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This is the first in what I hope to be a series of album blogs. These will be album reviews in a relaxed and informal manner. My observations are not intended to be critical of the artists or their art, merely comments and observations and reconsiderations of albums that meant something to me at some point in my life, which is obviously why I bought the recording in the first place. I am using the Discogs randomizer to pick the albums for me and I hope to do one review per week. I will do multiple listens of the recording and probably on more than one format if they are available. I will also do some research on the history of the recordings and what relevant information that entails, at my discretion. I am trying to avoid reading other reviews because I feel that may taint my observations.
First up is a recording from 1969, which was a very good year in my life and in my music collection, the album is Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. This is the ninth studio album by Bob Dylan and shows a departure from the stylings of his previous recordings. The album that preceded Nashville Skyline was John Wesley Harding, an album that was well received by critics and fans alike and had a distinctly folk feel to it. The album that came after Nashville Skyline was Self Portrait, an album that alienated both fans and critics alike but has weathered the turbulence and has come to be fairly well regarded in the lexicon of Dylan. Nashville Skyline is between these two, it has elements of folk simply because it is very difficult to pigeon hole music like this, and it has a distinctly country and western feel that is different from the explosion of country rock that was flooding the world.
First off is the title that grabs me. I have seen the Nashville Skyline, walked it’s streets and listened to its music. So I have a connection to this recording before I hear a single note of music. I also have expectations because of the many, many C&W records that I have heard, Nashville Skyline does not disappoint.
The first note of music is Girl From The North Country, a duet with Johnny Cash. Their voices mesh interestingly. At times I can hear Johnny trying to match the cadence of Bob Dylan, a cadence that suits him well but is different from most other singers, including the very versatile voice of Johnny Cash. I can also hear Dylan holding back to allow Cash to come along with his voice and Cash does, sometimes better than others but on the whole, it is a well-done interpretation of Olde English folk tune with an interesting pairing of musicians in Cash and Dylan.
The rest of the album seems to flow seamlessly with no further duets but extremely competent accompaniment by the musicians behind Dylans singing and playing, talented artists like Charlie Daniels on bass guitar, Pete Drake on pedal steel and Bob Wilson on keyboards. Having this level of veteran Country and Western musicians allowed Dylan the freedom to concentrate on singing in 4/4 time and playing a variety of instruments in accompaniment but not aggressively out front.
The lyrics speak of the basic human conditions, such as love that everyone sings about, especially C/W artists. They are either singing about being lonely and searching for love, being in love, or falling out of love. Dylan does not disappoint, Nashville Skyline is full of references to love, love lost, and a goose, but no dog.
Lay Lady Lay is arguably the most well-known song off the album, although I Threw It All Away and Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You were also released as singles. Lay Lady Lay hit 7 on Billboard and has been covered by a list of musicians that would fill this page.
A litmus test of music for me is how well the recording stands up to repeated listens and how well it ages. This recording has been in my collection for a long time, I do not remember when I bought the record, but I know it wasn’t in 1969, which is when the record came out. It must not have been too long after because the copy I have is a 1969 pressing, so it is before the reissues came out in the mid-’70s.
Regardless of when it came out, I have been listening to it for a good number of years and still enjoy it. For this blog, I listened to it multiple times on vinyl, CD and digital. Nashville Skyline passes both of the tests with ease. In fact, I think I’ll listen to it again today just for the pure enjoyment of listening to it again.
Take away observations; this is a very good record with some stellar musicianship, just listen to the instrumentation and try to block the lyrics in your head. The pedal steel and drumming blow me away. For another listen ignore the interments and focus on the lyrics and what they say to you or interest you. And then listen to it in a relaxed manner, such as reading a book or doing a hobby, and just bask in the pleasure of hearing music and singing at a level that many strive for but few attain.
On her second full-length release, fire dancer turned singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou seamlessly combines cool jazz vibes and light indie tones to create a laidback yet intriguing album.
Across the entirety of Paper Castles, South African born Berlin-based Alice Phoebe Lou’s captivating vocals soar over atmospheric and lushly textured instrumentals. With evident influence from relaxed, lounge-friendly jazz, the steady percussion and electronic piano accompaniment on tracks like “New Song” mingle fluidly with Alice Phoebe Lou’s voice and flatly intonated guitars. While jazz is a dominating force for Paper Castle‘s sound, it also blends with distinctly indie ideals. Many tracks on Paper Castles veer towards the jangly guitars and softly textured synthesizers of bedroom pop. On “Galaxies” a muted guitar blends with synth textures to create a spacious indie track that is reminiscent of other bands such as Lowly.
Lyrically, Paper Castles maintains poignancy by relating tales of nostalgia, femininity, and maturing. On the previously released single “Something Holy” Alice Phoebe Lou relays her moment of overcoming “past traumas with sex, with men” and her more in-depth understanding of intimacy with one of the album’s most haunting mantras “It hasn’t been so easy being lonely.”
Overall, the Noah Georgeson-produced Paper Castles is a cohesive, well-textured album that nicely showcases Alice Phoebe Lou’s vocal capabilities and writing skills. Its calming combination of jazz and indie conveys a sense of ataraxia while still maintaining enough momentum to keep one interested.
Originally written for The Spill Magazine
With nearly fifteen years of experience touring the world as a saxophonist with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Cochemea Gastelum is no stranger to the musical world. Within his solo full-length All My Relations, Cochemea delves into spiritual jazz, varied percussion, and of course soaring saxophone.
One of the most initially apparent features of All My Relations is the heavy use of percussion and rhythm. Whether it’s the Indigenous-inspired “All My Relations” or the grooving “Song of Happiness”, percussive and enchanting rhythms are found throughout. Adding exta depth to the sound is the excellent use of stereo separation that helps to draw in the listener and add impact to the drums felt across the album. On “Asatoma”, percussion takes complete control which leads to a very atmospheric and minimalist sound that nicely offsets some of the album’s busier moments.
With Cochemea you expect excellent saxophone performances and All My Relations certainly delivers some pleasing sax solos and riffs. Of particular note is the song “Seyewailo” in which the saxophone has effects laid upon it allowing for some unique tones and cosmic jazz textures.
With such varying influences and textures, All My Relations is an undeniably interesting spiritual jazz album that should fit perfectly within Daptone’s stellar catalogue.
Originally written for The Spill Magazine
The list below is my attempt at emulating the Juno Awards. I usually shy away from best of lists, but I had the privilege of attending the 8th Annual Edmonton Music Awards Gala at The Winspear Centre on June 28, and like them, I wanted to give nods of approval across a broad spectrum of music and to use categories, like the Juno Awards do. So here is my best of 2018 list that isn’t a best of list, it is, however, music that made me smile during twenty-eighteen.
Live performance in a large venue:
David Byrnes – American Utopia * Live at The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Live performance in a medium venue:
Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson & Igor & The Red Elvises @ The Starlite Room
Live performance in a small venue:
Rosie & The Riveters w/VISSIA @ The Aviary
Classical music performance:
Late Night Soundscapes, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Alexander Prior
Classical Music Recording:
re:member by Ólafur Arnalds
Edmonton Artist and Recording:
starlight by nêhiyawak
Canadian Country and Western Performance (The Atrium) and Album:
Cold Beans & Broken Eggs by Sean Burns
International Country and Western Album:
Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley
Country and Western Live Performance: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at The Jube
Vintage Country Album:
Wanted by The Outlaws
Vintage Reissue Recording:
Pink Floyd – The Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn (Remastered Reissue)
Roots Music Album:
Vanished Gardens by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels & Lucinda Williams
Your Queen Is Dead by Sons Of Kemet
Shape The Future by Nightmares On Wax
Rebound by Eleanor Friedberger
Chris Dave and the Drumhedz by Chris Dave and the Drumhedz
R&B/Soul Performance: The War and Treaty at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival
Album Still In Rotation From Last Year:
Once In A Long, Long While by Low Roar
Rock Album of 2018:
Offerings by Typhoon
Canadian Rock Album of 2018:
Earthtones by Bahamas
Spiritual Album of 2018:
(untitled) by mewithoutYou
Live Performance of 2018:
David Byrne at The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
On the evenings of Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1 we had the pleasure of listening to Yukon Blonde and The Zolas do back to back shows at The Station on Jasper. This repeat was a first for both of us although we had seen both bands previously, this was the sixth time for Yukon Blonde and the seventh for The Zolas. Listening to two groups do back to back shows presented us with an opportunity to make some observations on band dynamics, set lists, crowd demographics and dynamics, how the music and lights were mixed and the overall vibe from each show.
The Zolas hail from the Vancouver area but make numerous tours that include Edmonton, where it is evident that they have a lot of fans. Currently, the core of The Zolas consists of Zach Gray on guitar and vocals, Dwight Abell on bass, and Cody Hiles on drums with a touring pianist rounding out their sound.
Over the years I have heard The Zolas grow and spread their playing into new and exciting sounds while they have also developed and matured as a cohesive unit, they sound better with each listening. They are more confident and they are using new sounds and arrangements that make their older songs sound fresh. They have always been a band that had a good on stage presence and that did not change with these two shows. Zach is good at banter and engaging the crowd and the band as a unit kept the energy moving forward with a minimum of dead spots such as guitar tunings.
The Zolas are adding more nuances and textures to their music through the use of synthesisers and trigger pads. This was most notable for Zach as he played both synthesiser and guitar in which he used the headstock of his guitar to tap trigger pads. The band generated good energy with the crowd and were able to sustain that energy through their set, although I think it was a better crowd on Friday than Saturday and the crowd energy was different. The Zolas traditionally close with Zach taking his mic stand, guitar and a small synth into the middle of the crowd on the floor and play Escape Artist. Zach asks the crowd to turn on their phone flashlights and it creates a cool dynamic.
Over the years I have seen this done several times and the audience reaction isn’t always the same. On Friday night it was good, not as good as a previous show at a different venue and a different crowd, but it was darn good. Saturday night, on the other hand, had a very different crowd that didn’t engage as well from my perspective.As always, The Zolas meet and greet with the crowd after the show and are good at it. We didn’t get a setlist from the Zolas this time around, but we got a selfie with Zach which is a tradition he does with us. My appreciation for this band goes up every time I see them live or listen to them at home. They are a highlight band for me. My favourite song is Frieda On The Mountain:
“Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?
Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?”
I’m sure that my family and friends will understand why it is a favourite.
Yukon Blonde is a band that started in Kelowna but work out of Vancouver nowadays. The band is made up of Jeff Innes on vocals and guitar, Brandon Scott on guitar and vocals, Graham Jones on drums and vocals, James Younger on bass and vocals, and Rebecca Gray on keyboards, synths, and vocals.
Wikipedia classify them as an indie rock band although I can hear the influence of psych, disco, 80’s easy listening, and straight ahead power rock. They are a tight band that can are comfortable playing with a variety of sounds. Having the luxury of 3 band mates that can sing lead, all 5 of them singing backing vocals, 3 of them that play synth and two lead/rhythm guitar players, they can spread the sound around and add layers and textures that compliment each other and build a big sound.
The highlight for me of both shows by Yukon Blonde was their long jams on the song Radio. I didn’t time it because I was so mesmerised listening to it, but it went around, up, over and then back for more than the traditional 3 minutes that they would get on a radio edit. It then it segued into Saturday Night which was another high energy stretched out anthem. The closing song both nights was a tribute to George Harrison and the Travelling Wilburys, in which both bands took the stage, and they did a rendition of Handle With Care.
The Station on Jasper is a good venue, the staff are polite and courteous and the sound is usually pretty good. They have a decent menu, we had the nachos and they were tasty. Like I said earlier, the crowds were very different for the two shows. Friday night had a lot of happy people that were there because they wanted to hear the music. Saturday felt like it had a lot more intoxicated people who came to the venue to get drunk and either socialise through the whole show or spend the entire night texting. Very different crowds that I am sure the bands could sense as much as we did.
The sound was muddy, very bass heavy and very loud on Friday night, which was a shame because so many people were there to hear good music. Saturday night had a better mix although it was still very, very loud. At least the bass wasn’t as bad as Friday night, it was still too much, but it was better. Heavy bass is a trend that we have noticed at a lot of shows, so it isn’t confined to one venue. The excessive volume is also at epidemic proportions, and it’s everywhere even in stores.
Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed both bands both night and would gladly return to The Station on Jasper.
Photos by Joel Weatherly. More Photos at Joel Weatherly Photography.
Check out We Are The City’s setlist here.
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.
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.
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.
In conclusion, I like these recordings, and they have grown on me with each additional listen. They need time to become comfortable with us.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Tuning