Saturday, December 27, 2014

DRLNG- ICARUS



Recording software has made an enormous impact on contemporary music production. Through the manipulation of noises as expressed in ones and zeroes, there is much opportunity to "fix" performance. The result? Homogenous product, with voices and instrumental touches virtually indistinguishable from one another. In many instances, this intervention is absolutely necessary as the "talent" just isn't there. Instead of using available technical resources to enhance the material, laptop engineers now sublimate it.

Would you smother a gourmet meal in ketchup?

Growing dissatisfied with such trends, many artists are approaching the recording process from another angle. The warmth of analog is felt in every note in the new EP from DRLNG. Committing all four songs on Icarus to tape, a lush soundscape is created that is dependant upon precision playing, strong melody and the dulcet tones of lead singer Eliza Brown. The quartet is rounded out by Martin Newman (guitars), James Newman(bass) and Mickey Vershbow (drums). The material is thoughtful and well crafted, with the highlight (for me) being the title track.



Full marks go to all involved here, especially in terms of how they have carefully chosen to put the songs first and not succumb to layering and tracking to the point where the music loses all personality. The band have issued Icarus as a limited edition vinyl release (300 copies pressed) in addition to downloadable format. In truth, this recording is tailor made for your turntable, as it would best allow listeners to appreciate how these arrangements breathe outside of the confines of digital mastering.

I look forward to hearing a full length release from DRLNG, though in the meantime you can purchase the Icaras EP right here. Be sure to add this to your collection.

Find out more about DRLNG and like them on Facebook

Monday, December 08, 2014

DENNY LAINE


True talent isn't always recognized by the masses. Ingenuity shouldn't toil in the long shadow of mediocrity, though this is reality for those who cut an individual path. With that in mind, the spotlight searches out (and locates) Mr. Brian Hines, who is better known by his adopted stage name, Denny Laine.

As a founding member of the Moody Blues, he first came to prominence singing lead on a tune that was previously recorded by Bessie Banks called "Go Now". He left the group in 1966. Most rock fans saw this multi-talented soul return to the spotlight when Paul McCartney asked him to join Wings in 1971, where he would remain until their dissolution in 1981.

While his term with Wings was indeed high profile, the material that he had recorded in the interregnum between leaving the Moodies and accepting McCartney's offer has largely gone unnoticed.

THE MISSING YEARS...

Laine formed the Electric String Band in late 1966, which included Trevor Burton (formerly of The Move) and drummer Viv Prince. Four classical players, Wilhelm Martin (violin), John Stein (violin), Clive Gillinson (cello) and Chris Van Campen (cello), were recruited to achieve his vision. Utilizing strings to play live, he also forged a sound that would be picked up in earnest by ELO when they formed out of the remnants of The Move in the early seventies. Though mainstream success eluded them in their short time as a functioning unit, they did manage to commit material to tape that was released in the form of two singles.


"Say You Don't Mind" was the first and it is extremely fine. Denny performed the song on early Wings tours, though you can hear the original 45 right here. As a record, it is definitely bathed in the psychedelic production values of 1967, though the tune is pretty strong. Laine's vocal is immaculate and the chord progression has some very intricate twists. John Paul Jones handled the string arrangement.



"Too Much in Love" was the second try, appearing in early 1968.



Curiously, there is more locked in the vaults from this timeframe. Produced by Denny Cordell, "Why Did You Come" was slated to be the third single but never saw the light of day. Thanks to their appearance on John Peel's radio program in October of '67, you can now have a listen. Similarly, another lost composition ("Guilty Mind") is presented from the same show. For those who are not acquainted with this phase in Laine's career, it would be a revelation to see these tracks re-mastered and brought into the 21st century marketplace. Better still if there were more quality gems from these sessions in the can, waiting to be dusted off and properly issued.





Opportunities missed, Electric String Band had a series of lineup changes before passing into the mists of time, with Laine disbanding them for good in February 1968.

While he is still plying his trade, recording and gigging, it is a shame that many more listeners haven't been exposed to his music. Deservedly, he should be recognized for his pioneering work from the late sixties.

Find out more about Denny Laine here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

JUDAS PRIEST



SIN AFTER SIN

Definitely brings back many hazy memories of high school. Occasionally, side one of this disc would be in rotation in my "soundtrack to pass out for the night routine". Worked like magic, too. "The Last Rose of Summer" provides a lush, soft landing pad for that gelatinous mass of chemicals and electric impulses, settled into a groove on the pillow as it ends your programming day.

It's a phenomenal song, with a touch of Hendrix and the peerless vocals of Rob Halford. Unfairly, it has often been panned as a "Rain Song" rip-off. Have a listen and see why it stands up.



Third album from the "metal gods" and it is a truly fine offering, balanced on the precipice of the sound that they would soon fully embrace and scorch many devoted eardrums with. Roger Glover's production is clean and punchy, playing up the strengths of all involved, with an attack that's fairly advanced for 1977. The group did have "exploding drummer syndrome" so the drum stool was filled here by nineteen year old Simon Phillips, who would go on to become a top class session man. His credits are astounding as is his work on this set.

Honed to perfection, the twin guitar mathematics of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing raise the game on a strong set of songs. "Sinner" and "Dissident Aggressor" are standouts, though, as with the bulk of their material, they rarely forgot to employ melodies with the mayhem. Those that have written them off really need to take another listen. Halford should get far more credit than he has, as he is a fantastic singer.

"Starbreaker" from Tokyo in 1978. Les Binks on drums. He was an excellent musician and writer but quit after only two years with the group. He didn't explode, though he takes a nice solo here.



What should have been the closing track? Their ingenious reworking of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust". Worth mentioning that this song, inspired by Bob Dylan, is covered so well by a band that was named for one of his songs ("The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest")



Priest would soon undergo a wardrobe change and enter the 80's as a much heavier entity. "Sin After Sin" is an excellent piece of plastic and ranks with the best of their seventies releases.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE SOFT PARADE



Produced over months of arduous sessions, the $100,000 wet dream that became The Soft Parade was universally panned when it first appeared in 1969. Don't believe for a second that this is simply The Doors buried in "101 strings", though. Jim Morrison would slip into the vocal mannerisms of Frank Sinatra (in places), adding a crooner's voice to their most adventurous music to date. Imagine these tunes drifting from the radio of a '63 Pontiac Laurentian. Don't feel too bad about passing over this disc, as you had probably heeded the warnings of those critics and fans who just didn't care for the contents.

This is actually a very solid record.

Please, please listen to me children

Morrison's contribution is slight on this outing. Waning interest in the group dynamic, Herculean consumption of alcohol and various film projects claimed more of his calendar time than did the business of writing songs. When he did engage, some memorable imagery emerged ("Wild Child", "The Soft Parade"). Robbie Krieger stepped up to fill the compositional gap, though his lyrics were more conventional. Listeners who had become accustomed to the inventive wordplay that had heretofore graced their LPs noticed the variance, contributing to the split personality that presents itself here. You can easily pick out the Krieger penned material as all are augmented by strings or brass. Densmore and Manzarek were intent on bringing jazzier touches to the table, encouraging the experiments with an expansion of their soundscape. "Tell All the People" is heralded by epic fanfare. Reportedly, Jim took issue with the "Can't you see me growing/Get your guns" line, refusing at first to sing it. Sounding nothing like what had come before, this smart opener must have been quite a shock to those who were conversant with the first three albums. They offer a stripped down version here, filmed for "PBS Critique".



The main engine of the band is never sublimated by the layers, with "Touch Me" being the most successful integration of the two worlds. Curtis Amy's Coltrane-dipped sax freakout is stunning, powered by the core instrumentalists pushing the intensity well to the limit. "Shaman's Blues" and "Wild Child" are classic Doors, while "Easy Ride" is fun and slightly reminiscent of Elvis' Sun period.

Not enough mention is made of the tasteful instrumental contributions made by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore. They sounded like no one else of that time period, with no nods to British psychedelia or the West Coast bands that had a decidedly multi-colored vibe. Darker themes were often explored without hesitation, which would long keep their music in the purview of subsequent generations.

Stylistically diverse, this collection probably threw off listeners looking for some revelation or profundity that Morrison must have hidden within the grooves somewhere.

YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!!

Though you can return to this thoroughly enjoyable set regularly. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. Watch a live performance of the title song on PBS

Thursday, October 09, 2014

VINYL REDUX

Seano over at Circle of Fits always turns out thought provoking, incredibly well written posts. This one is no exception. For all of you who have collected, worshipped and spun the black circle. Read and enjoy

Thursday, July 31, 2014

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-SKIP SPENCE'S OAR



Absolutely bare-bones, lovely, unfinished, ethereal, ragged, uplifting and heartbreaking all apply to Oar, the lone solo recording by Alexander "Skip" Spence. He was at the epicenter of the San Francisco music scene in the mid-sixties, playing drums on the first Jefferson Airplane disc and co-founding Moby Grape, who made a stunning debut album and then imploded with Spence in the middle of the fray.

It is not the function of this humble forum to make comment on the tribulations of individuals who saw rough times. Mr. Spence did indeed have more than his share of adversity, though it does not detract from his obvious talent. He was a musical "all-rounder' who could play just about anything that he picked up, a great performer and first rate songwriter.

The tale of how Oar was conceived and recorded is well worth your time, as is the album itself. Following six months of recovery in a mental health facility, Spence emerged with a desire to get his latest compositions on tape. There are many corners of the internet that you may explore to flesh out the rest of the story.

"Little Hands" was the opener...



Should you be interested, seek out this disc, keeping in mind that you are in for a challenging but rewarding listen. This is primarily because he followed his instincts and let the songs flow naturally with no attempts to pander to the prevailing trends of that era. These are the sketches of a great artist, who was not given the opportunity to reach a wider audience in his time, as he was a few steps ahead of the curve. Released with no promotional help in 1969 on Columbia Records, Oar sold a very modest amount of copies before being quietly removed from consideration for further pressing. All of this took place in the space of one year and this disc did not come back into circulation until it appeared on CD in 1991. Still considered a curio, this is forgotten music that subsequent generations have rediscovered (and covered).

Beck, Wilco and Leslie Feist cover "Little Hands", giving Mr. Spence some much deserved love. He would have likely been quite thrilled to hear this.

Record Club: Skip Spence "Little Hands" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SLASH AND THE CONSPIRATORS JULY 11TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Pure, unadulterated adulation greeted Saul Hudson and his mates as they appeared to dispense good will and face-melting solos to the thousands that had gathered around the Bell Stage last Friday evening.

Saul Hudson?

Slash!

With ever-present Les Paul slung low and leather "topper" balanced perfectly on his head, the fret-burning legend ripped an ultra-tight, 11 song set, abetted by his Conspirators. Leading off with "Ghost" from his 2010 solo disc, the band burned with the intensity of a blast furnace, though it was vocalist Myles Kennedy who was most impressive throughout. His operatic vox were nothing less than a masterclass in jaw dropping technique, especially as he tackled several Guns and Roses classics and didn't seem to break a sweat in doing so.

Highlights? Pretty much every tune, though "Anastasia" was noteworthy for some very tasty flamenco style runs that the star of the show played on a custom double neck. Throwing "Slither" into the mix (from Velvet Revolver) was an inspired choice, too.

Predictably, the opening salvo of "Sweet Child of Mine" elicited the most frantic response from the crowd. One guy's head actually exploded within seconds of hearing the intro.

But that's how it goes at these rock'n'roll shows...

Slash's fluid playing remains very fine and he seemed to gain energy from Kennedy's note perfect delivery. "Paradise City" closed out the proceedings, complete with flaming telepaths, apocalyptic riffing (courtesy of Sabbath's "Zero the Hero"), ten thousand killer bees performing the Minute Waltz channeled through the stacks and one hell of a finish.

Brevity being the soul of wit, the lads disappeared leaving everyone with a taste for more.

You are well advised to catch Slash and his devastating guitar tone in the act if he's in your neighbourhood this summer.

BLONDIE JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Blondie always conjures up odd memories for me. When "Heart of Glass" was issued as a single back in 1979, my sister secured a copy of the 45, which was played endlessly. The B-side was a tune called "11:59". This is only significant because my main recollection of that song is hearing it drifting in from our living room while deathly ill in bed with a fever and hallucinating. The cast of The Beverly Hillbillies were all dancing wildly to the tune in the corner of my room. Granny played that cool keyboard solo and Ellie May sang lead...

Who needs TV when your brain is frying inside of your skull?

Celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2014, Blondie graced the Claridge Stage of Ottawa Bluesfest on Thursday night and played a spirited set, featuring music that spanned several eras with some surprise covers tossed in to keep things interesting. Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke are the only members left from their initial rise to prominence in the late 70's. Burke gets special mention here for his amazing energy behind the kit, with sticks twirling, launched high into the air and his devastating attack on the skins. He propelled the band in style, giving an added spark to the overall performance. Chris Stein virtually hid behind perpetual shades, taking his place close to the drum riser and holding down rhythm guitar. I would not have been shocked if he had unfurled a newspaper and taken the opportunity to get some light reading in as his bandmates carried on with the business of playing the gig.

At the centre of it all was Ms. Harry, still in great voice and capable of delivering the goods.

Opening with "One Way or Another", they quickly engaged the crowd who immediately responded euphorically. Wanting to avoid coming across as simply a nostalgia act, the focus turned to new material from their most recent disc, Ghosts of Download. Released in May, it didn't seem as if many in the audience were familiar with these tunes. Kudos to the group for sticking to the plan, though it seemed that those assembled started to disengage, despite a fantastic version of "Call Me" that was strategically placed amongst the contemporary fare. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed "Rave" and "Mile High" and will further investigate the new album.

Long before No Doubt and similar aggregations synthesized reggae/pop/hiphop/dance with rock, Blondie was exploring all of these avenues. "Rapture" is a classic example of this and when they played it, people started to become animated once again. They managed a minor coup by running it into the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right (to Party)". This and "Heart of Glass" won back the faithful and they were called back for an encore. "Dreaming" was well chosen and had everyone dancing and pumping their collective fists in the air.

Great show by an iconic band.

No "11:59", though.

Monday, July 14, 2014

COLLECTIVE SOUL JULY 13TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Anthemic radio staples (and smoke from many left-handed ciggies) filled the air around the Bell Stage tonight as Collective Soul brought the 2014 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest to a rousing close.

People went absolutely nuts for these guys...

Atlanta's favorite purveyors of heavy pop took the stage with Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" as their soundtrack. In what was a very astute move, they tore into two brand new tunes from their yet to be released, See What You Started by Continuing album (due out in 2015). Frontman Ed Roland addressed the crowd after they peeled off "This" and "Are You the Answer" (both solid, by the way) joking that, "we wanted a captive audience for the new stuff and wouldn't want to see you guys to run off and take a piss after we played the hits..."

On that score, they did not disappoint, following through with the crunching stomp of "Heavy". Pacing the set with all of the monsters that have garnered consistent airtime on rock stations over their twenty years as a recording entity, the volume of the crowd grew in proportion to that produced by the five musicians.

Highlights included "December", "Gel", "Better Now" and an intense reading of "The World I Know" which featured a huge sing-a-long section. Roland made special mention of the fact that "Gel" was the first one that they recorded "as a band" as opposed to the building of songs through arduous tracking in the studio. One big factor that really came across was how much fun the lads were having onstage. That translated to instant rapport with everyone in attendance and some fun detours like the brief drum interlude ("We hate drum solos, but we love our drummer, Johnny Rabb") and a snippet of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" that gave everyone a chance to exercise their vocal chords.

Ultra-tight, melodic rock and pop, great harmonies and giant hooks kept the love flowing right up to the encores.

Then it became outright obsession

"Shine" featured a decorative piano intro (nice touch) before the band landed like a ton of bricks on a box of cupcakes on the riff. From my spot, close to the front/center stage, the screaming from the fans was unbelievable. It was pretty exciting to be absorbed in the electric current that ran through the masses. "Run" was the closer, with each member of the group abandoning their instruments, one by one, coming out front with Ed to say goodbye, leaving their singer to strum his acoustic and let everyone serenade him into the wings.

It was a fitting end to ten days of excellent music and showmanship.

For me, it was an absolute pleasure to be asked to document some fine and memorable sets over the last week.

In turn, I have to thank two very talented, professional photographers who diligently framed the festival through their own special lenses: Marc DesRosiers, whose work you may check out at frontpagenews.ca and Mark Horton at ehlistimages.ca

Huge thanks to all of you who actually take the time to stop in here and read my scribblings. I have some backlogged Bluesfest reviews to post. Stay tuned for Blondie, Slash, Third Eye Blind and more in the next day or so.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

PROCOL HARUM WITH THE NAC ORCHESTRA JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Everyone should be reminded on a regular basis that they are exactly where they should be in their current position in the cosmos. This writer experienced that very sensation in glorious technicolor on Thursday night. Having mixed up the start times of the acts for the evening, I rushed to the festival grounds, only to arrive well ahead of schedule, though just in time for Procol Harum.

Quickly securing a spot up front, the next hour brought an almost indescribable joy that I am still drawing upon days after the event.

Lee Hayes' Vox Choir and the NAC orchestra flanked the group as they strode onto the Bell stage. Gary Brooker looked the proper English gent/elder statesman as he took his seat at the piano. Acknowledging the applause with a polite wave, he led his mates into "Homburg".

Before the superlatives flow, it's worth pointing out that the orchestral accompaniment was designed to provide the exact feel of their uniformly excellent album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which was originally released in 1972. Having spun my vinyl copy at top volume many times, I could not believe my luck in being parked directly in front of the real thing.

Brooker is still possessed of a soulfully powerful voice, which soared over the collected instruments with great ease. Complimented by a perfect sound mix, the lovely melody of the opener was akin to crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds. "Simple Sister" came next, with strings and choir pushing it to another level. In a moment of self-depreciation, the singer/keyboardist talked of a time when his group, "rode in style to gigs, dined on the finest food and drank expensive wine. Now it's McDonalds and the bus." With that, the opening strains of "Grand Hotel" filled the air. Far from having a soporific effect on the adoring crowd, the beauty of the augmentation to the five piece band band was actually uplifting.

All hands on deck, we've run a float,
I heard the Captain cry.
Explore the ship, replace the cook,
Let no one leave alive...


Almost on cue, a pair of gulls floated above the stage as a note perfect rendering of "A Salty Dog" began to take shape. Majestic in execution, the epic tale from the pen of wordsmith Keith Reid came across quite literally as the music of vast horizons. Nothing short of a convoy of arriving UFOs could have prepared the audience for what followed. In place of the familiar Hammond organ intro to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the orchestra, faithfully reproducing this classic piece. When Brooker stepped in to sing the opening lines, the crowd erupted. This treatment was a masterstroke in arrangement, brought home forcefully when the quintet joined and steered the song back to more familiar territory.

As exhilarating as this was, Procol Harum saved the best for last.

With heartfelt thanks to all who had given their time and attention, Mr. Brooker raised his head, nodding toward the NAC conductor to strike up the startling wall of sound that heralded the closer, "Conquistador". Rounding out an impeccably timed set with an unbridled explosion of energy, the concert grounds were held in the grip of something magical that a more stripped down group of players would not have been able to match. Simply put, this was nothing less than the aural equivalent of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", specially crafted by a very ambitious rock group and delivered with class to astonished group of Bluesfest attendees. Despite witnessing some very fine talent through the past week, this was far and away the most memorable show for me.

Grand in scale and substance, Procol Harum's presentation was by far the most ambitious undertaking of all.

Important to note that picture used here is the work of talented photographer, Mark Horton. His eye for detail is astounding and his photos have been featured in top publications around the world. Check out Mark Horton Images for more examples of his work.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-JULY 8TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Torrential rain did not deter fans of Queens of the Stone Age, who waited patiently in front of the Claridge Stage for skies to clear. Following a short delay, the band counted off "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like A Millionaire" under the friendly arc of a double rainbow. This natural phenomenon was the perfect "feel good" complement to a spectacular performance. Leaving no dead air, they next dove headlong into "No One Knows", which pumped crowd adrenaline exponentially. This was a wise selection early on, being one of their most recognized tunes. Josh Homme had a mandate to initiate the faithful with selections from last year's Like Clockwork disc, though they smoked and burned in familiar territory first.

"My God Is The Sun" was the first of five songs from the latest album to be unleashed in their 15 song set. This sentiment was doubtlessly shared by those patient souls who had braved the rain. Noteworthy here is the genius of the writing, as their material comfortably welds strong melody with scorching heaviness. The group harmonies in support of Homme's lead vocals were tightly deployed amidst the maelstrom of sonic power that the quintet delivered. These guys spread a highly contagious case of head-banging that resonated out from the stage, across Le Breton Flats and into the living areas of nearby residents. I wouldn't be surprised if these people downed tools, started kicking over furniture and playing air guitar in their living rooms.

This one goes out to all the ladies

By the time that "Make It With Chu" was rolled out, there was a mass of vertical movement all around. It was also announced that bassist Michael Shuman was celebrating his birthday which garnered an ovation and a raucous, shambolic rendition of Happy Birthday from the audience. Homme had very kind words to offer to the organizers of Bluesfest, advised the crowd to keep their day jobs and mused that, "now it was time to just go with the flow..."

Only a comatose individual would have failed to pump their fist into the air as "Go With the Flow" and "A Song For the Dead" destroyed everyone in attendance, the latter featuring a huge drum crescendo. This is the soundtrack for apocalyptic invasion. Still vital, creative and one of the highlights of the live, 2014, Jimi Hendrix Ottawa Bluesfest Experience, this was a most stellar show.

If Queens of the Stone Age happen to be in your area code this summer, steal the money for tickets and get out and see them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FOREIGNER- JULY 8TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

I see a lot of love out there tonight!!!!

Indeed there was, with every ounce of it directed toward the Bell Stage on Tuesday night.

You see, gentle reader, way back in the midst of late 70s excess, a little band called Foreigner appeared on the scene. Eschewing interminable solos and multi-part epics that were an integral part of the rock blueprint at the time, these lads simply went into the kitchen and cooked up three minute hits.

Lots of hits...

Their contemporaries (Journey, Styx, Boston, Toto) also took this no-frills approach to making records. As a result, all were lumped into the category of "Corporate Rock". Dismissed offhand by music critics of that era as insubstantial and soulless, these groups were deemed to be guilty of trivial audience pandering. Despite the thumbs down from hip rock scribes, Foreigner grabbed a large piece of the market and won millions of fans in the bargain.

Judging by the large, enthusiastic crowd that greeted them at Bluesfest, the only thing that mattered was the delivery of those iconic tunes.

As for the set list, remember their "Records" compilation?



"Dirty White Boy" and "Long, Long Way from Home" were omitted, though all of the other monsters were present and played at top volume.

The upshot? Zero filler, no drum solos and not a trace of "We're gonna play y'all something from the new record now!". It was a slick, well paced, greatest hits production with everyone firing on all cylinders throughout.

Time for a joke!

"Knock, knock

Who's there?

Lou Gramm

Lou Gramm who?"

Exactly, because the guy who stood in his place (Kelly Hansen) is an absolute ringer for the former front man and was note perfect on everything he touched. Considering the vocal range required to cover the material, his execution was flawless. The lone remaining founding member (Mick Jones) , curiously, did not appear on stage until after the fourth song. He was given a huge ovation as he peeled off the signature riff for "Feels Like the First Time". Uncle Mick addressed the throng briefly, casually talking of how his family nearly emigrated to Canada when he was a child and confirmed how much love our nation-state had given to Foreigner over the years. Switching from his Les Paul to an acoustic, he then introduced “Star Rider” from the first album and took over lead vocals, though he was woefully “under-miked” on what was otherwise a very pleasant surprise inclusion in the set.

Jones let his guitar chops speak for the rest of the evening.

The high water mark in the show was a stone heavy version of “Juke Box Hero”, which saw all musicians deviate from the main script and improvise madly in the middle section of the song. The choir from hometown Brookfield High School came out to kick off the encore. Jansen encouraged everyone to grab the person closest to them, feel the love and “get back to the eighties”. “I Want to Know What Love Is” provided a cathartic release,with everyone swaying/singing along in unison. By far their most successful song when released back in 1985, the emotional reaction that it garnered on Tuesday night was overwhelming. Always interesting to see what grabs the masses by the lapels and demands their attention.

"Hot Blooded" closed out the evening, though it was telling to witness thousands of people filing out of the confines of LeBreton Flats, loudly singing, "I want to know what love issssssssssssssss, I want you to show meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"

As for the trappings of corporate rock, there was no mention nor care.

Monday, July 07, 2014

LADY GAGA JULY 5th OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Ottawa Bluesfest marked the 21st gig of Lady Gaga's artRAVE tour. Nine tour buses, truckloads of equipment, a personal entourage of 120 and a truly mesmerizing array of costume changes were all part of the spectacle that unfolded in front of 27,000 people who showed up to the party on Saturday night.

From where I stood, after two hours of high energy hits, no one was disappointed.

Giving credit to her supporters here in Canada at many points during her set, the former Stefani Germanotta blasted out of the gate with a full compliment of backup dancers/singers (two of whom carried her out on stage), a hot band and immediately sent the crowd into a mental state with the title track from 2013's Artpop.

Can you fucking hear me?!?!

All in attendance acknowledged that they could.

Continuing on with new material, she made requisite wardrobe changes that were executed at the speed of a dentist's drill and the entire setting in front of the Bell stage seemed to be positively lysergic. Continuing on with this theme, Ms. Gaga appeared for "Venus" in a mile-high brown wig with makeup that bore more than a passing resemblance to Madonna (circa late 80's) as imagined by Salvador Dali. The visual aspect of the show was stunning, with sound quality that was impeccable. While the electro-pop kept the faithful on their feet and dancing, Gaga took a detour away from her ostentatious persona with a solo turn at the keyboards.

Here is where she leaves other contemporary pop-tarts in the dust, as underneath the flash/sheer sonic attack beats the heart of a torch singer. No pitch correction software, no entourage of choreographed, dancing Muppets on LSD...just an exceptionally talented musician. It was this iteration of the artist that mightily impressed all who witnessed the seamless move from "I've Got a Crush on You" to "Born This Way", performed without a net.

Hits? Sure, they were sprayed out effortlessly ("Poker Face", Paparazzi", "Judas") though "Applause" was a definite highlight, as was the encore which featured a solo take on "Gypsy". Several costumed fans were ushered on stage to share the spotlight and the ringleader took a few unscripted moments to read notes that were tossed up to her. Much of her patter between songs was dotted with positive vibes that seemed channelled directly from the late sixties. Wrapping up all of her influences in a druggy, good-time, positive package, Gaga finished off the two hour extravaganza in style, without dragging out the patience of those who got all that they bargained for.

As for your humble scribe, I committed my estimations of the evening to paper over a pint at the nearby Mill Street Pub, wondering if those last two hours were just part of an elaborate dream orchestrated by Bob Mackie and Timothy Leary.

Stef is the real deal...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

JULY 5TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST - MATT ANDERSEN AND THE MELLOTONES



Matt Andersen's voice is an absolute force of nature.

The pride of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick walked out on the Claridge Homes Stage at 6pm on Saturday and owned the crowd from the first note. Backed by the Mellotones, Andersen casually mentioned between songs that this was just the fourth gig with the nine-man wrecking crew from Halifax. Boasting four horns, drums , bass, guitars and keys, the band was solid as they tore through a mix of originals and well chosen covers.

Playing acoustic guitar for the first half of the set, the hirsute star of the show steered the group through soulful renditions of his tunes. One of the many highlights was a song from his latest release, Weightless. Co-wriiten with Joel Plaskett, "My Last Day" muses upon what we would do with ourselves if we knew our time here on earth was limited to one more day. He introducd this one by noting that "we have lost a couple of very talented coast musicians this past year" and dedicated this one accordingly. No doubt referencing the passing of Jay Smith, it was a stellar performance from all involved. One very pleasant surprise was the inclusion of The Band's "Ophelia", which kept the audience dancing throughout and was punctuated by a note perfect trumpet solo. The punchy horn section was deployed for maximum impact as they also provided incredible backing vocals when not occupied with their instruments.

Andersen ramped up the energy when he turned and picked up his blue hollow-body electric, treating those assembled to searing, jaw-dropping solos. During the gut-bucket blues of "The Devil's Bride", he joked about needing "a perfectly greasy trombone solo" and that's just what was delivered. Despite a blistering run through soul, blues and R & B all filtered through the lens of his peerless voice, the magician saved his best trick for the closer.

There was no disguising the signature, frenetic guitar intro to Joe Cocker's arrangement of the Beatle classic, "With a Little Help From My Friends". Every single person assembled was swaying in rhythm, though when the man stepped up to the mic to deliver the opening lines, it was spine tingling. Aided and abetted by the intensity of the Mellotones, Mr. Andersen made you forget that anyone else ever touched this tune. He completely nailed it and, arguably, took it to another level. The crowd went out of their minds as the last notes rang out.

Simply put, it was a masterful set by a prodigiously gifted artist. Do yourself a favor and take the opportunity to catch Matt with the Mellotones on one of their upcoming live dates. Definitely one of the hottest sets from day 3 of Ottawa Bluesfest.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

THE BEATLE WHO VANISHED



June 1964: You receive a phone call with news that is almost too good to be true. The Beatles are set to embark on their first world tour, though drummer Ringo Starr has been hospitalized and needs to have his tonsils removed. You have been called upon to take his seat behind the drums until he recovers.







Jimmy Nicol was the man who accepted the offer and flew into the veritable hurricane of screams that greeted the band at every turn. For two weeks, he was thrust into a blinding spotlight. When the dust settled, he was thanked and provided with a generous sum for his efforts.



And in a blink, he was gone...

Author Jim Berkenstadt has taken up the monumental task of tracing the path of the man who seemingly disappeared after his brief stint as a Beatle. Impeccably researched and very well written, you may purchase The Beatle Who Vanished here

This book is a must read for music historians and Beatle fans.

Monday, May 19, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UNCLE PETE!

In celebration of the 69th birthday of one of my favorite songwriters, here's a re-run of my original review of The Who Sell Out...



Townshend: "It wasn't just the Who that were made by pirate radio, it was pirate radio that made the music scene in this country. It made the Beatles, it made the Stones, it made lots and lots of people that were around at the time."

Unlike the USA, which boasted countless stations with tunes on tap across the dial, Mother BBC was the only game in town when it came to radio in the UK, pre-1964. Very little airtime was granted to pop music. This situation turned around when Radio Caroline became a floating (and illegal) transmitter of rock and roll.

Pirate radio brought a wealth of fantastic music to Britons in the mid sixties.

The passing of the Marine Broadcasting Act in 1967 would mark the beginning of the end for these pioneers. The few ships that remained to send out their signals would soon cease and desist. Truly disappointed by this turn of events, Pete hit upon an intriguing concept for the next record. He envisioned a fulsome tribute to both the pirate and American top 40 formats, complete with linking jingles and commercials. There was even talk of selling ad space on the disc to large corporations (in the end, Coke was the only taker). There could be no greater contrast to the ideals that were espoused by the burgeoning hippie movement of that era than casting your lot in with the ultra-capitalistic "establishment", offering up a piece of your art to the highest bidder.

What's for tea, darling?


To my ear, Sell Out is to the Who what Their Satanic Majesties Request represented for the Stones in that they haven't done anything even remotely like it, before or since. Climbing aboard that train of thought, let’s look at the elements that make this markedly different from the other entries in the Who discography.

1) With one or two exceptions, Keith Moon’s drumming is subtly muted for many of the tracks. His usual frenetic playing is pared down considerably to simply keeping time.

2) Rich, Beach Boys style, block harmonies pervade most every selection (the beginning of "Rael" would have sat comfortably alongside anything on Pet Sounds).

3) Melodies are to the fore, with the grittier side of the group's raucous stage personality toned way down.

A minor point gets deducted here for some unfinished business. The continuous run of great music interpolated with quirky, mock adverts is quite engrossing until the second song in on side two, where the listener experiences "concept interuptus".

Why wasn't this approach carried through to the end of the project?

The most likely reasons involve a combination of the heavy price of additional studio time and the hectic touring schedule that the band sorely needed to tackle mounting debt. Despite this fact, Sell Out stands one of the three best discs that they ever issued. Pete Townshend's genius as a composer had been glimpsed prior to this. Now it flowered in ways that amazed. There is a bounty of truly exceptional material, from the masterful "I Can See For Miles" to the increasing emphasis on narrative that makes "Tattoo" and "Odorono" so engaging.

Townshend: "When I write today, I feel that it has to tell a little story. Like Odorono, which I dug because it was a little story and although I thought it's a good song, it was about something groovy-underarm perspiration. He rushes backstage to congratulate her and it looks like she's all set, not only for stardom but also for true love. And then, underarm perspiration cuts the whole thing. And you know, without getting too serious about it, because it's supposed to be very light, that's life. That really is life."




Darling, I said what's for tea?


Throwing everyone off the plot, "Armenia City in the Sky" crashes in following the robotic "days of the week" snippet. Pounding along with dissonant swells of feedback guitar, the song was authored by one John "Speedy" Keene who also shared vocal duties with Roger on the track. The Who never really indulged in psychedelia, so the cloud of incense that hovers over the proceedings, while redolent of the sounds of 1967, is also slightly disingenuous. It proves to be a red herring as the selections that follow have little to do with the tie-dye, love me-love my dog philosophy that briefly ensnared some of the biggest acts of that era.

Keene would go on to find his feet with the excellent, albeit short-lived, Thunderclap Newman who wound up scoring a worldwide hit the following year with his tune "Something in the Air", produced by Townshend.

Pop intellectuals found themselves smugly nodding in appreciation at the nostalgic in-joke that was etched deeply into the grooves of this remarkable platter. Ivory tower elitism is never a great reason for liking something, nor should it be attached to your appreciation of Sell Out.

Very well constructed music is what should (and will) reel you in.

Plus, Daltrey in the tub of beans is pretty fucked.

Owing to a predilection for tampering with the running order of great works in a revisionist effort to make them even better, I would have kicked off Entwistle's "Silas Stingy" and replaced it with "Pictures of Lily". This would have landed two tunes with a theme involving the handling of the male member for naughty purposes (or happy endings) on the same album. Speaking of which, "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" has an interesting, Latin-flavored acoustic break.

Heavy for its time (and a few steps ahead as well) was the single, "I Can See For Miles". Largely due to the idiosyncratic structure of this monster, it rarely featured in their live shows.

Very little filler is found on Sell Out. As previously mentioned, aside from the psychedelic poster that came with the original pressings, there is no great attempt to embrace that style. This is important, as most every major rock act of that period was straining to do "Sgt Pepper Part II", binging on acid and more often than not coming up with a load of pretentious garbage. (Dylan and the Kinks musically kept away from the "Summer of Love-In as well). The sensibilities of the individual members really helped to keep the Who from heading down that path. Moon actively hated hippies, while Roger and John took little notice of that movement. John and Keith spent a lot of time in the pubs, where they ultimately came up with most of the commercials, including the run-out groove joke response (Track Records jingle) to what the Beatles had done at the end of Sgt. Pepper. Only Townshend really got into LSD in any major way, though he would shortly back away from drug taking following a harrowing STP trip on the plane back to England after they played Monterey in June of 67. "Relax" has a slight echo (no pun intended) of Syd Barrett's work with Pink Floyd, but the rest do not bear the stamp of "flowers and beads".



Townshend's musical range was expanding. He learned to properly play piano as these songs took shape and he deftly handled most of the keyboard parts during the sessions by himself. The progressions in "Our Love Was" and "Sunrise" are an extension of his continuing education. The overall sound of this record is vastly superior to anything that they had done up to this point. Though there was some legal turbulence surrounding the use of some Radio London jingles, Sell Out was a tremendous success in terms of cohesion and strength in composition. Not yet superstars, a brief period of water treading would follow until Pete found the plot for their next odyssey which would bring far greater glories than anyone had imagined.

Monday, April 07, 2014

20




Have you ever dropped a ton of bricks on a carton of eggs? Swung a ball peen hammer at a rice-paper wall?

This is the impact that Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl had on the soporific musical landscape of 1991.

If you did happen to be alive and have functional ears at this time, here's a little reminder of some of the shit that clogged the charts:

Bryan Adams (Everything I Do) I Do It For You
Color Me Badd I Wanna Sex You Up
C+C Music Factory Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
Paula Abdul Rush Rush
Timmy T One More Try
EMF Unbelievable
Extreme More Than Words
Hi-Five I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)
Surface The First Time
Amy Grant Baby, Baby
Boyz II Men Motownphilly
Stevie B Because I Love You (The Postman Song)
Mariah Carey Someday
Bette Midler From A Distance
Whitney Houston All The Man That I Need
Jesus Jones Right Here, Right Now
Color Me Badd I Adore Mi Amor
Janet Jackson Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch feat. Loleatta Holloway Good Vibrations
Madonna Justify My Love

"Oh, fuck you, Spirit, please show me no more! I cannot bear it!!"

All apologies to Charles Dickens.

No, wait! Fuck him, too!

Without wading into a quagmire of editorializing around Cobain's exit from this dimension and the brief explosion that many of us are still aware of at the 20 year mark of his aforementioned acceptance into the choir invisible, there are some important items to ponder, namely:

1) In fusing the Beatles with Black Sabbath, he created a very intoxicating hybrid for folks that enjoyed melody intertwined with an anvil being dropped on their skulls.

2) Hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991 did something for me (and countless others) that no other contemporary noise had done for ages: It gave me goosebumps and I wanted to hear more.

3) The raw, screaming visceral attack of this music also carried a careful plan along with its subversion. The guy behind it was a hell of a lot deeper than most would suspect.

4) Few knew at the time that it would all end in spectacularly macabre fashion.

I remember where I was and who informed me of Cobain's death back in the spring of '94.

I was pissed.

Being roughly the same age as him, I felt that this was a missed opportunity. He could have done much more and taken his vision/music in an interesting direction. More importantly, rather than feeling envious of those who had experienced the golden era of musical creativity first hand(the sixties), there was hope that something relevant, vibrant and exciting could happen in our time as well.

A bright comet attracts much attention before flaming out.

On a positive note, he left some exceptional material for listeners to take up and draw inspiration from, though it's always tough to think about what may have been.

Or not. Oh well, nevermind...







Tuesday, April 01, 2014

PROGRAMMABLE ANIMAL: TOGETHER



Brand new EP release by Chicago based band, Programmable Animal. This is a taster in advance of the full length disc that they plan to unleash this summer. It is quite an adventurous, five track odyssey to embark on as a listener and one for which you must be prepared to commit. While the interplay amongst the instruments in the mix trades on ambient, "found" sounds, the six piece ensemble keeps the aural sands shifting throughout. Embracing the frenetic, double-bass drum attack of metal on one hand, the tunes also turn on a dime to allow a wash of synth-driven textures to take over the space between your headphones. Production values are high with a dark mood pervading the arrangements. At times the vocals are purposely wrapped in gauze only to break free at critical moments in startling fashion. All parts are extremely well thought out, while the technical aspects of the performances are first rate.

Warning: This is not a soundtrack for the morning, nor should it be approached in a casual manner. Rather, it demands serious listening as purple twilight gives way to night time. Introspection mixes with raw emotion, yielding plenty of great turnarounds and sonic rewards when you drill down to listen with a generous ear.

Highlights are "Together", "Dark" and the epic closer, "Fall Eye".

Pretty cool spin. Get it for yourself here

Find out more about Programmable Animal

Join them on Facebook and stay tuned for new music!




Thursday, March 27, 2014

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-ROD STEWART: AN OLD RAINCOAT WON'T EVER LET YOU DOWN



Years before regrettable forays into disco and bland, MOR pop pandering tarnished the otherwise decent track record of Rod the Mod, this very solid first solo effort quietly appeared.

Quite good it is, with a supporting cast of musicians who would figure prominently in his next steps as an artist. Two of these characters, Ron Wood and Mick Waller, had shared a spot with Stewart in Mach I of the Jeff Beck Group. Organist Ian McLagan, who lends his nimble fingered talents here, would become a band mate and remain so into the mid-seventies, as Wood and Stewart had recently joined the Small Faces following the departure of Steve Marriott. This lineup change prompted them to re-brand themselves as The Faces.

Did you get all of that?

Good.

Having honed his signature larynx dipped in whiskey 'n' ciggies vocal delivery during his time with Jeff Beck, the voice is in fine form. Eight songs comprise the disc, four of which are his own compositions, title track included, while the remaining selections are well chosen covers. The first of these interpretations received the distinction of kicking off the proceedings. Turning the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" inside out, the arrangement here bears no resemblance to the version that graced Beggars Banquet. Quirky and extremely well executed, the musicians toy with every aspect of the tune. Ron Wood adds tasty slide and bass runs with exaggerated "eyebrows" that follow inserted full stops after each chorus. Following a brief instrumental detour, everything stops on a dime and does a 180 degree turn. Suddenly, the listener is now back in familiar territory as the lads faithfully reproduce the melody line and feel of the original. This doesn't last. In a moment of inspiration, we are treated to a brief bass solo which dives straight into a direct quote of the hammered, introductory piano figure from "We Love You". My assumption here, though the last bit is likely a tip of the hat to Brian Jones who had passed away the previous summer and whose composing fingerprints were undoubtedly all over the aforementioned, trippy piano part. If Mick and Keith were not impressed by this homage, if not somewhat envious, then shame on them. Only a comatose individual would fail to appreciate the humor and invention that went into this stunning rendition.

It gets even better...

Before we continue, one observation must be made by your humble scribe.

This disc is a treat because it is unpretentious and the musicianship is first rate but loose in an incredibly relaxed sounding manner. Human beings, not machines, are swept up in a joyous act of playing, yet there is focus with an end result that is very easy on the ears.

Why do we not hear this type of production today? Have we become so soulless in the pursuit of achieving a homogenized product that we can't accept a more adventurous approach to music making? Just take a listen to the robotic, auto-tuned, plastic, repetitive garbage that is being pushed on the masses. No taste, very little thought and zero personality. It is disposable, icy digital noise made for people who secretly hate music.

Worse than that, this mediocrity is expertly marketed to cover all aforementioned shortcomings and make the perpetrators seem as if they have produced a work of genius. Another tag that is tossed around far too liberally and applied to people who would be hard pressed to name a chord, let alone find/shape one on any instrument.

You have a choice as to what you put in your brain.

Well, look at the time! Let's get back to what Rod, Ronnie and friends lovingly cooked up for your listening pleasure.

Decorative instrumental touches abound, our session crew reimagines "Man of Constant Sorrow" in such a way that words fail to do it justice. Listen and find out for yourself, if this hasn't already been taken into your purview. There's no greater evidence of what made the rhythm section so special on Jeff Beck's Truth than what Waller and Wood bring to the title cut. Don't know about old raincoats, but this is three minutes of bluesy groove with barrelhouse piano courtesy of McLagan that won't let you down.



All told, this gem sails by and makes its statement in a mere half hour. Closing with a delicately different take on Ewan MacColl's oft-covered standard, "Dirty Old Town", it provides classy finish to an eclectic, understated set. For all that, it is Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story that seem to garner all of the attention in terms of Rod's early solo ventures. This one never manages to escape the long shadow cast by those projects, both of which fared much better in the sales/chart sweepstakes. Lacking a an obvious single that could be extracted for radio exposure, this fine project was destined for the back of the dusty closet, joining the ranks of unjustly forgotten music from that era.

Trivia time! This LP was released in the UK on the same date as Black Sabbath's self titled debut (Friday, Feb 13th, 1970) by the same label (Vertigo Records). Curiously, it was issued in the US in the fall of 1969 as "The Rod Stewart Album" with a different cover. Regardless of what iteration you encounter, it is well worth having in your collection.

Friday, February 07, 2014

IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY...

Flashback to February 7,1964. The Beatles land at JFK in New York for the first time and are greeted by thousands of screamers. Shortly after that, it was time to play meet the press.



The questions were pretty terrible, though some of the answers were priceless.

Two days later they would make their inaugural appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show". 73.7 million viewers tuned in to get a look at the band and popular music changed radically from this point on.

Cost of living at that time?

Average yearly income $5,880
Gallon of gas .25¢
Gallon of milk $1.06
Loaf of bread .21¢
1st class postage stamp .05¢
Pay phone (local call) .10¢
Look Magazine .25¢ an issue
Life Magazine .35¢ an issue
Movie ticket $1.25
Emerson 11" portable TV $139.95
Admiral 19" portable TV $139.95
Emerson transistor tape recorder (reel to reel) $79.95
Best Homes-(pre fabricated houses) $8,990-$17,990
Rolls Royce Silver cloud III sedan $16,655
























Sunday, January 05, 2014

PHIL EVERLY



John and Paul, Paul and Art, Graham and Allan are just a few of the singers that were inspired out of their skulls by Phil and Don Everly. DNA cemented that beautiful pairing of voices, with Phil's harmonies walking a few feet off the ground, perfectly tracking his brother.

Countless hits, banned in Boston, twin Jumbo Gibsons, Two Yanks in England, decade long estrangement, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors...like so many others who have been captivated by their sound, I never tire of listening to the Everlys.

They crossed genres effortlessly, making some of the most influential music of the 20th century. Phil Everly retained that pure, golden voice right up to the end. His exit from this realm on January 3rd deprives the world of a true talent.