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.

IMG_9235

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.

IMG_9237

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.

.banners

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.

seven poster

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.

Image result for birds of chicago
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.

Image result for steep canyon rangers
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.

IMG_8795

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.

IMG_8790

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.

fullsizeoutput_1521

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.

IMG_8825

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.

IMG_8834

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.

IMG_8842

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.

fullsizeoutput_14ff.jpeg

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.

IMG_9066.jpg

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.

IMG_9083.jpg

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.

IMG_9103  

Sean Burns and Lost Country

Sean-Burns-Album-Art-2018

The title of the album kinda says it all, Music For Taverns, Bars, and Honky Tonks. It also works well in pickup trucks, long-haul big rigs and small local music venues such as the Aviary in Edmonton, which is where I got to hear Sean and his bandmates at work.

fullsizeoutput_14fe

The evening opened with the southern Alberta country sounds of Boots Graham, a purveyor of the Carter claw style of guitar playing and a slice of life story songs. The songs are traditional country themes such as broken hearts and empty bottles but Boots is an engaging and entertaining performer who plays and sings very effortlessly. I can image him around a campfire drinking beer out of a tailgate cooler and hootin and hollerin’ louder than the coyotes. Boots was fun and a really good intro for Sean Burns and Lost Country.

IMG_8764

Sean is a personable performer who is comfortable in his role of a country troubadour. His band is tight and obviously, have fun playing together. Inspired by such west coast legends such as Bakersfield’s Buck Owens, the Oklahoma legend Merle Haggard, and Texans Ray Price and Johnny Bush, the album was recorded at Hillside Hideout, at Alexander, MB and Tres Mariachis in Nashville, TN Produced by Canada’s guitar wizard Grant Siemens, and recorded & mixed by Scott Franchuk (JUNO and Polaris Prize nominated Engineer), the album features Sean’s band Lost Country (Joanna Miller, Bernie Thiessen, Grant Siemens) with heavy hitters Big Dave McLean, Chris Scruggs, and Harry Stinson lending their talents as well. A guest appearance was put in by Skinny Dyck on the pedal steel guitar that played well off the rest of the band at the Aviary.

This is down to earth, well grounded, scuffed cowboy boots, and bent straw cowboy hats music. Well, I had the scuffed boots and the only cowboy hat in the crowd that night but we clapped along and there was more than one hoot and holler from the back of the room to show our appreciation of the effort they were making to entertain us. It was fun, it was country and it was a good night out. The Aviary is a small venue that hosts a good variety of music but for one night anyhow it was a tavern, a bar, and a honky tonk.

Musical Memories #1

I have been surrounded by music for as long as I can remember, which on some days isn’t that far into the past. But on the days that I do pause to ruminate on the morsels of musical memories, they are sweet indeed.

My Dad was a music lover, he grew up on a farm with the songs of rural Alberta resonating all around him. He had an older sister, Louise, who played drums and sang in a band. And then there was their oldest brother John. John could recite The Cremation of Sam McGee from start to finish. John also played the fiddle. When I was about 14 years old he offered me a fiddle for free if I took lessons and learned how to play it. I am remorseful now that I didn’t take him up on that offer. I bought a used electric guitar for $30, learned a half dozen chords and played parties and the occasional bar until they threw us out over some excuse about not having an entertainment licence.

There were other musicians in other branches of the family too. The McAllister’s were a lively bunch and the McLeods were not in short supply of musical talent either. The Froland boys played a mean guitar and my cousin Allan Froland has a nice guitar too and taught me a few chords. 

There were barn dances, wedding dances, community socials, harvest fairs, and just about any other excuse to throw a party that you cared to think of, there always seemed to be music. They would gather round at the drop of a hat or the popping of a cork and the guitars, harmonicas and violins would appear out of nowhere. They didn’t need an excuse to have a sing-a-long, it was before television and hi-fi stereo so live music was the entertainment and they were more than eager to provide it. My childhood is filled with memories of family get-togethers with music, laughter, poetry and love.

My Dad loved country and western music. Not the pop country that you hear on the radio nowadays, the good old country and western music of yesteryear. He went to concerts by Kitty Wells, Ferlin Huskey, and Ray Price. He never got to see Hank Williams but the music of the Luke the Drifter was a constant in our home, either on our stereo or through Dad’s guitar playing and singing. Dad even cut a 78 rpm record in about 1952, shortly before I came along. Unfortunately, Dad had an accident at work and the index finger on his left hand was lost. He became so dejected that he gave up on playing guitar and sold his.

Mom wouldn’t have any of that nonsense so she bought him another one for his birthday and the started learning to play with three fingers, some imaginative picking and dang it if he didn’t become a real good player all over again. This is a picture of him with that guitar and me with my first guitar, this would be about 1971.

516057721.584594

One of my earliest memories of my love of country and western music is also one of the most hilarious, I can look back on it and laugh now, it wasn’t that funny when it happened.

When I was about 12 years old I started going to a church youth group. We had moved around a lot and this was the first time I had ever been in a youth group but it started on a good note. The first Friday that I attended they announced that next week would be a sock-hop. For the younger readers, that is a dance where everyone wears socks and dances or hops, or both. They told us that were each allowed to bring records to the party and everyone would get turns at playing songs off their records of choice.

I was excited. I loved music. I could tell you all the words to Kaw-liga, King of the Road and Snow White Dove. I was sure that kids in this group would like the same music that I did after all this was rural Alberta and every radio in every farm truck was tuned to CFCW, the home of country and western music in Alberta.

I went home and started going through the collection of records my Dad had accumulated, heck, there must have been close to 20 records, an abundance of good music to choose from. I started listening to those records again and I paid attention to the lyrics, the pacing of the songs, and I kept trying to pick just the right ones. I went through the Hank Williams records, he had the most of any artist. They were good but I wasn’t sure if they would live up to the expectations of a sock-hop. Some of his music was better for square dancing, a form of human movement that I abhorred from a nasty experience of stage fright where I shut the door when I should have been doing the do-see-doe.

I then started listening to some of the other records but none of them seemed to hold that elusive quality that I was looking for. Until I came upon the records that I took to the party. I was excited that I would be able to share my love of music with others.

As I arrived at the party on a blustery fall evening, I clomped out of my warm but decidedly unfashionable winter boots and peeled off the layers of clothing that had kept me warm on my walk to the party. I didn’t mind the walk. I had grown up walking most every place I went and I knew how to dress warmly.

As I entered that church basement in my stocking feet I realized immediately that there was a problem. For starters, I was the only one with wool socks. Wool socks are great for sliding along linoleum floors in the winter. Wool socks are great for long walks in the winter. Wool socks are great for playing shinny on a frozen pond. Wool socks were great for all of those things, but they were not great as a fashion statement at a sock-hop. Especially since I was the only one making that statement.

The second problem that I soon realized, much too late to do anything about, was my choice of music. These church kids listened to a different radio station than me and my Dad. They, horror of horrors, listened to 630 CHED. These kids listened to rock and roll, not country and western music, who woulda thunk that?

I knew that eventually, the adult chaperoning the evening, who was also the disc jockey was going to pick my records, I couldn’t find anyplace to hide them. I tried to plead with her, please don’t play mine, just let the other kids play their records. My pleading was to no avail and in the interest of being fair to all, she dropped the needle on the first song of one of my records, it was Patsy Cline singing “Stop The World and Let Me Off”.

My sentiments exactly Patsy.

The room froze. You could have heard a needle drop. Well, actually we did, it dropped onto the record. Everyone looked at me like I had suddenly grown an extra arm. The next 2 minutes and 28 seconds will forever be etched in my mind as every one of the kids in that basement began the mockery that children of that age are so very, very good at. My music was different from theirs and I was fair game for their taunts. And then the chaperone did the unthinkable, instead of playing a record by another child she put on the second song of the second record that I had brought. Not the first song, which would have been “King of the Road”, which I think could have slid by without inflicting more humiliation than I had already suffered. The second song of the second record was “Ahab the Arab”. In case you are not familiar with this song I suggest you give it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNkdZaU_EhM.

The life kinda went out of the party for me, the chaperone went back to playing top 40 pop singles that the other kids had brought and the kids started hopping in their socks again. I put on my felt-lined boot and trudged home with my beloved country and western records under my arm. I have grown to love those two records that I silently carried home with that cold autumn night. My Dad passed away years ago and Mom gave the records to me. I take them out every so often and listen to just two songs. I think you know which ones.

Trifecta

January has drawn to a close with a brilliant trifecta in the sky, a full moon, a lunar eclipse and lunar perigee (supermoon in common parlance). It was bitterly cold and very early in the morning in our part of the globe, Edmonton, Alberta. The air temperature was hovering around -25 C and the wind chill put it well into the -30’s as I pulled on my long johns at 6:00 a.m., my son Joel had already put in about 2 hours of watching and he got some great photos from start to finish of the eclipse. This is my own picture, not nearly as good as his.

IMG_7620

Music, yeah, music. January closed with probably the worst concert experience of my life, and it takes some bad crap to reach the top that list. I won’t bother to mention the venue or the artist, both of whom I respect and have had good relations with apart from this isolated event. It was just a perfect shit storm. ‘Nuff said.

I expanded my listening to some crooning, R&B and hip/hop that I don’t normally listen to very much. I started with a Canadian who has 9 albums to his credit and with Real Love, David Myles tenth release, he hit an 8 out of 10 on my listening list. I really liked the way this smooth crooner shifts between rockabilly, reminiscent of Brian Setzer, adding a tribute to Elvis a bit of Sinatra and then manages to bring it all together in a mix that is all David Myles. I may have to get a solid copy of this one to spin on the old turntable. A very enjoyable listen suitable for just kicking back and relaxing.

Chris Dave and the Drumhedz

Another record that will be arriving this week thanks to the great staff at Listen Records in Edmonton is Chris Dave and the Drumhedz. Chris Dave is a highly regarded session musician and an in-demand hard-working touring drummer. On this self-titled album, Chris Dave takes samples of the jazz that influenced his early life, thanks to his Dad, and the hip/hop that he has worked with such as D’Angelo and The Vanguard with their great album from 2012 titled Black Messiah.

Chris Dave and the Drumhedz is a wonderfully crafted trip that floats, jumps and mingles with so much going on that it has taken me repeated listens just to hear some of the nuances within this amazing recording. A 10 out of 10 on my listening scale. Trust me, I don’t give 10’s away easily.

Gwen Cresens, Diego Matheuz & Brussels Philharmonic my listening to a whole new dimension with their release titled Concertos for Bandoneon & Accordion. Very enjoyable and I love the building and release of tension that exists in much of this album. A little touch of new classical that needs more exploration, an easy 8 out of 10.

Gwen Cresens

Nightmares on Wax, isn’t that a great band name? I love it, so I gotta hear it too. I heard it and I liked it. I listened to it again and heard more detail. And a third time. I have it on order for a full-on vinyl attack through the big stereo. I’ll keep you posted but for now, Shapes of The Future is looking good as a possible finalist for best of the year, right up there with Typhoon and their release Offerings.

d7d6c27e38305790ba161f4cc39214f6342abc7ea5cc1090f9cd20d3

All in all, it was a really inconsistent month for both the weather and the music experiences. I sampled a band from Greece, I didn’t know that Greece had anything other than Vangelis. They do and they are good. Tango With Lions is the band, The Night is the album, get it to the Greek on time and spin it. Good music.

And this listen took me down a wandering path of Vangelis, OMD, and samples of several other Greek artists, some really good music going on there.

Moving into February I see only one show on the horizon for this month, a local band, Mortar and Marrow. They will be at the Sewing Machine Factory on Feb. 9, check them out. I don’t have any albums jumping out at me for new releases so I might focus on some of the older music that I listen to. Lots of Beatles so far, we’ll see where else this goes since my listening is seldom consistent.