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.