, then Denny, followed by Thompson. The Swarb groups of the early '70's produced some good moments, but it was a relief when Denny returned in 1974, such a great singer.

There's so much room in the box, you can follow brilliant side roads in their career, including a stop at the rock and roll cover band The Bunch that featured Thompson and Denny playing Buddy Holly cuts with their old pals. Or you can see Fairport as one of the truly great Dylan covers bands, with early access to The Basement Tapes demos (Down In The Flood), and their British hit cover of If You Gotta Go, Go Now, done as a Cajun number completely in French (Si Tu Dois Partir).

The downside here is the sacrifice of packaging for price points, meaning only a small booklet and no info on where the cuts first appeared. It's a little too democratic as well, with lesser, later albums afforded the same space as classics. For you newbies, if this catches your fancy, you should just go out and buy copies of Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf as well. For you old fans, did I mention there are 55 previously unreleased cuts? You can ever own too many versions of Sloth, can you?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


These days, it's hard to find an empty night at the Mother Church of country music, the venerable Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Shows coming up in the next few weeks include Jason Isbell, Father John Misty, Alison Krauss and even UB40. Loretta Lynn had to cancel hers, recovering from a recent stroke. Through the day, you can take tours, or see an audio-visual presentation about the years when the building housed the original Grand Old Opry.

Shockingly, all that was almost lost to the wrecking ball. Back in 1991 when Emmylou Harris took the stage to record this live album, it was so decrepit the balcony was off-limits, and only 200 people were allowed inside the hall meant to hold over 2,000. But Harris's album, and the documentary done to focus attention on the 100-year old building helped spur renewed interest in its fate, and three years later a complete renovation occurred, making it a must-see spot in Nashville.

Par for the course for Harris, who was actually just looking for a spot to record her brand-new old-time group The Nash Ramblers, but turned it into a crusade. In a new second act in her career, she became the spokesperson for classic country, helping launch the Americana movement. The album featured bluegrass players Roy Huskey Jr., Sam Bush and Al Perkins, but with drummer Larry Atamanuik and second guitar/harmony singer Jon Randall Stewart helping bridge the gap to modern sounds. Harris matched old Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash songs with those from Steve Earle, Springsteen and even CCR's Lodi, showing how it all came together, that's it's all great music.

Harris has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Grammy-winning album with a series of projects. In May, she reconvened the Ramblers for a return engagement at the Ryman playing the complete album, soon to be a PBS special seen on every fundraiser. It's been reissued on vinyl, and this CD features two previously unreleased cuts, the song Rollin' and Ramblin' about Hank Williams, and the band instrumental The Nash Ramble.

Monday, August 7, 2017


For anyone who might think there's nothing new to offer from traditional music, I direct you immediately to Byrne's song Adelaide, not only completely new and completely true, it happened to his own family, his father, in 1990. A letter appeared in a St. John's newspaper from an old sailor, wondering if anyone knew what had happened to one Adelaide Byrne, whom he had met and fell in love with in 1947. It turned out to be Byrne's father's sister, who had died shortly after. The mystery had been solved for the sailor of why his first love had stopped writing him back.

Byrne has written a heart-tugging song of that story, fully the equal of the other great traditional ballads offered on his third solo album. Family has always been key to his career, on his own and with The Dardenelles, coming from a family of performers and music historians. With a clear voice that heads straight for your soul, Byrne does a masterful job highlighting the emotion in each song. Nancy From London is a Newfoundland song about that most frightening and common reality for many a century or more past, a sailor's wife having to live for months not knowing if her love would return home. He found Long Years Ago on a tape of his grandmother singing that his mother had made years back. His learned the Scottish number Farewell To Tarwathie from his uncle's repertoire. And his father Joe appears again, this time to sing Kitty Bawn O'Brien. Trad's alive and very well in Byrne's hands, and as it's always been, all about family.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


The folks at Atlantic Records were getting frustrated in 1956, watching some of their R'n'B sounds, and even the songs themselves being grabbed by this upstart rock 'n' roll music. Big Joe Turner's Shake, Rattle and Roll had been co-opted by Bill Haley for one of the biggest hits of the new genre, and while the label's artists were doing just fine on the R'n'B charts, there was much bigger money flowing in rock 'n' roll. So when the company decided to move into the LP market that year, they set up a division for their "popular" records (i.e. non-jazz), and that included a "Rock & Roll Series."

Six albums by six of the label's main stars were created for the series, and have become both collector's items and standard-bearers for the Atlantic sound over the years. Now the six have been reissued in a handy boxed set, at a very handy price, $36 bucks at last check. There aren't a lot of frills, just a slim book and the original decent biography liner notes on the covers, but it's the music that matters here. The six featured are Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, Turner, Ray Charles, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter. Each set includes their biggest hits to early '57 on Atlantic, which means some pretty major music indeed. None of these albums really qualified as rock & roll, but you could sure hear the roots of it.

McPhatter's tenure with the Drifters predated their big Top 40 successes, and they were a largely different group, as he was considered the premiere voice of gospel-infused popular music of the day. They had great vocals grooves going on with songs such as Money Honey and Honey Love, and the surprisingly fun and funky take on White Christmas is a nice addition. Ruth Brown was the label's biggest star of the day, the acknowledged queen of R'n'B with hits such as Lucky Lips and Teardrops From My Eyes.

Joe Turner's style was infused with Kansas City blues, and he gave us the immortal Flip, Flop & Fly, Honey Hush, and the more folk-styled Corinne, Corinna, later a pop hit and a song covered by Dylan. Ray Charles, for my money and many others, was at his very best at Atlantic, and that includes here Mess Around, Drown In My Own Tears, I Got A Woman and Hallelujah I Love Her So.

LaVern Baker was grittier than others, best heard on Jim Dandy, and the rollicking, huge hit Tweedlee Dee. Ivory Joe Hunter was the most sophisticated and pop of the batch, crooning his way with Since I Met You Baby and Heaven Came Down To Earth. If you're new to Atlantic, this is a great place to start, and if you're a fan, it's a fine way to make sure you have all these classic sides.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


This is the longest period between albums for the collective since forming in 2001, as it's been seven years since the release of Forgiveness Rock Record. I'd call this a more chill set, with many of the tracks smooth and groove-filled. The vocals are still a big part of each track, with the lead singers the stars of each cut, and the usual kitchen sink of performers and instruments in the mix. For the record, there are 18 members credited this time out, with most of the familiar folks returning for at least a cut or two.

The pattern for the album is one male, then one female lead vocal, so it's mostly Kevin Drew, and occasionally Brendan Canning, while Emily Haines, Feist, Lisa Lobsinger and Ariel Engle, with Amy Millan just doing backing parts this time. The women especially bring a great sound to these cuts, along with all the intricate bits and ebbs and flows that go into each song. And yes, the sound is the thing; honestly I can't think of a lyric that stands out. Maybe that's just fine, and certainly strong vocalists like Feist can put a lot of emotion into their performances. Musicians Drew and Canning do a great job sailing this big ship as well, I just find it missing that final element to make the sounds memorable. Like the cover, it's art but it doesn't really say anything.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


My favourite Little Festival That Could, the Larlee Creek Hullabaloo is coming up, happening Aug. 09 - 13 in Perth-Andover.  The festival is held partly around the village, while the main shows, Friday and Saturday, happen on a absolutely gorgeous part of the Saint John River, with talls hills on both sides and the concert site snuggled in the valley between. 

This is the 10th year for the festival, which each year features one of the best-curated lineups around, especially impressive for a small community a bit out of the way.  They draw mostly on East Coast talent, always are on the lookout for rising high-quality performers, and keep room for one or two Upper Canadians to tempt to the area.  If anything, they've outdone themselves for the 10th anniversary, so here are five shows that I don't want to miss.

1. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar in an exclusive private show!

If you buy one of the early bird passes for the full weekend mainstage shows, at the crazy low price of $65, you get a free ticket to a Thursday night show at the Castle Inn, featuring Toronto's Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar.  I caught this group a couple of years ago at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival, and was blown away by their gospel/blues/soul mix, raw music and powerhouse vocals and harmonies.  Seeing them in a small venue will be intense.

2. Hillsburn on the Main Stage Friday night

These Halifax favourites started out soft but pumped up the volume in the last year, adding drummer Clare Macdonald and switching out some of the acoustic instruments for electric ones.  That's paid off with a dynamic stage show, and rep as a must-see East Coast act, including winning at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards.  Fans love 'em.

3. Christine Campbell Band on the Main Stage Friday night

The first time Campbell played this festival, she had just released her first, independent album and doing a small acoustic set for early risers.  But she impressed everyone with a fantastic voice, awesome guitar and winning personality.  Now, she's just released her second disc, Roller Coaster, produced by Classified and Blake Johnston, and returns to the Hullabaloo with her full band to rock the main stage.

4. Pretty Archie on a boat!

One of the highlights of the festival is the chance to take a boat cruise on the Saint John, while being entertained by one of the main groups.  And seriously, the boat trip alone on that stretch of the river is worth it.  Hearing Cape Breton's folk/bluegrass faves Pretty Archie makes it pretty perfect, the ideal music for a hopefully sunny Saturday on the river, starting at 11 a.m.

5. Gordie MacKeeman & his Rhythm Boys on the Main Stage Saturday

I saw Gordie and the guys last weekend, and it was stellar always.  They do a high-energy, tremendously fun show, really entertaining in the best sense of the word.  Gordie blows you away as soon as his steps on stage with his crazy legs and flying bow, but at the heart of it is a true passion for fiddle music and that great tradition in this here land.  Even if you think you don't like fiddle music, after seeing this group you'll never say that again.

Rats, I only get five?  What about The Wooden Sky? Ria Mae?  Minglewood? Erin Costelo?  The Big and Little Hullabaloo's?  Stupid listicles.  For tickets and info, check out

Monday, July 31, 2017


I've seen Cape Breton's Còig a number of times, so it came as a surprise that there are a few vocal tracks included on their new album. They usually let their flying fingers and bows speak on stage. It's an added bonus to have the singing among the jigs and reels, happily pushing the envelope sometimes, while then coming back to the solid, traditional Celtic base that makes them ideal ambassadors for the Cape Breton sound. Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen each take a couple of turns at the mic, with songs both old and new. McMullen has the biggest surprise, a subtle interpretation of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, with his mandolin leading the way and Davis providing a sweet harmony.

Elsewhere, the fiddles of Davis and Chrissie Crowley fly, while Jason Roach provides the crucial middle, his piano bringing all the strings together. McMullen colours each set differently, providing guitars, cello, bouzouki, mandolin, mandola, banjo, whistle and flute. The reels, jigs and strathspey sets are imaginative, drawing in themes from local Cape Breton heroes, the group's originals, and wild cards such as Dave Brubeck's Three To Get Ready. There's a lot of thought, and a lot of joy in this collection.

Friday, July 28, 2017


I seriously wonder if any fans of The Ramones ever worried about the mix on their albums, but for the 40th anniversary edition of their second disc, we get four different ways to hear it. There's the released version, then a brand-new mix done by original engineer Ed Stasium, rough mixes done back in the day without some of the overdubs, and finally some extra parts and instrumentals Stasium dug up from the master tapes just for fun, to make new takes. It all sounds pretty much the same, unless you're crouching close to the speakers with a stopwatch and notebook to remember the variations. Of all of them, I prefer the rough mixes, because you can make out the vocals the best, the laughs being a pretty major part of the effort.

This deluxe set features three CDs and the new mix on vinyl, plus a booklet with memories from Stasium and manager Danny Fields. Disc three features a full Ramones show from CBGB during the tour for the Leave Home album in '77, 19 songs in just over an hour, the band spitting them with unflagging energy. On first listen, I didn't even notice the note that explained the show was actually taken from a bootleg, one microphone in the small club, but there ya go, sound quality is in the ears of the beholder. I was listening to Joey's sneering vocals and Johnny's buzzsaw guitar.

Leave Home doesn't get the most attention of the crucial first four Ramones albums, but it's more a question of being overlooked. There are some very important tracks in Ramones lore here, including the brilliant cover of California Sun, showing how connected the group was to '60's Top 40 radio. The final two cuts, You're Gonna Kill That Girl and You Should Never Have Opened That Door, showcased the group's interest in horror films and grotesque oddballs. Pinhead was the ultimate celebration of that, and introduced the Gabba Gabba Hey chant, borrowed from the 1932 film Freaks. Then there's Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Carbona Not Glue and Suzy Is A Headbanger. When the Carbona company threatened suit, that track was pulled, replaced by the beloved Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, making the album even better. What's not to love? It's actually one of their best. Fields has the final word on why it didn't break through, saying the cover sucked. On a $10,000 budget, it wasn't like they were going to get a chance to scrap it for another.