Uncomfortable Music

Others have said that it is not the job of a doctor to make you feel comfortable, it is the doctors’ job to heal you and that might be uncomfortable at times. For example, suppose you break your arm. The doctor needs to do a visual inspection, and that probably involves moving your broken arm a bit, and that will not be comfortable, but it is necessary for the healing process. Next, the doctor will most likely get an X-ray of your arm, and that will require placing the arm in certain positions to get the best possible look at the bones and that most likely will not be comfortable either. But it is necessary for the proper diagnosis and healing to begin. So, with these examples, we can probably all agree that it is not the doctors’ job to make you comfortable.

Following that line of reasoning, I came into possession of four examples of the above analogy transferred to music. Swapping the word doctor for a musician, we get a new and exciting proverb.

It is not a musicians job to make you comfortable, it is the musicians’ job to use music to challenge you, and that can be uncomfortable at times.

I have come into the possession of four pieces of music that presented a challenge to me and made me uncomfortable but ultimately provided something equivalent to healing. These four albums challenged my concept of what music should be. They tested my notions of what lyrics in music should contain. They challenged me to understand what the musicians were trying to tell me through these songs.

I have been listening to mewithoutYou for a long time, I have all their albums, and they get played repeatedly throughout the year. They would probably be one of the most listened to artists in our music collection. Having said all that I waited with baited breathe for their new album to come out, it had been three years since their last album, Pale Horse, which I enjoyed. They had released a teaser single “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses),” which was an exciting piece that left me wondering what the rest of the album contained since they usually had threads or stings running through their records.

pale horse

The CD’s arrived this week for both the new album and an EP that was released simultaneously. I let them sit for a few days due to some other listening that I had to finish and a concert review that I wanted to get out of the way so I could focus on listening. Yesterday I opened the CD cases, opened the lyric sheets (which I appreciate bands supplying) and got comfortable for a listening session. I started with the EP, which clocks at an impressive 25 minutes, and it didn’t take long for my comfort to be challenged by the lyrical content. Track one contains this enigmatic line: “when your mouth was quiet was the sweetest sound of all.” The EP has the sound and feel of a mewithoutYou release. The vocals are consistent with Aaron Weiss’ lyrics from previous albums. He tends to wander between whispers and primal screams with some words that come across more like a poetry reading than traditional singing.

ep untitled

The album was next, [Untitled]. Yes, that is the title of it. [Untitled] Taking us out of our comfort zone with the title before I even take the shrink wrap off. The cover artwork is somewhat different from previous albums as well although they are all by the same artist, Vasily Kafanov. Even the art on the cover was taking me out of my comfort zone.
I put the CD in, get comfortable with the lyric sheet, and open my ears to hear. The first track is very mewithoutYou prime, and it has Aaron screaming at us: “Anyone listening wants a brainwashed like mine?” That sounds uncomfortable, and it echoes a theme that Aaron expounds upon frequently, mental health. The lyrics of both the EP and the full-length album, at 43 minutes, are more cryptic than ever and challenge the listener to listen. I challenge you to listen to the album intentionally. They are not suitable for passive listening, at least not for me. They expound upon issues of faith, feelings, fear and facing life with all of its ups, downs and twists and turns. Life is complicated and so are these two listens from mewithoutYou.

untitled

In conclusion, I like these recordings, and they have grown on me with each additional listen. They need time to become comfortable with us.

thy is a word

I also scored a pair of albums off of Facebook Marketplace that I was excited to have hard copies of since these don’t show up in Edmonton often. These two pieces of vinyl are by Half-handed Cloud, “As Stowaways In Cabinets Of Surf, We Live-Out In Our Members A Kind Of Rebirth,” and “Flying Scroll Flight Control.” I have listened to the only CD I have by Half-handed Cloud “Thy Is a Word + Feet Need Lamps” over and over plus streaming their material on iTunes frequently, so I was happy to score these two albums. I played them the same night I bought them

flying scroll
I must warn you about this band though, and it is not for everyone’s taste. Half-handed Cloud, much like their name and album titles are a little bit unconventional. The band is essentially a one-person show by John Ringhofer who often collaborates with Sufjan Stevens and Danielson, in their many configurations. The music will probably make you uncomfortable, but stick with it and listen intently. There are lots of interesting things happening. Instruments come and go, and he will often change instruments in the middle of a song in live shows. There are tempo changes that will catch you unawares. And then there are the lyrics. To quote Ringhofer: “Lyrics seem so much better heard than read…” There are no lyric sheets so I had to really listen to hear the words and to attach meaning to them.

stowaways

Perhaps we can align both mewithoutYou and Half-handed Cloud by their lyrics. They both explore themes of faith. Often, especially Half-handed Cloud, they are focused on faith in God as expressed in white Anglo-Saxon pentecostal churches. Less so with mewithoutYou, the doctrine of Aaron Weiss is more open to a broader concept of God, but none the less personal. I don’t think this takes anything away from their albums. If the faith in the lyrics makes you uncomfortable that could be a good thing. Perhaps they can be a challenge to you to open your life more to the things that are going on around you, open to what others think, feel, and believe and why they believe what they do.

I enjoyed the challenge presented by these four albums. The music and the lyrics made me perk up and pay attention, to think outside of my comfort zone. It was a good thing. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

“God calls us to step out of our comfort zone, to do the thing that is difficult or uncomfortable. Not because God enjoys watching us struggle, but because he knows that we will grow stronger as individuals and in our faith when we try new things.” –  Suzanne Anderson

One more: https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/poem-the-butterfly/

Up and Down in E-town

up down town

Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6 were exciting and memorable evenings for me, I had the opportunity to listen to the music of some highly talented people, and it was excellent indeed. Up and Downtown Music Festival (UP+DT) has been going for six years, but this was my first venture into the adventure of this exciting format. UP+DT is a multi-venue festival that celebrates independent music in 11 different venues within the downtown area of Edmonton. They celebrate both local talent and artists from other parts of Canada.

Friday night saw us at the 9910 club which was a first for me in this venue. It is an intimate basement establishment with a wet bar on the right side wall as we entered, a few booths on the opposite wall and a small stage on the wall opposite the bar. nehiyawak was starting to play as we walked in and after a quick survey of viewing options, we stood facing the stage about five or six body counts from the front of the stage.

nehiyawak

We saw nehiyawak at the Interstellar Rodeo this summer and liked what we heard, so we were happy to see them again in a different context, from a big stage in an amphitheatre to a small setup in an intimate club. nehiyawak transitioned well. The sound in 9910 was excellent, it was a good volume and a good mix so kudos to the sound technicians.

I enjoyed watching and listening to nehiyawak, they enjoy making music, and that creates a feedback loop of us enjoying hearing them, which loops back to them. The drummer Marek Tyler was a joy to watch, he was ebullient, happy to be singing and doing percussion.  His cousin guitarist-vocalist Kris Harper plays a vintage guitar that looks almost bang on to my first guitar. A little gear envy on my part. The band is rounded out with the bassist, keyboardist Matthew Cardinal.

nehiyawak made my ears happy twice this year, and I look forward to more good things from this Edmonton based outfit.

After a short turnaround that stripped the stage down to one mic stand, a tuning pedal and a single guitar, Destroyer took to the stage, and we had moved up to the very front which put us about a meter away from him. I did say it is an intimate club, didn’t I?

Dan-Bejar

In 1995 Dan Bejar started Destroyer as a solo home-recording project. After a dozen full-length albums and several EP’s, not to mention his work in such notable groups as The New Pornographers, Dan was now on stage before us accompanied by nothing other than his vocal cords and his guitar.

I have a great deal of admiration for artists who can do that; there is no place to hide if mistakes happen. And mistakes do happen, we are still human after all, but a skillful musician such as Dan Bejar can work with that and keep the music coming. Destroyer played a set that kept the audience fixated, except for a few loud people at the bar. Which made for some good spirited banter between the bar crowd and the people in the crowd who couldn’t hear the music which led to humourous mediation by Destroyer.

Friday night ended on a bright note, and I looked forward to Saturday night at another venue that I had never been in before. CKUA is a much-loved radio station in Edmonton, and although I knew that they live streamed artists in the studios, I had never been fortunate enough to attend any of them, until now.

ckua alberta hotel

The station is in the old Alberta Hotel building which has been beautifully restored to house the radio station. The Performance Hall is a high ceilinged room in a ground floor room with decent acoustic treatment and excellent sound. Hats off to the soundboard operators, they did a good job.

lindsey Walker

The first set on Saturday night was Lindsey Walker. We had listened to Lindsey at a Sofar pop us show earlier in the year, and I was happy to hear her perform again. At Sofar Lindsey was solo, but on this night she was accompanied by Alex Vissia on bass and backing vocals, whom we had seen performing previously as a solo act, and Vicky Berg on piano, synth and backing vocals. These three ladies are very talented and their set zipped by leaving me looking forward to hearing them play together again.

Poor-Nameless-Boy

In the middle of Saturday night, we had Poor Nameless Boy,  Regina-based indie folk artist Joel Henderson and his band. I had not listened to any of their music before so I didn’t know what to expect, but in the end, I was happy that I got to hear them. Joel Henderson, who is the heart of Poor Nameless Boy, sings songs that sound at home on the prairies but are not constrained by any genre branding iron. He sings about people and the things that people do, and he can take the little things that often go unnoticed and turn them into a meaningful song. Poor Nameless Boy is a gifted singer and song craftsman who I would like to hear again.

arts.mauno

The closing act for the night was Mauno, a four-piece band hailing from Nova Scotia consisting of singer/guitarist Nick Everett, guitarist Scott Boudreau, bassist/vocalist Eliza Niemi, and Adam White on percussion. This band refuses to be confined by any genre or stylistic title. They play music, and they play it damn well. The music is technical, it is melodic, it moves my body and my heart. It makes love to the air that it touches. Mauno sings about life in concise and pointed lyrics that run with the whims of the music. It is artistic, and it is passionate. I enjoyed being able to see Mauno play live because they add so much more in a live show that a piece of vinyl cannot contain. Done, now I am going to go and listen to their record, TuningMauno Turning

Everything and Nowhere

 

Eleanor Friedberger_Rebound

I have been captivated the last week or so with the new album by Eleanor Friedberger, Rebound. I am a newcomer to her music, but I didn’t sample her previous fare, allowing this album to stand or fall on its own merits or faults.

The album is an exploration of her time in Greece exploring the music scene in and around a club named Rebound which is, of course, the album title. This is described by Eleanor as “a time warp; kind of an ’80s goth disco where everyone does the chicken dance,” it was in the Rebound club that the former Fiery Furnaces indie rocker had a revelation regarding finding the sound and energy for her fourth solo album.

The album starts with “let me forget the words,” an interesting opening line for an album but a gentle, moody song that moves into a place of listening to the words and trying to hold on to them long enough to get some semblance of meaning or introspection which this album has plenty of. The song is called “My Jesus Phase” and spoke to me about the phases of life that we all go through but in the end, living for one day at a time.

Next song up is “The Letter” which contains these lines in the chorus:

The opposite of what he thought he thought

The opposite of what she wanted

(I thought that you would know)

The opposite of what he thought he thought

(I thought that you would feel something)

The opposite of what she said

These words brought to mind the Terry Scott Taylor song from his album “John Wayne”.

johnfront

 The song “You Told Them Exactly What I Didn’t Say,” which was interpreted for me by my friend Larry J. contains these insightful lyrics:

You told them exactly what I didn’t say

Exactly how I didn’t say it

You played them exactly what I didn’t play

Exactly how I didn’t play it

You wrote down exactly what I didn’t write

Exactly how I didn’t write it

You typed in exactly what I didn’t type

Exactly how I didn’t type it

Miscommunication is rampant be it in a letter or in a presidential text, we are living in an age of radically different communication expectations and attitudes.

Next is the track that really grabbed me and prompted me to write this blog post, “Everything.” It wasn’t too long ago that I was captivated by an album titled “Everything Now” and with a song from the album of the same name by Arcade Fire. Compare Eleanor Friedberg’s lyrics:

A house, a chair and a rug

That’s everything

(Everything, everything)

I mean two houses, please

I wanted everything

(Nothing or everything)

A life that’s quiet and nice

I wanted everything

(Everything, everything)

But I’m going away anytime I like

I wanted everything

(Nothing or everything)

with the lyrics by Arcade Fire in the song Everything Now:

(Everything now!) I need it

(Everything now!) I want it

(Everything now!) I can’t live without

(Everything now!) I can’t live without

(Everything now!)

(Everything now!)

Everything now

Eleanor herself says this in Genius and Consequence of Sound: “There’s sort of an everything-nowness to life. I feel like almost every event and everything that happens surrounds you on all sides. Some of it is fake and some of it is real and some of it is trying to sell you something and some of it is profound. Every moment of everything refracts into a thousand different things. It’s trying to capture some of the experiences of being alive now in all its flaws and all its glory.”

We indeed live in a world that consumes itself with a desire for everything. We are chastised in the Bible not to be greedy or have an appetite for everything, and I think these two songs speak to that sentiment very closely.

Skipping fast forward in Eleanor’s album to the sixth song, “Nice To Be Nowhere.” I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it. This summer we had a mini-holiday driving around our province in which we loosely set out a few destinations that we would like to see. Most of them turned out to be in the middle of nowhere, and it was nice to be there with my family. We drove backroads and occasionally dead-end roads, but we were always happy to be nowhere with each other. From the song Happy To Be Nowhere: “Living off our pleasure, no matter the weather, give me a day, give me an hour, take the back road.”  There are times when I am happy to be nowhere, happy not to have an agenda or a timetable, happy to be just who I am in this moment in time. Happy to be nowhere, over and over with you. Dedicated to my beautiful wife Valerie and my talented musical partner and son, Joel.

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Eleanor Friedberg has given us an amazing album with enough depth to keep me listening over and over trying to catch every nuance in the lyrics and music. Rebound is on my short list for the best of 2018, a highly commendable listening experience.

The Tragically Hip Marathon

I decided to listen to the discography of the Tragically Hip in chronological order. This is not the first time or the first band that I have attempted this feat with. I have done complete discography listens of The Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads, The Beatles and others in the past. Having considerable experience with this I offer these warnings before we start.

The opinions expressed herein do not represent the opinions of myself, my family, my friends, my second-grade teacher Miss Brown, or even myself depending on how long ago I wrote them. No other opinion is expressed or implied by me, myself or anyone I associate with, not that they would admit to knowing me in the first place.

This blog has been rated PG-13 by myself. Any resemblance to actual blogs is unintentional and purely a coincidence. This blog is for entertainment purposes only. Past blogs do not guarantee future results. Reader discretion is advised. If tinnitus or tendonitis develops, discontinue use and seek medical advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice.

Do not try this at home; the author is a trained listener. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. No animals were used during testing. Void where prohibited except where not prohibited. Do not look into the CD laser with your remaining good eye.

I will state categorically at the very beginning that tragically I do not have the entire discography of the Tragically Hip, I only have enough to be a bit hip.

This is their official discography:

I listened to:

7/14 ain’t too shabby but Apple Music filled in a few songs that I didn’t have physical copies of.

From the opening chords of their self-titled first album it is unmistakably The Tragically Hip, “Small Town Bringdown” connects us to the band through lyrics that perfectly describe small-town Canada:

“It’s a sad thing, bourbon’s all around

to stop the feeling when you’re living in a small town”

I really paid attention to the details while listening to this album and it came alive for me like it was the first time I had ever heard it. The album The Tragically Hip closes with a stinging bite at Canadian small towns:

“You’re really hanging with the crowd, you know the ins and the outs here

All Canadian Surf Club, denim jackets and long hair”

Could have been me in 1973, long hair and denim jacket trying to find a place in the crowd and not very good at learning the ins and outs and social protocols of small-town life.

Next audio audition was Fully Completely and a bit of Western Canadian bravado, “At The Hundredth Meridian”, where the great plains begin. Being a cowboy at heart and a surveyor in years gone by, this song really resonated with me:

“Driving down a corduroy road,

Weeds standing shoulder high”

This could be any road west of the hundredth meridian, I surveyed west of the 4th meridian and drove my share of corduroy roads and walked through many fields that were shoulder high and ditches with weeds of equal stature. I can’t help but think of the song “Saskatchewan Sea” by The SplendourBog: “The tallest thing around here is me.” I have a feeling Gord Downie would be in agreement with that lyric.

“Wheat Kings” is a song based on a true story about David Milgard who was wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit but was eventually set free. This is considered one of the most beloved songs of the Hips repertoire and is about as Canadian as you can get. In fact, the legal case involved is still taught in law schools.

Next album on the list is Day for Night and one of my personal favourite Hip songs, “Grace Too”:

“I come from downtown, born ready for you

Armed with will and determination, and grace, too”

This is sort of like my personal story, I come from downtown Edmonton. I was born ready for my wife Valerie. Armed with a will, I want this relationship to work. Determination, I will never let you go. And grace too, a bit of testimonial doesn’t hurt.

From the song “An Inch An Hour” we have these witty lyrics:

“Coffee coloured ice and peeling birch bark

The sound of rushing water in the dark

Makes me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through life with very little else to say”

I realized at this point in my listening journey the absolute mastery of the Tragically Hip as poetic geniuses. An inch an hour, two feet a day. Come on, that’s brilliant even to a devout disciple of the metric system like me.

“Ahead by a Century” is an intense piece of listening pleasure. The double track vocals, the guitar jingling along with a steady backbeat that builds and builds, and then it goes electric and keeps building. This is a great song with great lyrics. “No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

“Bobcaygeon” from the album Phantom Power is a powerhouse song that speaks about race, peace, power, love, nature and Willie Nelson. It also references constellations and stars which are a hobby of mine to watch with a telescope.

“I left your house this morning

About a quarter after nine

Could have been the Willie Nelson

Could have been the wine

When I left your house this morning

It was a little after nine

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations

Reveal themselves one star at a time”

I also think Phantom Power has one of the best album covers of all time. The brilliant artwork on that sleeve design. I am also hoping for clear skies so I can see the constellations reveal themselves to me one star (or planet) at a time.

Music @ Work, other than the fact that it uses the “at” symbol it didn’t work for me. Music @ Work, not “Men at Work” who had a big hit some 20 years earlier with the song “Down Under”. Interestingly enough I would rather hear “Business as Usual” today instead of Music @ Work, I know that is going to raise the shackles with some people but I have to be honest and honestly, Music @ Work  is an album that didn’t work for me. Even Babe Ruth didn’t hit home runs on every at-bat so I think its fair to say that not all albums are created equal either. Some are home runs, some limp around the bases and others strikeout.

The next album, in my listening, is In Between Evolution, which really grabs my attention. I don’t know what I can say about this album except that it is good from start to finish. Listen to it sing the praises of summer and about “Gus; The Polar Bear From Central Park”. How many bands have songs about polar bears eh?

I close out my listening marathon with the album Now for Plan A. This album debuted the lowest of any Hip album since their 1991 album “Road Apples”, which I don’t have yet but thanks to Apple Music I did listen to. They didn’t need a plan B because plan A worked out nicely.

There are a few songs that deserve honourable mention: “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Blow at High Dough”, which are both from the album Up to Here. I used to do a music appreciation group in an addiction recovery program and both of those songs where the most frequently requested and thus played in the group. I like to think that those music sessions offered some hope and maybe those songs brought a little joy into someone’s life that day.

I don’t have a physical copy of the Tragically Hips last album Man Machine Poem, but I did get to see their live show touring for the album. Tragically, it was also the farewell tour for the frontman and lead singer of the band, Gord Downie. It was a unique experience, to say the least. I have never seen or experienced an evening with the same emotion attached to it as that night. The crowd, the band, Gord, the music, the lyrics. It all came together and created a magical musical moment.

So there you have it, my marathon of Tragically Hip music. I hope you can enjoy listening to these selections as much as I did. They are not your average rock band, they are an icon of Canadian history and culture. They are The Tragically Hip.

s-l300

http://www.thehip.com/

@thehipdotcom

Interstellar Rodeo 2018

Interstellar 2018

Inter- is a prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “between,” “among,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together,” “during.”

Stellar – of or relating to the stars; consisting of stars.

Like a star, as in brilliance, shape, etc.

pertaining to a preeminent performer

Interstellar Rodeo 2018 was among stars, stars of the stage, stars of live music, stars of recorded music. It brought together stars from diverse cultural, musical and geographic backgrounds. We were indeed in the midst of preeminent performers. And it was good, oh my, the moments shine like stars in the sky.

Stars in the sky were a no-show with lots of cloudy and rainy weather across all three days. We were in line at the gates on Friday night when a monsoon moved in with lightning and hail, we braved it to the point of being soaked to the skin and knowing we would be cold and uncomfortable if we stayed. We went home, dried everything out and prepared for a better day on Saturday.

Saturday was stellar. The day started with Nêhiyawak, homegrown talent from right here in Edmonton. They played a set of prog and 1960’s psych inspired music that I found quite enjoyable. An excellent start to the day.

The Deep Dark Woods started playing against a backdrop of deep dark skies which soon turned into a torrential downpour with lots of lightning and everyone took shelter from the storm under the big white Heritage Amphitheatre.

 

After a spell, the rain let up, and the music restarted, I give credit to The Deep Dark Woods for not losing their enthusiasm and energy. They put in an incredible set, and I am enamoured by their sound.

Due to lack of space in a blog post, I am going to touch lightly and quickly upon many artists who deserve much more credit than I can generate in this space.

Jayden, an up and coming star is an example that I enjoyed hearing for the first time. The Mavericks, founded in 1989 and still going strong, showcased great Tex-Mex, rockabilly, and alternative country.

Ruby Boots, I am sure she is a very talented lady, but she got the short straw between The Mavericks and Lisa Leblanc which are two very high energy sets. Ruby Boots is a gentler soul. I hope to hear her in another setting someday.

Lisa Leblanc is from the far east, New Brunswick fer shure. She plays an eclectic mix of genre-mashing music. Margaret Glaspy was up next, and I had not previewed her music before the festival. I enjoyed her ability to play in a power trio; it’s not always easy being the only guitar but she pulled it off with ease.

Jay Gilday is a talented singer/songwriter hailing from Yellowknife. I look forward to hearing more from Jay.

The closer for Saturday was July Talk, a band that I was familiar with and looked forward to seeing and hearing again. Spellbound from the opening note to the very last one, I didn’t want their set to end. There have been a few bands over the years that do that to me. July Talk mixed high energy with fantastic stage chemistry that raced and staggered between songs with ease. Having July Talk close the Saturday set was an excellent choice by the Interstellar Rodeo organizers.

Sunday opened to gray and dreary clouds, but joyful music from Faouzia who is of Moroccan descent and plays music that is a mash-up of influences but a fun listen. I was particularly impressed by the power and cadence of her singing.

La Dame Blanche hails from Cuba and sings in Spanish, I don’t understand more than a handful of words in that language but whatever she was singing was terrific. I can not describe her show, Google it and see for yourself what I mean.

Diga hails from Behchoko NT, about as far from the climate of Cuba as you can get but his singing and playing are every bit as warm and personable. He is a song craftsman, enough said, go now and listen.

The Dead South, from Regina Saskatchewan, are an acoustic group that encourage foot stomping with their energetic mix of folk, western swing and paddle wheel gambling music. They sing quintessential country and western songs; dogs, broken hearts and drinking.

There were no songs about crows nests.

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Josh Q,  A staple of the Iqaluit music scene is a big man with a big heart who sings songs about a big land. He has a good voice and a nice sound going on with his guitar.

The Interstellar All Stars is a mix of musicians who have played the festival in the past, this year featured Jason Plumb and his band The Willing, Rose Cousins and Tim Baker. Tim Baker played in Hey Rosetta but is flying solo. All-star groups are a gamble, sometimes they work, on some songs they hit on every cylinder, but not always. That held true this year; there were moments that were amazing, but there were others that were a John Deere tractor running on 3 cylinders. A good effort by everyone and thanks for coming back to Edmonton.

An artist that I have wanted to see for some time now is Alejandro Escovedo who’s resume is a kilometre long. He started with some newer material including “Sally was a Cop” and then he turned it up a couple of notches, and the band went full-on punk with some incredibly powerful music that included a cover of David Bowie’s song “All The Young Dudes”. He even did Pete Townsend power chords. A great high energy set that brought the house to their feet. That was a high light moment of the Interstellar Rodeo for me.

Riit.

Courtney Barnett is another high light reel moment. She brought out the grunge and power for us, and it was good. She is a powerhouse from the land down under that sings songs that mix equal parts wit, humour and down to earth observations of life in general. Courtney and her band pumped up the volume, the Interstellar crew pumped up the light on the amphitheatre, and the crowd ate it all up. I left the festival grounds one happy camper, after two days of incredible music. I can’t wait to see what next years line up will be.

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A few off the cuff observations before I close this blog. Alcohol consumption. There were copious amounts of it. I like the SevenFest and The Edmonton Folk Music Festival where the drunks are more or less confined to small corrals and the people who came to listen to the music can do so without some loud drunk slurring down their collars. Why do drunk people keep talking louder and louder as they get drunker and drunker? And I really don’t care what your sex life is like at the moment! I know the Interstellar Rodeo makes a killing off booze sales but at what cost. Drunks that require heavy-handed security to enforce and then remove from the premises. Drunks were falling all over because they could barely walk but were driving home or in one case driving to another concert. I was glad they left to hear The Beach Boys so we could enjoy Courtney Barnett without them yelling and slurring at each other. In summary, I was not thrilled with the amount of alcohol on the hill.

Bathrooms, washrooms, cans, loos; whatever you want to call them, there were not enough of them, and they were very poorly maintained. For example, all of the portable potties ran out of toilet paper and ladies were running around trying to find a volunteer to fix this. One gracious lady donated a box of tissue paper to save a few of them from despair. And they were dirty and full of crap, literally. They need to be cleaned, emptied and maintained much better than they were this weekend, it was a disgrace. The permanent washrooms were not much better, and there were not enough. Why is this such a hard concept for festivals to master, there are never enough bathrooms? Even the new Rogers Place received criticism for opening without enough bathroom space, especially for the ladies. I suggest doubling the amount that Interstellar had this year and using the gender-neutral approach, first come first served regardless of gender. Increasing the number and then cleaning and maintaining them would make for a lot more happy festival attendees. It would also make sense based on the number of beers the patrons were pounding back, that liquid all has to go someplace.

Another thing that I think would make the festival better involves the pathways. I suggest covering all the grass pathways with a generous covering of wood-chips. Wood-chips will keep them safer for walking on, or walkable in general since after the rain there was a lot of slipping and sliding. Wood-chip pathways will also clearly show where a path is, so people do not start setting up camp on the space allotted for walking, which I observed more than once. Wood-chip is also easy to clean up after the festival with an industrial vacuum, plus the lawn under it will be in better condition for the pleasure of the next event to be staged there.

The volunteers deserve a huge shout out; they went above and beyond. Their hard work and dedication go a long way towards making this a successful festival. Thank you to every one of them.

The queue was mostly observed and respected. I tend to lean towards the British system where cutting in line is tantamount to a crime against humanity and saving a place in line should only happen under exceptional circumstances such as the driver trying to find a parking spot for a person who is unable to walk long distances. Saving a place for your friend who is just too lazy to arrive on time does not qualify, go to the back of the line. I will make an exemption for the occasional family member but not for the whole Brady Bunch showing up late, go to the end of the line.

Smokers were few and far between which was a pleasure. I only witnessed one selfish person smoking in the queue and one smoking off behind a tree, like that made it more acceptable. I didn’t notice anyone smoking in the festival grounds but did get one whiff of wacky tabacky that was very brief, so I appreciate people adhering to the no-smoking rule that applies to any and every type of inhaling of noxious substances. Thank you for not smoking, anything.

Ford Pier was the master of ceremonies, and he did an excellent job of it. I hope he comes back and I hope the m.c.’s of some other events take notes from watching him, their lack of talent for being an m.c. can only go so far. I enjoyed watching Ford rock out to some of the music, clearly moved by what he was hearing. Rock on Ford.

In conclusion, it was a stellar Interstellar music festival. I enjoyed the music and that far outshone the flaws. Thank you Interstellar Rodeo for making me a happy cowboy.

Seven Music Fest 2018

I really enjoyed Seven Music Fest 2017, St. Albert’s little festival with ambition. The weather was amazing and the lineup was worth every penny of the ticket price.
That was 2017, this is 2018 and the story runs a bit differently. The lineup didn’t have the drawing power or mesh with my listening habits. Last year we had The Strumbellas and The Rural Alberta Advantage, two bands that I followed, had seen live previously and listened to at home fairly consistently. On Saturday, July 7th we had Elle King and Banners, two bands that I had never seen live previously and had only sampled on the internet, so I wasn’t going to the festival unprepared but I also expected to hear a lot of new sounds.

After mulling it over on a lazy Sunday morning after the festival I can definitively state that I enjoyed Banners. They were enthusiastic, and that energy struck a chord with the audience as evidenced by an energetic group of dancers and toe-tappers at the foot of the stage. I came home and relistened to Banners on iTunes and enjoyed them again. I will probably get something on hard copy by them, which segues into one of the problems I had with this year’s Seven Music Fest. The merch tent was very skimpy, I didn’t see anything by Banners on the offering. No Banners t-shirts, CDs or posters. Nothing. In fact, the only merch I saw was Seven Music Fest t-shirts, I checked twice in case they were restocking and I had just missed it the first time. Anyhow, Banners put on a good quality, high energy show with good banter. I appreciate artists who can banter effortlessly and keep the audience tuned in.

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The quality of sound through the festival sound system was good for the Banners set, considering that through the previous two acts it had been less than admirable with way too much heavy bass. The volume was acceptable but the bass was way over the top or under the bottom depending on how you hear it.

Delhi to Dublin were victims of this and it’s a shame because they had a large group of people in the mosh pit engaging with the music that is a bit closer to Delhi than Dublin but was still good. This is a short clip of their set, I apologize for the poor quality. I am a better listener than a videographer.

I came into the concert a bit late due to some inclement weather and missed Kane Incognito, Martin Kerr and Altameda but I did get to hear The Wet Secrets.
I always like to see and hear local bands and of the four acts that I heard at Seven Music Fest this year, The Wet Secrets were the only local talent. They are a band that defies labels with their blend of horns, a bass lead guitar, tons of percussion and a smattering of synth. They suffered from a poor sound mix but their energy and enthusiasm were never in question. They engaged with the crowd and put on a decent set.

The closing act was Elle King, a much-hyped genre-bending band that sounds like a collision between George Thorogood, Debbie Harry and Lynard Skynard. Elle King has a seven-person band behind her which was very appropriate for Seven Music Fest and they played slick, polished southern flavoured rock on some very nice gear. They all rocked out in white attire and never missed a beat. Elle alternated between banjo, guitar and handled all the lead vocals, and did it all smooth as silk.

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A few odd observations. There seemed to be way more kids running all over the place. I thought at one point that I must have been sitting in the kids play zone but a glance around told me that moving would not change the situation, they were everywhere. I thought it was a novel idea for child care, fenced and patrolled by security no less.

The beer gardens, yes it is plural, often seemed to have more people than the festival grounds. That’s not a judgement, just an observation. The beer garden giant Jenga was a real crowd pleaser. I also noticed a few parents in the beer garden conversing with their children across the fence, confirming my child care observation.

There were a few food trucks but they didn’t seem as varied or as plentiful as last year and the prices seemed higher. Water was only a buck a bottle so that is all I spent all day at the festival.

The R.C.M.P. were strolling the grounds and provided one of the highlights of the festival when an officer that was easily 2.0 meters tall went down on his knees to talk to a small child. Canada still has one of the best police forces anywhere in the world.fullsizeoutput_1a24

In conclusion, the highlights were the R.C.M.P., Banners (the band), the sun that felt nice after the rain when it broke through the clouds and the nice gear that the bands played with. Next year? I have to see the lineup before I commit to that. Next up this year though is Interstellar Rodeo and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, both of which have acts that I am excited to be seeing live.

Birds of Chicago/Steep Canyon Rangers

I had listened to the Steep Canyon Rangers before the evening of Friday, June 23rd at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, but to be honest, it was only because I had listened to Steve Martin and they were performing with him. My impression of them from that limited listening experience was that they were one heck of a good band, and they are. They have been racking up awards since 2006 when they won Emerging Artist of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association all the way up to a Grammy in 2012 for Instrumental Performance of the Year. They have good credentials so I was looking forward to a night of good music.

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I received more than I expected, the evening began with The Birds of Chicago, a trio from where else, Chicago. The band is led by the married couple JT Nero and Allison Russel, a transplanted Canadian formerly of the group Po’ Girl. They were accompanied with a third member on guitar and slide resonator whose name slipped by my ears. The Birds of Chicago had played at the Edmonton Folk Fest last year so we were familiar with them but the set tonight took me away to a very pleasant place, a happy place. The songs swooped and danced gracefully like a bird in flight. They held the audience in the palm of their hands. It is rare for an opening band to get a standing ovation but The Birds Of Chicago deserved it. A true delight to hear them live again. Fortunately, they are coming back to Alberta this summer on the folk music circuit, playing Grande Prairie and Edmonton in November.

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After a short turnaround, The Steep Canyon Rangers opened the show with what could only be called one hell of an opener. It built energy as each member of the band strolled onto the stage and built on that until it felt like they had given it all they had. They hadn’t, there was plenty more to come. They weaved between folk ballads, bluegrass, Americana, a few classical overtones and at moments it felt like a jazz jam session. One of the highlights for me was a number in which they all played their instruments as percussion, it worked and it was spellbinding. Percussion mandolin, percussion upright bass, percussion guitar, it was incredible. These gentlemen not only know how to play a great variety of music, they do it smoothly with both professionalism and intimacy. At times it felt like we were at a family hoedown and on one tune The Birds of Chicago joined them for a number where they all gathered around the microphone for a sing-along. Great stuff.
It was a magical evening of music that will linger in my memory for a long time. Another bonus is how personal they are, both groups did a meet and greet in the lobby after their sets where they signed CDs and we were fortunate to get a set list from the Steep Canyon Rangers that they all graciously signed. A perfect end to a truly memorable evening of music.

Album (3) reviews: Lessons in Retrospection

In steady rotation this week are a series of new releases that I am going to lump together. Whether they belong together or not is left to your discretion. In no particular order, we have Neko Case with her seventh full-length solo album, Hell On; Ry Cooder with his newest called Prodigal Son; and Father John Misty with his fifth release under that nom de plume, with God’s Favourite Customer. At first glance, one would find little common ground between these three albums, but I noticed there is a thread that runs through them.

Neko Case has had an active solo career as well as being a part of the supergroup The New Pornographers. Hell Onfinds her collaborating with pop producer Björn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John) as well as a host of other musicians to create what I consider to be her deepest and rawest album yet. The lyrics bring up fear, wounds and lost loves that her voice lends credence to. The music builds upon with layers of sound that demand repeat listens to hear the details.Image result for hell on neko case

The Prodigal Son by Ry Cooder finds this veteran of the turntable reworking some gospel and folk music of the last century in his unique style. He also slips in three original tunes that blend so well that the political commentary can easily be overlooked. The music maintains his high standard of folk-influenced world music.

Father John Misty, aka Joshua Michael Tillman, has worn so many hats it is often difficult to know where one persona ends and another begins. God’s Favorite Customer is a short listen at only 39 minutes but fills every one of those minutes with introspective lyrics that focus on the topic of isolation and pain.Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer

Three albums that stand on their own merits but also have something that I found in common: retrospection. Here we have three artists looking back and expressing what they see in three different ways. Neko Case glanced back and revisited some pain in her past. Ry Cooder revisits the topic of faith in something bigger than ourselves. Father John Misty looks back at a specific time and place and weaves a story from the memories. Glancing back to see where we have come from is what I hear in all three of these recordings. I leave it to you the listener to determine what you hear in these three excellent recordings.

Reverend Horton Heat

It’s Saturday night and I’m in the Starlite Room. This is going to be a good night because those two go together like peanut butter and jam.Version 2

PB&J was not on the menu, however, tonight will feature The Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson and Igor and The Red Elvises. This is no cheap buffet at the hospital cafeteria, no sir it wasn’t. It was more like a smorgasbord of sound that became music for our ears.

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There was no time wasted warming up, The Red Elvises roared onto the stage and set a beat down that got the crowds attention, and not just because they had a good beat going, they were eye candy as well. The bass was actually a bass balalaika, huge, red and a very rich bass sound.

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The drummer was sequinned and was laying down a driving rhythm to accompany the bass and keyboard, and then Igor arrived. If anyone thought the band dressed flashy they were about to be awed by the leopard printed, and who knows what else, silk printed suit of Igor. Igor, the East Bloc Elvis plays a mean electric guitar and wings songs about the KGB, bacon, and Monsters From Mars. It would be too easy to dismiss Igor and the Red Elvises as a novelty act, they were talented, fun and got the crowd jumping, pumping and warmed up for the Heat that was about to come.

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The Reverend Horton Heat that is, aka Jim Heath, the psychobilly whirlwind from Texas fed off the energy that Igor and the Red Elvises had started and wound the crowd up to a new level of frenzy. They plowed into Victory Lap, the opening track from their newest release on Victory Records and seldom lifted their foot from the gas pedal after that. Jim Heath is a talented singer and songwriter as well as a master of rockabilly and psychobilly guitar. A very personable man who interacted very well with the audience and told stories about the band and how those stories often became songs.

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About mid-set, I lost track of time, they had a short break and upon returning played one song and then introduced Unknown Hinson. Unknown Hinson is an American singer, musician, songwriter, and voice actor. He is perhaps best known for his role as the voice of Early Cuyler on the Adult Swim animated series Squidbillies. There was obvious chemistry between The Horton Heat band and Unknown Hinson because they rocked the house, Hinson is a very accomplished guitar player and was a joy to hear and see in person. I loved the suits that Unknown Hinson and Jim Heath wore, They were Texas gentlemen to a T.

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Unknown Hinson left the stage after about 6 songs and Reverend Horton Heat settled in for a few slower songs and a few more stories and then they left the stage. Coming back for the traditional encore, their drummer started a solo that covered every surface of his drum kit, the upright bass, random glasses held high by front-row audience members and then back to his kit for a power closer. And then the rest of the band stepped for a few more songs that eventually led to Hinson returning for an extended jam with the full band. It left me breathless.

The Starlite room raised the bar with this show, which I rate as one of the all-time best that I have seen at this venue. Every single musician gave their all for the show and the audience bounced, jumped, danced disco and even did a conga line to show their respect for the people on the stage. It was fun, occasionally funny, and totally engaging and entertaining. A good time, a really good party on a snowy Saturday night in Edmonton, with The Heat turned up.

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We’re Here For Love

Jim and Penny Malmberg, formerly Back Porch Swing, along with Nico Humby and Miles Zurawell brought an energetic and enthusiastic crowd to The Aviary on Friday night.

We were each given a copy of their new CD, it was after all a CD release party, and welcomed into the party. The merch table had so much love it would have been easy to mistake it for Valentines Day, there were hearts everywhere and smiling happy faces to greet us, one of those being a co-owner of The Aviary, Philip.

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This is all in the entryway, next stop was the venue itself. Teacup candles, hearts and love were on every table as well as the stage, and it was like a big ol’ family get together. There was boisterous laughter as people moved about the room greeting each other and spreading the love.

Although every table was taken there were a few loose chairs at the front of the house so that is where we parked ourselves, an unobstructed view of the stage, or so we thought. At one point in the show, Penny had to ask a patron not to walk in front of the stage with her camera phone flash blinding the band and blocking the view of the rest of us.

The evening opened with Jim and Penny coming on stage with a large poster board stating “We’re Here For Love” and extended a warm welcome to everyone. They then introduced the first period, there were three just like a hockey game, Nico and Miles.

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Nico and Miles are straight ahead no nonsense bluegrass and they nailed it. Nico plays a mean mandolin and sings in the finest traditional style. Miles plays flat top guitar and sings in a style that blends traditional bluegrass with traditional country, in a good way. They are fun, funny and fantastic musicians and singers. They peeled off one song after another almost effortlessly and were obviously enjoying it as much as we were. I would be happy to see them play again.

After a short intermission, Penny and Jim took the stage and proceeded to entertain us with a walk through their new CD, in order of appearance on said disc. Both Penny and Jim interjected little stories about the songs and the writing process as well as singing “Happy Birthday” to numerous friends and acquaintances, it was well paced and the space between songs was never dead air. Jim alternated between guitar and mandolin, Penny played guitar and they were joined by Keith Rempel on upright bass, he played on the CD as well. Both Penny and Jim have good voices and they harmonize well. It is easy to see that they are not just doing another show, they love what they are doing and they do it well. They are the quintisential 60’s folk group, and I say that as a compiment.

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There was a lot of love flowing back and forth between the stage and the audience, people were there to visit, to renew old acquaintances and to party. There was banter back and forth from the stage to the seats, hoots and hollers were frequent and several songs were sing-alongs that it seemed most people knew the words to or, like me, learned them quickly.

It was a fun night out and we heard some mighty fine pickin’-and-a-singin’. “We’re Here For Love” is an appropriate name since it was obvious that both the musicians and the people listening where indeed there for the love.

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