Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bert Jansch...

I also post reviews on a blog called Sleeping Hedgehog. It's a pretty interesting site to browse, but I have a new review posted there, of a re-issued Bert Jansch album. Skip on over here to read my take on Heartbreak a 2 disc set produced by John & Rick Chelew. Bert Jansch is an under-appreciated guitarist whose last couple of albums brought him back to where he belongs. A re-issue campaign has provided some real treats for fans of acoustic guitar playing.
L.A.Turnaround came out three years ago. It had been unavailable for nearly thirty years. Produced by ex-Monkee and country-rock pioneer Michael Nesmith it makes a fine companion piece to Heartbreak. It includes a short film taken in 1974 at the time of the recording.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Crowbar (together again)

My wife and I went to see Crowbar (and Steve Strongman) at Mohawk College this weekend. I've written a more in-depth review over at Critics at Large, but suffice it to say...we had a ball! Kelly Jay, Roly, Rheal, the Ghetto and Sonnie along with all the support rocked the joint! Saw Skip Prokop out in the foyer! Steve Strongman and his band were excellent as usual. This weekend it's off to Hugh's Room for another of Wrycraft's Tribute Shows, this one to Tom Waits. Sounds like fun to me. We want to wish the McMaster Marauders best of luck in the Vanier Cup this weekend too! Go Mac, Go!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Judy Collins at Hamilton Place (Nov.3/12)

Had to miss my niece's wedding out in Red Deer, but belated congratulations to Amy and Jason! Hope you had a great party, and wish you all the best! Saturday night we went to the Studio Theatre at Hamilton Place to see Judy Collins! She walked out on stage at precisely 8pm, accompanied by her pianist and musical director Russ Walden. The stage was fairly plain, except for a dozen red roses in front of the grand piano. Russ took the bench and Judy came to centre stage carrying her 12-string Martin. She began with "Chelsea Morning" the first of a number of Canadian composed songs she would sing this evening. She forgot a word or two, but the audience (which seemed to be entirely made up of rabid Judy Collins fans) helped her along. They would do so again.
Between songs Miss Collins told long, rambling stories of the early days of folk music, how she started her career playing Mozart on piano, and switched to guitar when she fell in love with the olde folk songs. Her high soprano voice was rivalled only by Joan Baez at one time. These days it gets a tad shrill in the higher registers. The tales often drifted without a point, but if you knew about her history you could usually fill in the details. It's getting sad going to concerts by these legendary performers any more. When BB King can hardly finish more than one verse and a chorus, or Judy Collins has trouble with lyrics and range you have to wonder if it's worthwhile to go to these shows. Whatever her failings, Judy put on a fine show. She's a trouper! And as I mentioned, she looked great, in her purple tights, high pointy boots and sparkly top, she was the epitome of elegance. At the end she thanked the theatre and Elizabeth Arden. Nothing lined up in the next couple of weeks, although I'm looking forward to seeing Dave Swarbrick at the Pearl Company. Another old folkie!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Recent reviews...

Although from time to time this poor Rylander Quarterly blog may seem ignored by its explanation is that I am writing reviews that appear elsewhere. For instance I recently reviewed Pete Townshend's autobiography Who I Am for Critics at Large. You can read that by following this link link. Before that I read Neil Young's book Waging Heavy Peace which I also wrote about at Critics at Large. I've been reading quite a few books by musicians lately, including this fascinating one by Talking Heads' David Byrne. Not an autobiography, really, but certainly a book informed by the life and career of its author! I wrote about a few new blues albums here. And about a Jesse Winchester Tribute album here. I even discuss new CDs from Bill Bourne and Annabelle Chvostek. Over at Sleeping Hedgehog I reviewed a new 2 CD collection of all of Dion's singles on the Laurie label! Great stuff.
So I haven't been ignoring the scene...just submitting my thoughts elsewhere. Pay attention to Critics at Large. My associates on the staff also write some pretty good stuff. It's a daily blog, and with the Herculean efforts of Kevin Courrier and the rest of the editorial gang, it's much more regularly updated than Rylander. After all...I only promised to be Quarterly!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Which one's Pink?"

When Pink Floyd played Hamilton's Civic Stadium (now Ivor Wynn, and soon to be replaced by the PanAm Stadium) my grandmother (Nana) asked me, "Are you going to see Purple Harold?" I laughed, and replied that living as close to the stadium as we did...we didn't need to buy a ticket. Sure enough, we could hear Purple...err...Pink Floyd quite well until the wind changed. On Friday night at Hugh's Room in Toronto the wind changed a few times as a diverse group of Ontario musicians came together for The Great Gig in the Sky. This was another of Michael Wrycraft's tribute shows. He does about 5 of them a year. So far I've seen a Beatles show, Randy Newman, and last year's Tom Waits tribute and they've all had fine music, community spirit and lots of fun. That's how music should be.
Sure there are songs which don't sound like much fun. Roger Waters has written more than his share of them! The Final Cut album is full of them! No laughs there! Paul Neufeld & Denis Keldie (on keyboards and accordion) sure made that clear. Their versions of 2 songs from that album provided the emotional downturn. Don't get me wrong, they sounded dandy, it's just that the songs are such downers. The rest of the acts chose from Floyd albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall. Wrycraft advised to stay with the hits, he "[didn't] care about Syd Barrett anyway!" [And there I was wondering who would do "Bike" or "Arnold Layne".] The songs that worked best were the hits, "Have a Cigar", "Money" and "Wish You Were Here" all done very differently than Roger, Dave, Nick and Richard did 'em, but all keeping the melody and treating them with respect. The love this group of musicians showed for the songs of Pink Floyd was incredible. When Retrocity began the night with vocalese versions which included percussion and guitar solos I wondered how anyone would top them. Every time another act stepped onto the stage, the same thought ran through my mind, and yet, each one was just as mind-blowing as the last. The loopers were extraordinary, although David Celia had some trouble with the lyrics, his construction of Pink Floyd's audio wash was amazing. Jean-Paul deRoover added a roomful of new fans with his energetic set. Michael Occhipinti and Elizabeth Shepherd, Andrea Koziol, the remnants of LAL (essentially Ian deSouza on bass) and Dominic Mancuso all provided stunning renditions of Floyd classics. If I'd had a pen with me I could've credited each performer with the correct songs but I was so entranced by the concept, and the incredible music that I can only say, everyone played beautifully, and all the favourites were covered (except maybe for "Bike" and "Arnold Layne"). An extraordinary evening topped off by a stage full of tired singers and players rambling through "Another Brick In the Wall", "Hey...teacher...leave those kids alone!" Thanks Michael...just remember though...some of us like Syd Barrett!

Friday, August 31, 2012

So THAT'S a House Concert!?!

Dr. John has a great song called "Such a Night". And it is the perfect theme for last night's house concert at Jacob Moon's backyard. He dubbed it Yardstock but there was no rain, or mud, no bad trips, they didn't have to close down the QEW, and Richie Havens didn't show up. Just 40 or 50 music lovers and a couple of really fine music makers. To get to Jacob's backyard, you have to go through his house. Gee, is it always so tidy? Suzie Vinnick stood at the front door greeting and welcoming everyone. We dragged our lawnchairs into the yard and found a spot with good sightlines. Had to move just a little because the playhouse ladder was in the way. But there were really no bad sightlines. The next door neighbours were in their yard, with other spectators, a BBQ cooking sausages and a cooler full of cold beverages. All the money went to charity. The night couldn't have been more perfect. The sky was clear, a full moon shone through the trees, and the yard was filled with peace and love. Jacob played the first set, showing off his precise guitar playing and his clear tenor. He mixed originals from his most recent CDs with some well chosen covers and pleased the crowd with every tune. He did a fine cover of Bruce Hornsby's "That's Just the Way It Is". Suzie Vinnick joined him for Paul Simon's "Under African Skies". The guy is a master looper, and showed it. After 40 minutes he announced a short break. People mingled, they grabbed another bevvie or sausage, Alison Kraus sang over the PA and the lineup for the lavatory finally diminished. Then it was Suzie's turn. After she introduced herself with the Tim Horton's jingle, she sang blues from her 2 most recent CDs. Dirty blues, funny blues, even silly blues. Between the blues she sang some originals from other albums. "Happy Here" and "Looking For a Kiss" from the Stephen Fearing produced album, and "I Need a Cowboy" from 33 Stars. She even got the audience to join in a couple times. She called Jacob to join her on a trio of blues tunes and he was only too happy to oblige. His guitar leads were looser and wilder than the carefully structured things he plays on his own songs. It was a pleasure to hear him let go. The night ended with an old spiritual which we all sang along with, and it was time to go. All I could think of was Dr.John...And it's such a night / it's such a night / Sweet confusion under the moonlight / It's such a night, such a night / To steal away, the time is right. "Sweet confusion?" Maybe not...but it sure was such a night under the moonlight...hopefully the time'll be right for Yardstock III soon enough!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ry Cooder’s Rabble-Rousing New Album (from The New Yorker)

Originally posted July 25, 2012 by Alec Wilkinson
Ry Cooder, who over the course of fifty years has become one of the most singular musicians in America, has a new record, “Election Special,” a collection of songs with a political cast, which comes out in August. Cooder is nothing like as well known as he might be, because he would rather do practically anything than perform in public. He established himself initially as a studio musician, playing in private, and in the past decade he has played in public only a handful of times, several of them only as a sideman. “The people who like the applause should have it,” he once said, “I just don’t care for it.” He has appeared so infrequently that a feeling of nervousness has built up around the occasion. What he will meet, he knows, is three rows of guitar players with their camera phones aimed at his hands, and three more rows of wiseasses, saying, “This is supposed to be a great guitar player? How come he’s not shredding?” Remarks like that can go a long way to dampen the pleasure of the occasion for him, especially if the theatre is intimate. As for his abilities, no other guitar player has mastered the range of styles that Cooder has, or even come close—variations of blues playing (Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy come to mind); slide playing that is sometimes so succinct it is searing; Joseph Spence-style fingerpicking; his own version of electric guitar playing, the most widely known example of which is “Honky Tonk Women,” which Keith Richards based on Cooder’s playing (Cooder was recording with the Stones at the time, on “Let It Bleed,” and Richards wrote the song after listening to him). Cooder’s reach is wide—if you don’t believe me, search Ry Cooder and see all the musicians who list him as an influence. Paul Simon once asked a guitar maker to build him a guitar like Cooder’s—it’s the guitar Simon is holding on the cover of “You’re the One.” Guitar playing is not the only thing Cooder does, though. He also assembled, rehearsed, picked the repertoire for, and recorded a group of old men in Cuba whom he called The Buena Vista Social Club. The record he made with them was the best-selling in world-music history, and led many musicians and producers to see dollar signs when they looked at Cuba. Cooder’s uncommonness as an artist is the exemplification of Rainer Maria Rilke’s remarks, originally made about Cezanne, “The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and, as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity.” The songs that Cooder has chosen to record, and his own writings, too, have always had a populist tendency. He likes unions. He likes working men and their lore, detectives, and shadowy parts of Los Angeles, where he has lived all his life. “Election Special” expresses his scorn and outrage about what used to be called current events. “Some of these tunes are a little bitter, I will admit,” he has said. The “Mutt Romney Blues” is sung as if by Romney’s dog, the one he tied on the roof of the car when his family went on vacation. “It don’t look right / don’t seem right,” the dog sings. “Hot in the day / cold all night; Where I’m goin’ I just don’t know / Po’ dog got to bottle up and go.” “The Wall Street Part of Town,” has a narrator looking for refuge in the part of town where the wind always blows at your back and the ground tilts in your favor. In “Cold Cold Feeling,” Obama is wandering alone, late at night: “I walked up and down the White House / Till I wore the leather out from under my shoes / I didn’t have nothing but the cold cold President blues.” The narrator in “Going to Tampa” is on his way to the convention with ideas in his head. Bring back Willie Horton and scare the nation and blame the Mexicans is one of them. The record rises to a climax with “Take Your Hands Off It,” Cooder’s rebuke to politicians and their posses, the harm they have caused in the service of greed, and the damage they have done to essential rights around the world. “Get your dirty hands off my Constitution,” it begins, and each verse is a reprimand that spreads like the circles from a stone tossed into a pond. “Get your greasy hands off my Bill of Rights,” and so on, through reproductive rights and war-making. “You don’t speak for God, you know he don’t belong to you.” Pete Seeger believes that songs are more effective as political tools than writing is, because a piece of writing is read once, and songs are sung over and over. A firebrand song is what “Take Your Hands off It” is, a rabble-rousing call, and by the end, you feel all stirred up and ready to close the curtain behind you and pull some levers.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jacob Moon

I had a drink with Jacob Moon the other night.  We met at the West Town Tavern and found a booth at the back.  They were out of Rickard's White, so JM settled for a pot of tea while I had a Rickard's Blonde.  We both made these drinks last a while. 
We talked for a bit about really bad album covers...looking through a book Jacob brought as an ice-breaker.  It's those independent vinyl albums of gospel songs that seem to be the worst. 
Jacob had some questions about the best way to approach a reviewer with new material.  Should he just mail it out, or make an initial request?  I think the request is the best route.  It's what I prefer.  Some people send me an e-mail comparing their music to something they know I like..."My new album sounds like Ry Cooder..."  Well, of course it doesn't.  It might be influenced by Ry Cooder, or have a mandolin part, or a bottleneck guitar, but it won't sound like Ry Cooder.
Jacob asked, "Okay, who would you compare me to?"
I couldn't think of anyone.  Acoustic guitar arrangements, clear tenor voice, melodic songs, maybe some looping...but really I couldn't answer his question.  I had been playing his 2005 CD eventide in the car on the way down and had thought about sounded like...Jacob Moon.  Sure, I guess you could link him to dozens, hundreds of other troubadours, but that's the cheap way out.  First of all he writes songs that are spiritual, singing about God, and it's a God I recognize.  He chooses interesting songs to cover, when he does cover a song.  On eventide he does a Peter Gabriel song "Come Talk To Me", on landing he covers Paul Simon's "Under African Skies"...not your typical covers by any means.  And then there's the most famous thing he's done, a stunning rendition of Rush's "Subdivisions" on 2007's The Loop.  Surely you've seen the video on YouTube.  Rush were so taken by it they had him perform it for their induction into the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame. 
He played it at a concert we hosted at our church, I told him it was the first time a Rush song had been played in that sanctuary.  He laughed.
landing is 10 years old this year, and Jacob is celebrating by releasing a newly recorded version of the same set of songs.  He thinks it will show how the songs have grown and developed, how his style has matured.  Should be out in the fall, and I am looking forward to it.  The original was recorded live and the new one was done the same way at a special couple of shows earlier this year. 
Jacob likes live recordings, this will be his third.  He plays live a lot, he wants to, has to, to maintain his career as a musician.  Somewhere I read that he had played in innumerable Indigo/Chapters stores, but is his music suitable for browsing?  I've seen people playing in these stores, and wondered how they like doing it.  I guess having your audience distracted by the new James Lee Burke book isn't that much different than having them distracted by the lack of Rickard's White on tap tonight.
Listening to Jacob Moon music as I write this I find it beautifully recorded and well-played.  I love the sound of the guitar.  Sometimes at home I will just pick up a guitar and fingerpick chords and riffs for an hour to relax myself.  Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast.  We talked about the healing powers of music.
Jacob released a Christmas album in 2007, and it's a gorgeous collection of classic seasonal songs with an added new one from Jacob's pen.  His most recent release is the EP Maybe Sunshine from 2009.  It's more melodic guitar-based music from a guy who deserves to be heard.  Check him out at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Skip Prokop, drummer and songwriter from The Paupers, and Lighthouse, has a new CD. It's called Smoothside because it shows Skip's smooth side. Jazzy, almost a George Benson feel with some sterling guitar work from Matt Shelvock and featuring the keyboard work of Jesse O'Brien the album is a nice change. Mellow, relaxed, solid drumming, great production, and some interesting vocal arrangements. You can order it now and receive a signed CD, along with a signed 5"x7" photo of Skip if you're among the first 1000 to order. Listen to what they've done to a few Lighthouse tunes to get a sense of the whole thing. I'm not sure about "Pretty Lady" though. It's the lead-off track and to my ears it is very dated. Things pick-up right away though. I've been reading quite a bit lately. Mainly biographies. Carole King's A Natural Woman was my favourite, but I also enjoyed Greg Allman's My Cross To Bear and Sophia Parkes's story of Eliza Carthy Wayward Daughter. Check my reviews on Critics at Large. Was supposed to tip a jar with Jacob Moon last night but we got our times mixed up and we had to postpone. Looking forward to chatting with him about music. He's hosting a house concert in August with the amazing Suzie Vinnick. She'll be promoting her new live blues CD. Can't wait. But before that we'll be in Chicago for a visit to Buddy Guy's Legends, and to check out The Million Dollar Quartet on-stage.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Weight" (what does it all mean?)

Somebody asked the question about whether the lyrics to "The Weight" were Biblical or not. OK, in fact there was no question...they simply said, "Well that song is all from the Bible, you know!" Sorry...that's not the case. Even in the Bible there's nobody named "Crazy Chester"! Nazareth, where the story takes place, refers to the town in Pennsylvania about 70 miles north of Philadelphia. In the liner notes for the Across the Great Divide box set, Robbie Robertson (who wrote the song) is quoted as saying that he chose that place because they make legendary Martin Guitars there, so he was aware of the place and been there once or twice. We stopped there on a trip to Pennsylvania, and had a great tour of the Martin Guitar Factory. In fact, if we hadn't got lost three or four times and had arrived when we meant to...we would've run in to Eric Clapton checking out a guitar he was having built! The characters in the song - Crazy Chester, Luke, Anna Lee, are based on friends of the band. In Levon Helm's autobiography This Wheel's On Fire: Levon Helm And The Story Of The Band, he explained: "We had two or three tunes, or pieces of tunes, and 'The Weight' was one I would work on. Robbie had that bit about going down to Nazareth - Pennsylvania, where the Martin guitar factory is at. The song was full of our favorite characters. "Luke" was Jimmy Ray Paulman. "Young Anna Lee" was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch. "Crazy Chester" was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville who came into town on Saturdays wearing a full set of cap guns on his hips and kinda walked around town to help keep the peace,if you follow me. He was like Hopalong Cassidy, and he was a friend of the Hawks. Ronnie would always check with Crazy Chester to make sure there wasn't any trouble around town. And Chester would reassure him that everything was peaceable and not to worry, because he was on the case. Two big cap guns, he wore, plus a toupee! There were also "Carmen and the Devil", "Miss Moses" and "Fanny," a name that just seemed to fit the picture. (I believe she looked a lot like Caladonia.) We recorded the song maybe four times. We weren't really sure it was going to be on the album, but people really liked it. Rick, Richard, and I would switch the verses around among us, and we all sang the chorus: 'Put the load right on me!'" There has been more than a little debate among Classic Rock DJs and enthusiasts over the real meaning of this song [including the enthusiast who brought this up at the swimming pool last week!]. Robertson has insisted time and again there is no biblical subtext, but many people think he may be deflecting. Consider the following: -the narrator can't find a bed in Nazareth, and the guy to whom he makes an inquiry just smiles and says "no" -Carmen and the devil were walking side by side, Carmen can go but her friend the devil has to stick around - an allusion to ever-present temptations -"Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fall" - possible allusion to Paul on the road to Damascus [although...I think the lyric is "caught me in the fog" which rhymes a whole lot better with "take Jack my dog"! And what "allusion to Paul on the road to Damascus"? Saul wasn't 'crazy' and okay, while the Bible does say "he fell to the ground" that's a pretty big stretch to think Crazy Chester alludes to him!] -the most glaring one: "I do believe it's time to get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one who sent me here with her regards for everyone" - Miss Fanny is the one who sent him to Nazareth, but now it's time for him to go back to her; Miss Fanny is God, the "time" in question is the crucifixion, and "regards for everyone" is Jesus dying for all of man's sins. That's the most glaring allusion! That Miss Fanny is GOD? Yikes! I think it more likely, and I believe Robbie Robertson would agree with me, that the lyric is a stream of consciousness thing combining characters in and around Woodstock, with some herb-induced creativity, and a little bit of luck. Great song, but not quite as deep as some might like you to believe!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

To Hear Doc Watson, You Really Had to See Him

This appreciation of Doc Watson by Ry Cooder appeared in the New York Times artsbeat blog.
Doc Watson, who died on Tuesday at age 89, was the first truly great guitar player I ever saw up close. For me, growing up in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1950s meant that great musicians were only manifested on records and radio, making it hard to catch a glimpse of the person behind the layers of sound and presentation. You knew people like Hank Snow and Merle Travis were great, but you couldn’t be sure how much the Nudie suits and custom boots had contributed to the sound you heard on KXLA radio. Then, Doc and the banjo player Clarence Ashley and some of the boys drove out to Los Angeles for the first U.C.L.A. Folk Festival in 1963. On the lawn by Royce Hall, the gothic classical music venue, they gathered around and sang “Daniel Prayed,” an intricate call-and-response-style gospel tune. The public was here and there, wandering around aimlessly, like they do at these events. It was casual and unannounced — we hadn’t entered into the hyperorganized way of music appreciation just yet — that came later with the big rock shows. Fred Price led the song with his old man’s ghostly voice, Clint Howard joined in on farm-boy tenor and Doc added his resonant bass, which was severe and shocking. In their tradition, the instruments are rested and the song is like a breathing exercise. Daniel prayed every morning, noon, and night, it says. I wondered if there were more people right there on the lawn than had ever assembled in their church back home in Deep Gap, N.C., to hear about Daniel and the nonstop prayer, but that didn’t bother Doc and the boys. Then, Ed Pearl, the owner of the folk music club the Ash Grove, took them away somewhere to get a sandwich. Their place back home would probably just about fit in between the lawn and the food tent, I remember thinking. I also remember thinking that these men know something about music I’ll never know, even if I practice and study all my life. You have to be born into it. That way, every note and word and gesture has meaning, and your notes and sung words line up with those of your friends and make a whole statement about life that is tiny but eternal. Now another rounder has gone. Doc made many good recordings, but you needed to be in his close presence to pick up the sound of his life and times; the microphone can’t do that for you, I’m sorry to say. Later that day, I was sitting on a bench playing guitar, and Doc and Ed Pearl walked by. Doc stopped and listened. “Who’s that?” he asked Ed. “That’s Ry Cooder, he’s a youngster.” “Sounds pretty good,” Doc said, and they walked on.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gregg Allman blues...

Just got a cancellation notice from the place where I bought the signed Gregg Allman bio. According to an email the publisher discovered that their inventory of signed copies was signed Gregg Allman book! #$%^!
I guess I'll just buy the e-version and save myself some money. The e-book edition of Buddy Guy's new one looks really good on the iPad!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Quadrophenia Demos, volume 2

Thanks to Jesse who tracked it down and brought it home, I now have volumes 1 & 2. Oh, sure, I know...the songs are all on the Quadrophenia CD set, but that's not the point is it!?! It's all about the collecting. And...ummm...the storing. OK I admit, the storing does become a problem after the collecting part goes on for as long as I've been doing it, but I did sell off a bunch of vinyl 2 years ago and bought a bike with the proceeds. A pretty nice bike too. And...I could've traded all that vinyl in, for much higher And I didn't do that. That's progress isn't it? vinyl copies of Blunderbuss and Dr. John's Locked Down, are here too. Just waiting for my signed copy of Gregg Allman's autobiography to arrive. Problem? No I don't have a problem.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Steve Strongman, Live in Hamilton

Steve Strongman has introduced his new releases at Hamilton Place's Studio theatre for quite a while now. We've attended almost all of them. The audience is always filled with family and friends, neighbours and fans, so a good time is virtually guaranteed. He shows every time that he is following the advice given to him by his mentor Mel Brown, "Strong-Man, he called me Strong-Man, give the people what they want!" That he does. So when the people called out for both "Birthday Song" and "River" as encore choices, he said, "What the hell, I'll play 'em both." It took a long time, though, to get to the encore. Steve is looking prosperous these days, wearing a fine pair of Italian shoes, silk socks and a new grey suit. One imagines he treated himself to this finery after winning the Maple Blues Award for Best Blues Guitarist a month or so ago. He came out on a stage that was dressed up with some plants, and an old wooden dresser he found earlier that day sitting on the side of the road, marked 'FREE'. Homey! The new album is an acoustic affair. Steve played an acoustic for five years before switching to electric guitar, and says he still "loves the sound" and I love it too. He started things off playing a 12-string on "Haven't Seen It Yet" a tune from the new A Natural Fact CD. He would go on to play all 12 of that album's tracks, but that was the point of the was a CD release party, and the merch table had plenty of CDs for sale! He switched to the old Gibson J45 for a few songs, then blew harp and sang "Just One Thing" before bringing out the band.
His band was made up of olf compatriots and relatives. Colin Lappsley played a cool electronic stand-up bass, and added backup vocals; Dave King drummed alternating between a pair of brushes and the heaviest drumsticks I've ever seen. My wife said they looked like hockey sticks! And they had a beat you might imagine hockey sticks would have. Steve's cousin, the brilliant pianist Jesse O'Brien tinkled the 88s, and you might've thought it was Dr. John sitting on the bench. Jesse always adds to the excitement when he joins the band. Steve strapped on a thin-line cutaway Guild for "Full of You" and would alternate between this axe and a shiny new resonator guitar for much of the band set. Whatever guitar he held, he played beautifully. His finger-picking is precise, and his slide playing stings. He definitely understands dynamics and is not afraid of sharing the solo space with Jesse O'Brien who was his usual marvelous self. This is not to take away from Dave and Colin who provided solid support throughout the night. Everyone on-stage and off had a fine time.
As the clock edged toward 10:30 Steve and the band played a few older songs from Honey and Blues In Colour to keep the people satisfied. They were fired up and filled with energy, that was contagious. After the three song encore, we filed into the night, stopping only to pickup our own copy of A Natural fact. I should mention the opening act, local bluesman Alfie Smith whose gruff voice, and startling finger-picked country blues set the stage for Steve's more urban sound. All in all a fine evening of blues music.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Last night I went to the store...

I had to buy the George Harrison movie from Martin Scorsese. It's taken it so long to come out on DVD, blu-ray. So I picked up the blu-ray, and of course had to get a copy of Early Tracks, Volume 1 too...real demos and home recordings, but essential for a fan. And the new Norah Jones deluxe CD was a good price too, very mellow but good. Jesse got an Essential Rockabilly CD and a 2-disc Wanda Jackson set. So he'll be rockin' down the highway today! I also picked up the new issue of Sing Out! with Abigail Washburn on the cover. It has a Ry Cooder song transcribed, which I present as my gift to you. You should buy Sing Out! because Woody sez, "One little issue of Sing Out! is worth more to the humanly race than any thousand tons of other dreamy, dopey junk...I don't know a magazine big or little that comes within a thousand million miles of Sing Out! when it comes to doing good in this world." Hey! Woody said it...not me! I think that giving you this sample of what they give every issue, is in keeping with the folk process and here you go:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lightfoot ALL LIVE

Gordon Lightfoot. Two words that say a lot about music in Canada. The first time I saw him live was in 1967, during celebrations for our country's centennial. There was a big show down at Confederation Park. Rich Little, The Big Town Boys and Gordon Lightfoot. We all went. After all we were teenagers now. It was a great show. The Big Town Boys sorta rocked. Rich Little was funny. And Lightfoot was great. John Stockfish on bass and Red Shea on guitar. I went home and learned a bunch of Gord's gold! I think he had just one album out at the time, so it didn't take too long. But I started buying Lightfoot albums after that. In April 2010 I saw him again. At Hamilton Place, with a bigger band including Terry Clements on lead guitar. Even with the added instrumentation he didn't sound that different. Lightfoot doesn't rock out. He is however, the master of his domain. He owned the stage, and everyone's attention that April night. If it hadn't been for the guy behind me singing along with every song, and the girl in front of me texting each title to someone off site, it would've been a perfect evening. As it was, it was still not bad. Not bad at all. Lightfoot prepared a collection of live recordings from Massey Hall (for years he's taken a week of gigs there) and worked with Bob Doidge from Grant Avenue Studios to make it sound just so. He wanted to capture the sound of Massey Hall. The idea was to release this album after Gord passed away. A gift to his fans. But then Terry Clements died last year. So the recording came out early, in tribute to Clements, Gord's guitarist since Red Shea left. Forty years. That's time to develop some real sympatico.
ALL LIVE is the album of these recordings. It came out this week, and I've been listening for a couple of days. Fifteen of the nineteen tracks were played in the Hamilton Place concert, so you know you're getting a collection of his best known songs. Maybe even his best songs. That's for you to decide. The tunes come from his whole career, from nearly 30 albums over 45 years. The band is tight as can be, never missing a beat. Gord's voice and phrasing seem slightly over-exaggerated, in that crisply enunciated way he has, but it's a style thing. He sounds fine. And Doidge managed to capture the room too. Massey Hall is a wonderful place to hear music. I've heard Paul Simon, Levon Helm, David Gilmour and (most recently) Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and they all sounded great in the old hall. Doidge placed microphones out in the audience to capture the ambient sound. Lightfoot himself sent back a couple of mixes til he convinced Bob to go with the pure sound. It paid off. This is a good sounding record. Thankfully you cannot hear anybody else singing along with the songs. There's no video portion to distract you with flashing cellphones. Just the sound of a dynamite band playing some classic tunes by a legendary performer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Record Store Day, April 21, 2012

Wow! I am so disappointed! I went to four different independent record stores on Saturday, my "pocket's were heavy with loot". I couldn't find any of the things I set out to find. Last time I bought Volume 1 of the Pete Townshend demos for Quadrophenia and was looking for Volume 2 this time. It was nowhere to be found! Nobody had Richard Thompson's 45rpm. Or Jerry Lee Lewis Live at Third Man Records. (Fortunately I can order that one from Third Man!) I did manage to score Paul McCartney's Another Day single, and a 45 by The Mynah Birds (with Neil Young and Rick James). And I picked up the Black Keys' El Camino album again for my son (this time re-formatted on a couple of 45rpm records, with a poster, and a 7" of live stuff). And I got a pair of really cool Marshall ear-phones at 20% off [not really a RSD deal]. Oh, then I grabbed an early release copy of Jack White's Blunderbuss CD from a store I will not name [mainly because I like getting releases a couple of days early!] I know it's a bit of a lottery on RSD but I certainly expected to be able to find the Townshend, since I was still seeing Volume 1 in stores a month ago! Oh well, there's always eBay I suppose! But, wasn't the point of Record Store Day the local independents? Hmmm.

Jesse Winchester's first album...

even more special now...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jesse Winchester at The Pearl Company

It was a sad night. The death of Levon Helm was hard to take.
I had been waiting for Jesse Winchester to return for several months, ever since Barbara Milne gave an advance notice on the Pearl Co. blog. I ordered my tickets immediately. Decided to get down there early, to find a good parking place, both for the car and for my seat! Gary was handing out parking passes at the Drug Store lot, so I decided to drive around the block and park there. Had to break up a street hockey game, where the kids yell, "Car!" and scatter leaving the goalie to shuffle the net out of the way. I guess these fellas had been interupted more than once, they barely moved enough for the car to pass, giving me a stink eye as I slowly drove by. I had to smile. Parked, talked to Gary, and went to the front of the old warehouse that is Hamilton's warmest, most intimate music venue. There was a group of people on the street, "Doors open in 5 minutes!" Up the stairs, pay my money, grab two seats, dead centre, first riser. Ah nice, no big hairdos or chatty couples will block my view. Leave my coat and bag on the seats, and go grab a coffee. Then...the waiting. I talked to Jim from Freewheelin' Folk, introducing myself and chatting about Ian Thomas, Jackie Washington and, of course, Levon. A David Rea story. David and Levon played on Jesse's first album. The foldout cover with the same photo reproduced four times. The crowd grew, Rich and Kim arrived, Bryan (the other guy from Freewheelin' Folk), and then Frank arrived. It's great to see the Pearl full. I've been there when there was only a handful of us, but Barbara & Gary deserve success. They've built this place up with their bare hands...and passion. Passion for the arts, for music, theatre, creative people. Then it's 8:00. The appointed hour. Gary pitches The Pearl Review magazine (which I forgot to buy...again!) and introduces "Jesse Winchester"! There's almost a standing ovation as Jesse walks to the stool, and plugs in his guitar. It's a nylon string guitar. Hardly anybody plays those things anymore. But Jesse Winchester does. And he plays it in a way unlike anyone else. Kind of a percussive fingerpicking style. It sounds great, and with his clear tenor voice floating above it, it's simply beautiful. He sings one song, and then talks about Levon. They didn't hang out, but they knew each other. Of course they did. "Heaven's band just improved," he quips, "and it was already pretty good." He sings, and plays, lullabyes, love songs, and his quirky story songs. Like "It's a Shame About Him" and "Gentleman of Distinction". He sells the punch lines with this fabulous face, eyes like saucers, mouth like rubber. The laughs are welcome. It's been a sad day. But this is the healing power of music. I've seen friends restored from fights with the wife, trouble at work, money problems, health issues and even family suicide attempts, by a few songs. Levon would understand. This was the whole point of what he spent his life doing! And that's what Jesse Winchester does best. At the end of the first set, Rich leaned over and said, "He's already played the only 2 songs I know. What's he gonna do next?" I said, "He's gonna play some songs that you're gonna know!" And that's just what he did. Songs from his long career. "Yankee Lady", "Biloxi", from that first album, "Mississippi You're On My Mind", then "Eulalie", "Foolish Heart", and "Talk Memphis" right through to "Bless Your Foolish Heart" and "Lonely For A While" from Love's Filling Station. He even did the song that made Neko Case cry on Spectacle, his paean to doowop, "Sham-a-ling-dong-ding". And it nearly made me cry. After putting his guitar down for an accapella rendition of "You Can't Stand Up Alone" he walked off. He returned, of course, for one more number. Can't ignore those ovations...especially the standing kind. Of course there's the increasingly rare prone ovation but the kind of geezer that drives a Mercury Grand Marquis doesn't see too many of those anymore! I had the opportunity for a brief chat with Jesse after the show. He remains a southern gentleman, and one of the great singer-songwriters of this, or any other, generation!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

R.I.P. Levon Helm

Sad news today...Levon Helm has passed on.
Just saw him last March at Massey Hall, and he was extraordinary.
Here's a great remembrance from Rolling Stone magazine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ian Thomas at The Spectator Auditorium

They call it the Freewheelin' Folk Series and over the past few years they've featured such fine artists as Jesse Winchester, Ian Tamblyn, Harrison Kennedy, Suzie Vinnick, Tom Wilson and many others. They offer a subscription to four concerts a year, or you can buy individual seats. If you subscribe you get reserved seating at the featured concert, but the venue is intimate enough that you don't really need the reservation. I wish that the sightlines were better at the Spectator though, because the woman in front of me must have had neck problems, her head was wiggling back and forth all night. If I leaned to the left the woman in front of HER had big hair, to the right neck lady leaned against her husband. So...intimate in sound, awkward in sight. I had no trouble watching the bass player or keyboardist who accompanied Ian Thomas, but Ian himself was seated, and hidden behind hairdos and rubbernecks.
It didn't really matter, since I know what Ian looks like. He does too, as he made a considerable joke about it, recalling someone who he ran into at an airport in Calgary who asked, "Hey! Aren't you Ian Thomas? What the hell happened to you!?!?"
Well...he aged. Look in the mirror, you did too. He's only a year older than I'm not casting any stones!
Ian complained about having a cold and warned that his voice might not be what we hoped...but I don't think anyone was disappointed. He managed to come fairly close to the notes for the most part, and the instrumental portion was excellent. He may claim that he spent more time figuring out song structure than working on 6-string virtuosity, but he's not a bad woodshedder, alternating between a Taylor acoustic and a gorgeous orange Gretsch.
He sang old songs and new from an upcoming solo CD due any time. He's been announcing the release of this solo work for a while, and played me a couple of demos when I visited him in his new studio last fall. Of course everyone loves the oldies, "Painted Ladies," "Right Before My Eyes," "Pilot," and more. He sang a couple of songs from the late, lamented Boomers (his band with Bill Dillon, et al) and not much from Lunch at Allen's. But it was Ian Thomas night, and the near capacity crowd was happy to have him there.
At least he wasn't wearing this lovely purple suit from the early days. This outfit, and many of Ian's relics are on display at McMaster University's Archive, in the basement of Mills Library. Posters, awards, his old touring case, and songbooks are on display. It's like Disneyland for the Ian Thomas fan. OK, not quite, but it is a fascinating look through the career of this local hero.
The career retrospective of Saturday night was an auditory addition to the tactile collection at McMaster. Too bad we don't have a recorded memory, but you could have picked up Ian's most recent collection of hits, called Radio Songs and he would have gladly personalized it for you. That's just the kind of guy he is. Look for him at Detour enjoying a cappuccino some afternoon!

2 more new songs from Ry Cooder

Get Your Hand Off My Constitution
Bottle Up and Go

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (and Queens)

It was a warm Wednesday night in Toronto. Unseasonably warm. We'd been waiting for this day for what seemed like forever. Rich had to drive back from Sudbury, and arrived just 20 minutes before the show. In front of Massey Hall a crowd had gathered. A Man Called Wrycraft called me over to the corner, we chatted with Paul Reddick, then Rich joined us. Wrycraft accosted a guy who was selling B&W photos of The Rodeo Kings.
"Did you take those pictures?" he asked.
"Nice pictures...they look like Bob Lanois pictures to me. Did you really take these pictures?"
"Umm...I gotta go..." and he disappeared around the corner.
Well...everybody's got to make a buck I guess. The ten dollar T-shirts wouldn't appear on the street 'til after the show let out. Inside the T-shirts were $30, and posters $20, CDs and World Vision children to adopt.
Inside the temperature was a bit cooler, our floor seats had great sightlines, and Michael and his photographer friend Kevin Kelly were coincidentally in the row ahead of us. The show was not quite sold out, but the BARK arranged tour buses brought fans from Brantford, Hamilton, Peterborough, Orillia, and they all let out a cheer when announced. Everybody seemed to know everybody, the sense of community was palpable.
At 8 o'clock Colin Linden walked onstage to announce the opening act. Harlan Pepper, four young guys who play music that old guys like us can appreciate. They did a 35 minute set that included tunes from their freshman album, and a few surprises. The closing instrumental left us all with grins on our faces.
Tear down and reset took til 9:00 when Blackie & the Rodeo Kings took the stage. They rocked into "Water or Gasoline" with a vengeance. We all sang along. The hits just kept on comin'. Then it was time to introduce the guests. Mary Margaret O'Hara was first up, although I still can't quite understand what she added to "Stoned". Rich turned to me and said, "She's quirky."
Mary Margaret was better when she returned later in the show, but she did have 'some fancy footwork for this low down boozed up crowd'. Murray McLauchlan made a surprise appearance to trade verses with BARK on "Down By the Henry Moore" and we all sang the chorus. Next "honorary queen" was Ron Sexsmith who took Rosanne Cash's part in the song he and Colin co-wrote for the Kings & Queens album "Got You Covered". He said he screwed it up on TV the other night...he definitely made amends this time.

The band was unbelievably tight, Johnny Dymont on bass, drummer Gary Craig with John Whynot on piano and Ken Pearson laying Hammond B-3. Wow!
The Queens came out one at a time, Amy Helm (who was here with her dad, Levon, a couple months earlier), Holly Cole, Serena Ryder and Mary Margaret each adding their voice to the decidedly male sound that is BARK. These ladies rock with the best of them. Rosanne Cash was in England, Emmylou Harris was taking a break at home, and no mention of Patti Scialfa or Lucinda Williams but four queens was sufficient for a fine evening of music.
The whole cast (minus Murray and Ron but including Harlan Pepper) appeared on-stage for the finale and shared the love. Then a surprise 2nd encore saw Colin and Stephen come back with most of the band calling for Tom, Johnny and John for a rousing rendition of The Band's "Endless Highway". It's maybe the most obscure song in The Band's repertoire but it really ended the night on a high note. The party continued downstairs but Rich and I had a long drive we bade Massey Hall farewell. Oh, what a night!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hugh's Room, Mar.9

A Friday night drive to Toronto can be a hassle, but going to Hugh's room isn't so bad. You don't have to go all the way in to the city. Lakeshore to Parkside, up to Bloor, along Bloor to Dundas, and free parking at the grocery store. FREE PARKING in TORONTO! WHEW! It's like winning a lottery.
People at home said, "Why not support Hamilton shows? Larry Carlton is playing at Mohawk and Jean-Paul deRoover is at the Pearl." Well...I like Randy Newman I guess.
I do like Randy Newman. While I don't always agree with the stance he takes in his songs, they are so witty and funny, and sharp that they're irresistable to someone who enjoys lyrics. And the music is always so classic. Wonderful chord progressions, even on the transitions, and the mixture of rock band rhythms with Newman's orchestral arrangements separates him from the rest of the pack. He's not just another singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar (not that there's anything wrong with that).
This time we had a table on the middle level, good view of the stage, but not too close to the stairs. The food was better, and although we were the first to order and last to eat (even after ordering my steak rare) we had a decent dining experience. But this time it was all about the music.
A Man Called Wrycraft organizes four or five of these shows a year, inviting a hand picked collection of Canadian musicians to pay tribute to a songwriter (or band) that he admires. We missed the Carole King show, but caught the Beatles and Tom Waits Tributes. Randy Newman has nearly fifty years of songs to choose from, but people mainly looked to the tremendous series of records he released in the 70s for their choices. Of course the same is true for Randy himself. His latest release Live in London is heavily weighted with older songs.
The show began on time at 8:30 as Michael Wrycraft took the stage to introduce the evening and the first performer. Lori Cullen's latest CD features songs 'about rain' by some of the world's greatest songwriters, Randy Newman among them. She led off with "Every Time It Rains" (from Newman's 1999 Bad Love album) accompanied by Dave Matheson on piano. Lori has a beautiful voice, but seemed a bit tentative. Perhaps she simply didn't like being up first. Her performance of "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" was classic and compares with any previous version. Beautiful.
Bassist George Koller followed with a stunning stand-up bass solo to introduce the gorgeous but disturbing "Marie". Koller's plain voice was perfect for this song of a redneck's love for his wife. The unspoken potential for abuse behind the romance was palpable. Koller also did a lovely rendition of "Dayton, Ohio, 1903".
Michael Johnston took the stage to talk about Newman's third album, 1971's Live. This was originally recorded as a promo for radio to introduce Newman to broadcasters, but Warners released it in a cover that looked for all the world like a bootleg. It was, for many of us, our first taste of Randy Newman. Johnston read a note from iTunes which described the record in not very complimentary terms. He then proceeded to lay what they described as the "unremarkable 'Tickle Me'". It was...remarkable. Michael also did "Short People" because, he said, he realized that at home...he was surrounded by them!
Then it was up to Tim Posgate and his new bluegrass (or newgrass) band the Sorry Cousins who displayed string band proficiency on a couple of numbers including "My Old Kentucky Home". After the smoke cleared from this picking session it was time for a break.
The break allowed folks to buy CDs from all the performers, or Wrycraft's poster for the event and have it signed by one and all.
Treasa Levasseur took the stage and dedicated her first song to Danka behind the bar. "You've Got a Friend in Me" she sang, accompanying herself on the piano, her bluesy voice almost too big for the room. She also covered Newman's poke at the ccreator of the universe..."God's Song" or "That's Why I Love Mankind". Randy better duck if he sees Yahweh coming!
Michael Jerome Browne made the drive from Montreal to do this show, and was a standout singing "Mama Told Me Not To Come" and "Louisiana 1927". His 12 string guitar playing was superb, capturing all of Newman's piano transitions and runs. I watched Wrycraft's face during this set...he was transported. Of course he is always transported. The thing about A Man Called W's tributes is that he just outright loves the music and he always chooses the right artists.
Dave Matheson did a splendid version of "Yellow Man" with all the pseudo-chinese notes that Newman threw in to make it "authentic" and followed that with a beautiful rendition of one of Randy's creepiest songs. "In Germany Before The War" tells the story of a shopkeeper who kills a young girl...influenced by the film M. My wife asked "doesn't Randy Newman write any up-beat songs?" Not many come to think of it!
Jory Nash closed out the night with one of my favourites, dedicated to all "you pyromaniac farmers out there." That's right..."Let's Burn Down the Cornfield." And with that the whole cast was called on stage to perform "Sail Away". This song Newman wrote for a kind of rock opera that was to have featured all the great singer-songwriters of the day. As Randy tells it, "Neil was there, James was there, Elton...everybody." The project came to naught, but this slaver's invitation to "climb aboard little wog sail away with me..." has had a long life and is one of his most evocative songs. The melody and chorus are so singable, that you don't even think about what you're singing about. That is one of the hallmarks of Newman's songwriting, that the singer becomes the person in the song. The redneck who beats his wife, and keeps the n****r down, the child killer, the racist, the rock star, the cowboy. Nobody writes songs like Randy Newman. But on Friday night at Hugh's Room...everybody sang 'em...just right!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ry Cooder’s Elegant Indignation (from the New Yorker)

by Alec Wilkinson

I can’t write briefly about Ry Cooder, the virtuoso guitarist who has a new record, “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down.” Admiration for his accomplishments, his singularity, and the longevity and diversity of his career intervene. For more than forty years, since Cooder released his first record, “Ry Cooder,” in 1970, he has been a musician other musicians have followed closely, and no popular musician has a broader or deeper catalog. He has played songs so simple that they are hardly songs, and songs so complex that they would tax, if not overwhelm, the capacities of most lauded guitarists. He had quit making rock ‘n’ roll records sixteen years before Rolling Stone, in 2003, named him the 8th greatest guitarist on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time (three of the seven ahead of him are dead guys). Even so, his influence has been felt more than his records have been heard, with perhaps one exception: the group of elderly Cuban musicians whom he assembled and recorded in 1997 and called the Buena Vista Social Club.

Cooder’s guitar playing is expressive, elegant, and rhythmically intricate. It frequently has a pressured attack that he has described as having the feel of “some kind of steam device gone out of control.” His sense of phrasing was partly imprinted in his childhood by a record of brass music made by a group of African-American men who found instruments in a field left by Civil War soldiers during a retreat, and played them according to their own inclinations. If you wonder what his sensibility sounds like when applied to rock ‘n’ roll—one version of it anyway—the most widely known example I can think of comes from the period when Cooder had been hired to augment the Rolling Stones during the recording of “Let It Bleed.” He was playing by himself in the studio, goofing around with some changes, when Mick Jagger danced over and said, How do you do that? You tune the E string down to D, place your fingers there, and pull them off quickly, that’s very good. Keith, perhaps you should see this. And before long, the Rolling Stones were collecting royalties for “Honky Tonk Women,” which sounds precisely like a Ry Cooder song and absolutely nothing like any other song ever produced by the Rolling Stones in more than forty years. According to Richards in his recent autobiography, Cooder showed him the open G tuning which became his mainstay and accounts for the full-bodied chordal declarations that characterize songs such as “Gimme Shelter,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Start Me Up,” and “Brown Sugar.” The most succinct way I can think of to describe the latticed style that Keith Richards says he has sought to achieve with Ron Wood is to say that for thirty-five years the Stones have been trying to do with four hands what Cooder can do with two.

Cooder might have been heard more widely except that he doesn’t like to perform. He doesn’t care for being watched so closely or having to entertain. “I couldn’t go out there anymore and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, and especially you ladies,’” he says. The people who like the applause should have it, he feels, but he says he doesn’t care for it. After performing, he used to feel like a withered balloon under a chair on the day after a child’s birthday party. He grew up in recording studios and is more at home there, privately trying to capture something ephemeral and elusive—“the big note,” a friend of his has said, the one that makes all the other concerns fall away. In the last few years, he has toured briefly in Europe and Japan and Australia, with his son, Joachim, playing drums and Nick Lowe playing bass—but not in North America.

For most of Cooder’s career he arranged songs from other writers and various historical sources ranging from Depression era songs, to Bix Beiderbecke’s repertoire, to folk and drifter and cowboy songs, miner’s songs, work songs, surf songs, jukebox songs, calypsos, roadhouse and dance hall songs, protest songs, and songs from the registry of rhythm and blues—but in 2003 he began recording albums of his own material. (My own introductory list of highlights from Cooder’s earlier period: “Great Dreams from Heaven,” “How Can you Keep on Movin’,” “Get Rhythm,” which has a fantastic video, “In a Mist,” “Ditty Wah Ditty,” “Smack Dab in the Middle,” “Tattler,” “France Chance,” “Little Sister,” “Dark at the End of the Street,” “Maria Elena,” “I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine,” “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich,” and I’ll stop, but I could keep going happily.) The recent records formed a kind of Los Angeles trilogy. The first, “Chavez Ravine.” was inspired by black-and-white photographs of the hill town community inhabited by Mexicans and destroyed to build Dodgers Stadium. The second, “My Name is Buddy,” concerned a red cat named Buddy and his adventures during the most virulent period of anti-workingman and anti-communist feeling. One of the songs he sings is “Red Cat Till I Die.” The third record, “I, Flathead,” is a desert narrative about salt-flat drag racers and an alien racer entangled in a complicated moral dilemma.

What “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down” shares with them is an indignation over the economic and ethical disparities of American life and the destructive and scoundrely meanness of the privileges given to the rich. “No Banker Left Behind,” ridicules the considerations extended to the prosperous men and women who grabbed everything not nailed down during the last few years. The norteƱo “El Corrido de Jesse James,” a lampoon of the notion of honor among thieves, has Jesse James, sitting around in heaven, wishing to have his forty-four returned in order to persuade the bankers to “put that bonus money back where it belongs.” In the sleek country rocker “Quicksand,” a Mexican man describes a border crossing during which the guide for his group leaves in the middle of the night, and the man who takes over dies the next day in the sun. “Then a Dodge Ram truck drove down on us / Said I’m your Arizona vigilante man / I’m here to say, You ain’t welcome in Yuma / I’m takin’ you out as hard as I can.”

“Dirty Chateau” is an exchange between a man with a big house and inconsiderate habits and his maid whose people were farm workers. In the reggae shaded “Humpty Dumpty World,” God deplores the insubstantiality of his creation, with its rabble-rousing politicians and craven television commentators. “I thought I had built upon a solid rock / but it’s just a Humpty Dumpty World,” he sings.

“Baby Joined the Army” is a haunting, mesmeric lament by a young man whose simple girlfriend signs up to become a solider. She’s tired of her town and was lured by the assurance that “If I get killed in battle, I still get paid.”

In the trancy moan, “Lord Tell Me Why” a baffled, older working man wonders why, “A white man ain’t worth nothing in this world no more.” And “John Lee Hooker for President” is a hallucinated description by John Lee Hooker of his Presidency, where all the Supreme Court Justices are “fine looking women,” and mealy-mouthed corruption is not tolerated. “I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democratic / Under John Lee Hooker everything’s going to be copastatic”

“I Want My Crown,” sounds cousin-like to some of Cooder’s earlier recordings, among them “Billy the Kid,” and “Money Honey” from “Into the Purple Valley,” released in 1972, in which unlikely ensembles of stringed instruments were invoked more or less the way horn parts usually are. “Republicans changed the lock on the heavenly door / keys to the kingdom don’t fit no more,” and “If there’s a god / I think he’s got to bottle up and go,” Cooder sings. In the twitchy guitar and mandolin crossfire, you can hear a kind of wild and snaky joy, a rarefied strut that seems to be the song’s throbbing heart.

August 30, 2011

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Andy White at...the Pearl Company

She's a masterpiece
after all this time
she's gone...

He didn't sing it until about four songs into the second set, but when Andy White began "If I Catch You Crying" last night I watched his hands. I've been stuck on this song since I first heard it on Blackie & the Rodeo Kings BARK album. It's essentially C, F, G...with a "minor fall, and a major lift" but it's intoxicating!
When Andy last played The Pearl Company with Stephen Fearing, I was not able to see them as I had tickets for Jackson Browne at Hamilton Place. Sometimes you have to make these decisions. Remember that night when, in various venues around town, we had to choose from Bill Bourne, Selena Gomez and Tony Bird? Fortunately Andy White made this return engagement. Too bad the crowds that showed up for Valdy didn't appear last night. The twenty or thirty who did make it are glad they did.
Intimate? You bet.
White reminded me of Billy Bragg in his approach both musically and lyrically. One man and a guitar, singing about the politics of government and love. There was a bit of punk rock in the way Andy played that guitar, and a bit of the Guthrie-esque folksinger in the audience singalongs. One thing about the people who go to the Pearl...they're not afraid to sing!
White wore a military-style jacket over a "Where's Waldo" white and black striped shirt. The woman behind me said, "Oh, he's changed his clothes. I liked the scarf better. That shirt shows his tummy!" She'd been there early for the sound check, I think. He quickly covered his 'tummy' with his 12 string guitar, ramped up the echo and fingerpicked the intro for "Looking for James Joyce's Grave".
I recalled my visit to Ireland, sitting at Joyce's desk in his study, or having my photo taken next to the Joyce statue off O'Connell Street. As White sang four or five songs about Ireland it brought back memories of taking the train from Drogheda to Belfast, of martello towers, of the best fish & chips I've ever had, and the pubs. The dark, stained walls and heavy Guinness-soaked atmosphere of the pubs and the loud rock music provided by the local bands.
One complaint I had about last night was the audio mix, usually crisp and clean, it was hard to make out the words. It wasn't White brogue, but either I was sitting too close to the front, or Andy was leaning too far into the mic. My friend Frank remarked about the same thing. And maybe, just maybe, White could go a bit easier on the effects that he pushes his guitar through. While providing a fuller sound, it did tend to muddy things a touch. But these slight problems are nothing compared to the intimacy that is achieved at the Pearl.
White alternated stories with songs and, in fact, many of his songs are stories. "Italian Girls on Mopeds" is a perfect example. "When I Come Back" (from his most recent CD songwriter) touched me, as he sang about "hear[ing] the Beatles for the first time, a hard day's night in '64". I recall well the day I heard the Beatles for the first time, and then I remembered the Hard Day's Night coffeeshop in Ardee. All these memories from 40 or more years flooding together.
That's what songwriters do, they speak to you of shared moments in time and experience. Whether we come from the same geographical area or time zone, or era we share so much.
Music can reach deep into our souls. Had coffee with a guitarist friend who told me that she sold her most recent CD to a woman who played it for her autistic sons. She said it had an amazing impact, it's the only thing they'll listen to. It comes them down, relaxes them. She bought 20 more copies, to give to people at the Autism Society. The principal of their school is playing it over the PA every morning. "Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast". It can also raise our consciousness, bring us to tears, unite us to fight for a common cause...
That's why the Pearl Company, and all who sail in her, are so important.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Pearl Company, again

Friday night my wife and I had dinner at The Bread Bar (an 'earth to table' restaurant on Locke Street) and then went down to The Pearl Company to watch Valdy, a Canadian legend! I call him a legend, but earlier on Friday afternoon Ben Babchishin (a film-maker from out west) had told me the story of pitching a film to the people at Bravo TV. They liked his hour long portrait of Mae Moore and Lester Quitzau and thought it might be the start of a series. He said, "What about Valdy?" The Bravo woman said, "WHO?"

In fact when I told a friend that we were going to see Valdy he said, "Is he still around? He only had that one song didn't he?" "Play me a rock and roll song or don't play me no song at all..." is the song he was thinking of. All of us folksingers (and wannabe folksingers) knew and loved that one. Some of us did "stay home with a big case of beer" but Valdy soldiered on and released a string of successful songs, "Simple Life," "A Good Song," "Peter and Lou," and an album that got played more than any other (except maybe Raffi) in our household Valdy's Kids Record.

More recently he has released a couple of country flavoured CDs with Gary Fjellgaard, and a double disc entitled Viva Valdy! Live at Last. That's how he was on at last! Just Valdy and his old Martin guitar playing most of the hits and a wide selection of tunes from his long career, including a handful from a new album not yet released!You could purchase a download card for $10 that allowed you to dump this new collection onto your iPod (more about that later) or you could buy the Viva Valdy set for $20. I think there were even CDs of that infamous kids' record available!

Valdy is an energetic performer, always moving, kinetic. His guitar playing is superlative alternately jazzy and folky, and that '60s Martin rings beautifully, but it's his voice that stands out, this guy can sing.

Someone once quipped that Valdy could sing the Muskoka phonebook and make it entertaining, and in some instances the other night that's essentiallt what he did, if he forgot a lyric he just kept right on going making things up, or continuing a narrative right through the chords. It was a fine example of the folk process in action. Just like Pete Seeger, who doesn't feel successful unless everybody's singing, Valdy led the room in some old folk songs, and in the choruses of his own classic tunes. He encouraged audience participation from the start by quoting Chilliwack's Bill Henderson "if there's no audience / there just ain't no show!" We even got to sing Christmas songs since it was Christmas Eve in the Orthodox calendar! Valdy's last chance to sing his Christmas repertoire 'til next year!

Between sets Valdy moved to the lobby/gallery/merch table, poured himself a cup of java and signed CDs and chatted for the whole break. After that brief respite he again took the stage to do it all over again.

After the show I rushed home to download the new album, only to find that the promised link was nowhere to be found. I looked around his website and located an e-mail address. I sent a short message, and within a few hours Valdy had replied directing me to another location. Not his manager, or his handler, but the man himself replied! The album? It's a goodun. Can't wait to see what the artwork looks like, but the music is just fine!

Tomorrow night...Andy The Pearl Company!