The Music Is The Medium

rock and roll will save your life

I am reading “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life” by Steve Almond and he devoted several pages to the evolution of listening to music that has transpired within our lifetimes. Yes, we both acknowledge this dates us but we are OK with it because it also means we have listened to a truckload of music.

I don’t agree with some of Steve’s chronology so I will just offer a vague summary of his list: The radio era, the phonographic era, the 8 track era, the cassette era, the CD era, and last but not least, the digital era.

This isn’t a bad list but I think it is overly simplistic, however, I am not here to debate the various era’s of music, what I do want to talk about is how we listened to music differently through those eras.

I would offer another era to this list, the era of live music which predates any of these recording methods and is still going strong, just different. When I was a young lad my Dad played the guitar at home and at parties. There were wedding dances, high school dances and impromptu music wherever musicians gathered. And gather they did, we had family reunions, music at campsites, and even at a funeral. My Dad’s remembrance service was close to 3 hours long and half a dozen musical groups played a tribute to my Dad for his contributions to live music over the years.

Live music was the only way to listen to music until technology started giving us a plethora of recording methods that allowed us to experience music where ever and whenever we wanted to listen to it.

There are more than enough history lessons on the various ways that sound, and music, have been recorded so I won’t replicate what others have done. What I will do is talk about how listening has changed for me.

After the live music, there was the radio which people listened to for much more than just music. CFCW was our local country and western station and they catered to the farmers and ranchers as well as those of us who enjoyed the country music. CBC had talk shows and of course, Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday, I cheered for the Leafs because my Dad cheered for the Leafs. As a teenager I listened to 630 CHED which played pop music, I can remember listening to The Archies sing “Sugar Sugar” as we drove home after school. K-97 played music on FM starting in 1979, they introduced me to more than one album over the years and I contributed mixtapes to them that they played on-air and gave me some albums in exchange.

I had purchased my first piece of vinyl in 1968, “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells. I picked that gem up in Vancouver while there on vacation and visiting my cousin Wayne. I returned the next summer and bought my first full-length LP, Best of the Bee Gees, and that purchase is where I lead off on my topic of how we listen to music.

I played that record over and over, my parents let me use their record player in my bedroom and I took full advantage of that freedom. In November of 1969, I bought my second full album and I listened to it over and over. Summer of 1970 and I bought more records, Montreal had a very nice record shop that introduced me to “Déjà Vu”  by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” as well as “In the Court of the Crimson King” by a band that is still very high on my favourites list, King Crimson.

Anyhow, listening. How did I listen to music in the decade of the 1970s? I listened intently, I hung on every word. We didn’t have https://genius.com/ to find the lyrics for us so without lyrics printed on the inner sleeve we listened intently, trying to hear every word and string them together for a musical story within each song and sometimes through a whole album. I listened for the sounds that the different instruments played within the songs, how they ebbed and flowed and added texture to the song. I read the liner notes for every tidbit of information such as who produced the album, who played what instrument (s), where it was recorded, etc.

I listened intently over and over until I knew those records start to finish. It was often a long time between record stores so I got my money’s worth out of every album that I bought.

And then cassette tapes came along and that changed the way I listened and interacted with music. I made mixtapes, yes, they were a real thing and not just in The Guardians of the Galaxy. I would listen to albums over and over and then put select songs on tape that I could listen to in the cassette deck in my car. Music became mobile and not just on the radio, I was now able to listen to what I wanted when I wanted it.

I bought my first set of headphones in 1973 and that also altered the way I experienced sound. They were quadraphonic which also changed the way I heard music. The technology was moving forward at an accelerated rate compared to the advances of the previous couple of hundred years.

I had an 8 track someplace within the late 1970s but I never got into that format very deep. The next leap was to CD’s in 1985, they were introduced to the public in 1982 but I waited a few years for the price to come down and my wages to go up, which both accommodated me favourably. I didn’t sell off my records to buy CDs as many people did, I kept my records spinning and added CDs as an alternate for listening. The biggest change that CDs made to my listening was the ability to listen to a whole album start to finish without having to get up and flip it, I could now listen to 80 minutes of music non-stop. The trade-off was the size of the packaging, I could barely read the liner notes because they were so small on a CD, compared to those on a record.

The biggest change in my listening habits had nothing to do with formats. I listened to all the formats, but I didn’t listen to them the same way in the 1990s as I did in the 1970s and that is still true, up until now.

I added albums to my collection at a dizzying rate and by 1989 I had accumulated 999 records and was on my way to similar numbers in CDs and cassettes but that accumulation came at a cost, I now listened to more volume but less content. I was listening to more and more music but paying less and less attention to what I was listening to and with the advent of digital music, I had even more content but less listening. So I made a decision to listen to some music in much the same way as I had in the embryonic days of my music listening. I left the CD in the player for days on end and listened to the same album over and over, just like I did for Best of the Bee Gees. I picked 20 albums and I listened intently to them.

So, in no particular order, here is what I listened to and how I reacted to the music that I loved so much in years gone by.

  1. Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. This recording has been on my turntable for 49 years, 7 months, 20 days, and I still love to hear it, start to finish, over and over again.
  2. Kiln House by Fleetwood Mac. This is the only album by them that I listen to over and over again.
  3. Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane. This is another band that I only listen to one album of theirs, White Rabbit isn’t the only good song on the album.
  4. No Guru, No Method, No Teacher by Van Morrison. This is his sixteenth album and it was released in 1986, I bought it on CD before buying the vinyl.
  5. American Pie by Don Mclean. Yes, I bought it for “the song”, but I do listen to the whole album, just not as intently as “the song”.
  6. Lust For Life by Iggy Pop. I love this album, start to finish. It’s a good listen for driving down the highway in the summer.
  7. Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. I still consider this as the Stones best recording.
  8. Avalon by Roxy Music. Released in 1982, this was their eighth and final studio album but the first and only recording that I have of them.
  9. Harvest by Neil Young. This came out in 1972, I bought it sometime around 1975 and saw him live in 1984. I still consider this the highest point in his musical career.
  10. A Space In Time by Ten Years After. I bought this on vinyl in quadraphonic sound. It sounded amazing with headphones and still sounds good in stereo.
  11. I Ain’t Easy by Long John Baldry. Saw him live in 1979 but he didn’t play a single song off this album which disappointed me because I loved this on vinyl.
  12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. I don’t remember when or where I bought this album but I have listened to it a gazillion times.
  13. Buffalo Springfield by Buffalo Springfield. I bought it “For What It’s Worth” but have listened to it until I am “Going Out Of My Mind”.
  14. Wanted! The Outlaws by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser earned its place in music history by becoming the first country and western album to be platinum-certified, reaching sales of one million. I added to those sales twice.
  15. Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. The sounds of record grooves eliminated the silence and the silence still plays.
  16. Crime of the Century by Supertramp. This album has not lost its lustre even though it isn’t quite the album of the century, that would be number 20 on this list.
  17. Who’s Next by The Who. Come on, I would have bought it just for the cover photo and kept it for the music.
  18. Fear of Music by Talking Heads. I remember hearing this on K-97, an FM station in Edmonton who used to play album rock, I bought it on cassette first and then on record, CD and digital. Yup, over and over and over.
  19. Aqua Lung by Jethro Tull, when this album came out my parents took a stance and they didn’t want me playing this record in their home, which of course meant I played it more, over and over.
  20. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. This album was released in March of 1973, I graduated from grade 12 in June of 1973 and bought this album with my first paycheque in July of 1973. I have since purchased about a dozen copies of this album over the years in vinyl, cassette and CD. The format doesn’t matter because the music is the medium.

The music is the medium is a statement by Marshall McLuhan, meaning that the form of a message (print, visual, musical, etc.) determines the ways in which that message will be perceived. McLuhan argued that modern electronic communications (including radio, television, films, and computers) would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we experience the world.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr McLuhan, the end.

Norman’s Summer Music

 I finished reading David Bowie’s biography by Marc Spitz. It was a good read with plenty of references to songs that I liked listening to while reading the book, which is tricky because I only read the book in my car and I don’t distract and drive. Anyhoo, that’s another story for another day, let’s just say for now that I listened to Bowie over the last couple of months which brings us to the topic of this posting. Namely, what have I been listening to lately?

summer-songs-gathering-beauty

 Bowie, mostly his early to mid-career tunes. Space Oddity from his eponymous second album is still a great listen. Aladdin Sane is such a nice play on words, and The Jean Genie is as catchy today as it was in 1973, which is saying a lot because 1973 was the year I became a Drooling Fanatic (page 7 of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond).

 I think I started into Bowie in July, just back from a jaunt to London where I scored Alladin Sane on vinyl.

 These lads are insane. black midi, with their album Schlagenheim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc3LSW_XTwI

   I also scored Sons of Kemet, Your Queen Is A Reptile. Fresh sounds from the London jazz scene, thanks to Rough Trade Records.

 What else have I been listening to? Lots of New Wave (ish) music. Nick Lowe, Soft Cell, The Psychedelic Furs, That Petrol Emotion, etc. The mid to late eighties new wave scene has been on my playlists since, well, the mid to late eighties.

 Another band that never leaves my playlists are The Pink Floyd. I saw David Gilmore Live at Pompei on the big screen and then Roger Waters Us and Them on tour, on the big screen again, and in between those two stellar movies I read Nick Mason’s book, Inside Out. Which was as good as the movies, just a slower format.

 Another perennial favourite of mine is King Crimson, who I was very fortunate to see live at The Royal Albert Hall in London. And of course, I came home with hard copies of their music so I can keep listening to them.

 The Barr Brothers, saw them live and bought their CD’s and would pay to see them again.

 Flash And The Pan, a group from Australia that I keep playing at least once a year. The song Hey St. Peter is a favourite of mine.

 Talking Heads, Tom Waits, Joy Division, Tonio K., Van Morrison, Decemberists, Lifesavers, Michael Knott, The Swirling Eddies, Frank Zappa, … and the list goes on. A good chunk of this music dates me but I am comfortable with that.

 We Are The City, I liked them live. Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt, a great piece of music. Nuella Charles, some very good homegrown talent on our homegrown vinyl plant, https://moonshotphonographs.com/.

 Low Roar, one of the best live shows I have ever seen and a darn good recording to boot. 

 Syd Arthur, tough to find hard copies of anything they have recorded but I managed to score Apricity on CD this summer.

 Godspeed You! Black Emperor, an amazing show, simply amazing. Their records are good but live… I don’t have enough superlatives.

 Russian Circles, a really good show that satisfied my heavy metal craving for that month. Best crowd award goes to the metalheads that were there that night.

 The Needs, some good Scandinavian power pop. Völuspa, aka Kirsten Knick delivers some Scandinavian synth-driven pop music.

 Rhye. I don’t know where to start. The spelling, yes that is spelled correctly, Rhye. The show, it was mesmerizing. I love it when all the ingredients come together and make the two hours fly by so fast it seems like the show just started, please don’t stop now!

 Cody Jinks. His new album, After The Fire, got me hooked on him and I went on a binge listening to his back catalogue. I am hooked on him now and I hope he tours up here in the great white north much like another country rebel, Sturgill Simpson, who also dropped another great album.

 Last but not least, The Lumineers, III. This album struck a chord with me due to its subject matter of addiction and messy lives.

So, that’s my summer and early fall listening, a new blog will be coming out early next week. Snapshot reviews. Until then, happy listening my friends.

You Need The Needs

You need The Needs. You really do, the Needs make great music. Pop-punk according to Apple Music. I lean a bit further towards pop than punk, although some songs cross the line that I drew in the shifting sands of genre naming.

The album, You Need The Needs, starts with a genuine pop-punk offering in the form of their radio-friendly single Summerbore. I Regret It and I’m Doing Fine are the next two songs which could be a statement of how I’ve been living my life, I regret it but I’m doing fine. After that sentence, I need a wake-up call, so we get the very pop easy listening of “Hey Wake Up”, in contrast to the slightly punk feel of the first three tracks.

Summerbore//2000 Clubmixx is a 28-second introduction to the guitar-driven She’ll Never Know, Do You Think, and I Believe In Sunday/Someday. This is followed by an interesting filler track called (love has moved on) that offers something of a bridge to the final songs “First to Go” & “Stay Home Friend”. Those are the final songs, there is however a final track, “Revisited”, which is a short instrumental that sounds like a mike got left on after the jazz club closed.

Lyrically The Needs are closer to ABBA than they are to The Clash, with more unrequited love than angst. If you want a fun album to listen to while driving with the music on and the windows down, You Need The Needs is all you need.

The Needs drop fun music from Noway on Jansen Records.

The Needs are:

Bendik Brænne – Guitar / Vocal

Maciek Ofstad – Guitar / Vocal

Mattis Brænne Wigestrand – Guitar

Knut Oscar Nymo – Bass / Vocal

Nils Jørgen Nilsen – Drums / Vocal

You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/youneedtheneeds/

And you can purchase the music and support working musicians on Bandcamp https://youneedtheneeds.bandcamp.com/

Album Review: Cochemea – All My Relations

With nearly fifteen years of experience touring the world as a saxophonist with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Cochemea Gastelum is no stranger to the musical world. Within his solo full-length All My Relations, Cochemea delves into spiritual jazz, varied percussion, and of course soaring saxophone.

One of the most initially apparent features of All My Relations is the heavy use of percussion and rhythm. Whether it’s the Indigenous-inspired “All My Relations” or the grooving “Song of Happiness”, percussive and enchanting rhythms are found throughout. Adding exta depth to the sound is the excellent use of stereo separation that helps to draw in the listener and add impact to the drums felt across the album. On “Asatoma”, percussion takes complete control which leads to a very atmospheric and minimalist sound that nicely offsets some of the album’s busier moments.

With Cochemea you expect excellent saxophone performances and All My Relations certainly delivers some pleasing sax solos and riffs. Of particular note is the song “Seyewailo” in which the saxophone has effects laid upon it allowing for some unique tones and cosmic jazz textures.

With such varying influences and textures, All My Relations is an undeniably interesting spiritual jazz album that should fit perfectly within Daptone’s stellar catalogue.

4/5

-Joel Weatherly

Originally written for The Spill Magazine

2018 In The Rear View Mirror

The list below is my attempt at emulating the Juno Awards. I usually shy away from best of lists, but I had the privilege of attending the 8th Annual Edmonton Music Awards Gala at The Winspear Centre on June 28, and like them, I wanted to give nods of approval across a broad spectrum of music and to use categories, like the Juno Awards do. So here is my best of 2018 list that isn’t a best of list, it is, however, music that made me smile during twenty-eighteen.

Live performance in a large venue:
David Byrnes – American Utopia * Live at The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

Live performance in a medium venue:
Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson & Igor & The Red Elvises @ The Starlite Room

Live performance in a small venue:
Rosie & The Riveters w/VISSIA @ The Aviary

Classical music performance:
Late Night Soundscapes, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Alexander Prior

Classical Music Recording:
re:member by Ólafur Arnalds

Edmonton Artist and Recording:
starlight by nêhiyawak

Canadian Country and Western Performance (The Atrium) and Album:
Cold Beans & Broken Eggs by Sean Burns

International Country and Western Album:
Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley

Country and Western Live Performance: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at The Jube

Vintage Country Album:
Wanted by The Outlaws

Vintage Reissue Recording:
Pink Floyd – The Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn (Remastered Reissue)

Roots Music Album:
Vanished Gardens by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels & Lucinda Williams

Jazz Album:
Your Queen Is Dead by Sons Of Kemet

Dance/Electronic Album:
Shape The Future by Nightmares On Wax

Alternative Album:
Rebound by Eleanor Friedberger

R&B/Soul Album:
Chris Dave and the Drumhedz by Chris Dave and the Drumhedz

R&B/Soul Performance: The War and Treaty at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Album Still In Rotation From Last Year:
Once In A Long, Long While by Low Roar

Rock Album of 2018:
Offerings by Typhoon

Canadian Rock Album of 2018:
Earthtones by Bahamas

Spiritual Album of 2018:
(untitled) by mewithoutYou

Live Performance of 2018:
David Byrne at The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

Everything and Nowhere

 

Eleanor Friedberger_Rebound

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

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

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

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

The opposite of what he thought he thought

The opposite of what she wanted

(I thought that you would know)

The opposite of what he thought he thought

(I thought that you would feel something)

The opposite of what she said

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

johnfront

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

You told them exactly what I didn’t say

Exactly how I didn’t say it

You played them exactly what I didn’t play

Exactly how I didn’t play it

You wrote down exactly what I didn’t write

Exactly how I didn’t write it

You typed in exactly what I didn’t type

Exactly how I didn’t type it

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

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

A house, a chair and a rug

That’s everything

(Everything, everything)

I mean two houses, please

I wanted everything

(Nothing or everything)

A life that’s quiet and nice

I wanted everything

(Everything, everything)

But I’m going away anytime I like

I wanted everything

(Nothing or everything)

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

(Everything now!) I need it

(Everything now!) I want it

(Everything now!) I can’t live without

(Everything now!) I can’t live without

(Everything now!)

(Everything now!)

Everything now

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

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

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

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

Interstellar Rodeo 2018

Interstellar 2018

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

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

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

pertaining to a preeminent performer

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were no songs about crows nests.

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

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

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

Riit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Music Fest 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds of Chicago/Steep Canyon Rangers

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

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

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

Album (3) reviews: Lessons in Retrospection

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

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

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

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

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