Live Review: Yukon Blonde / The Zolas

On the evenings of Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1 we had the pleasure of listening to Yukon Blonde and The Zolas do back to back shows at The Station on Jasper. This repeat was a first for both of us although we had seen both bands previously, this was the sixth time for Yukon Blonde and the seventh for The Zolas. Listening to two groups do back to back shows presented us with an opportunity to make some observations on band dynamics, set lists, crowd demographics and dynamics, how the music and lights were mixed and the overall vibe from each show.

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The Zolas hail from the Vancouver area but make numerous tours that include Edmonton, where it is evident that they have a lot of fans. Currently, the core of The Zolas consists of Zach Gray on guitar and vocals, Dwight Abell on bass, and Cody Hiles on drums with a touring pianist rounding out their sound.

Over the years I have heard The Zolas grow and spread their playing into new and exciting sounds while they have also developed and matured as a cohesive unit, they sound better with each listening. They are more confident and they are using new sounds and arrangements that make their older songs sound fresh. They have always been a band that had a good on stage presence and that did not change with these two shows. Zach is good at banter and engaging the crowd and the band as a unit kept the energy moving forward with a minimum of dead spots such as guitar tunings.

The Zolas are adding more nuances and textures to their music through the use of synthesisers and trigger pads. This was most notable for Zach as he played both synthesiser and guitar in which he used the headstock of his guitar to tap trigger pads. The band generated good energy with the crowd and were able to sustain that energy through their set, although I think it was a better crowd on Friday than Saturday and the crowd energy was different. The Zolas traditionally close with Zach taking his mic stand, guitar and a small synth into the middle of the crowd on the floor and play Escape Artist. Zach asks the crowd to turn on their phone flashlights and it creates a cool dynamic.

Over the years I have seen this done several times and the audience reaction isn’t always the same. On Friday night it was good, not as good as a previous show at a different venue and a different crowd, but it was darn good. Saturday night, on the other hand, had a very different crowd that didn’t engage as well from my perspective.fullsizeoutput_d6dfAs always, The Zolas meet and greet with the crowd after the show and are good at it. We didn’t get a setlist from the Zolas this time around, but we got a selfie with Zach which is a tradition he does with us. My appreciation for this band goes up every time I see them live or listen to them at home. They are a highlight band for me. My favourite song is Frieda On The Mountain:
“Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?
Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?”
I’m sure that my family and friends will understand why it is a favourite.

Yukon Blonde is a band that started in Kelowna but work out of Vancouver nowadays. The band is made up of Jeff Innes on vocals and guitar, Brandon Scott on guitar and vocals, Graham Jones on drums and vocals, James Younger on bass and vocals, and Rebecca Gray on keyboards, synths, and vocals.fullsizeoutput_d6f5

Wikipedia classify them as an indie rock band although I can hear the influence of psych, disco, 80’s easy listening, and straight ahead power rock. They are a tight band that can are comfortable playing with a variety of sounds. Having the luxury of 3 band mates that can sing lead, all 5 of them singing backing vocals, 3 of them that play synth and two lead/rhythm guitar players, they can spread the sound around and add layers and textures that compliment each other and build a big sound.

The highlight for me of both shows by Yukon Blonde was their long jams on the song Radio. I didn’t time it because I was so mesmerised listening to it, but it went around, up, over and then back for more than the traditional 3 minutes that they would get on a radio edit. It then it segued into Saturday Night which was another high energy stretched out anthem. The closing song both nights was a tribute to George Harrison and the Travelling Wilburys, in which both bands took the stage, and they did a rendition of Handle With Care.

 

fullsizeoutput_d6e6The Station on Jasper is a good venue, the staff are polite and courteous and the sound is usually pretty good. They have a decent menu, we had the nachos and they were tasty. Like I said earlier, the crowds were very different for the two shows. Friday night had a lot of happy people that were there because they wanted to hear the music. Saturday felt like it had a lot more intoxicated people who came to the venue to get drunk and either socialise through the whole show or spend the entire night texting. Very different crowds that I am sure the bands could sense as much as we did.fullsizeoutput_d289

The sound was muddy, very bass heavy and very loud on Friday night, which was a shame because so many people were there to hear good music. Saturday night had a better mix although it was still very, very loud. At least the bass wasn’t as bad as Friday night, it was still too much, but it was better. Heavy bass is a trend that we have noticed at a lot of shows, so it isn’t confined to one venue. The excessive volume is also at epidemic proportions, and it’s everywhere even in stores.

Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed both bands both night and would gladly return to The Station on Jasper.

-Norman Weatherly

Photos by Joel Weatherly. More Photos at Joel Weatherly Photography.

Yukon Blonde setlists: Friday, Saturday

Uncomfortable Music

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

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

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

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

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

pale horse

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

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

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

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

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

stowaways

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

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

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

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

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

Up and Down in E-town

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

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

nehiyawak

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

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

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

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

Dan-Bejar

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

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

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

ckua alberta hotel

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

lindsey Walker

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

Poor-Nameless-Boy

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

arts.mauno

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

The Tragically Hip Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

This is their official discography:

I listened to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Canadian Surf Club, denim jackets and long hair”

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

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

“Driving down a corduroy road,

Weeds standing shoulder high”

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

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

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

“I come from downtown, born ready for you

Armed with will and determination, and grace, too”

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

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

“Coffee coloured ice and peeling birch bark

The sound of rushing water in the dark

Makes me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through life with very little else to say”

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

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

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

“I left your house this morning

About a quarter after nine

Could have been the Willie Nelson

Could have been the wine

When I left your house this morning

It was a little after nine

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations

Reveal themselves one star at a time”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

s-l300

http://www.thehip.com/

@thehipdotcom

Interstellar Rodeo 2018

Interstellar 2018

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

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

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

pertaining to a preeminent performer

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were no songs about crows nests.

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

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

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

Riit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reverend Horton Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1967 Remembered from 2017

July 1, 2017, will be celebrated across Canada as 150 years since we, Canada, became an independent nation. There are no doubt many, besides myself, who have lived to witness not only our Centennial in 1967 but the sesquicentennial in 2017, and will no doubt look back at 1967 with fondness. I have compiled a loose list of people, places, and events from 1967 that were relevant to me and probably to many others. I hope you enjoy reading this trip down memory lane as much as I have enjoyed preparing it.

This is a composite of album covers from 1967, a very good year for new music and many of these have held up very well despite being 50 years old. For example, Joel blessed me with a copy of Sgt. Peppers remastered on CD for Fathers Day and the music still moves me much as it did 50 years ago when it was first released.

1967 albums

What we listened to:

“I’m a Believer” The Monkees

“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” The Royal Guardsmen

“Georgy Girl” The Seekers

“Kind of a Drag” The Buckinghams

“Gimme Some Lovin'” Spencer Davis Group

“Baby I Need Your Lovin'” Johnny Rivers

“Penny Lane” The Beatles

“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” The Monkees

“Canada” Young Canada Singers Canada

“Somethin’ Stupid” Nancy Sinatra & Frank Sinatra

“I’m a Man” Spencer Davis Group

“Happy Jack” The Who

“Creeque Alley” The Mamas & the Papas

“Somebody to Love” Jefferson Airplane

“Windy” The Association

“Up, Up and Away” The 5th Dimension

“White Rabbit” Jefferson Airplane

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” Procol Harum

“Pleasant Valley Sunday” The Monkees

“All You Need Is Love” The Beatles

“Ode to Billie Joe” Bobbie Gentry

“San Franciscan Nights” Eric Burdon

“The Letter” The Box Tops

“To Sir with Love” Lulu

“Never My Love” The Association

“People Are Strange” The Doors

“Daydream Believer” The Monkees

“Hello, Goodbye” The Beatles

“There Goes My Everything” Jack Greene

“Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” Loretta Lynn

“Walk Through This World With Me” George Jones

“It’s Such A Pretty World Today” Wynn Stewart

“Tonight Carmen” Marty Robbins

“I’ll Never Find Another You” Sonny James

“Branded Man” Merle Haggard

“My Elusive Dreams” David Houston and Tammy Wynette

“I Don’t Wanna Play House” Tammy Wynette

“It’s The Little Things” Sonny James

“For Loving You” Bill Anderson and Jan Howard

The stereo system shown below is very similar to the one my parents owned and thus what I grew up listening to music on. Unfortunately, we do not own the original machine any longer but I did manage to find one that was close to the original.philco stereo 1967

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9th Annual Grammy Awards:

March 2, 1967, in Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and New York

Record of the Year:

Jimmy Bowen (Producer) & Frank Sinatra for “Strangers in the Night”

Album of the Year:

Sonny Burke (producer) & Frank Sinatra for A Man and His Music

Song of the Year:

John Lennon & Paul McCartney (songwriters) for “Michelle” performed by The Beatles

Best Country & Western Vocal Performance – Female:

Jeannie Seely for “Don’t Touch Me”

Best Country and Western Vocal Performance, Male:

David Houston (singer) for “Almost Persuaded”

Best Country & Western Recording:

David Houston (singer) for “Almost Persuaded”

Best Country & Western Song:

Billy Sherrill & Glenn Sutton (songwriters) for “Almost Persuaded” performed by David Houston

Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Group or Soloist with Group:

Wes Montgomery for “Goin’ Out of My Head”

Best Original Jazz Composition:

Duke Ellington for “In the Beginning God”

Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance, Male or Female:

Ray Charles for “Crying Time”

Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental:

Ramsey Lewis for “Hold It Right There”

Best Rhythm & Blues Recording:

Ray Charles for “Crying Time”

These large console units were also very popular in 1967, less so in 2017 because of the sheer mass of these units. I think many of them are very attractive furniture and they often had decent quality components so the sound wasn’t that bad.stereo 1967

The song that most Canadians associate with Expo was written by Bobby Gimby, a veteran commercial jingle writer who composed the popular Centennial tune “Ca-na-da”. I still have my copy on 45

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Gimby earned the name the “Pied Piper of Canada” 

One of my favorite ways of listening to music was on a jukebox. Below is one that I own, a 1954 model that would have still been working fine in 1967. Many coffee shops, bars, and restaurants had jukeboxes as well as smaller selection machines at each table.

This one is my restoration project.AMI Jukebox

What we watched on TV:

On April 27 the Expo 67 opening ceremonies were broadcast on CBC, and all around the world. An estimated 700 million people watched in over 70 countries.

Other TV shows that were popular in our household in 1967 are listed below in no particular order:

Mr. Dressup

Rocket Robin Hood

Singalong Jubilee

The Tommy Hunter Show

Gunsmoke

Gilligan’s Island

On August 29 we were all glued to the TV as The Fugitive finale proves to be one of the most-watched episodes of the decade.

Batman

Bewitched

Bonanza

Candid Camera

Get Smart

Green Acres

Hockey Night in Canada

Hogan’s Heroes

I Dream of Jeannie

Lost in Space

Mission: Impossible

Petticoat Junction

The Beverly Hillbillies

The Ed Sullivan Show

Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (a US show so they Americanized the spelling of colour.)

The Carol Burnett Show

Don Messer’s Jubilee

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The televisions of 1967 were often console models, much like the console stereos and they often had both in one cabinet. There were, of course, many different sizes available as this photo from the Consumers Electronics Show of 1967 shows very well. The very first Consumer Electronics Show wowed visitors with dazzling new gadgets. The show, like the industry, was about to grow huge.1967CES_05

What we watched at the movies:

The Graduate

Bonnie and Clyde

The Dirty Dozen

To Sir, with Love

Casino Royale

Cool Hand Luke

Doctor Dolittle

Academy Awards:

Best Picture: In the Heat of the Night – Mirisch, United Artists

Best Director: Mike Nichols – The Graduate

Best Actor: Rod Steiger – In the Heat of the Night

Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Below is a photo of the movie theater in Wainwright were I spent many a Saturday afternoon.wainwright cinema

What we were reading:

Barbara Gordon is introduced as Batgirl in the Detective Comics series in the United States; when not exercising her superhero powers she uses her doctorate in library science as head of Gotham City public library. A comic book that I may have read that year, Joel has it in his collection now:

rawhide kid oct 1967

On November 9th the first issue of the magazine Rolling Stone was published in San Francisco. Although I missed out on that issue I started being an avid reader of themagazine through the late 60’s to the 70’s.

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Influential New Wave science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions is first published and I am still an avid fan of science fiction, speculative fiction, and science fantasy stories. I just finished reading the 35th Anniversary edition:

dangerous visions

Richard Brautigan – Trout Fishing in America

Alistair MacLean – Where Eagles Dare

Time Magazine Person of the Year, sorry; Man of the Year: Lyndon B. Johnson

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    What we were doing:

   Expo 67

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The building above is the Habitat building from Expos 67 which is still in use in Montreal.

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Although Montreal was in the spotlight for Expo ’67 there were celebrations of the Centennial all across Canada including the town of Viking that had a parade and fireworks. This is one of the parade entries: me on my bike, I’ve always had a fondness for cowboy hats and boots.

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The picture below is of the Alberta Legislature grounds on July 1, 1967.

1967 leg grounds

The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta was Grant MacEwan. MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta and the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary, as well as the neighborhoods of MacEwan Glen in Calgary and MacEwan in Edmonton, are named after him.

The Premier of Alberta was Ernest Manning.

The Governor General of Canada was Georges Vanier until March 5 when he passed away then Roland Michener took over the position.

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Our Prime Minister was Lester B. Pearson. During Pearson’s time as Prime Minister, his Liberal minority governments introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the Maple Leaf flag.

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On May 2 the Toronto Maple Leafs won the sixth game of the Stanley Cup final over the Montreal Canadiens to win their last Stanley Cup to date.

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By 1967 the snowmobile was becoming very popular thanks to Joseph-Armand Bombardier, I spent many a winter’s days riding our friend’s machine.

1967 skidoo

The 55th Grey Cup was played between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders on December 2, 1967, at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, before 31,358 fans and was won by the Tiger-Cats by a score of 24 to 1.

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In 1967 we had Sears catalog’s and of course the Christmas Wish Book:

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I sure “wish” I still had my guitar and hair!

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1967 also had many other wonderful memories: the 1967 Rambler was to become my Mom’s car and when she sold it to me in 1973 it became my first car. Steve Miller and I drove it to Mexico and back in 1975 and then I sold it. It was a really good car to me and if I ever win the lottery I might just buy another one for old times sake.

1967 Rambler

The introduction of the Cougar in 1967 finally gave Mercury its own “pony car”. Slotted between the Ford Mustang and the Ford Thunderbird, the Cougar was the performance icon and eventually the icon for the Mercury name for several decades.

1967 Cougar

I never owned a Cougar but I did have a 1969 Mercury Montego that was basically the same platform. I hot rodded it and spent way more money on it than I should have, but I justify that because it was quick off the lights!

1969 mercury montego

1967 was a very good year with many good memories, I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

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Country and Western Music in 10 Records

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.

Circle of Music

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.

Corb

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.