Tuesday, July 18, 2017


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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017


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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017


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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017


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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017


It was certainly a good move at the start of her career for lang to model herself as the reincarnation of Patsy Cline, and embrace classic country and rockabilly with a wild and wacky persona. It got her noticed big-time in Canada and helped knock down doors into the U.S., but she was also pigeonholed as country when her career advanced. Her albums were starting to show that she was an exceptional vocalist, and different roads to explore.

Still, the transformation that occurred with Ingénue was a shock for all, as it was so complete. This was not just a genre switch, lang and co-writer/co-producer Ben Mink had come up with an entire new sound for her, with no easy comparisons or slots to place her. There were lush, soaring moments, intimate, calm periods, and she finally had a full album to stretch her vocal talents, with all the shades and nuances of which she was capable.

Perhaps the use of steel guitar, accordion and strings sounds a little more common 25 years later, but that's only because she helped knock down a bunch of doors for that esoteric mix with Ingénue. The sound was only part of the transition though, as lang also opened her heart in her lyrics, and penned a song cycle about an unrequited love. The confessions were not a secret, as she even addressed herself in the song The Mind Of Love: "I'm talking to myself again/It's causing great concern for my health/Where is your head Kathryn/Where is your head."

This anniversary set comes in a deluxe box similar to her Recollection best-of set, and includes a second, live disc. It features eight of the album tracks as performed on MTV Unplugged, which haven't been released before. Sadly, there are no bonus tracks or out-takes from the album sessions, but it would surprise if there were any, as it seems such a complete statement as is.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Marley's most loved album (after the Legend hits set) has been given the deluxe treatment before, so they had to come up with something new for this 40th edition. They did well; it's 3 CD's this time, disc two featuring a brand-new reworking of the album (more on that in a sec) and disc three a set of live cuts from his famous appearance at London's Rainbow Theatre over several days, when the album first came out. There have been Rainbow live releases before, but this includes previously unreleased versions, except for one song.

Back to that disc two: Son Ziggy has taken the original album tapes and done a full remix on the tracks, finding some unused elements such as backing vocals and guitar parts, and played around a little bit with the original concept. It's not a radical overhaul by any means, and he was respectful of his father's ideas. Mostly the cuts are punched up a bit in the drum and bass department, more in line with today's ears. Most interesting is the version of Turn Your Lights Down Low, where he and a band have re-recorded the entire track, save the vocals, again with respect to the original but giving it a fresher sound. Waiting In Vain features an alternate version of the song from the session tapes rather than the original, again helping make this version sound fresh. Honestly, I would have been happy for him to go crazy at times, do some radical remixing, since we have the original on disc one.

The best thing about the remixing is that Ziggy played with the running order, and there he's done a much better job than Bob. The album includes some of his most-loved tracks: Jamming, Three Little Birds, One Love/People Get Ready and the title cut, but none of those appear until cut 5 of 10, which made the first side drag I always felt. On Ziggy's version, Exodus kicks things off, and we get the militant message right away, that people were on the move and weren't going to take being downtrodden anymore.

The live concert tracks show that this album was made to be played for crowds, the solid, hypnotic rhythms taking over, and you can feel the entire crowd pulsing. This album was his great act of defiance, after the failed attempt on his life back in Jamaica. The message wasn't to those who fired the shots, but rather the politicians who allowed the atmosphere to exist, and it pushed Marley to create some of his most politically charged songs, but also some of his best love songs and party anthems as well, in the burst of creativity around this album.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Instead of the usual deluxe set reissue of a single album, this instead focuses on a year in the career of The Beach Boys, specifically 1967. The title comes from a line in the song Let The Wind Blow, off the group's highly underrated album Wild Honey, a huge underachiever for a band that had hit the top of charts just months before with Good Vibrations, and had until that point been considered America's number one group. But the scrapping of the much-hyped album Smile, and the group's pulling out of the Monterey Pop Festival in June dropped them out of the rapidly changing rock 'n' roll scene, and saw their cool factor fall to near zero. Janis and Jimi, The Doors and The Buffalo Springfield got all the attention, and the new Rolling Stone magazine snubbed them.

The group had indeed pulled back from the ambitious project that was Smile (think Good Vibrations as a full album), and instead decide to make simpler records again, dumping all the different studios and A-level session players, and instead working out of Brian Wilson's home. It was in fact a bold move, and did result in some spectacular music, which has slowly been recognized in the 50 years since.

Wild Honey move into r'n'b sounds, on the surface odd for the California spokesband, but actually long a favourite of the group, who were raised on '50's hits of that genre. Of course The Beach Boys didn't quite do it the same, with their layered harmonies, but there's no denying the drive of the near-hit Darlin', and the raw sweetness of the Wild Honey track itself. Also featured was a strong cover of the new Stevie Wonder single I Was Made To Love Her that perhaps bested the original.

The entirety of this two-CD set, jammed at almost 80 minutes each, could be called brand-new. The Wild Honey album is presented for the first time in true stereo, a delight for the long-time fans. But that's just the beginning. Session out-takes and alternates from the whole album are featured, including songs tried out and scrapped (Hide Go Seek, Honey Get Home), ones that were held for later albums (Time To Get Alone, Cool Cool Water), and others that would appear in the '90's when the vaults started to give up their treasures (Can't Wait Too Long). But again, all these versions have never been released.

Then the live material begins, with some of the Wild Honey tracks that appeared in the setlists of the day briefly, but were dropped when the album flopped. Cuts such as Country Air and How She Boogalooed It were never heard on the stage after '67, while Barbara Ann lived on.

Disc two offers looks at the other two album projects of the year. Earlier in '67 the group had answered the demand for Smile with the very-thinned out Smiley Smile, which was pretty much some of the tracks re-recorded quickly in the home studio. Oddly, it worked wonderfully, a testament to the quality of the material. Here we get some alternate versions with interesting differences, and backing tracks, maybe the least interesting part of this set, but still worthwhile as it shows the fabulous arrangements of Brian Wilson.

The other album was scrapped, and wisely. Having missed Monterey and word going around the band wasn't functioning well, it was determined they should do their own splashy concert, and they picked Hawaii as the site. With the provisional and risque title of Lei'd In Hawaii, the group lined up a show to record, which would also feature leader Brian Wilson's rare return to the live group, itself a newsworthy event. The trouble was, Brian decided he wanted to play his Baldwin organ, not his usual bass guitar. For some reason, they decided since Brian was coming, they wouldn't bring Bruce Johnston, his bass stand-in, so it was left to Al Jardine and Carl Wilson to cover the bass role, taking the band down to one guitar. Under-prepared on the new cuts, and with a thin sound on the old ones, the shows were not up to scratch. A few songs are salvaged here, including the one-time only performance of an opening instrumental called Hawthorne Boulevard, and a song that was almost impossible to enjoy, the recent single Gettin' Hungry, you can hear why the set wasn't issued.

However, the group didn't give up that easily. Instead, they decided to go into the studio back in L.A. and fake the whole concert again, pumping up the tracks with better recordings, and then they would add fake crowd noise. It was a dubious but common practice in the '60's. That whole album is here, without the phony applause, which never got done. It's better, kind of like hearing The Beach Boys unplugged or something, but again, the right decision was made to leave that album alone.

It's quite a batch of work for one year, and shows the highs and the lows that can happen, especially when a lot is at stake and everybody is trying very hard. Certainly Wild Honey deserves a better legacy, as does all the late 60's material from the band. As a reissue format, I love the way this has been collected, offering real value-for-money and giving us context on a tumultuous year, listening historically as well as for enjoyment.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Here's a new, young folk group out of Halifax with a different sound and feel. The Barrowdowns is a five-piece with lots of vocals and lots of instruments, more of a modern folk sound with bass and drums throughout. The emphasis is on the vocal arrangements and lyrics, with all five sinigng at times, and the violin of Kendra Breen, sometimes joined by Dave Fultz as well. I certainly wouldn't call it a fiddle, and this isn't the Celtic or hoedown stuff. Many of the parts are intricate and even classically-inspired, working in and around the vocals and harmonies, on the top of the acoustic guitar-bass-drums rhythm, and alongside the banjo parts.

The stories aren't old-fashioned folk either. Instead, it's more Mumfords territory, modern problems like trying to earn a living wage, and a love vs. lust study called You, Me, the Earth and Infinity. Meanwhile, A Snowball In Hell is a dark ghost story done at full clip, more jazz than folk. At times, the group vocals remind me of that old America quality from the pop charts. That's a lot of stuff that isn't folk on a folk disc, but it all works, and The Barrowdowns should be an exciting band on the festival rounds this year.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Cape Breton's Bridge has been tinkering on his opus for a couple of years, releasing it in pieces and versions, but now here it is complete, 16 tracks that take us through 24 hours in the life of our hero, Marvin Penn. Marvin's day is spent in a sanitarium, but it's also populated by colourful characters such as Mr. Waterpump and and Phyllis the Parking Meter Lady. It's all in the psychedelic spirit of Sgt. Pepper and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Some of the tracks came out on previous releases, like his self-titled 2015 album, and he's found a fan at BBC Radio 2, which has recognized the British/eccentric qualities.

While the quirky lyrics are loads of fun, what makes the release so much more than just charming are the wonderful performances. The Mind's Eye goes from Klezmer violin verses to prog-metal choruses, which had me reaching for the Uriah Heep albums to see if it was a cover version. Much like the beloved Pepper, whatever the songs call for, from raunchy rock to old-time singalongs, get summoned. Bridge is a musical polymath, dropping in a banjo whenever needed, every type of guitar effect with a killer solo to go with it, to silly little organ moments. That's silly, as in delightful. Don't let Marvin worry you, even with the straightjacket; as we find out, he's a lunatic, but a very friendly one. Spend a day with him, you'll have all kinds of adventures.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The former frontman for Peterborough's Express and Company leaves behind the more folk oriented sound of that band to get grittier on his first solo album. This one's personal, as Ireland tackles harder life themes, choosing guitar roots-rock as the vehicle. The more intense the topic, the more energy and sound is thrown on the fire.

The songs are full of admissions, about relationships, struggles and life in general, but surprisingly uplifting in their honesty and openness. "I don't know just what I'm doing, I get lost in the light almost every other night," he tells us, and there's something powerful about him getting that out there, we feel he can beat that particular demon. The whole tone of the record is defiant; with each song, each bit of heartache or confusion, the band, the melodies, and the gut-punch of the uplifting performance answer back, letting us know it can be alright, and Ireland is working things out.


This Irish band came on the scene back in 2013, when they were still in their mid-teens, and are still in the 19-21 bracket. At first it looked like they were going to revive blues and r'n'b, with Bo Diddley and Yardbirds high on the influence list, as well as the British pub rock toughness of the mid-70's. But here on their third album, there's been a shift in their sound, and much like those pub rockers of the past, they've morphed into more of a new wave group. I mean the real, first new wave sound out of England, that of Rockpile, Nick Lowe, Squeeze and such.

That means more pop in the proceedings, plus some pretty supple work on the lyrics. Opener Behind Closed Doors hits us with the inspired couplets right away: "The clothes you wore to work today/are speckled with sick and Beaujolais." Meanwhile, (I Need A Break From) Holidays is one of those nightmare family vacations with the annoying uncle. It's filled with that Farfisa organ sound that Jools Holland used in Squeeze, as well as the same kind of jagged guitar solo Glenn Tilbrook would rip out. It's all very much that Top of the Pops sound of immediate post-punk pop, lots of energy but just as much melody, infectious as all get out. Since this is my favourite era of music of all time, big A-pluses from me.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Here's a slimmed-down version of the 2010 boxed set release, still with four CD's and a great book, just packaged in a small case, available at a cheaper price, thanks. This band has always been more famous for its story than its music, but they did cook, especially on these live shows caught over a week in England. As the extensive notes explain, the influence they had on rock and roll's future can't be overstated, serving as an incubator for the sound and stars that would go on to dominate much of '70's rock.

Here's the backstory quickly: Delaney and Bonnie were a rising L.A. act, and Delaney had gathered a lot of the area's hotshot players into his ad hoc backing band. They were the first white act signed to Stax Records, thanks to this incredible southern r'n'b sound they had developed, but that album failed to sell. Next they made a record that quickly got passed around to the right people, called The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. George Harrison tried (unsuccessfully) to grab them for Apple Records, and played the disc for pal Eric Clapton, who loved them so much he had them open a U.S. tour for his current band, Blind Faith. Tired of being the star, and just wanting to play in a band, Clapton decided to join forces with the Friends as they were known, one of the large collective overseen by the Bramletts.

With Delaney producing, Clapton shipped the whole collective to England to live at his house and start work on his first solo album, and then go on tour. Billed as the stars, but "with" Clapton as part of the band, the act was on the cusp of breaking through. It's easy to hear why everyone was excited. Delaney and Bonnie were thrilling singers, plus they had Rita Coolidge keeping the Southern gospel vibe going. The rhythm section was tight and perfect, with bass player Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, and organ player Bobby Whitlock. In addition to Clapton on lead and Delaney on rhythm, Traffic's Dave Mason had decided to join in, doing some singing as well. It was also the first big exposure of the legendary horn duo of Bobby Keys and Jim Price. After seeing them play at the Royal Albert Hall, George Harrison couldn't stand not being more involved, so he joined them on the bus, and hid in the back on stage, playing slide guitar out of the spotlight.

The original album had eight cuts, recorded by the cream of the crop, the brothers Andy and Glyn Johns. This wide-ranging, hugely talented group had captured lightning in a bottle for sure, and was pumping out huge grooves with unbelievably tight arrangements. The intricate Coming Home, a song written by the Bramletts and Clapton, features intricate, fiery guitar led by Clapton with Harrison's slide licks, and dynamite horns, plus Delaney's impassioned vocals. Only two things could happen with this mix; it could skyrocket and become the biggest band of the day, or it could implode. It was the latter of course, too many personalities and too much booze and drugs.

The album was easily the biggest of Delaney and Bonnie's career, but when they finished the tour and got back to the States, the emphasis was placed on finishing Clapton's album. They did perhaps too good a job there; Delaney cajoled and convinced the unambitious star to finally sing for a full record, and it was an instant success, mostly with songs co-written by the team, as well as After Midnight, which Bonnie brought to Clapton. Meanwhile, offers too good to pass up came for the other musicians. The rhythm section and Coolidge were scooped up for Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen outfit, while the horn players were whisked off to The Rolling Stones. Clapton then took Radle, Whitlock and Gordon for his next group, Derek & the Dominoes. The Bramletts were Friend-less, and subsequent studio albums failed to catch on.

Each CD here features basically a full concert from four different shows, so there is some repetition of cuts, but which everything so dynamic and fluid, you won't mind. It's interesting to hear the band develop over the week, confidence growing, and energy as well, with the realization that they could excite the British crowds. By the time they closed out the final night in Croydon with a medley of Little Richard hits, they had all the power of James Brown or Ike and Tina, but with a rock element as well. The only similar sound I can think of is Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band live encores, and I'm left wondering if he modeled his famous Detroit Medley after the one here (they share Jenny Jenny), as well as Mitch Ryder's version.

Both Bramletts were famously a handful, and probably did themselves no favours with the suits and lawyers controlling things, so we're left wondering what might have been. This expanded set only helps that mystery along, with more recorded proof of what a great live act this band was for that brief, shining time.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Here's a classic Canadian thing. In this Canada 150 celebration, I've seen several list of the best or most iconic Canadian songs of all time, and most of them include Snowbird up pretty high. Yet when we're asked to name the great Canadian songwriters, lots forget to put its author, Gene MacLellan, on that list. Despite having not one, but two of the biggest Canadian hits of the last century (along with the gospel/pop favourite Put Your Hand in the Hand), MacLellan's name has faded over the years, first when he focused on gospel music, and then after his death in 1995.

Let's hope this work from his Juno Award-winning daughter will help focus new attention on him, and it should. For the first decade of her own career, Catherine MacLellan stayed away from her father's work for the most part, in order to establish herself by her own terms. Since that has been well accomplished, she decided it was time to find out more about the father she lost in her teens. In addition to this album, she has written a new theatrical production by the same name, which features the stories and songs of Gene MacLellan, and she and her band will be putting on that show all summer in Charlottetown, then taking it on the road across the country.

Here she covers 13 of her father's songs, all the best-known ones and some a little more obscure but equally worthy. If anything, these songs are now better, for age and production styles. The 70's versions we know, whether by MacLellan or via the many cover versions (especially Anne Murray), had a brightness to them, and were aimed at the charts, so had lots of polish. Here, Catherine MacLellan gets to strip them back. Working in the home studio of her partner Chris Gauthier, with the gold single for Snowbird on the wall, the songs have become roots numbers, with the rural, natural world vibe they were written with initially. It's less than an hour's drive from that studio to Pownal, P.E.I., where Snowbird, The Call, Bidin' My Time and others were first composed. That quietness, that feeling of nature, and the solitary pursuit of putting one's thoughts and emotions into a song have been captured on the new collection.

"There are places on Earth where the poets give birth to the songs of the river, and where it should flow," goes the title cut, and perhaps that's as good a way as any to describe this sound. It's not simply acoustic, because there are lots of ringing electric guitar lines, strong rhythms for the drums, bits of country flavour, and even a little rock and roll. All the great melodies of the songs are still there, but they have been lifted up out of one time, and placed in a more timeless context now.

The one song that is recrafted, smartly so, is the one we know by heart, Snowbird. MacLellan does it solo, at a Wurlitzer piano, infusing it with the sadness the lyrics always suggested: "The one I love forever is untrue, and if I could you know that I would fly away with you." She also sings the lesser-known second verse, left out of the hit version by Murray, and it should have every listener feeling like they're hearing the song with new ears. The other big hit, Put Your Hand in the Hand, almost didn't make the album. It wasn't recorded back at the P.E.I. sessions, and it was only by luck it was captured. On tour in Alberta with fellow Maritimers Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier, the trio were looking for an encore number one night, when that song was suggested. It went down so well, the next day they recorded it simply and quickly, that laid-back version the perfect antidote to too many bad church singalongs for this old Baptist.

More songs leap out; the neglected single from 1972, Lonesome River, the deft country writing of Face In The Mirror, a classic barroom number, and the haunting Faces, his reaction to the unwanted parts of fame MacLellan found himself dealing with after his initial rush of fame and riches. Especially poignant is his daughter's version of The Shilo Song, a 1976 song still brings adults to tears; I had two people separately tell me that since last Friday, one by Catherine's version, one regarding Gene's original. Gene MacLellan was a complete craftsman as a songwriter, working guitar lines and lyrics over and over until he felt they were ready. The songs themselves have always been strong and remarkable, and now they have the sound and performance they deserve as well. Let's hope a whole new audience will discover them through this milestone collection.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


I'm still bugged at the way Cheap Trick treated drummer Bun E. Carlos, refusing to let him record or tour (although he maintains 25 per cent interest in the band business, where the real money is). What set the band apart were the unique personalities of Carlos and guitarist Rick Nielsen, and it doesn't feel right without him. We're talking about a band that's had to travel on its image for much of its career, with a relative few classic songs and great albums to show for four decades, so willfully dumping the cool-looking drummer lessons my interest for sure. Really, we watch this band for fun, mostly.

They can at times come through with some decent songs, and this is one of their better sets, certainly a few cuts above last year's Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello, which was rushed out to capitalize on their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and tour. It was filled with inane, high school band lyrics, and seemed to be purposely dumbed down, like they were trying to appeal to high school kids again. Please take no offence high school kids, I'm generalizing to make a point. This time though, some of the old humourous spark is back, with titles including Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo, and while they won't trouble the legacy of Leonard Cohen, at least it's not all mindless.

The music side seems sharper as well, with some Stooges-like raw power to some of the American glam they pioneered back in the day. Not quite enough on the pop side of things though, the band seems to want to veer towards metal or Kiss more than the catchy material, and I think they do themselves a disservice. See for instance the deluxe version of the album, which adds three cuts, all in that power pop vein, including an ace cover of The Move's Blackberry Way. Cheap Trick is a band that a lot of people pull for, but they seem to be their own worst enemy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Earle's walked a lot of paths over his four-decade career, even adding some N.Y.C. street beats a few albums ago, but he's always been an outlaw too. This set sees him focused back in that direction, with the album dedicated to Waylon Jennings and several of the cuts in direct homage. That means his hard-working, longstanding touring group The Dukes was just perfect for the studio work this time, ready with fiddle, pedal steel, mandolin and lots of down and dirty guitar. Earle himself even sounds gruffer than usual, ear-pleasing vocals definitely not the priority here.

Willie's on hand for the title cut, to add his blessing to the proceedings, and he's sounding pretty growly too, advising all the wannabes that would like to emulate him that you "can't trust anybody not a lover or a friend/Your mama maybe, then, you never know." As he explains in the liner notes, part of the reason for the album is because of all the funerals he's been going to of late, peers and heroes from his salad days starting out in Nashville, in a late-night songwriter scene where Waylon was king. But as always, Earle doesn't sit long in sentiment, and offers up some hard truths, cautionary tales, touching ballads and even a number (Fixin' To Die) that's hard-core outlaw bordering on, well, hard core. But his heart is still on display too, with the finale Goodbye Michelangelo his tribute to his own late guru, Guy Clark. Oh, if you can't tell by now, fans of early Earle (Copperhead Road, etc.) will find this fits in well.

Monday, June 26, 2017


Poet and playwrite as well, Vancouver's DeCroo knows lots about creating vivid characters with complex stories, and getting them out in dramatic fashion. On his latest album, those songs burn with added intensity thanks to tightly wound but very catchy melodies. He and producer Lorrie Matheson have turned these into compelling tales no matter the darkness inside.

Inner demons are featured throughout, some more desperate than others, but all the characters and narrators have something tormenting them. When he sings "I'm thinking of you" in Like Jacob When He Felt The Angel's Touch, that's not a good thing, it's more like "a cold-blooded assassin with names on a list." Even the closest thing to a love song, In The Backrooms of the Romance, with it's chipper backing vocals and happy organ is negative, the bookstore where they met not there anymore, and there are hardly any bookstores anymore.

The track When It's Everything explains there's something deep down that's the root cause for all this unease, "The darkness in the corner of your eyes." DeCroo isn't trafficking in bad things people have inside them, he's trying to name them and expose them, for the better. The haunting and memorable tunes make us want to see that too.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Hugh Dillon has a fine career going on in acting, even a brief moment in the new Twin Peaks series, so he doesn't need to be doing the Headstones revival. That's probably why it's working so good, especially in the songwriting department. After doing some shows in 2011, the reunion has seen the full album Love + Fury in 2013, the enjoyable set of acoustic versions of their hits, One in the Chamber Music, in 2014, and now lots more shows and this new full-length. Dillon, along with originals Trent Carr and Tim White are clearly enjoying the second life.

And what's not to love back? They still sound like the toughest band on the block, backed with street smarts. Opener Devil's On Fire is all aggression, and more follows, with the occasional break for something moody and dark, such as Done The Math. Gruff and intense, Dillon can handle the full punk of Don't Think At All, the easy-going melody in The View Here, and the power pop of Kingston. Intense guitar from Carr and Rickferd Van Dyk comes up on virtually every track as well. I think I like 'em better now than I did in their '90's heyday. Is that allowed?

Friday, June 23, 2017


Prince had already signed a big deal to start reissuing his back catalog before he died, so this isn't posthumous vault raiding. He had effectively guarded this material for years, both the original albums and the copious piles of unreleased material, so fans have been waiting with great anticipation to hear what would happen with his greatest album.

There's no scrimping on the bonus tracks. On the deluxe version, there's a full second disc with 11 previously-unreleased cuts, clocking in at over 70 minutes thanks to a couple of 10-plus minute jams. These aren't extended mixes or demos either, these are pretty much complete cuts which remained under lock. A couple of them surfaced in versions by other artists, including The Dance Electric by Andre Cymone, and We Can Fuck became We Can Funk for George Clinton. The rest came from the vibrant lab Prince was running, some cuts done completely be himself, others featuring his new band called The Revolution. Since he was producing others at the time, it's possible some of the cuts were meant for artists such as Apollonia. A couple more were recorded after the Purple Rain sessions, so weren't for that, but the remaining ones were for possible inclusion before the final selections were made.

Listening again to the genius album that turned Prince into a superstar, it's a fun game to figure out if any of these extra tracks could have improved the original album. I think not, as each one has its merits, and there is certainly nothing from the discarded batch that comes close to the excitement of Let's Go Crazy, When Doves Cry or I Would Die 4 U. A couple are the kind of funk numbers he could turn out in his sleep, such as Love And Sex. I like the poppier numbers Velvet Kitty Cat and Katrina's Paper Dolls, probably not of enough substance for serious album consideration, but good examples of Prince's new interest then for crafting pop numbers, which would flower on songs such as Raspberry Beret and Manic Monday in the next couple of years. Prince made all the right moves choosing the final cuts for Purple Rain, but this is a very strong set of material to hear right after.

Those with deep pockets and a Prince fixation can also shell out for a 3-CD, plus DVD version of the reissue, although everything on that has been available before. The third CD collects the edited singles and non-LP b-sides from the album, including the holiday b-side, Another Lonely Christmas. The DVD features a long-unavailable live concert, a 19-cut Prince and the Revolution show from March 30, 1985 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


There's no more tortured or abused instrument than the harmonica. To paraphrase Steve Earle, I'll stand on a table in my cowboy boots and loudly proclaim that Bob Dylan ruined the instrument with his bleating through his early career, as everyone thought he was good at all the other stuff, he must know what he's doing with that, too. And over in the blues genre, countless more hopped around stage, sucking and blowing. They also attempted to play harmonica.

That's why it's such a pleasure to hear an actual master such as Bélanger, who knows how to make it a melodic treat rather than a percussion instrument at best. This Quebec veteran has decided to make his latest album almost entirely instrumental, a brave choice perhaps, but certainly a winning one. And if you think that means pumped-up electric blues, it's the opposite. These are for the most part moody pieces that highlight the haunting beauty you can get from the harp. There are folk numbers, some jazzy tunes, Louisiana influences, and of course blues, but for the most part, the songs allow Bélanger to do lots of subtle work. There's room for other instruments that compliment the harmonica too, such as pedal steel, and on Les Mauvaises Herbes, piano. One of the vocals features guest Luce Dufault, who turns Who's Left Standing into a Mavis Staples-like triumph. Bélanger is smart to play it cool with the harp.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It's hard to remember what The Doors were like before Jim Morrison was turned into a caricature, a drunken, raving, tortured dead poet. But that's how persuasive the biographies, and of course Oliver Stone's movie have been. The image is everything, the music there to back up the stories.

There was a time though when The Doors were the powerful equivalent of, say, Nick Cave, only with really big hit songs. Fifty years ago the L.A. group was leading the charge to make rock and roll not only dangerous again, but with university-level thinking as well. It was a heady mix of blues, radicalism, and English lit. Sure, Morrison was a rebel and self-destructive, but he and his pals had a great idea too, and it was at its best on their self-titled debut.

There's still a touch of pop music here, with I Looked At The Night holding onto a bit of British Invasion, and Light My Fire a resounding hit. But imagine the kid who bought this album based on the latter tune, a number one hit, and getting blasted with Break On Through as cut one. And by the time the album finished, with Morrison yelling about wanting to kill his father and suggesting something worse for mom, the teenyboppers had grown up a whole lot. It was a tricky intensity to keep up, and Morrison would cross into self-parody several times in future albums, but at this point, it was the scary alternative to the Summer Of Love. The Beatles were pretty happy doing Sgt. Pepper, the Stones had no concept of hippydom, failing with Their Satanic Majesty's Request, all the San Francisco bands were stoned, and Dylan was hiding in the basement with The Band. The Doors owned a lot more of 1967 than they are remembered for these days.

You have a couple of options for this 50th anniversary. There's a box with three CD's, the first a remastered stereo version of the album, the second mono, and the third an eight-song live set from early '67, plus there's a vinyl copy of the album, and a big old book for $70. You can buy the vinyl, always nice, or get the remastered stereo CD, which does sound very solid, big drums and that famous organ cutting through all the time. What impressed me most though was realizing how strong their first disc remains.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


This is billed as the final album by Campbell, pieced together from a batch of final sessions for which he mustered the strength about five years back, before his dementia took over. From the liner notes, we find that each vocal was hard work for the singer, but that he did want to be in the studio. The sessions were run by his longtime friend and former banjo player, Carl Jackson, who had to do the lion's work of putting together the bits and pieces, but obviously with affection and a desire to make it a strong collection, songs that he knew Campbell loved.

Although guitar playing was past his powers by this point, Campbell sings as great as ever, which alone makes this a worthwhile effort. At its heart are four songs by long-time collaborator Jimmy Webb, each one sounding as if it was written to be sung by Campbell. Truly, it was always, and remains a thing of magic, pairing his voice when Webb's great ballads of male romantic pain. Each of the four here deserves to be heard alongside the earlier hits, with the same touches of sadness as By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Galveston.

There are several other good choices, taken from songs Campbell often performed live, including the old Nillson hit Everybody's Talkin', which always sounded like a Glen song anyway. Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright was a parlour trick Campbell would do on guitar, and while Jackson had to handle those licks for this, the singer still sounds like he's having fun making Bob country. There are some that don't quite click, including Funny How Time Slips Away, writer and guest Willie Nelson sounding tacked on (as he was), and She Thinks I Still Care is serviceable, but it's still George Jones' song. But there's nothing maudlin, and the Webb cuts make this a valuable collection. For added enticement, there's a second disc of Campbell's greatest, in case you don't have Wichita Lineman nearby.

Monday, June 19, 2017

MUSIC NEWS: P.E.I. house concert venue The Dunk hosting special Canada 150 concerts this summer

The Dunk, on P.E.I.'s Dixon Road

I don't know how I was convinced to drive over three hours on my weekend just to wash windows, but I guess that's how much I love house concerts. The occasion was an all-points bulletin put out by Friends of The Dunk, the board of directors of the rural P.E.I. house concert venue known as the Dunk. They needed lots of helping hands to get the place sparkling for a special series of shows this summer, part of the national Canada 150 celebrations. And when your place is a cabin in the woods, cobwebs and dirty windows are par for the course.

The Dunk (named after the Dunk River, going through the backyard) started hosting house concerts in 2005, built by music fan Hal Mills on the Dixon Road near Breadalbane, P.E.I. It started out as something for fun, but soon became almost a weekly event, and pretty famous too. Upwards of 2,000 people have attending some of the longer, weekend soirees.
Hal Mills hosting a Dunk event

When Mills died unexpectedly two years ago, his daughter Melanie made the decision to move in and keep the Dunk going, holding house concerts about once a month. The Dunk was already well-known and well-loved by national touring musicians, its reputation has only grown of late. In the last couple of months, it has hosted concerts by Great Lake Swimmers, Roxanne Potvin and Megan Bonnell. The hospitality and the rural serenity is legendary. The Swimmers stayed around for a couple of days, to hang out and do their laundry.

The reason for the big clean-up is something called Ebb and Flow, an artist residency series happening at the Dunk this summer and into the fall. It will see musicians from across the country stay for up to a week at a time, using the tranquil setting to write new music, and then perform a concert at the end of their time. The concerts are free to the public, thanks to a grant from Canada 150.

"One of our board members suggested we apply for a Canada 150 project," said Melanie Mills. When they got approved for the project they put the word out across the country via a press release and social media, not really knowing how much interest there would be. It turned out to be an avalanche, with "dozens and dozens" of applications, thanks to the Dunk's national reputation with musicians.

"A lot of people, a surprising amount of people who had stayed and played here before, in the cabin and in the house," said Mills. That included everyone from young up-and-comers to Juno winners.

Bob cleans up well

"Because we got so many amazing applications, it was incredibly difficult to choose," said Mills. "So that's how we wound up having two artists at a time, we weren't going to do that. Ideally they will collaborate with each other, and hopefully be inspired by the beauty of the Dunk, the surrounding area, to create new music, or to perhaps further develop that they've had already."

The musicians chosen for the week long residencies are Lindy Vopnfjörð, Ahi, Aaron Goldstein, Ambre McLean, Paul Reddick and Tanya Davis. July will see a full-blown carnival, Le Carnavale de Promenade, presented in collaboration with la Fédération culturelle de l’ÎPÉ. It's called a fusion of dance, music and circus arts from the various cultural communities that make up Canada.

There's also going to be a special, one-off concert held on Wednesday, June 21 to kick things off, to celebrate both the summer solstice, and National Aboriginal Day. It will feature Hey Cuzzins Drum Group, Dana Sipos, Owen Steel and Tian Wigmore with Warhorses.

"I'm Mohawk, my mom's side of the family, and it's important to me to honour that aspect of it, and it felt like a perfect time to get things started, and the focus will be Indigenous performers," said Mills. "The Dunk has always been about inclusiveness and community and acceptance and encouragement."

A big part of the residency is having the musicians pick up some of the local colour of the Dixon Road, a well-known artist's enclave. One week will see the musicians visit local organic farms, another residency will look back at what we can learn from history and our elders, another will be about looking forward, all with the idea of having those aspects of the Island inform the songwriting.

"This community is an anomaly," said Mills. "It has one of the largest collections of people who identify as artists in the country. We have visual artists, potters, weavers, Juno Award-winning musicians, all in the area."

It's certainly a sweet deal for the visiting artists, who have their travel paid, and get cabin accommodations, an honorarium and all the glories of a P.E.I. summer to work on their art. It's a great deal for anyone visiting P.E.I. this summer too, with those free concerts. Sign up to the Ebb & Flow Facebook page for updates and concert information: https://www.facebook.com/TheDunkEbbAndFlow/

Sunday, June 18, 2017


MacLean left music work for a full nine years to raise her three kids on Salt Spring Island in B.C. But when her grandmother back in P.E.I. became ill two years ago, she started missing the Island, and music too. So she came up with a plan to get herself back in, and back home. This album is a companion piece to a show she has developed, playing all summer in Charlottetown. It features the work of several of MacLean's favourite East Coast songwriters, a celebration of their talents, and an introduction for some of her fans who might not be familiar with the depth of talent in the region.

The show will feature MacLean and her band singing these numbers, plus telling the stories of the creators, with spoken word and film elements. Local fans are going to know many of the songs of course; there's Gene MacLellan's Snowbird, Rita MacNeil's Flying On Your Own and Ron Hynes gets two cuts, the title one and Sonny's Dream. Others are less familiar, including Stompin' Tom's Coal Boat Song, Stan Rogers' Turnaround, and Fear by Sarah McLachlan. The album is aimed a little more at the many tourists who flock to the Island, plus those who can't, introducing them to these top tunesmiths. Plus, there is a big wide audience of basic East Coast fans who will enjoy MacLean's interpretations, particularly her always warm voice.

For those who have heard most of these songs more than a few times, there's new life in all of them. Snowbird features a duet with fellow Islander Lennie Gallant (also featured here with the songs La Tempête), a more mellow version than Anne Murray's chipper hit. Coal Boat Song now sounds like a Little Feat number, and Flying On Your Own has beautiful fiddle parts from Richard Wood, and harmonies from MacLean's lifelong friend Catherine MacLellan. Produced on the Island by Chris Gauthier, the album has the sound and authenticity of Atlantic roots music all the way through.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


It's been ten years since the last album of new songs by Davies, with most of the news being that oft-rumoured but never-fulfilled Kinks reunion. The good news is there is some solid Kinks-like music on this new set, Davies showing he's still quite capable of pulling off a guitar rock anthem, with that familiar London charm undiminished since the '60's.

Anyone familiar with the Kinks mainman knows he's not about to just throw out a few fun cuts and call it an album. He's the king of the concept piece, and has been doing them since The Kings Are The Village Green Preservation Society in 1968. He spent much of the '70's putting out these high-concept albums such as Schoolboys in Disgrace and Preservation Acts 1 and 2, with stories that were pretty hard to follow. This one is much easier. It's about his lifelong fascination with America, and what it has, and still represents to him. One must remember growing up in postwar Britain, the U.S. seemed unbelievably rich and huge and full of heroes, the images these kids still living with rationing would pick up in the '50's. Then Davies became enchanted by the rock and roll coming over, and soon he became part of the British Invasion, bringing it back. The '70's and '80's saw The Kinks become big stars in the hockey rinks, and by the '90's, Davies was spending more and more time, eventually moving to the States. Then he got shot, so he's had the full American experience.

There's a loosely connected story here, and a lot easier to take in than many of his previous albums. Davies' writing is more straight-forward these days than, say, on the Muswell Hillbillies album, where he transposed the idea of rural America white trash into suburban London, for some reason. There's a lot of actual autobiography here. We get his childhood dream of wanting to move to the wild West on the title cut (his "baby brother" even gets a mention). The Invaders refers to that old title they got in '64: "They called us the Invaders, as though we came from another world/And a man from immigration shouted out 'Hey punk, are you a boy or a girl?'" There are a couple of brief spoken word segments, including a cool story about sitting with Alex Chilton, talking about how the old songs never age. As far as concepts go, there really isn't a huge point to end on or take away, but it's not really hugely confusing either, which is a relief.

The good thing is that songs are quite strong throughout, not overburdened by the storytelling. Davies did something really interesting, hiring an actual Americana band to work with him on the whole set, and a great one, The Jayhawks. They bring an authenticity, especially on the acoustic guitar rockers such as Poetry, which sounds like the old Kinks number Starstruck with a twist of twang. Keyboard player Karen Grotberg even gets to take lead vocals on a couple of cuts.

This isn't a brilliant album, but it's a good one, one that grows better with successive plays, as favourites start to sink in. There's a lull in the middle. starting with Message From The Road, a duet with Grotberg that sounds like a Disney ballad with clunky lines about partying on the road with the boys. Davies' usual music hall-style gets a different twist on A Place In Your Heart, now more saloon-styled with The Jayhawks involved, and not really inspired. But things get back on track soon enough, with two of the best rockers, The Great Highway and Wings Of Fantasy helping end things with energy. This one certainly grows on you, and is very welcome return.

Friday, June 16, 2017


I suppose it's fitting the notorious Berry didn't live to see his victory lap, dying weeks before this album was issued, his first of new material in over three decades. While he no doubt felt he deserved the praise, he wasn't one to accept it graciously. And we are talking about the only person who ever unnerved Keith Richards.

It's been interesting to watch the subdued reaction to his death, surely not celebrated nearly as much as other trailblazers, even though he is more influential than perhaps anyone else. He was rock and roll's first poet, and the inventor of half the guitar licks and tricks still being used today. But he was also a creep and a criminal, his treatment of women particularly awful. However, that and worse has been forgiven or hushed up by a long list of white artists with deep pockets, who have been allowed to pass away with their accolades intact. I'll watch closely when Jagger and Richards leave this mortal coil, and see if they get treated with the "boys will be boys" lines.

As for this last album, this took around a decade to make, but so much the better for it. Berry came up with several original songs that didn't just capture the spirit of his famous '50's and '60's hits, they actually stand up with them. The cut Big Boys features all the hallmarks of a Berry classic. There's a well-relayed story about a kid who wants to hang around with the big kids, join the party, and of course at the end we realize he's talking about joining a rock 'n' roll band. It starts off with one of his classic riffs, and keeps the guitar up all the way. Wonderful Woman is in the same vein as Little Queenie, with those extended lines that always end up in a great rhyme: "You was rocking me baby with your rhythm in the second row/Just thinking about it breaks my heart I had to let you go."

On the surface, it might seem like a bad idea to update Johnny B. Goode, but surprisingly Lady B. Goode works out okay. They story is fine, about the woman our hero left behind when he went off to find fame, but he doesn't quite live up to his obligations once he finds out there's a Johnny Jr. At least he put her in the movie about his life. Less successful is the remake of the old Havana Moon cut from the '50's, now Jamaica Moon, with a painful patois. What was okay back in the day can be cringe-worthy now.

Another big accomplishment here is the sound of the album. Berry is listed as producer, and I'm sure the engineers helped lots, and what they came up with was a mix of the old-style, guitar-and-vocals up front sound of old, but a much cleaner version of all those old Chess sides. It's like 60 years passed, and nothing changed except the technology. Aside from a couple of awkward moments, this is quite a triumph.

Friday, June 9, 2017


How delightful is this? Of all things, a relaxed, happy, almost-Fleetwood Mac album in the vein of Tango In The Night. It's filled with bright, bouncy tracks, first a Lindsey one, then a Christine. That classic rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood provides their tight, soft backing as well. All that's missing is, well you know who.

That's the real story here of course, as this was supposed to be the big comeback album for the group, after Christine McVie rejoined for the 2014 On With The Show tour. Heck, that's even one of the tracks here. But while everybody else started working on the album, Stevie Nicks backed out, focusing on her own career as well. So once again, the world's most dysfunctional band proves they still can't really get along, despite their best efforts.

It was eventually decided to get on with it, but instead of calling it a Mac album and having to explain why no Stevie (oddly, she continues to tour with them), they took this different route to highlight the songwriting and singing efforts of Buckingham//McVie. This time, there's none of Buckingham's studio shenanigans, as he tempers the wacky and provides tight, glossy and gorgeous pop numbers such as Love Is Here To Stay. It's a hypnotic thing floating along on a cushion of lovely voices from the two of them, and his jangly acoustic guitar. He can do this stuff in his sleep, but so what, it's great music-making, and I'm always glad when he doesn't sabotage his pop with sharp left turns.

The big news though is the return of Christine McVie to songwriting after her long hiatus. She sounds great, like she hasn't missed a beat, and first single Feel About You is a welcome return to those classic numbers that radiate with warmth. The first few songs (side one for your vinylists) are the best, and her Too Far Gone sounds like some generic 70's number, but as always, Buckingham makes every number sound great at least. They'll probably lose out on about two million copies in sales by not calling it Fleetwood Mac, but it was probably worth it instead of going through the soap opera and added Nicks to the mix.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: U2 - THE JOSHUA TREE 30th Anniversary Edition super deluxe box

Everybody that knows me knows I love a great big ol' box set. I dig into those suckers with gusto, have a ball spotting all the slight differences in out-takes, revel in the previously unreleased cuts, enjoy a period live concert, and of course, enjoy reading along in a sumptuous, well-researched, lengthy book. I'm willing to advice you consumer/fans to part with large amounts of money when the value is there, and usually, the people that make them come through with the goods.

Having said that, I'm disappointed that a major band such as U2 has offered up a lot of smoke and mirrors with this Super Deluxe box to celebrate their biggest album, The Joshua Tree, on its 30th. Maybe their heart wasn't in it. These things are all the rage now, obviously profit-generating for labels, and it was probably loudly suggested it would be a good move for all. But they picked a very bad time to put it out, a week after the Sgt. Pepper set, and by comparison, there's a whole lot to love and study with that, and not much new here at all.

What we get is four CD's, yes, but three of them will be familiar to fans. Disc one is the album proper, fair enough. Disc two is a very excellent live show at Madison Square Garden back in the day, the album fresh and exciting for fans, and the band at a performing peak. But CD 3, where they have put the remixes from the album, is just six cuts long, a little over 30 minutes. Yes, there are new and significant versions here, but nothing monumental. For those hoping for excitement in the b-sides and out-takes of Disc 4, guess what? It's the same disc, almost identical to the bonus featured in the 20th anniversary issue of the album back in 2007. Hmm. So is the album mix. Hey, so is the only historical note, from Bill Flanagan, a one-page thing, 10 years old.

So what the hell is filling up this very heavy box, bigger than the Beatles' one? Photos, two sets of them. You might recall the band has a long relationship with the artists Anton Corbijn, and it was their trip to the California desert that gave the album its name. So is that the bulky book? Nope, there's some prints of his in a nice envelope, eight of them, roughly album-cover size. The real space-filler here, and costly item is a hardbound book of shots by that world-famous photographer, umm, The Edge. For your $140, half the size of this thing is a coffee table-sized collection called The Joshua Tree: Photographs by The Edge, featuring his black-and-white shots of the desert, the mountains, and his bandmates looking cool.

Hey, here's another thing. That live show is only 75 minutes, and I checked the setlist from Sept. 28, 1987, and it's been edited down by four songs to fit on one CD. Why not include those on that 30-minute one? And was there really nothing left to say about this album for new liner notes? Those Beatle people certainly found lots of interesting stuff to put in their 144-page book.

U2 are doing what their fans want this year, they are touring The Joshua Tree album, playing the whole thing at their shows. It might be a bit of a comedown for them, but that's the business these days. If they are spending all that energy life each night, you'd think they could have made sure their fans got a bunch more in that expensive box set they are offering as well.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Here's one of those albums where you reach for the credits to see who wrote this or that classic, only to discover they are all brand new. Harley is the songwriter, and a slide guitar wiz. Then you check to see what tiny southern hamlet he's from, where he no doubt soaked up classic roots and blues inspiration from original masters. That's when you find out he's actually from Cardiff, Wales. Harley's been building his North American fan base over the past few years, first with his self-named Trio, and now in this duo setting with acoustic double bassist Kimbro. Add drummer Derek Mixon, and that's pretty much the whole record, except for a killer dobro part by the undisputed king, Jerry Douglas, on the cut Feet Don't Fail Me.

You have two choices here for your listening pleasure: You can go all the way through checking out Harley masterful slide playing or his acoustic guitar work, the interplay with Kimbro and the drums and occasional piano, and relax in his smooth, plaintive vocals. Or, you can pay closer attention to the choice songwriting in a variety of roots styles. Dancing On The Rocks is a moody acoustic piece with room for some lengthy instrumental parts, Harley dazzling on several lead breaks in lower notes. Trouble has its roots in New Orleans jazz, his slide doing the cornet breaks, Kimbro pumping through with a tuba-like bass line, and then taking a solo on bowed bass. Postcard From Hamburg is a sad reflection from the road, with Harley spends most of his time. This was a new pair for me, and I'm very pleased to get to know them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Saskatchewan's Straker is on the road so much, he's become more of a child of Canada, which partially explains why his latest was made with different producers in studios all over the country. Such individual talents as Daniel Ledwell and Royal Wood had their hands in, from Halifax to Toronto to Winnipeg To Regina. But there's no lack of cohesion to the album, which speaks to the strength of vision here.

Straker's that rare performer these days, a singer-songwriter behind a piano. Before you can say Billy Joel, there's lots of full band material here, the keys more responsible for all the rich melodies rather than always dominating. Having said that, Thousand Miles Away is a gorgeous piano ballad, so yeah, he can do that when he wants as well.

Some of the songs, including that one, speak about the constant travel, missing those at home, but finding solace in the best views and the new friends. Beauty In The Grey is directly about the musician's life as a solo performer, "Another view of the country from here behind the wheel." But as the tour through the album progresses, things get rocking, with the lighthearted Boom Boom ("You're like Ringo Starr just tapping on my chest"), and the early '60s of Sweet Sweet Nothings. With his warm voice, Straker does get in an Elton John-styled number, called Queen of Broken Souls, and it's a grand one, one of those women-in-pain numbers that Bernie Taupin used to write in the '70's. There's even a yellow brick road in it. As a piano man, Straker can do lots, and do that too.

Monday, June 5, 2017


If you're one of these people who hum and haw about how foolish these reissues are, filled with early takes and slightly different mixes, just do me a favour and listen to the tracking session for She's Leaving Home here. No Beatles, no vocals, just the string section playing their part. It's beautiful, incredible really. Or listen to the first Pepper-era work, the single Strawberry Fields Forever, and hear how this relatively simple song became complex over the course of a weekend, Lennon lowering the key, starting with the chorus instead of the verse, and added the famous mellotron opening. It was, in the words of George Martin, the birth of the psychedelic music era.

Yes, we've celebrated this album a million times. I'm old enough to remember both its release, and the first big anniversary in '87, when everybody was pointing out "It was 20 years ago today." Bits and pieces of session material has come out, but this is the real windfall, with Apple finally cluing into the fact that we want to hear these archaeological takes. Frigs sake folks, it's probably the most popular album of all time, we know every sound inside and out, so its a blast hearing the variations and how the band and Martin did their magic, one brilliant idea at a time.

Here are your options. There's a two-disc set at 28 bucks that gives you the main album with the brand-new Giles Martin remix on one, and the entire album plus the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single in different takes on disc two. You can do that on double vinyl for forty bucks, minus the Strawberry/Penny cuts. You can get a single disc with just the new mix, that's $21 right now. Or, you can shell out about $200 (tax in) to get four CD's, a blu-ray and a DVD, and hear things like Paul, John and George trying to work out harmonies and handclaps in the studio to Penny Lane. It's actually pretty riveting, if you like The Beatles.

There's a lot more in the Super Deluxe box. In addition to the two CDs of alternate material, the fourth disc is the fan-favourite original mono mix of the album, arguably the version you need the most, as that's where the most time was spent in the first place, as stereo still hadn't made it to most teenager's bedrooms. The blu-ray/DVD (they have the same content) includes a very good TV documentary done on the album on its 25th anniversary, featuring McCartney, Starr and Harrison, plus George Martin in the studio with the original tapes, doing that great thing where they pull down some of the tracks to reveal single parts you may not have noticed before. It's Ringo on maracas! You also get some promo videos (nothing new) and the brand-new Giles Martin mix for 5.1 and hi-res stereo.

All these different mixes will have you spinning, but the younger Martin has done a great job of highlighting some moments that offer a slightly different experience. It's not necessarily better, but it is a bit clearer I'd say, and its fun to hear Ringo's drums boom out of the speakers now on With A Little Help From My Friends, or hear Lennon's somewhat basic guitar as part of the magic final mix of Strawberry Fields Forever. Oh, and you know the end of Good Morning, Good Morning, with all those crazy animal noises? Well when the cat shrieked, my beloved companion Mr. Peaches snapped out of his respite here on the couch beside me, startling us both.

Then there's this crazy big, hard-cover 144-page beast of a book that I tried reading in bed the other night, and which smacked me hard on the nose when I drifted off. It hurt. It's that big. I can't tell you if these are going to come down in price or not over the next few months, maybe at Christmas I suppose, but look, they really have done it up right, and I think you'd have to be a curmudgeon to complain too much, there's a ton of new stuff here, and it's Sgt. Bleeding Pepper, it's amazing there's anything new. And I am a notorious curmudgeon, just ask Mr. Peaches. But I truly think the box is worth your $200 if you can swing it. Perhaps sell your own, inferior pet, suggests Mr. Peaches.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Stompa was certainly a game-changer for Ryder. She'd already been a favourite, with Junos and solid reviews, but after the success of that single, and the Harmony album from 2012, she could add platinum to her resume. That's the trifecta right there; sales, awards, critical praise.

Ryder has apparently been working feverishly since then, with over 100 songs at the ready, and it sounds like all the big, catchy ones where chosen for her new collection, with Stompa energy all over it. Electric Love has that infectious beat, and finds her embracing techno and dance. It's pretty obvious stuff, especially in the lyric department, but fun still, and made glorious with her gutsy pipes. Got Your Number is another crazy, catchy track, this time with a little more soul to it, a cut that Amy Winehouse would have loved. Even her ballads, such as Sanctuary, are now bigger and brighter productions. Ryder has fully moved from singer-songwriter to pop now, but it's certainly pop with substance, and lots of dynamic performance skills.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


From the beautiful Halifax collective The Heavy Blinkers comes Stewart Legere with his first-ever solo project. The album was long in fruition (four years) but it's heavy on rewards, with 14 cuts, each as gorgeous as the next. The Blinkers are known for their richness, and while Legere follows that path in melodies, words and arrangements, it's more of an acoustic approach, lots of guitar songs rather than piles of sounds. What there is lots of is vocals, with plenty of Legere's friends showing up on each cut. He takes the lead and a second voice joins. There are a couple of full guest appearances, from Jenn Grant and Rose Cousins, and full support throughout from Kim Harris, Melanie Stone and Don Brownrigg. Blinkers mainman Jason MacIsaac produces along with Legere, and they keep it gorgeous throughout, absolutely ear-pleasing.

If one is inclined, there's a story to find in the emotional songs, or at least a heart to observe. Without bitterness, a great love ends, and Legere puts it all out there in a series of reflective songs. He's searching too, not so much for answers, but more for kindred souls who think about love and friendship and goodness and how to appreciate it and give it back. There are sad moments for sure ('I should have left you before I met you' is one sentiment) but it's done with grace, and made with elegance. Legere is a fine singer as well, and the listening experience is completely rewarding.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


From the U.K. comes singer-songwriter Phil Cooper, a guy from the alternative pop school of things, you know, smart songs with a bunch of choice hooks in them. And hey, he's discovered Canada! Actually, he's arrived in the country not unlike his forefathers (John Cabot, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc.), by making an introductory voyage around a few likely ports and leaving some trading goods, in the form of a Canadian-only tour E.P. called A Welcome In The Wild. Wild indeed, he's been playing such frontier towns as Toronto, Windsor and Oakville so far, but that's about to change. He'll really get to see wild Canada as he makes his way through the forest to play gigs in Fredericton and Charlottetown on the weekend.

Cooper has made his reputation on his live show, so that's a good enticement, and what I'm hearing on his six-track E.P. is certainly compelling. He doesn't downplay the comparisons to Neil Finn, and his vocal style is a match, along with his epic melodies. There's certainly a sense of grandeur to the songs here. Some fun too, with the happy Without You This Is Nothing a bouncy tribute to a muse ("Without you this is nothing more than a man on a stage on his own"). He even graces us with a new tune written just for the Canadian tour, A Welcome In The Wild: "Well the maple leaf is calling me/To the true land of the free." We'll take it, thanks for the sentiment.

Catch Cooper on his East Coast dates, at Grimross Brewing on Friday, June 2 in Fredericton, and Sunday at Baba's in Charlottetown.