Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TEARS FOR FEARS - RULE THE WORLD

Not many bands have weathered the split and subsequent reformation of the two main partners so well. Tears For Fears did in fact rule the world in the '80's, as this best-of so amply shows. Then in the early '90's the rot developed, with their manager caught helping himself to their money, and the pair at odds over that and band development. Smith left, and Orzabal got to keep the name, delivering two decent albums, but with diminishing returns. Then surprisingly in the 2000's, Smith returned, new music was made including the appropriately named Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, and quite a bit of live work has followed, including this year. A new album has been in the works for awhile, including two tracks featured here among the hits.

And hits we got. There's a surprising number of them, given that they only made six albums starting in 1983. The monster, '85's Songs From The Big Chair, had five of them, pretty impressive given the album only had eight cuts. Those five are all here: Shout, Everybody Wants To Rule The Work, I Believe, Mother's Talk and Head Overs Heels. Even with that dominance, there's still room to drop in on each album, including another three from the debut The Hurting: Mad World, Pale Shelter and Change. That's half the hits collection right there, but those were the big albums.

1989's The Seeds Of Love is generally considered the album where they jumped the shark, but I've always liked the grand opulence of it, and the move away from synths to guitars, strings and loads of musicians and a big production. Sowing the Seeds of Love and Woman In Chains both sound great today thanks to that. The Orzabal-only years yielded two albums that didn't match the usual sales marks for the group, but the two cuts included, Break It Down Again and Raoul and the Kings of Spain sound strong beside the better-known hits, as does Closest Thing To Heaven from the the 2005 reformation album.

Now we get the first new music in 13 years (other than some covers that have snuck out in various places), and the two samples bode well for the new album. I Love You But I'm Lost and Stay both have that dramatic feel and instrumental brightness that typifies the Tears For Fears sound, and given the enthusiastic crowd support they've been receiving, it should be a hardy return for the group in 2018.

Monday, November 13, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELTON JOHN - DIAMONDS

Whether the world needs another Elton John best-of is certainly a worthy question, but if you do, at least you have plenty of options. Given the vast number of hits he's created since the late '60's, it's no easy task putting them all in one set. So for this, you have several different choices, given your enthusiasm. You can get either one, two or three discs, or of course, the vinyl option, 2-LPs.

One disc barely covers it. Thirteen of the cuts are from the 1970's, natch, which only leaves room for four more, and one of those is the '90's remake of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me with George Michael. It's essentially his live concert favourites: Your Song, Tiny Dancer, Crocodile Rock, Philadelphia Freedom, etc. You could pretty much name them without looking, except I doubt too many people would pick Island Girl as a must-have.

At two discs, we get a better look at the '80's which in fact were not a bad decade at all for EJ. Now there's room for Little Jeannie (a #1 in Canada, btw), Sad Songs, Nikita and Sacrifice, all strong ballads, largely his strength at that time. The '90's are a bit more of a problem, but there's Something About The Way You Look Tonight, famous mostly because of its inclusion on the Lady Di tribute single Candle In The Wind 1997 (not here, as per his wishes), and Circle of Life, which every child of the era and every parent will know forever. But in the spirit of inclusion, we then get a run of songs called Electricity, Home Again and Looking Up, none of which I can remember or even attempt to sing along to, from the later albums Peachtree Road, The Diving Board and Wonderful Crazy Night. Hey, why not include a couple of little songs called Border Song and Levon instead? Remember those? I'm betting much of the world does.

For the three disc set, they go back and grab some lesser hits, some vital but some lesser for good reasons. Elton's always loved to do the duet thing, so there's Written In The Stars with LeAnn Rimes, Live Like Horses with Pavarotti, and That's What Friends Are For, with Dionne, Stevie and Gladys. I guess I said lesser hits, but that one was huge, not too many people can stick a #1 single on the bonus disc. Better though are Empty Garden, his tribute to John Lennon, his cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, another #1, and his soundtrack take on Pinball Wizard, not a single in Canada but it sure got played everywhere.

There is a ton of memorable, fantastic music here, and I don't think you'll go wrong with the three-CD set, but there are pockets of blandness, mostly because of his apparent inability to say no to bad duet songs. Also, a better job could have been done curating the later years, including grabbing a track or two off that fine Leon Russell/Elton John album. Also, even the one-disc version needs a warning sticker: Includes Kiki Dee. I'd still make sure you own Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water, his true essential albums.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBERT PLANT - CARRY FIRE

Quite a band, the Sensational Space Shifters. They certainly fit the modern Plant well, able to fit in all the various influences he's collected over his many years, except, interestingly, the raw bluesy Zeppelin stuff. They don't go near that, so don't ask. This is the moody, mystical mix of Eastern rhythms, Celtic vibes and even some electronic layers. Plus, the strangest cover of Bluebirds Over The Mountain ever, a duet with Chrissie Hynde of all things.

The songs have rich grooves with multiple percussion elements, and even the quietest moments such as closer Heaven Sent have a deep rumble and slow burn. This bunch works in textures and hues, not chords and solos. Above it all is one of the most famous voices of the last century, and for reason. It's his total command of the song that makes each one work, his ability to add gravitas and a hypnotic presence. And it's so interesting that he now does this without his trademark falsetto wailing and fierce volume, but with just as much power conveyed. It's purely captivating, other than that odd choice of Bluebirds Over The Mountain, which I don't get at all. Yet.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BREAD - THE ELEKTRA YEARS

Perhaps the poster boys for soft rock, Bread are often cited and dismissed for belonging to that '70's genre. But they weren't The Carpenters, and had a lot more going on than the hits they are best known for. Most people assume David Gates was the whole band, but he wasn't even the main singer at the start. Gates had joined up with a songwriting team he had produced in Los Angeles, James Griffen and Robb Royer. They formed the group with Griffen as the lead singer, Gates as the ballads guy, and the songwriting split. Griffen and Royer had the rockier side, but their 1969 debut album was a bit of a failure, and Griffen's single didn't chart.

On the next album, they tried a Gates track, and that did the trick. Make It With You shot to #1 in 1970, and the die was cast. For the rest of the group's existence, Gates got all the A-sides, which meant what people heard were soft rocks ballads, his specialty. And the hits kept coming: It Don't Matter To Me, If, Baby I'm-a Want You, Everything I Own, Guitar Man and more. Every album brought another Top 10 hit or two. Meanwhile the albums were full of very well-produced and arranged pop tracks, even some stronger material such as Blue Satin Pillow, which proved Gates could rock when he felt like it too. In the meantime, they were developing into a tight group, touring all the time, and adding a permanent drummer in Mike Botts. While their peers were scoring kudos for their albums and live shows, Bread, who deserved the same, was still stuck in soft-rock limbo.

Royer was the first to bail out, as the inevitable tensions arose, particularly with Gates. He kept writing with Griffen, but the band was becoming a compromise. Gates drafted in an old pal from the L.A. session scene, Larry Knechtel, best known for playing the fantastic piano on Bridge Over Trouble Water, for the fourth album, Baby I'm-a Want You in 1972, and the band got even better. It was quickly followed by the Guitar Man album, with tracks such as Aubrey and the title cut making these pop gems.

But by that point Griffen and Gates were at odds, and the band broke up, Gates figuring solo life had more to over. Except something unexpected happened. The Best of Bread came out and sold an insane amount of copies, and the record label made the band members an offer they couldn't refuse. Bread came back for one last album in 1977, Lost Without Your Love, named after the Gates-written top 10 hit of course. There was touring too, but once again the bond proved fractious, and Gates having a hit with The Goodbye Girl on his own only made it easier for him to leave for good.

The band did solve their issues in the '90's and did a tour, but Griffen, Botts and Knechtel have all passed on now, and Gates is happy in retirement. For those who've only had a greatest hits all these years, there's lots more to discover on these six original albums, repackaged with replica album sleeves but no additions, making for a low-cost box set at around fifty bucks.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EMILY BURGESS - ARE WE IN LOVE?

Working with her pals in The Weber Brothers, former 24th Street Wailers lead guitarist Burgess steps into the spotlight solo for the first time.  She's always shown excellent skills as a player, and now unveils a whole bunch of talents, as a vocalist, songwriter and a multi-genre performer.  This one's a big winner.

Whereas the Wailers had a blues focus, Burgess has that a lot of other interests. All I Wanna Do Is Love You is a slash-and-burn rocker, garage punk with sizzle, all 1'59" of it.  Only One In Your Dreams is blues-boogie, but tough as nails. Arrested is a groovy little soul number with a nifty vocal arrangement and smart guitar break, lots going on in that one.  For the title track, she pulls off a smooth, jazzy ballad. 

Best of all, it's empowered and sexy too.  It's great to see Burgess flying solo.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KIM WILSON - BLUES AND BOOGIE VOL. 1

Wilson certainly has the blues pedigree, as a founder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and one of the most respected harp players and vocalists working. So when he decides to go back to the well for a set of deep Chicago blues, it's pretty much a given it's going to be done right. Wilson is calling this Vol. 1 with the intention of keeping on this path now, and it certainly seems a smart move. It's the classics, from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Elmore James and the like, plus a few of his own that fit right in.

The thing here is that it all sounds exactly right. Using a crew of veterans including pianist Barrelhouse Chuck and drummer Richard Innes, who both passed away after laying down their parts, the recordings have all the growl and grit that's meant to be there. Wilson's harmonica has the perfect amount of distortion, Chuck's piano is off in the distance slightly, like on those Chess recordings, and there are no rock or pop influences sneaking in. It's undiluted, and only people who have been studying this their entire lives could do this.

Almost all the choices are delightfully obscure, at least these days. Little Walter's instrumental Teenage Beat is a guitar and harp showcase, Wilson long ago learning that the key to a great harp solo is not how loud you blow, but how musical you make it. And while the old songs are played right, that doesn't mean the group copies note-for-note. They make John Lee Hooker's Same Old Blues very different from his in fact, with lots more parts, especially Jonny Viau's horn additions. Wilson has now become a classic, with a seasoned voice, gruff but musical, and his own cut Searched All Over sitting fine surrounded by the works of his heroes. He says he has lots in the can, and certainly these albums could keep coming a long time before they get old.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PATRICK BALLANTYNE - CALENDAR

There are going to be musicians out there cursing and swearing when they hear this latest from Ontario's Ballantyne. A longtime songcrafter who has worked with Big Sugar, Tim Chiasson and The Trews, for his latest, he set a goal of doing a song a month. And while most writers struggle to come up with a few ideas and sounds to come base an album around, Ballantyne came up with a dozen varied numbers, with different styles and wide-ranging lyrics, each one beating the next, in hooks or words or smarts.

There's also an interesting feel to the set, not as basic as demos, but not heavily produced either. Bass, drums, guitars, keys, it's all there but sounding homespun as well. It lets you hear that these could go in any number of directions in the pop/rock/roots field. Also, we're getting a glimpse at the solid foundation and strong frame of a good song, before all the shiny bits are added.

Those envious songwriters will no doubt scream in frustration at their idle keyboards when they hear lines like "even Jesus with a GPS/could only make an education guess," from Mirror Mirror. The dark, Rubber Soul-era sound on 25 Feet of Snow is a lesson in how to borrow and turn it into something new, and Canadian too. Stay In Heaven flat-out rocks, one of several here where Ballantyne plays all the instruments himself, right down to the pseudo-saxes, and it's immediately followed by My Excellent Boy, a tender tribute that comes from the Nillson/Sexsmith school of sentiment. Not a bad year's worth of work.

Monday, November 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE JAM - 1977

I know, there's a box set and a super deluxe edition for every bloody album these days, making us buy the same music we already own for three times the money. But I still love them, and they keep finding new ways to make them interesting. Here's a case in point. This box, with four CD's and a DVD, looks at one year in the life of The Jam, the pivotal one when the group's first two albums came out, and they burst onto the British scene. It includes newly remastered versions of those two albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World, a bunch of demos for their label preceding the first album, some appearances on the famed John Peel show, and a full live concert in their early glory. The DVD is made up of official videos, Top of the Pops and other TV broadcasts, and gloriously, an appearance on the short-lived Marc Bolan TV show, where the host introduces them as simply "Jam."

The Jam stood out from the punk bands of the day, and immediately became big hits in the U.K. They had lots of attitude, volume and spiky energy, but they were also nattily dressed, bringing back the whole Mod thing with their suits and ties, and they could really play well. The songs were strong, they acted professionally they were taking this very seriously. Right off the bat they sang about social issues and British society, Ray Davies lyrics, Who swagger, Clash punch and conscious.

There won't be anything new for fans on the regular albums, apart from the remastering and the inclusion of non-album singles All Around The World and Carnaby Street on In The City. The new stuff is on the other discs. Five of the demos have slipped out in other places, but this adds a further six and puts them all on one disc, most of the first album heard in raw form, along with live favourites So Sad About Us (The Who) and Slow Down (Larry Williams via The Beatles). The Peel Sessions have been around the block before, but the live concert is new, a great raw set that shows the band's powerhouse show of the day. Like the punks, they played fast and furious, and shoved out a bunch of short songs, numbers often clocking in under two minutes. Those favourite covers are here too, as well as popular soul numbers In The Midnight Hour and Sweet Soul Music, played pretty wild and crazy, a place to release a lot of energy for band and crowd, so maybe the message in the originals would sink home a little better.

Although there are five discs, you're not getting the full hour-plus that box sets usually deliver. The original two albums clock in at around the half-hour mark, and while they could have fit on one disc, I think it's right to stick to the integrity of the initial releases. The demos again whiz by, half an hour there as well. And on the DVD, 11 songs at that concert speed come in under the 30-minute mark. Only the Peel Sessions and live concert make it to the hour length. So really, this could have been three discs, but they more than make up for that with an expansive book, 148 pages that go through each month of the year with all the press reports taken from the British papers of the day, plus full historical and chart information, a really fun way to go through this box. There's also plenty of loving detail in the design elements, right down to the box interiors and disc jackets. It's not crazy pricey at $85 currently (Amazon pricing) and I think even the biggest fans will be impressed with the work that's gone into it, it all feels first-rate and indeed, deluxe.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SKYDIGGERS - WARMTH OF THE SUN

For the first time in almost a decade, the Skydiggers feel like a band again on record. In that time, it's been more the core of Maize/Finlayson, and then the addition of singer Jessy Bell Smith. It was just the three of them pictured on the last album, 2016's Here Without You - The Songs of Gene Clark. But if you've been to their more frequent live shows over the past couple of years, the touring musicians have felt like part of the team too, and now they are featured equally on this set of strong originals (and a couple of covers).
 
The full band is put to good use right off the bat, with ringing guitar chords announcing the title cut, a wistful rocker, the band putting lots of guts into a quite gorgeous melody. Beauty with punch is a good way to think of it. Push Comes To Shove could have been soft and sad and acoustic, but instead gets a rhythmic drive through the verses and a big chorus. This is the catchy roots feel that made early Skydiggers albums such as Restless so appealing.

There's still room for the quiet and bold interpersonal songs at which Andy Maize excels. The gentle acoustic baking of Don't Try To Explain is aided by light drums and tasteful guitar, plus the emotional edge Smith now adds to those songs, like the other side of the love song conversation.
 
Smith's role is now well-defined as second vocalist, adding another voice at important points to Maize's, handling the lead on the old timey Show Me The Night, not a regular backing singer, more of another instrument. On the mystical Time Of Season, she weaves back and forth with Maize, a different path on the same journey. And when Finlayson takes a rare lead on the country tune When You're On A Roll, she sweetens his rough edges.

The group has enjoyed doing cover tunes, and even full albums in the past, and once again they come up with a couple of great choices. They reclaim the '70's Hollies track The Air That I Breathe from the classic rock radio graveyard, certainly one of the underrated gems of that era. Singers as fantastic as Phil Everly, k.d. lang and Mick Hucknell have thought so too in the past, and the group's understated take is just as winning. The most poignant moment on the album is the quiet version of The Rock by The Tragically Hip, part of The Depression Suite on the band's We Are The Same album. Maize zeroes in on the intimacy of the lyric, the question "Are you going through something?" and reminds us all, as if we needed it, of the remarkable heart behind those words. The whole album shines with that kind of warmth.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN

The big news that greeted the release of this box set wasn't about the fantastic music from this Bowie period (1977 - 1982) but rather an audio problem on one of the discs from the set. And we're not talking a huge problem either. At the 2'50 mark of perhaps the most loved song in the whole box, Heroes, there's a slight drop in volume. You had to have pretty good ears to pick it out in the first place, although once you know it's there, you'll always hear it, I guess. It was apparently some problem with the master tape that they tried to fix, but audio fans hated the result, and entire digital forests were felled to hold the online complaints, emails, posts and even whole columns devoted to the issue. Henry Rollins even told people to refuse to buy the set! Parlophone finally caved, and announced a replacement disc was forthcoming.

There were other complaints as well, most of them about the new mastering done for the albums, but those were more a matter of taste, again for the folks that can hear at dog frequency levels. I think I need to point out that the complainers already own copies of the originals, so just keep both, folks. Compare and contrast to your heart's content. You probably have at least five other copies of Heroes to play, with your original album, your CD, the version on the box set you own, and on the Best of set, you might have the picture disc single, and now this. Chill out. Enjoy the music.

I sure did. If you haven't been following, before he died Bowie embarked on a reissue program that would see all his catalogue, at least the main years from 1969 into the '80's, come out again in large box sets, a few new remixes where needed, and the various b-sides, edits and one-off recordings gathered together as well in the sets. This is the third, and sets off in '77 with the Low album, the first of the so-called Berlin Trilogy albums, named for where they were recorded. For many, it was a hugely disappointed album, an experimental set that was largely instrumental and very cold, with the use of electronics and synth. Since it was coming off a period that had seen Bowie break through in North America with big chart hits, including Young Americans, Fame and Golden Years, fans were hoping for more. The U.K. was hip to the sounds, and the album became hugely influential to the New Wave and post-punk groups soon to follow, but I can recall seeing lots of copies of Low in cut-out bins in K-Mart for $1.99, which is where I got mine. It took a lot longer on this side of the ocean to appreciate Low, Heroes and Lodger, and it really wasn't until the breakthrough video of Ashes To Ashes from 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album that more people started to get back into Bowie. That led to the huge return with Let's Dance in 1983, but that's another story.

So there's four studio albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters) here, plus the live set that came out after Heroes, Stage. But the way these boxes work is that if they make any changes, they include both the old and new versions. So for Stage, there are two complete copies, the original, and a newly-compiled set that adds a further five songs, and rearranges the track listing into the way the live show originally happened. I've always loved Stage, with its ultra-clean sound, the gleaming keyboards, and the surprising mini-set of Ziggy Stardust songs, which were so powerful next to the dreamy robotics of the Low/Heroes era. You have to love the extra cuts too, especially the inclusion of The Jean Genie, with amazing, and I mean amazing solos from Adrian Belew and violin player Simon House.

The next bonus disc is a completely new mix of the album Lodger. Producer Tony Visconti explains that he and Bowie always hated the original mix, which was done on the fly because of time concerns, in an under-equipped studio. So while Bowie was working on his final album, Blackstar, Visconti used some extra time to remix the album, with Bowie's permission and approval. And even with my limited abilities, yes, I can hear a difference, I hear the instruments clearer and with extra depth, and a few parts that I've never noticed. It's the go-to version now. There's also a four-track E.P. included, that holds the foreign language versions of Heroes, in French and German, plus edits. If you have a need to hear Bowie sign in German, it's of interest. Once.

Finally, there's the latest of what are called the RE:CALL albums, which collect all the associated single tracks not featured on albums during this time. For the most part, these are single edits of well-known tracks, so a shorter Heroes (again with the Heroes), a slightly longer Beauty and the Beast, etc. This is not very interesting stuff, and it's often hard to spot the difference without a stopwatch. Better is the inclusion of b-sides, like Crystal Japan, which was also used as a beverage commercial in Japan. There's an edit of Under Pressure, which was technically a Queen song with Bowie guesting, so it's a nice inclusion. Most important and rare is the remake of Space Oddity he did as a single cut to go along with Ashes to Ashes, the Major Tom sequel, which is quite hard to find on any Bowie sets. Also there's the single of Alabama Song, a Brecht/Weill number he did in concert, and became a surprise British hit in 1980. You also get the five cuts from the oft-released and largely uninteresting Baal E.P., another Brecht production. Finally, if you don't have it on some Christmas collection, it's the famous TV duet with Bing Crosby on Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

My beefs are about the content, not the sound, and it's these RE:CALL sets. All those single edits, so minor and repetitive, should just be tossed in favour of the many bonus tracks that were released years ago on the first series of Bowie reissues, done by Rykodisc. These have been out of print for years, and are much more important and desired. They're probably saving them for some other great Bowie box to come, but still, it's miserly. Yet the pros far outweigh all these complaints. The boxes are beautiful, whether on vinyl or CD. The books are very well done, with notes this time from Visconti on his involvement, including lots of insider stories. The graphics are exceptional, with rare photos and memorabilia, and it feels like a museum catalogue. I think Lodger is a tremendous album that needs to be discovered by the great crowds that ignored it, and I actually believe it's the crown jewel here. It beats Scary Monsters, as it has better songs (Monsters dies off on side two), and while Lodger wasn't as influential as Low and Heroes, it is a better full listen with its wild characters, eccentric rocking, and Bowie's most dramatic vocals. The song D.J. is a roller coaster ride on its own. Plus, it now really does sound better, even for the majority of us who would rarely notice audio quality.

Friday, November 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BOB MARLEY and the WAILERS - LIVE! Deluxe Edition

The Marley catalogue has been reworked so often, all the great '70's albums are on their third configurations, with more bonus tracks added each time. This live album from London in 1975 was quite the document back in the day, the only way you could hear the magic the mighty Wailers band put out. hear the party that most of us couldn't attend. Since the '90's there have been several live '70's concerts released, so this has lost some of its prominence in the canon, simply because there are now 20 different places you can hear No Woman, No Cry. It's still a must though, the band and Bob locked in and hypnotic.

The first reissue of the album, back in 2001, added the b-side Kinky Reggae to the original seven tracks. Now, it's been exploded to two disc's worth, including the entire first and second shows that night in London. Surprisingly, for a bunch once must assume was on a perma-herb diet, they were an orderly machine, with each show following the same setlist, the second set 10 minutes longer, with an extra two songs. The original album was a mix of tracks from both sets, but now we get them in the original running order. I've been told so many times how amazing these shows were from the audience, a totally euphoric experience, and I've always been slightly disappointed when that doesn't translate to the released concerts. Well, I think I've finally heard what I was hoping with this release.

The first set is the more formal, as you would expect. That's not to say the performances aren't excellent, Bob and the band sounding joyous to bring Trenchtown Rock and Rebel Music to all the JA people now living in England. He's a star too, reclaiming the hits others have had with his songs Stir It Up and I Shot The Sheriff. But you can feel the second show's audience is ready for a bigger party, and the band responds. They are looser, the solos more free, and the energy greater. Lively Up Yourself drives the crowd wild, I Shot The Sheriff this time is intense, and despite attempts to go, the audience insists on bringing them back, to close on a lengthy Get Up Stand Up. My heart was beating a little faster, some 42 years after the fact. Yes, it's yet another reissue, but this time it's well worth the upgrade, at more than double the original's length.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MATT MAYS - ONCE UPON A HELL OF A TIME...

Now here's the way to rock some Matt Mays. This baby comes as a two-record set, on clear vinyl, spinning at 45 RPM for better sound. Not that it really matters all that much how it looks, but it feels better, like cruising the highway in a convertible instead of a Civic, you know?

Mays fights back against broken hearts, the internet age and the slow death of rock 'n' roll with a great explosion of guitar, a celebration of the old religious belief that this music can save souls. True love still matters, "bring on the heartache, your love is not for the faint of heart," he dares, like some Viking ready for battle. And the battlefield is his old stomping grounds, a thousand different bars that are all the same, where things can go bad, but great too, like in Howl At The Night: "Hey barman, get it right this time, pour some life into these jaws of mine." In the great rock 'n' roll tradition, he even has time for a self-mythologizing line, "This old coyote has seen too much, with the sha-la-la's and the such-and-such." And he's certainly not a winner all the time. "Stop falling for New York City girls," is the wise advise handed out, "It don't matter what you do, don't matter what you say, she'll never love you anyway."

It all comes to a glorious finale on side four, with a trio of tunes take the congregation to new height. He celebrates the Old Testament formats on 78s 33s and 45s, singing "When you find out she has somebody else, just take that record right off the shelf." Next comes that old rock on the car radio metaphor, with Station Out Of Range, and last, there's a Meatloaf-worthy finale in Never Say Never. I know this record was made a long time before we lost Tom Petty and Gord Downie, but it sure feels like Mays stepped up to fill the gap.

Note to N.B and N.S. music fans: Tickets go on sale Friday, Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. for a pair of concerts in Fredericton and Halifax. Mays will be at UNB's Currie Centre on Jan. 19, and at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on Jan. 20.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GORD DOWNIE - INTRODUCE YERSELF

Well, what to say? This was going to be a tough one no matter what, but I guess it helps to think of it as a last present. The temptation is to read way too much into the words, but certainly there are times that can't be helped. And Downie really did make this personal, with the songs often written as love letters to friends, family and unnamed folks that might be you and me. As usual for him, some are more literal and easy to understand, while others are virtually undecipherable without lots of listens and some major guesswork.


Some of it is just heartbreaking, not from anything related to his illness or mortality, but in those simple moments that define a life. In You Me And The B's, he sings about a conversation that has lasted four decades, that begins and ends with talk of his beloved Boston Bruins. It's noted that his brother plays percussion on the song, by joining him slapping a hockey stick on the ice. My First Girlfriend is pretty self-explanatory, without naming names (he never does that), describing that time in clear detail, like it was weeks ago.


Working again with Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene, who produced last year's Hip finale Man Machine Poem and Downie's Secret Path, these 23 songs are intimately recorded, mostly just the two of them, with few instruments, piano the most obvious. It's Downie's voice, telling the stories, that dominates, and it has the effect of a series of short stories. We follow along, learning about one important person after another. This isn't a Hip album, so don't expect volume and rock. On A Natural, we hear that classic Downie loud voice on the chorus, but it's one of the few times he lets loose.

These are memories, flashes of a life, the kinds of things that pop back into your thoughts absentmindedly, but one supposes, in sharp focus for Downie in the last few months. It's a gentle goodbye, to important people, including you the fan.

Monday, October 30, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KIM STOCKWOOD - SOMETIMES THE MOON

Known for her big personality and fun songwriting (Jerk, 12 Years Old), Stockwood has become a strong song interpreter in the last few years, at least on the rare occasions she steps forward with a new release. Her last one out, 2011's Back To The Water was a tribute to her Newfoundland home. This one started out as a selection of jazz-flavoured vocals, but a couple of other numbers popped up, making it simply a set of six enjoyable tunes, old and new, jazz, country and folk.

The big news here is a never-released song written by Ron Hynes, Sometimes The Moon. It dates back to the '90's, when Hynes and Stockwood met for the first time. He asked her to sing on a demo of it, and over the years their friendship grew, Stockwood describing him as a mentor. Her versions of his St. John's Waltz and Atlantic Blue from Back To The Water are among the best covers of his work. After his passing, Stockwood felt it appropriate to put that song on the collection, and even was able to use his guitar playing, from a recording of one of the many times the pair performed it live.

You can hear the the genesis of the standards project in other tracks, produced with pianist Bill King, who's worked with everyone from Janis Joplin to Linda Ronstadt to The Pointer Sisters, a stalwart of the Canadian jazz scene as well. His piano and her voice are the dominate instruments here, both digging into the emotion of these cuts. Stockwood's choices are surprising and charming, from a lesser-known Patsy Cline gem, Imagine That, to the Frank Sinatra oldie I'll Never Smile Again, written by Canadian Ruth Lowe, to the wartime heart-tugger We'll Meet Again. It's like walking into that perfect hotel bar fifty years ago, with the singer who feels your pain and lifts you up again. Not the Kim Stockwood you were expecting, then.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ALAN DOYLE - A WEEK AT THE WAREHOUSE




As the folks who have been coming out to his shows know, Alan Doyle has put together an awesome touring group, known as The Beautiful Band. On his latest, they are an equal part of the excitement, as the group pulled in on tour to Vancouver's Warehouse Studio, under the guidance of famed producer Bob Rock. To give full credit, the band is Kendel Carson on fiddle, Shehab Illyas on bass, Todd Lumley on keys, drummer Kris MacFarlane, and Cory Tetford on guitar.

The group's impressive energy is all over the insanely catchy Summer Summer Night, with Carson's fiddle leaping out of the chorus. Come Out With Me is a great opener, basically a song that says a good time will be had by all. The band can do it soft too, and Doyle's become quite a ballad singer, able to turn the party down for a love song like Fall.

The modern Newfoundland sound that Doyle helped popularize with Great Big Sea is still part of the show, with Bully Boys the big sea shanty here, with Lumley bringing the accordion out for the romp. Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West lends his Celtic talents on whistle to Forever Light Will Shine to give it that flare. But really, this is a great big mix of styles that Doyle and the Beautiful Band do, more about that energy and positive vibe, and Doyle's personality. This album really captures what the band's live show is all about.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IAN SHERWOOD - BRING THE LIGHT

Smooth-voiced, smart writing singer-songwriter Ian Sherwood has made his name over the course of five albums with his intimate material and personal live performances, able to draw you in and speak/sing directly to the listener. On his latest, the Nova Scotia artist adds some new layers to the music, quite literally, working with producer Daniel Ledwell (David Myles, Gabrielle Papillon). While the pair didn't go crazy, there's more going on for sure, from additional instruments to a wider sonic palette,

If anything, the treatment heightens the intimacy in the songs, with a little more drama to move the stories along, and a little more oomph, especially in the percussion. But still at their core, these are songs that hit you like a sucker punch time and again. "You show me the door, and I fall on my knees/because I don't want to leave," he sings, in the aftermath of another fight, a jarring and real description of that horrible feeling. Sometimes the lines are simply really good, the kind where you have to sit back and smile; "Don't waste your wishes and nickles on broken-down wells," he advises on Know The Darkness. Even with such quality emotional material, there's room for pop moments, and Ledwell's addition certainly helps rock up the cut I'm Not The Boy into a purely catchy number.

Sherwood's playing a few shows around the album launch, just back from Folk Music Ontario. He's doing a couple of house concerts in the Fredericton area Friday Oct. 27 and Saturday Oct. 28, at the Lansdowne Concert Series, and you can see about seats there by contacting Paul at pmm56@me.com or 506-457-0826.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SLEEPY DRIVER - SUGAR SKULL

Fredericton's Sleepy Driver doesn't play live nearly enough (day jobs) but thankfully does release albums every couple of years or so, when singer/writer unleashes his latest bunch of cuts. This time out, it's his catchiest batch yet, with a focus on feeling good, and rocking out. Given Hicks' more serious, and often striking dark numbers from past albums, this seems to have been a conscious decision, and one that works well. Despite the title, Sugar Skull has a great mood to it all the way through.

The other five band members get plenty of time to show off too, from the harder rock side of the title cut, with its guitar and electric piano leads, to the plentiful pedal steel on several tracks from Dave Palmer. Believe/Belong is the only darker number, only because it's meditative, but for the rest of the set fun, either country-rock or straight-ahead rockers, the best of which is Radio Dial, with lots of NYC punk brashness. The albums out now, but the launch shows won't happen until Nov. 24 and 25 at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre in Fredericton.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ANNE MURRAY - THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION

Haters are going to hate, but I have a lot of time for Murray, largely thanks to the recognition she gave to East Coast music, and the accomplishments she made for Canadian entertainers. Murray was a budding star in 1970, already known for success on the Halifax-made TV show Singalong Jubilee, when things got crazy. Her recording of fellow cast member Gene MacLellan's Snowbird became a huge worldwide hit, charting high on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. It was the first gold record for a Canadian female artist in the U.S., and, get this, in 1971 was named the most-played song on the radio -- in the world. Yeah, pretty good for Springhill, N.S.

Along with Murray was a team of colleagues from back home whom Murray dubbed "the Maritime Mafia." It included MacLellan, producer Brian Ahern, Singalong host/producer Bill Langstroth (they would soon marry), her manager Leonard Rambeau and tons of the musicians. Their footprints were all over the Canadian music scene for years, especially Ahern, who went on to produce Emmylou Harris's first ten albums, and for many more artists. So that's a legacy that goes back to Anne, and her hits.

So,respect. As for this set, it's actually been awhile since a major Murray compilation, and not one since her retirement. She was completely involved in compiling the set, and it shows, as it is a thoughtful set that shows her many sides, especially if you opt for the 2-cd version instead of the basic one disc, all-hits set. Disc one has the obvious, including You Needed Me, A Love Song, You Won't See Me, Danny's Song, 20 chart hits in all. Disc two goes deeper, including several early Canada-only favourites such as Sing High, Sing Low, Robbie's Song For Jesus, and Cotton Jenny. There's a tip to her friend Glen Campbell, who signed her to a huge contract to appear on his U.S. TV show, helping make her a household name in the U.S. They recorded a duets album, and here we get a medley of I Say A Little Prayer/By The Time I Get To Phoenix. There are some of her many duets, including those with Emmylou, Bryan Adams and Michael Buble. Canadian artists especially have always loved to pay tribute to Murray by guesting with her.

There are a couple of live tracks as well, and Murray uses the opportunity to right a long-standing career beef. She includes a concert version of Put Your Hand In The Hand, a song she was the first to record. But the hit version in 1971 was by the then-unknown Toronto group Ocean, and it actually charted even higher that Snowbird. Murray is still mad about it, since it was a song MacLellan had given to her to record, but it languished as an album track. Capitol Records in the U.S. wouldn't put it out as a single, saying it wasn't the right sound for her. Oops.

Anne Murray was not a rock star, and never tried to be. She was caught a bit out of time, an old-school performer/crooner who more in common with the great pop '50's singers. She was so good, her talent couldn't be denied, and her songs stormed the charts and filled arenas, despite being called uncool. But the numbers don't lie, especially the numbers of fans, and there isn't a musician in Canada that doesn't owe her a debt.

Monday, October 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LITTLE STEVEN - SOULFIRE

When this came out a few weeks back, I ignored it, thinking I'd been burned on Little Steven's solo stuff in the past and aside from the odd track, hadn't ever been inspired. That "Ain't gonna play Sun City," that rocked, but it's been awhile. But lots has changed for the Springsteen sideman in the past couple of decades, including his star turn as an actor (The Sopranos), and his long-running, much-appreciated satellite radio show featuring great garage rock. In the liner notes, he admits it had been too long since he got to be Little Steven, and this time, he came prepared with a bunch of absolute great tracks.


He's always been known as the soul of the E Street Band, and that's because at heart he's a '60's soul man, in love with horns, backing singers and big glorious radio singles. The cut I'm Coming Back says it all, with everything you'd ever hope from him. It sounds like a song that could have made The River or The Rising, one to punch your arm in the air and love forever. But there's lots more than the E Street sound. "I Saw The Light" is a blast of Top 40, with more great horns, and a Cherry, Cherry/Tommy James and the Shondells swagger.

It's not all new meat here; Van Zandt goes back to the '70's to pull out a couple of his best-ever tunes, that he originally gave to his comrades Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes when he produced their first albums. I Don't Want To Go Home was the title track of their debut, and Love On The Wrong Side Of Town was a rare co-write with Springsteen, here getting the big Steven production. He's even ready to have fun, giving us a classic bit of doo-wop on The City Weeps Tonight, and his voice sounds perhaps the best it ever has. The great thing about being proven wrong in your assumptions as a reviewer and listener is that you're left with an excellent disc in return.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WHEN PATSY CLINE WAS ... CRAZY (Blu-ray)

This is a Blu-ray edition of the American Masters program that aired on PBS in 2016, a look at Cline's too-brief life. What's amazing is how much she crammed into the time she was recording, from 1955 tohher death in 1963. The scope of the amazing music she made is enough to embarrass most artists, but as this documentary shows, it took amazing efforts from Cline all along the way to fight to the top.


There's so much to her story it took a herculean effort to cram it into the hour time the TV series allowed, so it's good there's another hour of bonus clips on the Blu-ray extras. The producers used a hodgepodge of material, old and new, to get at the true story, from archival footage, new interviews, and lots of old ones too. It's a odd batch of people who get to talk, but it works. There are stars such as Reba McIntyre and LeAnn Rimes, who know what Cline did for women country artists, but also more surprising ones such as Kacey Musgraves and Rhiannon Giddens. Somehow, Ricky Warwick of Thin Lizzy shows up too. Contemporaries Whispering Bill Anderson and Wanda Jackson are still about to talk about her, but they also use old clips from important voices such as her friend Dottie West and producer Owen Bradley. Cline's daughter is featured throughout, and so is her late husband Charlie Dick, luckily interviewed many times over the years. Willie Nelson wasn't available for a new interview, I guess, but they use a fine clip of him singing part of his composition Crazy. Along with all of those folks, there are a dozen historians, biographers, filmmakers and writers wading in with all the important points in her life.


Here's the skinny, and it's a roller coaster ride. She came from Depression-era poverty, loved to sing, hung around radio stations and clubs long enough to get noticed, and signed a very lousy record contract. By luck, she got the song Walkin' After Midnight, which landed her an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey show, and made it a huge hit. But that bad contract made it so she barely got any money from the hit, and then she was forced into recording a run of bad material because of that signature. She almost disappeared, and barely scratched out a living, but finally gained her freedom in 1960 and was able to get better songs. The very first one was I Fall To Pieces, and she had a second lease on life. Most of her hits happened in just over two years, and in the middle of that, she had a horrible car accident that left her on crutches and with scars on her forehead that she covered with wigs and scarves the rest of her career. She never got rich, toured constantly, stood up for her rights and those of lots of young women in the business, and became a legend for all those things, just as much as for her incredible voice.

Plus, she wore pants on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MAX WEBSTER - THE PARTY

Bigger than a cult band, Max Webster was more of a religion in the late '70's, and still is, especially for its many Ontario fans. Led by the over-the-top dresser and flashy guitar whiz Kim Mitchell, the group balanced off glam, prog, metal and were way ahead of the game on the synth sound too. Then there was the mysterious fifth member, Pye Dubois, the Bernie Taupin of the operation, supplying a remarkably wide range of lyrics, from political to eccentric.

This boxed set is a rare beast in Canadian music, but very welcome. It collects the entire album output of the band, all spruced up in brand-new remastered sound. It kicks butt over any other reissue of the group's work, and was lovingly done with Mitchell's involvement. Along with the five original studio albums, the much-loved Live Magnetic Air is added, as well as the long-out-of-print first Kim Mitchell solo work, a five-track EP from 1982. The final of the eight discs is a completely-new collection called The Bootleg, which features a grab-bag of previously unreleased cuts, from live recordings to five finished cuts, including the awesome Deep Dive, a version of which was first heard on Mitchell's solo album I Am A Wild Party. It's a bright move, sticking the fun new stuff on one disc, and leaving the originals just as they were, without bonus cuts changing that listening experience.

The thing about Webster is either you loved them or didn't bother with them, and hopefully a few more folks will pick up on them with this set. The band has a reputation as a guitar-heavy outfit, and sometimes they did get a little too cranked up. Plus, in those days, Mitchell's vocals weren't pushed to the front, which was too bad, since Dubois' lyrics were always a highlight, as was proved in Mitchell's '80's parade of solo hits. And even though Rush were big fans, appeared on one album, were label mates, and made Max their favourite opening act, it was a bit of a mixed blessing, as it solidified the group's rep as a harder rock band. But there is plenty to enjoy in closer listens, especially on the most-beloved High Class In Borrowed Shoes, with the quirky Diamonds Diamonds, and the protest of Oh War!, calling out the profiteers. Even a sensitive soul such as Ron Sexsmith has professed his fondness for that album.

One glaring negative is the absolutely crappy packaging on the CD box set, which comes in a flimsy outer box, and includes no booklet or notes other than those from the original album covers. It's probably to keep the cost down, but it's still going for $90, which ain't giving it away. The vinyl box on the other hand gets the nice book and poster, so you'll have to shell out twice as much for that. I'm not keen on the black-and-white cover either. But I'm thrilled that the work has been done on remastering, getting the bonus cuts, and doing a full set of the band's albums, and hopefully some other Canadian heritage bands will get similar sets.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KATHLEEN GOREY-MCSORLEY - MY MADNESS BROUGHT ME HERE

It's hard to change horses mid-stream, so it's wise New Brunswick's Kathleen Gorey-McSorley is doing it at a young age. An East Coast favourite while still in her early teens, she was following the traditional Celtic path as a fiddler, nominated for an ECMA in roots/traditional, touring festivals in the U.S, Europe and Ireland, and eventually going to school in the Emerald Island. But health issues led her to take a couple of years off to regroup and grow, and she's reemerged as a largely different performer.


She's still playing fiddle when it fits, but for the most part she's now working as a singer-songwriter, with piano and ukulele her other instruments, singing her own lyrics her focus. So while this isn't her debut, it's the debut of her roots-indie style. These go from upbeat uke songs such as Brianna, to some hard-won life lessons in thoughtful tracks such as Pamplona, having seen a lot and traveled a lot already in her young life. You can still hear a bit of her folk past in Drunk Words, just enough to set her apart from the rest of the pack brought up on Beyonce instead. In fact, she turned to veterans such as Toronto guitar whiz Kevin Breit and former Cockburn foil Fergus Marsh on bass to thicken up the songs, more with needed heft than any kind of alt-edge.


For those who do miss her fiddle, there's a bonus track, an extended take on Pamplona that sees her jamming, trading licks with Breit, and it's actually the most interesting move on the album. There's a groove that doesn't lose the contemporary feel the rest of the album has, and lets her put her fiddle back in this new setting, away from the Celtic. It may be a good way forward for her, finding more room for that instrument on which she still shines.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JULIAN FAUTH - THE WEAK AND THE WICKED

Blues and boogie-woogie piano man Fauth doesn't record nearly enough for those who love his unique style. This is the first for the Juno-winner since 2012's Everybody Ought To Teach A Stranger Right. It's his most straightforward and simple release, mostly played solo, and mostly classic blues and folks songs. These are the heroes and villains and sad cases we've all heard of our whole lives, but somehow Fauth makes their stories fresh. Casey Jones, Frankie and Johnny, John Henry, it's like we're getting the real story behind these legends.

Fauth has found some different versions of the lyrics (Frankie gets away with the murder in this one, for instance) but it's mostly Fauth's delivery and arrangements that bring the songs to new life. With his foot tapping like a metronome, his rolling piano is barrelhouse, Bourbon Street and front parlour all at once, always at a relaxed but somewhat fast tempo, given the songs a feeling of urgency. He adds a bit of organ on top of some sadder songs, some harmonica on some of the folk numbers such as John Henry, and some spare guitar, trumpet and percussion on others. Meanwhile, he's spinning the tales in a relaxed voice, as comfortable as a barber chatting to his Saturday morning customers.

Fauth has given us more original tunes on previous albums, and even though the theme here was classic folk heroes and anti-heroes, he did have three originals that fit the bill. And wouldn't you know, they slide in well right between the well-known ones, with only the language giving them away. Dan was about a Canadian soldier off to Afghanistan, and except for singing about Kandahar, it could have taken place in Gettysburg or Ypres. So Far Down is a true story of someone who saw the horrors of WW 2, forever troubled, close to Fauth later in life. The big surprise though, after hearing The House Carpenter and Betty & Dupree and the others, is his remake of a later student of the same classic material, Dylan, and his Blowin' In The Wind. Here, it has a gospel-flavoured ragtime stroll, easy-going, and totally unlike anyone else's cover. It's actually hopeful, suggesting if we pick up on what the wind is blowing our way, we may find a couple of good suggestions for what ails us. Like everything else here, Fauth fills an old favourite with a breathe of fresh air.

Monday, October 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WHITNEY ROSE - RULE 62

P.E.I.-born Rose continues to blossom as not just an excellent retro-country singer, but as a writer as well. Her last effort, the E.P. South Texas Suite, was a love letter to her new home in Austin, with the appropriate local swing, but this full-length is more of a '60's Nashville set, especially the great ballads that were being written at the time. I Don't Want Half (I Just Want Out) is the update of D.I.V.O.R.C.E., Rose's character happy to leave a big mistake behind. Trucker's Funeral is a classic weeper lyric, straight out of the gossip files of the Harper Valley P.T.A. Here, a loving daughter goes to the funeral of her dad who died young, only to discover her trucker father had a whole other family on the other side of the country. Does she walk away with hate? No, she's left with the notion he had a heart big enough for two families. I thought they couldn't write 'em like that any more.

Rose sometimes surprises me, as she doesn't let loose all that much, and seems to prefer the thoughtful ballads and heartbreakers. But when she does, as on Can't Stop Shakin', she has all the goods, and starts edging into rockabilly, along with some country-soul. Wisely, she doesn't lean too hard on her mentor and co-producer, The Mavericks' Raul Malo, who does do lots of backing vocals, but his distinctive pipes are kept in the back, with her in the spotlight. I like the way Rose has slowly but surely kept playing it cool.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE GALPINES - TRUCK

Rude, crude, lewd and loving it, Moncton's Galpines take everything one step further than you thought anyone would ever dare. This is the outrageous talk you laugh about, but would never say yourself, the kind that makes Trump's locker room look more like pre-school. And that's part of the point; make all those macho dicks do a double-take and hide before they get embarrassed.

As for the rest of the audience, they can simply have a whole lot of fun, if they don't mind a few (well, a lot) of F-bombs and S-bombs and P-bombs and C-bombs and even the occasional Q-bomb (if there is such a thing). The four Moncton women who make up the group were one of the hits at this past weekend's Music New Brunswick conference, winning Emerging Artist of the Year, this debut EP coming out last year.

Red neck culture is the target (not lower class, let's make the distinction), but rather those that can afford an expensive truck purely to "fuck shit up," as they sing on Truck. Drunk Tank is the big crowd favourite, the tale of one woman who goes out drinking, gets loaded and mean, beats up a guy, the cops come, she berates them and by 8 a.m. realizes that she's probably going to be late for work, since "I'm in the drunk tank." I'd call it a cautionary tale, but in truth, they'd do it all over again, and probably will.

There are five tracks on the EP, and the group is getting ready to record a full-length, with the songs already in the set list. That includes a true number aimed at a douche who threw a Tim's coffee cup out the car window at them, and the promise none of them will ever sleep with a litterbug. There's also a crowd-baiting tune about the world's number one problem, which is apparently the restrictive nature of pants, and how everyone should not have to wear them. The audience is instructed during this number to participate in the "pants-off dance-off" in front of the stage.

Intrigued? Not easily offended? The Galpines appear at Grimross Brewing Co. in Fredericton on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

MUSIC NEWS OF THE DAY: CAVEBOY HOOKS UP ON RIA MAE/SCOTT HELMAN TOUR

Montreal's Caveboy just jumped a level in the pecking order of up-and-coming Canadian bands. The trio was one of three acts selected as this year's Juno Master Class winners, by a jury featuring Lights, Kardinal Offishall, Max Kerman of Arkells and others. Essentially the group, along with co-winners Quake Matthews and Ivory Hours, have been judged Juno-ready.

It's an honour that has immediate results. The group has been added to some dates on the current Ria Mae/Scott Helman tour, a couple in Quebec, and two in the Maritimes, their first band trip to the East Coast. Lead singer, guitar and synth player Michelle Bensimon says the award is one that's taken seriously.

"Our name is being passed around now, and people are seeing it more and more," she said from Montreal, taking a break from rehearsals for the shows. "Hopefully that sparks something so when we try to make contacts in the near future, people will go, 'Oh I remember that name.' It's something that gets spread around in the Canadian music industry."

The group has just released its latest video and single, Raconteur, seen here, which features their unique mix of '80's synth, a bit of dance pop, and a definite dark edge as well. It's a combination that sets them apart.

"When I think about it, I wonder how did our brains come together and decide this was what we were going to do?," says Bensimon. "Because there was no real conversation of being like, 'Yeah, we want it to be super '80's or super dancey or super intense.' We just started writing together and this is what came out. It really is just a combination of the three of our brains."

Caveboy can trace its emergence back to an unlikely Genesis. "We were actually playing at my little sister's birthday party," says drummer Lana Cooney, of her first gig with bass/synth player Isabelle Banos. "When Isabelle and I got together to play music, it was for covers at first." That included anything from Metric to Pink Floyd.

The band formally came together when Bensimon, who had been living in Toronto, moved back to Montreal's West Island suburbs, where they all were from. "Michelle and I knew each other as kids, played soccer together, went to same elementary and high school," says Cooney. "Michelle moved back, jammed one time with us and never left."

While the recordings and videos have attracted attention, it's the live show they all feel is their biggest strength. "It's definitely a drug that we're addicted to," says Banos. "We come alive on stage. All of our energy goes into our live set, and making it as enjoyable and contagious for the audience, to just forget whatever's been going on that day and just be in the moment with us."

While the synths play a big role, the group is just as happy to switch to a guitar/bass/drums lineup, which lets them mine the dark '80's minor chord/punk rock element more. "Just all sorts of ways for our six hands to play these things," says Bensimon of the instrument switching.

Caveboy will be featured on the Helman/Mae dates starting in Montreal Saturday, Oct. 15, at L'Astral, then Monday at Salle Multi in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Boyce Farmer's Market in Fredericton, and then Friday, Oct. 21 at the Charlottetown Beer Garden.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GABRIELLE PAPILLON - KEEP THE FIRE

Nova Scotia's Papillon continues the work she's been doing with producer Daniel Ledwell, but there's been quite a dramatic shift in her music. Previously you could have called her a folk songwriter at heart, yet willing to embrace production and soundscapes. Now her songs are filled with pop, heartfelt intensity, and most dramatically, lots of strings.

Always a strong lyricist, she's proving herself an emotional heavyweight here, lots of turmoil to examine, "trouble around the corner." We don't get the details, but all the mood, and lots of inner strength in the aftermath. With such subject matter, the set tends towards the introspective, and we get beauty in spades, from her haunting vocals to the strings to the fabulous aural softness of the production. Rather than push the elements, everything is placed with great subtlety around Papillon's voice, and when the disc ends with No Paradise, we've been on a pretty fulfilling trip.

You can see Gabrielle Papillon Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Trailside Music Cafe in Mount Stewart, P.E.I., Saturday at the Roots and Soul Music Room in Fredericton, Sunday at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec, Monday at the Burdock Music Hall in Toronto, and on an on.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE NORTHERN PIKES - BIG BLUE SKY (SUPER SIZED)

In an unlikely spot, the bucolic Nova Scotia port town of Lunenburg, the quintessential Prairie band, Saskatchewan heroes The Northern Pikes, have been squirreled away for several days. They are in intense rehearsals for their national tour since the early 2000's. It's actually a convenient space, as the town is now the home of Pikes guitar player Bryan Potvin, and the first dates are on the east coast, beginning Thursday, Oct. 12 in Saint John N.B.

The band, which came to fame in the late '80's, has been active the past 15 years in a limited way, playing perhaps a dozen shows a year, usually festival, casino or corporate gigs, keeping the name alive while working on their own projects. But it wasn't enough, says Potvin. "I found it for years kind of unsatisfying. If we're lucky enough to do two shows in a row over a fly-in weekend, the second night is always dramatically better, we're more cohesive as a unit. I'm intensely curious to hear what we're going to sound like after show 25 on tour."

The other major factor in play is a pretty impressive anniversary. 2017 marks 30 years since the band's debut album, Big Blue Sky, was released, putting them on national radio and MuchMusic, going gold with the help of the hit singles Teenland and Things I Do For Money. Over a few months, a big plan came together. The Pikes put together a plan not just to tour, but also reissue the album in a glorious way.

Big Blue Sky - Super Sized (love that title) is a two-CD, or even better, 3-lp reissue out Friday. The vinyl edition features three different colour albums. The original release is on the first, the second features 10 brand-new to us demos from the period, in effect an entirely new album, and the third is a concert recording in 1986 at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern.

The demos had been carefully compiled and saved over the years by drummer Don Schmid. On his own, he has acted as the unofficial band curator, saving 30 years' worth of Pikes paraphernalia and those all-important recordings. As the one least involved in the songwriting, he always saw the value in what the others had forgotten or discarded.

"I guess I was probably the biggest cheerleader for those songs all these years, because just being an outsider in some ways, I could look at them differently than the other three guys, is probably the best way to put it," says Schmid. "I always felt strongly about hooks and what makes some songs memorable, it's a hidden ingredient, either it works or it doesn't."

The ten cuts are no mere throwaways, or even early versions of well-known cuts. These are gems, pretty much in finished form, that sound so good today it's a wonder they didn't come out then. The band had a backlog, thanks to working hard for two years before getting the first album out, plus a parcel of tunes from their previous Saskatoon bands, The Idols, Doris Daye and 17 Envelope. The stand-out Look Out Below is a Jay Semko tune from The Idols, that goes back to 1982. The ballad Stay With Me Now is Schmid pick for the single that never was, a track he still thinks could have been a hit.

The Horseshoe tape came from a different source. "We'd never heard that recording for all those years until just a few months ago, it was just silent all those years," says Schmid. It came back to the group thanks to recording engineer Doug McClement from Toronto, who recorded them 12 separate times for radio broadcasts and specials.

"He contacted Bryan roughly ten years ago, and said 'I've got these tapes kicking around, I'm trying to clean house, would you like them?' But Bryan didn't have any way to play them, they are on quarter inch master reel-to-reel, so he hung onto them all this time, and thought some day there will hopefully be a chance."

Once the tapes got fixed up, the band realized they had a vault filled with high-energy performances that shows the group's well-loved potency as a live act. "We've always been that kind of a group," says Schmid. "Our live show, the adrenaline in front of people, it's always way more aggressive, and usually the songs are played faster."

So, a tour, the new album, that's this fall, but then the question remained as to what to do after that. Once again, the vaults gave them the answer. It turns out those ten demos were just the tip of the iceberg, and they'll put out another anniversary set for each of their original albums over the next five years, plus take them on tour.

"We have a lot more, that's the interesting thing," says Schmid. "We tried to keep all these ten songs on the unreleased album around that era of Big Blue Sky, 1986 - 1987. Then in the next years to come, with Secrets of the Alibi next year, we're going to pick another ten, then Snow In June and Neptune. It's a five-year plan."

The Big Blue Sky 30 tour will see the group go coast-to-coast, performing the entire album, some of the demos, and lots of their other hits as well. Tour dates can be found on their website, thenorthernpikes.com/gigs/.

Monday, October 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MO KENNEY - THE DETAILS

When Nova Scotia's Mo Kenney first appeared on around seven years ago, she was a young singer-songwriter finding her way. Two albums of largely acoustic guitar pop showed her to be a writer of rich, thoughtful lyrics, with a sharp eye and an equally sharp wit. With producer Joel Plaskett alongside, you could feel her willing try it all out, and learn new tricks at every turn.

After the second album, In My Dreams, Kenney went from touring as an acoustic opening act to headlining clubs with her own band, returning to electric guitar where she started out as a kid. She wanted to get loud, and work some stuff out. This album, she's stated, deals with her depression, problems with alcohol (she's quit drinking since), and a break-up we hear about at the start. But if you're expecting something bleak, the opener is as disarming as could be; it's a brief, 35-second cut, as oddball as can be, called Cat's Not A Cake, where she imagines the cat having to be split in the separation, and the other person trying to take the bigger piece.

There are several smaller cuts like that on The Details, the title cut as short as 28 seconds, a couple more under two minutes, many of the songs between two and three minutes, and only two above that, 3:36 for the longest. It makes for a cohesive listen, a true album of songs, her co-producer Plaskett as always the master at using a device to glue together a group of songs. It also allows her to bounce all over the place musically, and keep surprising us with short bursts.

The biggest revelation is how great Kenney rocks. On The Roof is wildly catchy, with searing guitar, and her own brilliant harmonies. June 3rd is a more dreamy, with clouds of vocals, which let the guitar go into a psychedelic transistion to the next track, Maybe I Am. That one's an updated '60's number, with more tortured guitar and some of that old Halifax Pop Explosion magic. If You're Not Dead is gutsier, a piece of bravado with a punchy chorus, while Unglued is another gorgeous melody, where she enters Aimee Mann territory, a comparison loaded with praise.

The album might have been born from difficult times, but it sounds fresh and uplifting throughout. It does end on a positive note lyrically, with Feelin' Good, the end of that journey for Kenney, but it's the beginning of a whole new approach for her musically that is already exciting.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES

Call it the Working Van's Blues. This is a mostly covers album, featuring Morrison's favourite stuff, R'n'B from the '50's and '60's, with a little jazz and soul mixed in. There are five of his own cuts, but nothing that stands out. The real winners here come when he dives into classics such as Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me, Bo Diddly's Ride On Josephine and a fine medley of Stormy Monday and Lonely Avenue.

He has some help too, some heavyweight guests. While most people bring on a star for a single track, Morrison lets his pals work on a bunch of songs. British hit vocalist Chris Farlowe, who has been touring with Morrison, appears as a second lead singer on several cuts. Another old friend who has often taken that role, Georgie Fame, is back, singing and playing his famed organ. The real big news though is the appearance of Jeff Beck, who takes leads on five cuts. His playing helps spice up a somewhat routine Morrison outing, although Van singing this stuff is always worth a listen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - THE SINGLES

There's been an ongoing celebration and reissue series this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the recording debut of The Doors, including the pre-fame live album London Fog, a deluxe version of the self-titled Doors album, with another live show added, an upcoming deluxe version of the Strange Days set, and this double CD. It includes every a- and b-side from each 45 the group released, including the hard-to-find mono radio versions from back in the day. There are also three b-sides that weren't on any of the original albums, although they have been added to various collections and reissues in the CD era.

The Doors lived and died on their singles, surprising for a major act of the late '60's, but they really were a group with a big teenage following. The huge, #1 success of Light My Fire put them on the map, and for more than a year they kept pounding the charts with People Are Strange, Love Me Two Times, The Unknown Solider, Hello I Love You and Touch Me. But 1969 and 1970 were tough years for the group, as Jim Morrison's stage antics brought them legal problems and little radio support. It didn't help that songs such as Wishful Sinful, Tell All The People and You Make Me Real weren't actually very good choices as singles, and the future classic Roadhouse Blues was oddly relegated to a b-side. The band's fortunes were on the rise again in 1971 with the L.A. Woman album, and the hit single Love Her Madly. Riders On The Storm was also climbing the charts when the news of Morrison's death came from Paris, ensuring it would be a hit.

That's disc one, and there's still an hour to go. First, there are five singles from the post-Morrison doors, when the remaining trio tried to keep things going, to zero interest from the public. Those two albums (Other Voices, Full Circle) have never been considered anything but a mistake, and it was an awfully big legacy to live up to. Ray Manzarek certainly wasn't much of a singer, and at best you could say the group took on a kind of Band vibe, along with the blues edge they'd been developing at the end of the Morrison years. I listened dutifully, but can't say I feel the need to return. Then comes a return to better days, a live Roadhouse Blues that was lifted as a single from the An American Prayer posthumous set, the one with Morrison reading poetry over new instrumental bits by the group, released in 1978. A bit of that is heard as the included b-side, Morrison reading over Albinoni: Adagio. The 1983 live album Alive, She Cried, was better, and so is the single here, Gloria/Moonlight Drive, the latter with a particularly effective slide guitar solo from Robby Krieger. The disc is rounded off by four mono versions of original singles, none of them on CD before, including Hello, I Love You and Touch Me. These are pretty punchy mixes, and good to have.

As a collection, it's not the best way to get an overview of The Doors, as it misses some key album cuts, such as The End and Alabama Song, so the still-available Very Best Of, or the venerable Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine might be better choices for the newcomer. However, Doors fans will get a different perspective by following the trail of singles here, and pick up a handful of rarities as well.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE REPLACEMENTS - FOR SALE: LIVE AT MAXWELL'S 1986

Oh those Replacements. Just when things were looking good, they'd screw it up on purpose. That was certainly the order of the day in the group's overall career, and the basic operating procedure for live shows as well. I saw them a couple of times, in front of larger crowds than they normally played for, opening for big stars (Petty, Costello), and both times they did absolutely nothing to impress potential new fans. Instead, they did stuff to amuse themselves and the small coterie of die-hards who had wandered down to the front to egg them on, switching instruments, spotting songs part-way through, etc.

Those live shows have always been the stuff of great stories shared among fans, or traded on bootlegs, as there was no official live album ever released by the group. Finally, this show sees the light of day, recorded back in 1986 for a potential live album, but stuck away when plans changed. Each show was a miniature version of their career. Just when a song or set was getting too close to professional, they'd get bored or sloppy or just make a well-timed mistake to let things go off the rails. Because they knew, and fans knew, they could be really good if they wanted, and make incredible power pop songs. But they knew it was actually better, more rock and roll, to be imperfect. That happens right off the bat here, when the second song, Color Me Impressed, gets messed up when it threatens to be too catchy. Soon after, a really good version of The Sweet's Fox On The Run is brought to a quick halt just when they were killin' it.

It was, and is still, so strange, how we still love them. Some of course just like their drunken sloppiness, but I have always thought the main appeal for the small but mighty fan club was that they could hear how amazing these songs would be if done by expert musicians. If Paul Westerberg's voice didn't crack and strain on those gorgeous melodies, he'd sound like Pete Ham from Badfinger. In other hands, songs like the then-current Kiss Me On The Bus from the Tim album might have had a shot on the Top 40. And although they came out of punk, they were mad for hooks, heard here as they go through a covers string near the end of the show, doing T. Rex's Baby Strange, the bubblegum hit Hitchin' A Ride by Vanity Fare, and Nowhere Man by the Fabs.

Any live album we would get at this point would be most welcome, but this happens to document an important time for the group. It's at the end of the original lineup, shortly before Bob Stinson was ousted for being too unruly even for them, and at the time when they were still capable of the punk abandon of their earliest material, along with the relatively sophisticated later Westerberg songs. And even with all the rough edges, this is a great listen. Color me impressed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ORIGINAL BLUES BROTHERS BAND - THE LAST SHADE OF BLUE BEFORE BLACK

Original these days means the group is fronted by sax player Blue Lou Marini and guitar great Steve Cropper, both from the first incarnation of the band, as seen in the famous first film. While the rest of the current players may not be household names, as a recording act they have put together a first-rate set in much the same musical spirit. Plus, there are a bunch of guest players and singers featured that have ties as well, including Paul "The Shiv" Shaffer, the original band leader from his time at Saturday Night Live with Belushi and Ackroyd. The only reason he wasn't in the movie was that he had committed to working on Gilda Radner's stage show at the same time the filming was scheduled. Here, Shaffer does his famous James Brown impersonation on Sex Machine.

That's pretty much the vibe here, good times and plenty of guest solos. Tom Malone, another original does some trumpet work, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy adds a lengthy solo on another cut. Dr. John takes lead vocals on one of his oldies, Qualified, and Eddie Floyd does the same on a song he wrote with Cropper back in the Stax Records days, On A Saturday Night. Even without the guest power, there's plenty to enjoy from the group's own trio of vocalists, Bobby Harden, Tommy McDonnell and Rob Paparozzi, and with seasoned band vets including SNL regular Leon Pendarvis on organ, all the performances are grade A. In film terms, this album is a lot more like the first movie than the regrettable second.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LINDA RONSTADT - SIMPLE DREAMS 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Ronstadt's biggest album from the '70's gets a 40th reissue, although a little subdued compared to others. It's upgraded with just three bonus cuts, all live versions of big favourites, and a brief new liner note from producer Peter Asher. However, it's a good reminder of just how fantastic a vocalist she was at this point, with so much power and perfect tone. If you tried to put auto-tuning on her, the machine would just shrug and turn itself off.

Of course she got lots of flak for being too commercial, and smoothing the edge off the rock songs and writers she favoured. But place her Tumbling Dice beside the Stones, and while the guitars may not have the same grit, she matches or even passes Mick's vocals. She was Warren Zevon's best friend as well, giving him a much bigger audience, and here doing fine versions of Carmelita and Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

Her hit cover of Buddy Holly's It's So Easy was a radical remake, adding guts to the track, but maybe what bugs people is that cowbell. I'm starting to think Asher's more to blame for the overly-commercial moments. But certainly you can't fault her version of Blue Bayou, where she does successfully tackles the operatic Orbison hit. She knew how to pick 'em and deliver 'em.

Oh, and about those bonus cuts, they are actually great versions of It's So Easy, Blue Bayou and Poor Poor Pitiful Me. Her control live is just as impressive as on record, and led me to check on other live material. She's one of the very few stars of that era that didn't release a live album, which is crazy considering how well they sold then (Frampton, Eagles, Mac, etc.). That's what I'd like to see next.

Monday, October 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GRAND FUNK RAILROAD - TRUCK OF FUNK VOL. 1 & 2

For a great big '70's band, one with an armload of gold and platinum albums and two #1 hits, Grand Funk Railroad don't get much respect these days. Actually, they didn't get much respect when they were topping the charts and filling the halls either. Important critics of the day hated them, and they've never overcome that. They're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for instance, but I bet almost everybody knows "We're An American Band."

These stuffed boxed sets probably won't change that perception, but they'll please a particular era of hard rockin' fans when music first moved into hockey rinks. They are called Trunk of Funk Vol.1 and 2, and feature the first 12 of the group's albums, up to the time they were dying out. They include a batch of non-album cuts, unedited takes and live versions, beefing all the originals up to an hour or more in length. Funk fans will know there were two distinct eras for the group, the hard-driving, power trio heavy blues-rock start, and then the much cleaner, Top 40 era, when the band dropped the Railroad from the name, and added a keyboard player.

The earliest work hasn't dated all that well, with the group struggling to find their own voice in the Cream/Hendrix mode. What they add eventually was in the name all the time, a bit of funk and some basic boogie. They became big favourites live, and on the third album, Closer To Home, developed a rep for some heavy lyrics as well. An edited version of the title cut became their first radio hit, and fit in with the anti-Vietnam war movement. That mix of heaviness and party tunes took off with Live Album, which went double platinum in 1970. Two more albums followed in 1971, Survival and E Pluribus Funk, which featured the hit Footstompin' Music, which had the kids rockin'. All that hard work, six albums in three years, was paying off big-time.

The band decided to go for a bigger sound by adding keyboardist Craig Frost at that time, but more importantly, they found out their longtime manager Terry Knight was taking most of their money, so he was let go. A new direction was called for, and in came a top gun in producer Todd Rundgren, for We're An American Band. Another changed was drummer Don Brewer's increased role. He sang that hit, which used to be the sole job of guitarist Mark Farner, and also was allowed to write several of the cuts, alone or with Farner. It was almost a whole new group. Some purists prefer the louder, looser version of the band, but really they were making better albums now, and that was reflected in the charts. Shinin' On brought them another huge success, and featured their surprise hit cover of the oldie The Loco-motion. Then came Some Kind Of Wonderful, and the excellent but soft rocker Bad Time.

But the group was disintegrating, and they had lost their core hard rock audience. Pop fans are more fickle, and when the ho-hum Born To Die in 1976 did just that, without any hits, the group was ready to wrap it up. That's where the second box ends, although interestingly they did regroup later that year for the chance to make a final album with Frank Zappa producing, which isn't included here and wouldn't add much anyway. Various reunions and even a couple of new albums were done in the '80's, and a version without Farner and Frost has kept touring, but the confusing history of the band has kept them from being remembered with the greats.