Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happy New Year...and more

I can hardly believe that I haven't written anything here since October.  That doesn't seem possible, and yet...
That means no mention of Wrycraft's great Tom Waits Tribute of November 29th, or his equally fine James Taylor Show of January 10th.  Michael has another Carole King Tribute upcoming, although I'm not certain of the date yet.  You won't want to miss it.

Last weekend we took in the Rosanne Cash concert at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, and it was excellent.  I'm writing a review of that show for Critics At Large (which should appear on Friday, Jan.31st). Suffice it to say that, apart from some troubles with John Leventhal's guitar setup, a good time was had by all!
Some news has reached my desk about new projects by our namesake, Ryland P. Cooder!  Not only did he release a dandy live album in the last few months, and select the bluegrass songs for the HighBar Gang's debut album but he has also produced what looks to be a good record for the Haden Triplets.  These daughters of jazz bassist Charlie Haden know how to sing harmony and Ry has kept things simple and straitforward.  Coming soon from Third Man Records!
Brian O'Neal from Conqueroo sent me some information about an upcoming appearance by Ry Cooder as the 'special guest' of Ireland's Chieftains for their upcoming Celtic Sessions (an intimate fan experience and live performance) in Saratoga Springs New York.  This will take place on July 7-11.
Brian says:
Over the course of 53 years and 58 albums, seminal Irish exports the Chieftains have uncompromisingly popularized their country’s rich musical heritage, collaborating with some of modern music’s biggest names, and ultimately earning the group six Grammys and 18 Grammy nominations.

From July 7-11, at the bucolic Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, The Chieftains present The Celtic Sessions, with very special guest Ry Cooder. The five-day event will be an opportunity for fans — both musicians of all levels and non-musicians — to deeply experience the rich beauty of Irish music and soak up one of modern music’s most enduring and fascinating careers. 
This once-in-a-lifetime experience grants fans unique and intimate access to a legendary world-music institution. Paddy and The Chieftains will offer master classes in traditional Irish music techniques and instruments, as well as conduct breakout sessions on songwriting and authentic Irish dance. There will be extensive Q&As where Paddy might discuss anything from the band’s stick-to-your-guns early days to teaching Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards a tricky traditional Irish rhythm. The musicians will also host private shows in which participants can actually jam with the band, and there will be a rare show with the Chieftains featuring Ry Cooder. The all-inclusive event will also include fine cuisine and a whiskey-tasting session. 
“Paddy fits in everywhere he goes, and I do my level best to fit in with him when I get the opportunity,” says special guest Ry Cooder, known for applying an authentic feel and bold personal voice to myriad forms of roots music. “We’re the old-timers now, the ringmaster and the sad clown. We know a thing or two.” Cooder is sure to inspire some wonderfully freewheeling performances. In 2010 he collaborated with The Chieftains on the commercial and critical smash San Patricio. Paddy has said the concerts with Cooder were some of his favorite in the band’s half-century career.
It all sounds too good to be true, and only a short hop across the border.  We were looking for someplace to go for our vacation this summer.  Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jacob Moon's Fascination

Jacob Moon is a Hamilton-based singer-songwriter who has a fascination with old records.  Me too.  I started collecting records in 1963.  The Beatles Twist and Shout was the first album in the house. Turned out that our turntable (called the record player in those days) didn't even play 33 1/3 records. Nor 45s for that matter.  So for a week we had to wait, my brother and I, to hear The Beatles.  My Dad came home from work, and on the way he stopped at the radio fix-it shop where they had installed a new 4 speed record changer.  We never did figure out what kind of records played at 16rpm, but we certainly made good use of 33 and 45!  We played that Twist and Shout album over and over again.  My Dad played his Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard records, my Mom Count Basie and Stan Kenton.  We heard, and appreciated it all.  We had a fascination with the music.  Still do.  And so does Jacob Moon.

Of course Jacob's younger then me, so his Fascination starts a few years later than the Beatles.  On his new CD he decided to pay tribute to the records that he played when he was young, digging through the oeuvre of bands like Rush, Marillion and Yes to find songs that he loved and would love to play. Then he gathered up some like minded friends, got together in the studio and laid down the tracks.

On the first two tracks (Rush's "Limelight" and his own "Is That All You Got") Jacob pays homage to his favourite Canadian band by joining with the Dave Barrett Trio to provide a remarkable cover version of the Rush classic, and a powerful original which feels like it could be a prog-rock classic.  Jason Farrar's bass and Alexander Tukatsch's drums form a foundation for Dave Barrett's singular guitar solos and Moon's own solid guitar playing and flexible vocal cords.  Man, he can sing.  Later on Moon has included his now famous rendition of Rush's "Subdivisions" which brought him to the attention of Geddy, Alex & Neil who requested he play at their induction into the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame!

There are two tracks from Marillion ("Kayleigh" and "Lavender") another of Moon's favourites.  He'll be joining them on a European tour in November.  He also does a version of "Owner of the Lonely Heart" a personal favourite of mine.  It's not from the classic Yes lineup, but a mid-80s reformation with Trevor Rabin.  Moon owns the tune!  He pretty much owns whatever he touches, whether it be Radiohead, Keane or Tom Waits.  His mellow rendition of "Pony" has been floating around YouTube for a while.

The generally solo guitarist/singer has brought in some quality support besides the Barrett Trio.  He is backed by drummers Rob 'Beatdown' Brown, David DeRenzo and Gord Stevenson; bassists George Koller and Mark McIntyre and vocalist Lisa Winn.  All the other sounds are produced by Jacob Moon himself.  He is a fine guitarist and is possessed of a superb voice which is perfect for these tunes.

The record cover shows photographs of the record shop where I buy most of my music these days.  And the cute little blonde fellow is one of Jacob's sons.  I was browsing through the racks at the shop the other day before I saw the cover photos and I came across a couple Marillion LPs.  I asked the owner, "Does Jacob Moon know you have these?"  to which he replied, "Yep!"  Little did I know that the photo session had taken place the night before.

All in all, this is a record which continues our fascination with the original recordings but adds to that Fascination by providing new grist for the mill, new ways to hear these songs.  Beautifully done Jacob, now all you listeners out there, get your orders in.  You won't want to miss this one!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, Hugh's Room (Sept.7, 2013)

How do you thank someone for providing you with fifty years of entertainment?  What’s the recipe for that?  On Saturday night Michael Wrycraft paid tribute to the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World with a concert at Hugh’s Room in Toronto!  OK, it’s true that Mick and Keith, Charlie and Ronnie (not to mention Brian, Mick and Bill) couldn’t be there to see it, but that doesn’t mean it was any less meaningful or wonderful for those of us who did turn up!  Holy cow! 
Wrycraft called it Get Yer Ya-Yas Out which was the name of one of the Stones’ finest live albums (one of the best live albums ever, really).  And I have to say, if anyone had any YaYas left in ‘em by the end of the night I feel sorry for them!  (Come to think of it…maybe the chatty woman at the back was stiflin’ her YaYas, maybe that was her problem).   The rest of us sure had a great time getting ours out!  YaYas that is!
Now I should tell you that Michael’s Tribute Shows tend to be a bit laid back sometimes.  That’s not a criticism, just an observation.   Of course, his shows have tended to be tributes to the great singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carole King, Roger Waters.  ROGER WATERS?!?  Thassright, Pink Floyd!  He did host a Pink Floyd show last year.  It was awesome!  Totally mind-blowing!  But the Stones?  The Stones require volume, and energy, and…volume.  And a drummer, of course.  You want to be able to turn to the audience at some point and say, “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he!?”   You could say that about all the drummers on Saturday night, each one adjusted the kit for themselves, and each one provided just the right amount of boom-boom-boom combined with appropriate tshh-tshhh-tshh! 
Right off the bat we got rolling, with Samantha Martin and the Haggard’s take on “Gimme Shelter”.  You’d’ve thought The Stones themselves were there as the familiar guitar riff kicked off, and then when Samantha opened her mouth…you thought, “Geez, who needs Mick?”  A blues drenched “Love In Vain finished their set.  Things calmed down a bit when Wrycraft introduced Jadea Kelly accompanied by the great steel guitarist Burke Carroll.  They did “Angie” and “Dead Flowers” and Jadea’s vocals were sweet, but the steel guitar was even sweeter.  Aaah! 
Next up Roxanne Potvin on guitar and vocals blew the roof off the place with a sizzling “Ventilator Blues” and an amazing take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”.  What a performance.  What raw courage!  Whew!  Her power could be a reason why Scott McCord seemed to be working so hard in following.  His renditions of “Sway” and “Happy” were solid, and the Bonafide Truth Horns blew up a storm, but we were just exhausted by what had come before.  The intermission was a welcome break, to catch our breath, and buy a CD or two.

The second set opened with guitar master Michael Occhipinti and saxophonist/singer Lester McLean jazzing it up on a Sonny Rollins tune.  They were celebrating Rollins’ 80th birthday because Rollins had played the sax solo on “Waiting On A Friend”.  Then they did that song with McLean tackling Mick Jagger’s high pitched “oohs” perfectly.  Between this tune and their incredible rendition of “Emotional Rescue” (including the ‘I’ll be your knight in shining ahhr-mour…’ part, done in McLean’s most fey-Jaggeresque style) the mix of sax, processed guitar and amazing singing added up to a real highlight.  But then O Susanna came on stage and said she didn’t feel like herself tonight, and invited us to see her as “a real @#$%in’ @##hole…Mick Jagger”.  You know what?  She sold “Under My Thumb”!  I bought it.  She was Mick, prowling, strutting, posturing.  And the band (which included two members of Blue Rodeo) rocked out beautifully.  “Shine a Light” was a surprise second track, well done!
I was looking forward to hearing from Gurf Morlix, because he had been a key part of Michael’s Beatles’ Tribute a while back, and also because I just flat out love this guy’s music.  He stepped up onto his stomp boxes and provided his own percussion for emotive takes on “Wild Horses” (with backup vocals from O Susanna) and “Let It Bleed”.  The guy is good. 
Then it was almost over.  Just one more band, Hamilton’s own Harlan Pepper.  They’re like twenty years old, but they’ve been together since 2008, and gigging hard ever since.  Fresh from the Daniel Lanois Greenbelt Picnic, and having opened for Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and Lee Harvey Osmond these guys know their way around a stage.  And they know their way around a Stones song too.  They captured the essence of the greatest rock’n’roll band with fiery versions of “Beast of Burden” and “Midnight Rambler”.  There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the thrill of watching and hearing these young fellas as they rocked the joint!  On their last note they were awarded with a spontaneous standing ovation.  Maybe the ovation was really for all that had gone before, but Harlan Pepper deserved it! 
All the performers came back for a“glorious trainwreck” version of “Sweet Virginia” but since Gurf and Samantha knew the song and led it off this was one of the best-sounding conclusions to a Wrycraft show I’ve ever heard.  This was Michael’s fortieth show, paying tribute to a fifty year old band.  It was AWESOME!  I look forward to another forty shows.              

photo by Robert Saxe

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream (Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto) Aug.21/13

(This review appeared in Critics at Large last week, but the show was so good...here it is again!)

I never would have dreamed it.  So how in the world did this happen?  These guys weren’t even speaking to one another for years, decades even.  Felix Cavaliere played a short set of familiar tunes in front of a band of hired guns at last year’s Hippie-Fest.  Five or six songs is all, and he sounded in great voice.  You-Tube videos showed Eddie Brigati re-tuning his vocal cords; and Dino Danelli together with Gene Cornish was on tour with The New Rascals. But this was the four guys together on one stage, like a real band, playing the hits (and the not quite hits) from fifty years ago.  Felix, Eddie, Dino and Gene on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  How in the world did this dream come true?
It’s all down to Steve Van Zandt, that’s right, Bruce Springsteen’s guitar playing pal, Tony Soprano’s right hand man, radio host, and all round music lover Miami Steve.   After inducting the original four Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 by wearing the “Little Lord Fauntleroy” suits the band wore for their first television appearances, Van Zandt had an idea to get the band back together.  It took him some time, funding the project with Kickstarter, and writing the show with enough political correctness to get the four feuding band members to agree to do it (but more about that later). 
The show is called Once Upon a Dream and Van Zandt’s pitch for funding read like this:  "To do justice to the Rascals importance, I've written a show for them that is just as unique as they are. It’s called "Once Upon a Dream".  It's a combination of a Rock Concert and a Broadway show that will include their own live performance by the original four Rascals - Felix, Eddie, Dino, Gene, and be complimented by filmed segments and news footage and will be a show that they can take all over the country....The show will be an uplifting inspiration for you fans that have been waiting all these years, praying for a Rascals comeback, and those of you who are younger will get a real taste of the '60's you missed the first time around. Me and Marc have invested our time, money, and blood these last few years for this idea and now we need you to bring it home. Not one dollar that is contributed will go into anyone's pocket, or be commissioned in any way, every dollar will go into the production making it as good as it can be, as great as the Rascals deserve....So that's it. The Rascals are coming back. We have been looking for other investors but nobody has any vision anymore. Frankly nobody believes in this dream except me, Marc, Peter and you. The production will be as big as you make it. On behalf of the Rascals Thank you." - Steven Van Zandt
They received pledges of $123,300, (nearly 25% more than they had asked for) and the show premiered on Broadway last April selling out 15 performances and leading to successful tour.  The show at the Royal Alex still features all four Rascals supplemented by backup singers, a bass player, and keyboardist.  The Rascals are centre-stage in front of a huge video screen on which is flashed all sorts of images.  The most interesting are individual interviews with the four guys, telling their story straight up.  These interviews are enhanced by brief re-enactments (by actors) of specific scenes from their career, or old photos and videos describing the milieu.  Look for conflicting images of war and peace, for instance, as The Rascals play songs from deep in their catalogue.  Other songs were highlighted with clips from Pam Greer films, or some erotic dancing, cartoons, or that oil and water thing that was so popular in the 60s. The lighting display was created by Van Zandt’s co-director Marc Brickman (who has worked with Pink Floyd).  The set list was rich with both hits and those lost classic from B-sides, or album tracks.  It was a feast for Rascals fans.  And they were legion.  The Royal Alex seemed full up.  Likely the heavily discounted seats offered in the previous 2 days had something to do with filling seats.  We ordered our tickets the Friday before the discounts were announced, so missed the savings but still felt we received our money’s worth, by the sheer professionalism of the production and the passion of the band.
Vinnie Pastore, best known as “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on The Sopranos, acts as narrator and manager Fat Frankie on the video.  The Jerseyness of the band is highlighted by his presence, and by the story itself.   At the end of the show Gene Cornish (who has been playing some wicked guitar licks all night, and tossing picks out into the audience) announced, “So as you know, Eddie and Dino are from New Jersey, Felix is from New York…but I was born in…OTTAWA!  Eh!?, Eh?!”  This to perhaps the biggest cheer of the night.
But cheers came early and often as the band played through 28 of their songs with a fire that could easily have gone out this long from the beginning.  The video material was interesting and well done, but we were there to hear (and SEE) the original Rascals, the four guys who tore it up on Ed Sullivan.  And there they were before our very eyes.  My friend Alex is still saying it this morning, “We saw the Rascals…we actually saw the Rascals!”  Indeed we did.  And perhaps it’s not reading too much into the reformation to notice that at the very end of the show, Felix Cavaliere, sat on the organ riser talking to a roadie while Eddie, Gene and Dino thanked Felix for being the genius he is.  “We were a band, a real band, but we had Felix and his voice and songwriting to lead us.”  Every group needs a leader I guess.  Is that what kept them apart for so long?  We’ll never know the truth, but Miami Steve has done a fine thing bringing them together for a rockin’ night in the theatre.  I never would’ve dreamed it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

In CASH We Trust!

Friday night, drive to Toronto, park at the grocery store, walk across Dundas St. to Hugh's Room and get seated.  Order dinner, maybe a cold pint.  Definitely a cold pint.  Say hello to A Man Called Wrycraft who will be our self-described "loveable emcee" for an evening of Johnny Cash tunes as interpreted by by a cadre of fantastic musicians. Is there a better way to spend a Friday night?  OK, Valdy was playing at The Pearl Company back in Hamilton, but let's face it...you can't do everything!

The pesto pan chicken is tender and tasty, and Ralph said that the eggplant rolls were excellent.  The Mill Street Tankhouse was icy cold.  Mmmm.  But enough of this...when does the music start?  Wrycraft moves to his perch near the foot of the stage.  Dave, the soundman, hands him his mic.  Michael welcomes everyone, and it's a full house tonight, and introduces the first act.  There are eight acts listed on the poster.  Each one will do two songs from Johnny Cash's repertoire.  Dear Sister comes up first, they joke about being dressed like Johnny and June, but they look much younger to me!  They do Beck's "Rowboat" and "Ain't No Grave".  These are from the Rick Rubin era of Cash's legacy, and the close harmonies of Bri and Raven start the evening on a high note.  They are followed by QuiQue Escamilla who adds a little chili pepper to the stew.  "Home of the Blues" gets things rolling but QuiQue really starts shaking on "I Walk the Line".  I have to see this guy's band!

When Ginger St. James takes the stage she owns it, and she brought her band with her.  They perform "Tennessee Flat Top Box" and "Orange Blossom Special".  Kudos to Snow-Heel Slim on guitar, and Greg Brisco on piano.  Next up is LeE HARVeY OsMOND.  I had heard that Tom Wilson (LHO's alter-ego) was going to do three songs, because Wrycraft wanted him to do "Folsom Prison Blues" (which Blackie & the Rodeo Kings had covered on the Johnny's Blues CD) and Tom does his three songs.  But he doesn't sing "Folsom"!  Instead, after a couple of colourful stories (don't ask!) and rocking renditions of "Rockabilly Blues" and "Ring of Fire" accompanied by The Claytones, he invites Tracy Brown (from The Family Brown) onstage for an impassioned "Jackson".  It was extraordinary.  After that energy, we all need a break.  The Claytones are everywhere on Friday night, singing backup, playing stunning guitar or mandolin solos.  Tom mentions that he wants to use them as his band on tour, after meeting them that night at the Hugh's Room DayCare Centre!      

The break is only 20 minutes, because there's lots of music left.  Galliano Island's T.Nile opens the second half.  It's the first time sound is a problem.  There are loud electronic pops, and T.'s fiddle accompanist seems distracted by something on the floor.  The DI box?  They manage their way through an interpretation of Johnny's version of NIN's "Hurt".  It works.  After another sad tune in A minor, they leave the stage to The Claytones.   The electronics issue continues through their first number, a beautifully sung and played version of "I Still Miss Someone".  Then they have to pay their debt to Tom Wilson, who traded them "Jackson" for "Folsom Prison Blues".  This is a song lead singer Kelly Prescott says they "don't know!"  Well...it sure sounds like they know it.  The Claytones are the surprise stars of the evening, popping up all over the place and adding brilliance everywhere they appear.

This leaves just two more acts.  James Keelaghan is first with powerful versions of "Sunday Mornin' Coming Down" and "The Long Black Veil."  Then it's all down to Cindy Church to close the show with "Big River" and "Flesh and Blood".  Cindy's pure voice is enhanced by some remarkable guitar picking from Wendell Ferguson.   And finally the whole cast, or what's left of them, join together on-stage for a rousing take on "It Ain't Me, Babe".  We all sing along.  It's the perfect closer for a perfect night.  Ralph looks at me and says, "This was fantastic!"  His daughter (who has been listening from the front door after arriving from the Blue Jays game texts, "next time bring ME!"

The next Wrycraft tribute?  It's The Rolling Stones in September.  Don't miss it!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gerry and the Pacemakers (Fallsview Casino)

The Avalon Theatre in the Fallsview Casino does not have a bad seat in the house. And the prices are good. We were in the third row, great sightlines, and tickets were only $34. Not bad to see Gerry & the Pacemakers. That is right...Gerry & the Pacemakers (not Gerry needs a pacemaker!). Trouble is that casino shows seem to be short. Gerry began his career playing all night long in the bars in Germany like their friends John, Paul, Ringo and George. Set after set of whatever songs they could learn, and rock up. Schmaltzy ballads, covers of Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis, maybe a Broadway tune, you name it, they played it. Well, here we are, fifty years on and Gerry is still doing the same thing, only now he does it for 75 minutes. But he crammed a lot of songs into that hour and a quarter. Of course, The Pacemakers have changed, brother Freddie died in 2006, Les Chadwick and Les McGuire are long gone. Even Wikipedia has no record of their whereabouts. They have been replaced by Steve Thompson on guitar, Garth Watt-Roy on bass, drummer Mitch Oldham and bandleader-keyboardist Tony Young. As long as Gerry steps out front, singing with the same strong tenor he always has, they will always be Pacemakers. He is 72 years old now, has gained a bit of weight, and lost a little hair, but he continues to be a charming compere. He tells stories, like inheriting the Mitch Murray tune How Do You Do It when The Beatles turned it down, and getting a phone call from John Lennon, jealous when the song went to number one. Both Gerry and The Beatles hailed from Liverpool and worked the same clubs. Gerry was the second signing to manager Brian Epstein. After an opening number Mony, Mony, by The Pacemakers it was Gerry all the way. He worked his way through all the hits, How Do You Do It, I Like It, Ferry Cross the Mersey, Jambalaya, and more interspersing them with covers of rock and roll classics like Rip It Up or Great Balls of Fire. He showed a bit of temper (call it frustration) when the wireless pickup on his guitar crapped out. The battery needed replacing.
A good question really. The evening closed with a rendition of the Liverpool Football Club anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone. We all sang along. Seventy-five minutes flew by. We knew every song. Certainly the six sisters in the front row were on cloud nine. It was a wonderful night remembering days gone by, with one of the greats.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Recent Happenings

A week or two ago we attended another of Wrycraft's tribute shows at Hugh's Room. This one was in honour of Carole King. The lady knows how to write a song, and the performers Michael chose certainly knew how to perform them. The stipulation was that each performer would choose (or be assigned...make no mistake, sometimes Michael picks your songs for you) one song from the early Brill Building years (when Carole was married to and writing with Gerry Goffin) and one from the Tapestry years. The amazing thing is how many songs Ms King wrote that have made an impact on our internal jukeboxes! With every song somebody in the capacity crowd whispered (or gasped) "I didn't know she wrote that!" Yep, songs that we knew in versions by The Monkees, Herman's Hermits, or James Taylor...they all flowed from the pen of Carole King. And the artists involved turned them inside and out but however they played 'em...they still had that unmistakeable meldoy that wouldn't let you go. Paul Reddick, who was accompanied by Colin Cripps on guitar, turned his tuens into blues, Chloe Charles offered R&B, George Koller had Carvin Winans to gospelize a pair and Aaron Jensen and Countermeasure sang accapella...gorgeous. Every one of the eight acts gave it their all. And with songs as good as Carole King's that made it a pretty special evening. Then there was an opportunity to see The Zombies in concert! That's right! The Zombies. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone together with a tight as a drum band playing all the songs. Oldies like "She's Not There," "Tell Her No," and "Time of the Season" plus solo tracks from Colin's career, and "Hold You Head Up" from Argent. The crowd was...ummm...grey haired but young at heart, and the band was fantastic sounding like the originals on the old stuff and not unlike Steely Dan on the new songs. I picked up the new CD and have been playing it ever since. Rod & Colin signed everything. Gerry & the Pacemakers are coming to Fallsview Casino in June, so I bought a pair of tickets for that. Of all the Merseybeat bands they were my favourite (next to The Beatles, of course). It will only be Gerry Marsden and a band of professionals but Gerry still has the voice! Jesse Winchester is coming back too, after recovering from throat cancer. The tribute CD that Jimmy Buffett put together is a great introduction to Jesse's work, but you have to hear Jesse do his songs. The guy's a genius of relaxed singing and a fine songwriter too.