Check out We Are The City’s setlist here.
I am sitting here listening to Bahamas new album Earthtones, which is a great listen, and thinking to myself about the music that 2018 has started with. First up was Daniel Romano in concert in a new venue called The Aviary. It is a cosy little room that worked really good for the band to work out in. It was a rocking good start to the year.
This last week has been crazy with new music. First Aid Kit came out with a new full-length album called Ruins. They are a pair of young women working out relationships and the confusion and pain of youthful romance and heartache. They are darn good at working all of that into very likeable songs. The problem for me is the irreconcilable fact that I left my teenage angst and broken hearts behind me many years ago, and these songs, as good as they are, simply do not resonate with me on a personal level. What does resonate with me is the music that First Aid Kit back up all of their writing with. They say on their bio that they listened to the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Carter Family and The Louvin Brothers and I can hear overtones of all that and more in their songs. There is a lilt, a sway, a dos-e-do, and a vintage to their music that harkens back to these great musicians of the past that we should not forget. I am grateful for First Aid Kit and their nod of appreciation to the foundation builders of Americana music.
The Shins pulled out all the stops with their newest old release, The Worms Heart. I confess that I have listened to them only casually in the past but this release has demanded repeated listens from me. This is art rock in that it is a flipped version of their last album Heartworms, the order of the songs if reversed and all of them are played in a different style than the original. I know that this doesn’t work for some folks but I found that I liked the end result of this endeavour. This album has a more grunge/garage rock feel to it. Jangling guitars and moaning organs that often sound heavy-handed manage to rumble on and create something new and interesting. I like the concept, and contrary to many of the reviews that I have read online, I actually like the end product. Yes, it is sloppy and uneven at times but I take that as part of the process of reinventing the songs so I give it a thumbs up.
Unfortunately, I have to throw in thumbs down review, well, actually a palm flat out and then brought slowly up to your forehead area. They Might Be Giants are rated as one of, if not the most, prolific music writers of all time and this is their nineteenth album if my counting is correct. The unfortunate part is that prolific does not always bring quality along with it. The bottom line on this album is this: if you like They Might Be Giants you will like this recording. If you are new to TMBG’s you might or might not find this a good listen. I found it to be less than engaging. I often overlooked the cheesy music and listened to the lyrics but on this recording, called I Like Fun, I couldn’t have fun listening to more of the same old.
A slight bump on the road of music we find ourselves on. On a different wavelength, I have revisited some old albums and I did have fun with that. Abbey Road, by nonother than The Beatles. It has not lost any of its charms or listening quality over the years and it still gets me singing in the car to myself.
Dave Edmunds, often overlooked but a classic from the new wave era. I have a fistful of his albums but I shook the dust off of Repeat When Necessary and found that I still liked it as much now as I did in 1979 when it was released. It was released at the same time as Nick Lowe’s Labour of Lust which is another personal favourite of mine and both records feature the same lineup of musicians: Edmunds, Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, collectively known as Rockpile. A couple of stand out tracks are Crawling From The Wreckage and Queen of Hearts. Good Stuff.
Well, that is a wrap for this week, I look forward to what lies in store next week. For concerts, we are going to see Daniel Romano again, this time with Ancient Shapes at The Empress Ale House. For album listening, I have no idea what the future holds. Until next time, keep your needle in the groove and fingers on the fretboard/keyboard.
The Light marks Tango With Lions’ first release in five years. The highly anticipated follow-up to A Long Walk, The Light is a nine-song album packed with introspective lyrics, haunting vocals, and intricate instrumentals.
Musically, The Light is a bit of a varied album. Early in the album things sound very indie. Singer-Songwriter Katerina Papachristou’s airy dreamy vocals take centre stage as a distant piano and rattling percussion whirl throughout tracks like “Back to One.” Throughout most of the album, Papachristou’s vocals carry hints of Metric’s Emily Haines. Stylistically, things do shift during the course of The Light‘s 34 minutes as by the time you reach songs such as “Last Thrill” or “What You’ve Become” the backing instrumentals garner a sound with more hints of folk rock than indie pop.
Within “The Go Betweens,” one of the most intimate tracks on the album, are some of the most experimental sounds of The Light as buzzing synths add texture to an otherwise sparse and quiet musical landscape, this isolation allows for focus to direct towards Papachristou’s ethereal vocals.
Throughout the entirety of The Light, themes of light and dark, optimism and nihilism are explored in-depth as Papachristou explores her own emotions and experiences. While introspective songs can often feel excessively maudlin, Tango With Lions manages to examine poignant ideas without becoming overly melancholy proving that a balance can be achieved between upbeat songs and philosophical subjects.
From its beginning to its end, The Light is an engaging and catchy listen that nicely display the talents of one of Greece’s biggest English-speaking bands while still showing that they have room to grow and experiment.
I bought a record today, that in and of itself is nothing new or earth moving since I buy a lot of music. What made this one special is that it was a recording that I had admired from a distance for a good long time, had listened to several times even though I didn’t own a copy (thanks to the digital age) and now I finally had it in my hands which is one of the appealing aspects of owning vinyl records, the tactile element. That record got me to thinking about the history of Country and Western music based on its title and its content. The record I bought today is a nice clean copy of Ray Charles landmark recording called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was actually done in 1962 and that got me to wondering what led up to this recording and what followed it. And thus the quest to connect the dots between landmarks in the history of Country and Western Music from some not so modern, to modern and beyond, into Metamodern. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list or a complete history lesson, it is a quick overview of country music in 10 albums.
1. Vernon Dalhart, now there is a name that doesn’t get thrown around much these days. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if you are scratching your head and asking who in the world Vernon Dalhart is and why am I starting my little history lesson with him. Well, Vernon Dalhart was the first million record seller and was the number one driving force behind hillbilly music gaining traction as a form of popular music. In the 1920’s and 30’s Vernon made over 5000 recordings under his own name as well as over 100 aliases. In fact, there are examples of him recording the same songs on different labels with different names. In 1924 Vernon recorded a song called the Wreck of the Old ’97 which became his best selling record with over 5 million copies sold. This paved the way for other hillbilly and mountain musicians but his popularity plummeted almost as fast as it rose. He died in obscurity in 1948 but left a lasting legacy as the first successful purveyor of what was to become Americana or Country and Western Music.
2. Jimmie Rodgers, known as the “Father of Country Music,” was an instant national success. He is credited with the first million-selling single, “Blue Yodel #1,” and his catalogue of songs, all recorded between 1927 and 1933, established him as the first preeminent voice in country music. While Vernon Dalhart sang many railroad songs and ballads, Jimmie Rodgers was known as the Singing Brakeman due to the fact that he had actually worked on the rails and had an intimate knowledge of them. His first recording session was the famous Bristol Sessions which included the music of our third historical note, The Carter Family. Jimmie Rodgers was a great interpreter of songs and didn’t stick to a formula for his music. He included elements of other styles of music and even collaborated with Louis Armstrong at one point. Jimmie Rodgers music was hugely popular during his short life and had a lasting impression that reverberates to this day.
3. The Carter Family were Country and Western music’s first famous vocal group. A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter, and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle Addington Carter, the group flourished in the 1920s after recording the Bristol Sessions. The Carter Family continued recording and performing for decades with different family members and their legacy lives on through extended family and remakes of their hits such as “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower” which remain country standards to this day. In fact, one of A.P. Carters signature tunes went on to become the catch phrase of whole new movement in country music, No Depression. It was recorded by Uncle Tupelo, as well as many others, became the name of an alt-country news magazine in both print and digital formats and is synonymous with the alternative country movement. The Carter Family left an indelible impression on music and country music in particular.
4. While Country and Western music rose out of hillbilly and mountain music and became popularised through artists like Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, there were other musical influences brewing in other parts of the world. Combining elements of jazz, big band, rural roots and blues music Bob Wills hit the dance floors of Texas with his big sound and almost single-handedly invented western swing. Taking the lessons he learned while playing fiddle for The Carter Family and The Light Crust Doughboys (yes, that is a real band name) Bob Wills brought a new level of energy to Country and Western music, an energy that influenced many and is still heard today through acts such as Asleep At The Wheel.
5. What can I say about Hank Williams that hasn’t already been said? No one has had as much influence or lasting impact on Country and Western music as Hank Williams, an influence that spread to other genres and continues to be felt. Hank Williams may have been a reluctant star, he suffered from low self-esteem among other things, but a bright star he became none the less. He is number 5 on our list a pivotal point in a count from 1 to 10 and Hank was a pivotal point in Country and Western music. He was immensely popular despite his self-destructive ways and he opened the doors for many other musicians to play on not just the Grand Ol Opry but on tours and promotional slots on local radio stations while on tour. The golden age of Country and Western music had arrived.
6. From the death of Hank Williams in 1953 and onward through the 50’s there were many, many outstanding Country and Western performers and since this is a brief history lesson and not a compendium I will not list them but I would encourage you to dig deeper for your own pleasure. I am going to jump ahead to 1962 and our next historical footnote in the history lesson. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles. Up to the release of this album Ray Charles had been a relatively successful soul and rhythm and blues artist, this album changed not only his career but also the face of Country and Western music. For one thing, Ray Charles was black and to break into what had, up to this point in time, been a predominantly white industry was significant in and of itself. The music contained within the album also marked a new era in county and western music because it contained elements of R&B, soul, blues and even jazz. This record broke the mould that had formed Country/Western music and liberated it to be more than 4/4 time hillbilly music. This is not to downplay the artists who came before because they all contributed to the mix, but after 1962 it was never quite the same again. Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music has been lauded by critics from the day it was released right up to the present day as one of the most significant albums ever recorded and also of the highest quality. It won a Grammy and the praise of many critics, consistently ranking very high on lists of the best records of all time. It is also one of my personal favourite listens.
6. The 1960’s continued to pour out consistently good country and western music and one of them was a Texan working out of Bakersfield California. Buck Owens championed a style of music called the Bakersfield sound, which is where Buck Owens lived and started his career in music. The Bakersfield sound actually started in the mid to late 1950’s as a reaction against the slick, overly orchestrated and over produced pop country that had made inroads. The Bakersfield sound stripped the music back to smaller combos and featured story songs, steel guitar and twangy guitar, hallmarks of Country and Western music. A landmark album that gives a really good perspective of the Bakersfield sound is Buck Owens and the Buckeroos, The Carnegie Hall Concert recorded in 1966. It is a well recorded live album and features the band at the height of their game, a good album to showcase not only a significant movement in the history of Country and Western music but also the Bakersfield sound.
7. We now jump forward to 1974, it seems that about every ten years there is a significant moment, artist or album in the timeline of Country and Western music. The Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson is another rebellion against the Nashville sound, much like Ray Charles and Buck Owens were. Willie Nelson became a prominent leader in the alternative country movement, what they called outlaw country. The album was a concept album that was a departure from the traditional Country and Western album and it was also very minimalist, with simple basic instrumentation and very little post production effects. Initial reaction from the white collars in Nashville and the record company was that is was too sparse but since Willie had negotiated for complete artistic freedom they had to honour that and what a great album it is. Willie Nelson went on to record many more great albums including a series of Outlaw albums with others artists of similar musical musings. The alternative country or outlaw country format had been formed and the Red Headed Stranger was at the forefront of the march.
8. We fast forward now to the 1980’s in the history of Country and Western music. Flashy outfits, lavish orchestration and heavy-handed production were not new to the Country and Western music scene, having had its fair share of artists that seemed to have more show than substance but a new level was about to unfold. It is probably best exemplified in Urban Cowboy, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name starring John Travolta. Pop-country, urban country, new country, or what have you, it was a new day in Country and Western music that featured music that easily crossed over from pop to country, worked well in bars that were competing with disco for dance space and was radio friendly. It was the age of the Rhinestone Cowboy at its peak. I featured artists such as Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and the group Alabama. The Urban Cowboy trend was very influential as a crossover medium and can still be seen today in artists such as Garth Brooks who can sell out concerts in mega stadiums and compete with big name rock and roll acts in sales figures.
9. In 1990 a band named Uncle Tupelo released their first album to critical acclaim and quite good sales, 15,000 in the first year which is considered good for an independent release. The album gained in status over time and is now considered a seminal alt-country record and one of the most important Country and Western albums of all time. It is interesting to note that the western in Country and Western had pretty much been abandoned by now and the broad term for the genre was just Country music. Uncle Tupelo was very influential and the members of the band continue to make music with various other bands, notably Jeff Tweedy and Wilco as well as Jay Farrah and Son Volt; both of them hugely successful and influential. Uncle Tupelo may not have been the first but they were certainly one of the most influential early alternative new country bands and they spawned a whole sub-genre of alternative country music.
10. Fast forward to 2014, only 3 years ago as I write this, and Sturgill Simpson released an album called Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. An album that pays tribute to those who paved the way such as Ray Charles with Modern Sounds in Country Western Music as well as Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings from Outlaw country. It also paves the way for new experiences in country music through the way the music is presented and also through the lyrical content. Sturgill Simpson writes songs that incorporate stories, philosophy, ideology, theology and heartfelt emotions. Elements that have existed as long as there has been Country and Western music but presented in a new and fresh way. Welcome to the new sound of country music, Metamodern.
So there we have it, the history of country music in 10 albums. Yes, it misses a lot of really good artists as well as pickup truck full of really good albums. As I said before, this is not an encyclopaedia of country music, it is a quick overview that may serve as a starting point for someone who has never given the genre a good listen or it could be a good refresher for someone who hasn’t listened to country music for a while. Wherever you fit in I hope this provides some lovely listening my friends.
p.s. I just listened to Willie Nelson’s newest album; God’s Problem Child. I will have to update this to 11 albums I think.
One listen led to another, or how I got to here from there.
We (Joel Weatherly @ Spill Magazine and I) went to a concert last week to hear a band that we had been following for many, many years. We had been to see them every time they came to Edmonton, we had all of their recordings in multiple formats, we had played a cover of one of their songs in a now defunct band that we played in and we even had a test pressing from one of their recording sessions. In short, we are not your run of the mill fans, we are fanatics when it comes to Rural Alberta Advantage.
Rural Alberta Advantage, hereafter referred to as RAA, were on the last stop of a short but intense road trip to test drive some new material that they will be recording shortly and giving us, the fans, a first listen as well as our first chance at seeing their newest member play live.
On September 12, 2016, Amy Cole, a founding member of RAA, announced her departure from the group. Amy’s shoes, or socks which she often played in, would not be easy to fill. Amy was not just a multi-instrumentalist, she played those multiple instruments simultaneously. It was always fascinating for me to see Amy playing keyboards, singing, playing foot bass and either banging on a drum or shaking a tambourine. She would have both hands, one foot and her vocals all going at the same time and sounding perfect, an amazing talent. And big socks to fill, but Robin Hatch has stepped up to the task, and judging by the teaser songs they have released and by seeing and hearing her in concert, she fits. She sounded comfortable on both the older material, which they keep reworking with little tweaks and the new material which she no doubts contributed to the creation of. http://northernsessions.com/session/jordan-norman-the-wisdom-teeth/
Having said all of that, I can now get to the point I was trying to make. I liked the opening act. As per usual, they were a local act trying to get some exposure and I liked what I heard from Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. HIs web bio says that Jordan has been playing and writing since he was in his early teens, I would peg him at the late twenties or early thirties now, sorry Jordan if I blew the estimate. He comes across as easy going, comfortable with banter and a competent guitar player. His sound brought back memories of other artists with both the guitar and vocals. I heard faint echoes of early Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the guitar playing but it was the vocals that stirred the sharpest recollection for me. I couldn’t stop thinking of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks because of Jordan and the two ladies who sang with him. The harmonies put me on the Last Train To Hicksville.
I got off the train before it got to Hicksville, at a whistle stop called Original Recordings. This album has some great call and response between Dan Hicks and the female vocalists in his band, hence the connection to Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. This album has elements of jazz, swing, country and country swing. A highly listenable album that I find myself going back to revisit on a regular basis.
Listening to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks put me in the mood for some jazz so I pulled Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Featuring Woody Shaw & Cedar Walton – Anthenagin. This was a Goodwill bargain bin find but the vinyl plays clean and was a pleasant follow-up to Dan Hicks. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are an institution in music and this album does not disappoint, it is a good strong listen and the playing of Woody Shaw and Cedar Walton just make it stronger.
One jazz listen led to another, if I were to take Jordan Norman, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and put them in a blender I think something like this would come out: Norman Blake / Tut Taylor / Sam Bush / Butch Robins / Vassar Clements / David Holland / Jethro Burns. That is not only the list of performers on the album, it also the unwieldy title. This is a pretty tight set by some very talented individual who are able to leave their egos at the door and work some musical magic as a group. An album well worth looking for.
Listening to the violin stylings of Vassar Clements left me wanting more so I picked Oscar Peterson featuring Stephan Grappelli on the original Prestige recording.
This was another Goodwill pick and the cover is a disaster but the vinyl is like new. Some great swing, some great jazz and above all else: great musicians playing off the energy of each other. This is a really good double album that also features bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Kenny Clarke. Oscar Peterson is of course an icon of Canadian music and one good icon deserves another so Ian Tyson was next up on the turntable.
Ian Tyson has a deep catalogue and picking a single album to represent him would be an insult to the breadth of music he has released so I narrowed it down to one that sort of covers a good stretch of his career. It even has a nod in the general direction of jazz by the inclusion of “Irving Berlin (Is 100 Years Old Today)”. I did say it was only a nod, and only in the general direction. Anyhow this album does showcase Ian Tyson writing about what he loves, cowboys and open spaces. Having been an amateur cowboy back in my younger days, another nod and only in the general direction, I can relate to many of his song offerings. Those less enamoured of the cowboy music will no doubt find at least one song more pop music friendly; “Four Strong Winds”. A song that is an icon in and of itself, it has often been called the ultimate Canadian song. Originally released by Ian and Sylvia in 1963 it has since been covered by too many artists to list as well as being covered by Ian himself on this album. I prefer the original version myself but this version is decent enough. There is also some almost jazzy violin particularly on “Since The Rain”, once again it is only a nod and only in the general direction.
One good Canadian cowboy deserves another so I gave Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans a spin. I have had the good fortune of seeing Corb Lund live numerous times and I am never disappointed. He is not only a good musician but he also has a keen sense of history and cowboy culture, combine that with good songwriting and we have ourselves an eminently listenable album. I can relate to “You Ain’t a Cowboy) If You Ain’t Been Bucked Off”, I always got bucked off and that is not a nod in the general direction, it is a fact. I also get a kick out of “Bible on The Dash”, I keep mine in a dash cubby hole, never know when it will come in handy. Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertan bring a different sensibility to country and western music. Much of the sound and even the lyrics owe as much to jazz, blues and rock as they do to traditional country and western. This album covers everything from grave diggers to goth girls, a little something for everyone, except maybe the opera fans out there.
Having reconnected with the music of Corb Lund I just had to dig out my old copy of Waste and Tragedy by the Smalls, the band that broke Corb Lund into the music business. I have listened to this album many, many times and it just gets better each listen. This time I focused on the bass playing by Corb Lund and it was good.
Having come almost full circle back to Edmonton, Jordan Norman to The Smalls who both got their musical careers started in Edmonton I wanted one more full on Edmonton band to seal the circle of music. That belongs to manraygun and the album of choice is Twilight Speak. I had the pleasure of seeing manraygun play live and they are an amiable and musically interesting group. They sing songs that evoke images of rural Alberta as well as emotions that ring true no matter where you live.
So there we have; it a string of musical gems that start and end in my hometown of Edmonton.
I enjoyed Ksenija Sidorova on the accordion at the Winspear with Bill Eddins and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. There were moments during her performance that I was lost in the music. A wonderful place to be.
Occasionally I will go on a jag and listen to music that mostly falls roughly within a genre. Lately, I have been listening to more jazz than anything else so that is where we will start with this weeks turntable spins.
FREDDIE HUBBARD – RED CLAY, CTI RECORDS – CT 6001, 1970, JAZZ/FUNK/SOUL/HARD BOP
This amazing trivia fact is Freddie Hubbard’s seventeenth recording and one that marked a new chapter in his musical life with a shift towards the soul and jazz fusion that would dominate his career going forward. It was also his first on Creed Taylor’s CTI label and featured a solid lineup of seasoned and high-quality musicians. I found this selection by accident while looking for another record but thought I might as well give it a spin since I wasn’t familiar with it. It has spun around my turntable more than once since then. An album well worth the effort of finding, even by accident.
JOHNNY HAMMOND – THE PROPHET, KUDU – KU-10, 1972, JAZZ, SOUL-JAZZ, JAZZ-FUNK
Another fortuitous find. A co-worker had pulled this to listen to and it had sat beside the turntable for about a week. It was my turn to throw on a record so I just grabbed the closest one and I’m glad I did. I played it again and then bought it for myself and listened a few more times at home. This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen with some top notch organ as one would expect. No disappointments from the solid lineup that backs him, and could be an all-star band in their own right.
MILES DAVIS – THE COMPLETE BIRTH OF THE COOL, CAPITOL JAZZ – CDP 7243 4 94550 2 3/1998
From AllMusic: Capitol’s The Complete Birth of the Cool is a double-disc set that’s separated into two halves. The first contains all 12 tracks Davis cut in the studio in January 1949 with Gil Evans. The second contains three radio broadcasts that the Birth of the Cool nonet performed in September 1948 at the Royal Roost in New York City. All the recordings have been completely remastered, resulting in the best ever sound for these recordings. The set also features brand new liner notes from Phil Schapp, plus the original liners. All the added features help make The Complete Birth of the Cool the definitive chronicle of one of the most important eras in jazz history.http://www.hdtracks.com/birth-of-the-cool
LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT 2 MAGNA CARTA – MA-9035-2 JAZZ, ROCK, FUSION, PROG ROCK, HEAVY METAL
Moving away from traditional jazz I have been absolutely mesmerised by this offering featuring Tony Levin who I had the privilege of seeing performing live twice in the last 18 months, once with King Crimson and once with Peter Gabriel. He is an amazing musician and along with John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess the are Liquid Tension Experiment. A good listen that straddles prog rock, fusion and even a little jazz and rock.
TEN YEARS AFTER – A SPACE IN TIME CHRYSALIS F2 21001 ROCK/PSYCHEDELIC ROCK/CLASSIC ROCK
I first owned this recording as a quadraphonic record; many, many years ago, a rather large space of time to be honest. I loved listening to it with my quad headphones and hearing the sound swirl and pulse. Truly a good example of a technology that didn’t fare too well, unfortunately. I shall have to see about getting this in enhanced format and play it on a 4.0 system to see if it matches the quad, or if it lives up to my grandiose memories. Still a good listen in stereo and available quite often on good used vinyl.
NEVERENDING WHITE LIGHTS – ACT 1: GOODBYE FRIENDS OF THE HEAVENLY BODIES OCEAN RECORDS CANADA – ORC0501 RELEASED: 2005 ROCK/ALTERNATIVE ROCK
I finally got my hands on a physical copy of this, nothing intrinsically wrong with listening to downloaded music, I just like having a copy of the music in my hands. It’s a personal thing I guess. I was suggested this from a gentleman who attended a music appreciation class that I organised and I have kept listening to Daniel Victor’s various projects under the guise of The Neverending White Lights, which is also a great name for a band. Space, intelligent, well organised and great collaborations as are typical to all of their/his recordings.
Well there you go, an even half dozen that have been gracing my ears the last week. I hope you find something here to tickle your ears or stimulate your mind. Happy listening my friends.
In the two thousand and sixteenth year of our Lord I listened to a lot of music; live, digital, vinyl, cassette and in our basement, not sure if that’s alive or not some days.
2016 saw the store that I work at, Record Collectors Paradise, celebrate a year of existence. And it was a very good year. We made lots of friends in the Edmonton, and international, music community. I was privileged to listen to a lot of great music in the store, one of the perks of working there; and the opportunity to take some choice pieces of vinyl home as the fruits of my labour. Bruce Romaniuk, the owner, is one of the best men I have ever worked for. Thanks for a very good year Bruce.
I didn’t just spin records, I also had the privilege of listening to a lot of really good live music. Edmonton seems to have had a resurgence in the live scene with new venues like “The Needle Vinyl Tavern” bringing in some great acts and established venues such as the Winspear continuing their tradition of great music. It was also the year that I got to hear my son Joel lead a band of his own and listen with pride as they did their first gig. It was worth the sacrifice of turning our basement into a recording studio and practice space. I hope the best for “The New Romancers” in 2017 and who knows, perhaps we can jam on “Alone and Forsaken” some day.
Having rambled on it is time to get to the list. I don’t do best of lists, or top ten, or play favourites. I am making a list, that I have checked twice; and listened to more than twice. But that is all it is, a list. In no particular order: Peter Gabriel and Sting live at the Northlands Coliseum. I have been listening to Peter Gabriel since the mid 70’s and to see him play live was a total blast. He doesn’t just play a show, he presents a show. He works the stage, the audience and the band and it all comes together in a spectacle that amazed and left me wanting more. Sting was an admirable showman but I never gravitated to his music in the same way as I did to Gabriel’s. An A+ show, the sound was probably the best I have ever heard in that venue.
We had the privilege of seeing an up and coming band perform songs from their new album the day before the official release. The band was Whitney and they played on a double bill with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who were the band that I actually paid to see; but I left with a deep appreciation for both bands. The Unknown Mortal Orchestra put on an amazing show with superhuman use of their instruments, they worked hard and I loved the show. But Whitney surprised me. I didn’t know anything about them until that night and now they are the sweethearts of Indie rock, and rightly so since they have worked hard and crafted a superb album.
Speaking of surprises, “Who the f#ck is Sturgill Simpson” is a buzz word now after his nomination for a Grammy, album of the year no less. It surprised a lot of people, but not me. I had been listening to him for a while, this is actually his third album and my second favourite. I actually like “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” more than “A Sailors Guide To Earth”, although it is a good album and fully deserves to be recognised as such. Having said all that; he puts on a damn fine show. Sturgill Simpson leads a tight band that knows how to rock, how to stroll, how to do R&B, and how to croon philosophy and make it sound like a foot stomping country ode. Despite a dreadful venue with shitty sound and a drunken obnoxious crowd, they put on a great show that makes me want to see him in a proper show hall such as the Winspear or the Jube. Won’t you please come back, Sturgill?
Speaking of country music, we got to see Corb Lund at the Jubilee Auditorium in February and that was a rollicking rocking affair. I have seen Corb Lund perform numerous times and have all his albums so there were no surprises awaiting me, he delivered exactly what I expected, a solid show that had us tapping our toes and singing along. The surprise of the evening came in the form of a one-off song by Geoff Berner, a sometimes singing companion of Corb Lund and company, and their rendition of “That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby”. Well played gentlemen, well played. After the show, there was the usual meet and greet and Corb graciously signed a business card from Record Collectors Paradise, it was a good evening.
Another Canadian act that impressed me in 2016 was The Strumbellas and their album “Hope”. We got to see them perform live and they are a great show band. They engage with the crowd, they banter casually and effortlessly and then launch into heartfelt occasionally raucous tunes. They do Canada proud.
Another Canadian band, it was a good year for us, that impressed me with a stellar album was BadBadNotGood and their album IV. I had listened to them previously but this album put a cap on it. A great listen, better on vinyl and big speakers because there is a lot going on and you don’t want to miss it.
Another album that has a lot going on and deserves more than one listen is “Skeleton Tree” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We went to the premier of the movie that documented the process of recording this album and it tugged at my heart strings, it moved me in my spirit and it made me stop and think. And then I listened to the album in the quiet of my home and it did all those things again. Powerful music from a man that I consider one of the true geniuses of music and lyrics. Spiritual, provocative, humble, moving, thought provoking and at times even bordering on rock and roll. This is not just a record, it is a statement.
And another statement, David Bowie and “Blackstar”. A few days after the album was released we found out what he was trying to tell us.
A few other gems that I listened to in 2016 were “Awaken, My Love” by Childish Gambino. This album was a departure from his previous material so don’t put off buying based on that. It moves into whole new areas and Donald Glover proves himself a master of R&B grooves and catchy hooks. A really solid listen.
Emeli Sande delivered “Long Live The Angels”, the follow up to her amazing first album “Our Version of Events”, hard to believe that they were four years apart. The wait was worth it in my opinion as she delivers a really tight and moving album.
Another act from the British Isles, Emeli Sande is from Scotland, is Slowly Rolling Camera and their album “All Things”; caught my ear this year. It is soulful, energetic and fresh. A new take on some songs that sound old beyond their years. That doesn’t make much sense; they sound good, that makes sense.
Glass Animals, “How to Be a Human Being” where a late addition to my list thanks to Joel’s addition of their album to our collection. Prior to listening to the album in our basement, I had never heard of them, but I thoroughly enjoy them now.
I enjoyed Ksenija Sidorova on the accordion at the Winspear with Bill Eddins and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. There were moments during her performance that I was lost in the music. A wonderful place to be.
To the left is a photo of us with The Zolas, a great band that we got to see three times this year and hope to see again.
And last but not least on my playlist of 2016, Syd Arthur “Apricity”. I got into Syd Arthur through remixes that they titled “A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble”, gotta love that title. They are a progressive psychedelic jazz band that harkens back to Pink Floyd, King Crimson and that whole scene. A modern take with a freshness that is good to hear.
Speaking of Pink Floyd, a nice segue there, I have chosen them as my band of renown for the release of their previous material in the package “The Early Years 1965-1972”. I look forward to seeing Roger Waters in 2017 so check back to this blog in 12 months to see my review. Until then, it’s been a very good year and I look forward to dancing into 2017 with music both old and new, cheers my friends.
This has been a big year for me musically, my band, New Romancer, played their first show, I started writing for The Spill Magazine, and I probably listened to more music than I have before. 2016 has also been a difficult year as many great musicians have passed away. Seeing as best of lists are a customary thing to do, I figured I should put one together. I decided to do an unordered list as I have a difficult time saying that one album is truly superior to another especially if they are among my favourites.
TOP ALBUMS OF 2016
BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The suitably titled fourth release from these hip-hop Jazz fusion artists is a wholly enjoyable listen. With vocal contributions from the likes of Sam Herring and Charlotte Day Wilson, it shows growth and experimentation from these talented musicians.
WHITNEY – LIGHT UPON THE LAKE
It’s been a good year for Whitney they’ve garnered international recognition for their laid back, country twang inspired sound, and have toured extensively to promote their debut album. Light Upon The Lake is a captivating listen, and Whitney is a pleasure to see live.
SKIPTRACING – MILD HIGH CLUB
In Alex Brettin’s follow-up to Timeline, we get to see him further explore his Mac DeMarco inspire, 70’s radio infused sound. I found this album oddly difficult to put down as it takes influence from soft rock, Jazz, and even standard pop. A very unique and enjoyable mid-fi listen.
BAT FOR LASHES – THE BRIDE
I’m a big fan of concept albums. I really appreciate when an artist attempts to convey a story through their music. Bat for Lashes’ newest release relays the rather sorrowful tale of The Bride. This album contains her signature soaring vocals and is filled with interesting instrumentation. This was only made better by seeing her perform live.
CHILDISH GAMBINO – “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!”
Whether you love or hate Bino’s new direction, it’s undeniably interesting. “Awaken, My Love!” sees him leave behind rap for soulful R&B. I appreciate his attempt at switching genres and while the new style may shock fans of his rap, it will provide new areas for the talented Donald Glover to experiment with.
STRFKR – BEING NO ONE, GOING NOWHERE
I’m a longtime fan of STRFKR. I’ve played their previous releases countless times and I was very excited for this release. It contains everything I enjoy about STRFKR: introspective lyrics, catchy upbeat synths, and even Alan Watts samples. I wrote a review on this album if you want more details. I’m excited to see them live next year.
ANGEL OLSEN – MY WOMAN
This album was my first introduction to Olsen and I was pleasantly surprised. Her delicate vocals, interesting lyrics, and relaxed guitar playing create an interesting soundscape to get lost in. This record has been on repeat since I discovered it.
LASER – NIGHT DRIVER
While this is their first release as Laser, the musicians in this band are incredibly experienced. Laser is fronted by Lisa Lobsinger of Broken Social Scene and features some extremely talented musicians. This low-key album can be a difficult one to get into yet is oddly satisfying to complete.
BAND OF SKULLS – BY DEFAULT
I’ve been a fan of Band of Skulls ever since I heard their debut album. Their straightforward rock sound is perfect for getting pumped up or hitting the highway. By Default contains more of their distinct sound and highlights some of the talents hidden in this three piece band.
CHARLOTTE DAY WILSON – CDW -EP
I know this is technically an EP not a full-length release but I’ve loved this release immensely this year. I first got word of Charlotte Day Wilson from her appearance on BadBadNotGood’s IV, since then I’ve waited in anticipation to hear more of this talented artist. This soulful R&Bish debut EP is absolutely delightful and has some addicting vocal work on it.
DAVID BOWIE – BLACKSTAR
One of the most talked about musicians this year was the late David Bowie. One of music’s biggest innovators and influencers released one last stunning album before passing away. Definitely a good album that has rendered new meaning in his death.
I went to 33 performances this year. Here are my favourites.
THE ZOLAS W/FAST ROMANTICS @ UNION HALL MARCH 31, 2016
I always enjoy seeing The Zolas, this time was made extra special due to us being invited to their Sonic 102.9 radio session. After meeting them at the session and seeing their show that evening I was impressed. I was even more impressed by the band’s ability to recognise us after their show with The Strumbellas later in the fall.
BAT FOR LASHES @ UNION CHAPEL MAY 16, 2016
This was a magnificent performance by an artist I had been dying to see. The Union Chapel was a perfect venue to see her perform excerpts from her then-unreleased album, The Bride. This intimate concert gave me a new perspective on Bat for Lashes and also reinforced my appreciation of old churches as concert venues. This concert was filmed and portions have been released.
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA W/WHITNEY @ STARLITE ROOM MAY 24, 2016
When attending this concert I wasn’t very familiar with the works of either band. I immediately garnered fandom for Whitney and appreciation for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Whitney blew me away with their unique styling and instrumentation. I’d gladly go see either act again.
OF MONTREAL W/MOREWINE AND MITCHMATIC @ THE NEEDLE VINYL TAVERN JUNE 19, 2016
of Montreal is a rather bizarre band. Their show was packed with energy and musicianship. It was truly fantastic to see this act on their first trip to Edmonton. Opening for of Montreal was local talents Morewine and Michmatic both of which performed excellent sets and continue to be active in Edmonton’s music scene.
STING AND PETER GABRIEL: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS @ REXALL PLACE JULY 24, 2016
It’s always special when artists collaborate and share a stage. It’s even more special when two legendary artists like Sting and Peter Gabriel do it. This performance featured the two covering each other’s material, singing their own songs, and working together to create an exceptionally symbiotic stage.
STURGILL SIMPSON @ UNION HALL AUGUST 14, 2016
Sturgill Simpson has been making waves in the country and popular music scenes. His rants have made headlines and his Grammy nomination has stunned most everyone. It’s for these reasons that he makes the list. His actually fantastic performance was overshadowed by the terrible venue and absolutely awful audience. Sturgill is awesome. Union Hall can eat a bag of dicks.
AN EVENING WITH DAVID CROSBY @ WINSPEAR CENTRE SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
David Crosby is a legendary musician, most well known for his work with the Byrds and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. His intimate and relaxed performance featured his playing some of his old material, doing the occasional cover, and showcasing his newest works. Just Crosby, a guitar, and his son at a piano resulted in an empty looking stage yet a full sounding hall.
TOKYO POLICE CLUB W/THE ELWINS AND BORN RUFFIANS @ STARLITE ROOM OCTOBER 8, 2016
My goodness, what a lineup for a single night. These three indie bands have been on fire the past few years with their releases surging over airwaves and their concerts garnering attention. Up+Downtown a relatively new multi-venue music festival brought these and many more artists in town for a weekend of music. Hopefully, next year’s festival will have as good of a lineup.
PURITY RING W/HANA @ WINSPEAR CENTRE OCTOBER 21, 2016
While the Winspear Centre is typically associated with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and other highbrow acts it is a fantastic venue for artists of all styles. Electronically based Purity Ring and HANA had the venue’s acoustic properties pushed as their thumping bass lines and soaring vocals ripped through the hall. I wrote a review of this hometown show.
JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW W/ALAN RAYMAN @ WINSPEAR CENTRE NOVEMBER 21, 2016
I very much enjoy seeing James Vincent McMorrow live. His last performance at the Winspear was a solo tour de force and convinced me to go see him again. This time he was in the company of his band to promote his newest and fullest-sounding album yet. Joining him for this leg of the tour was the mysterious and artistically interesting Alan Rayman.
Welp, there’s my picks for this year. Hope 2017 is even better.