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”.

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 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.

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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.

We’re Here For Love

Jim and Penny Malmberg, formerly Back Porch Swing, along with Nico Humby and Miles Zurawell brought an energetic and enthusiastic crowd to The Aviary on Friday night.

We were each given a copy of their new CD, it was after all a CD release party, and welcomed into the party. The merch table had so much love it would have been easy to mistake it for Valentines Day, there were hearts everywhere and smiling happy faces to greet us, one of those being a co-owner of The Aviary, Philip.

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This is all in the entryway, next stop was the venue itself. Teacup candles, hearts and love were on every table as well as the stage, and it was like a big ol’ family get together. There was boisterous laughter as people moved about the room greeting each other and spreading the love.

Although every table was taken there were a few loose chairs at the front of the house so that is where we parked ourselves, an unobstructed view of the stage, or so we thought. At one point in the show, Penny had to ask a patron not to walk in front of the stage with her camera phone flash blinding the band and blocking the view of the rest of us.

The evening opened with Jim and Penny coming on stage with a large poster board stating “We’re Here For Love” and extended a warm welcome to everyone. They then introduced the first period, there were three just like a hockey game, Nico and Miles.

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Nico and Miles are straight ahead no nonsense bluegrass and they nailed it. Nico plays a mean mandolin and sings in the finest traditional style. Miles plays flat top guitar and sings in a style that blends traditional bluegrass with traditional country, in a good way. They are fun, funny and fantastic musicians and singers. They peeled off one song after another almost effortlessly and were obviously enjoying it as much as we were. I would be happy to see them play again.

After a short intermission, Penny and Jim took the stage and proceeded to entertain us with a walk through their new CD, in order of appearance on said disc. Both Penny and Jim interjected little stories about the songs and the writing process as well as singing “Happy Birthday” to numerous friends and acquaintances, it was well paced and the space between songs was never dead air. Jim alternated between guitar and mandolin, Penny played guitar and they were joined by Keith Rempel on upright bass, he played on the CD as well. Both Penny and Jim have good voices and they harmonize well. It is easy to see that they are not just doing another show, they love what they are doing and they do it well. They are the quintisential 60’s folk group, and I say that as a compiment.

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There was a lot of love flowing back and forth between the stage and the audience, people were there to visit, to renew old acquaintances and to party. There was banter back and forth from the stage to the seats, hoots and hollers were frequent and several songs were sing-alongs that it seemed most people knew the words to or, like me, learned them quickly.

It was a fun night out and we heard some mighty fine pickin’-and-a-singin’. “We’re Here For Love” is an appropriate name since it was obvious that both the musicians and the people listening where indeed there for the love.

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Sean Burns and Lost Country

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

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

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

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

Musical Memories #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My sentiments exactly Patsy.

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

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

Trifecta

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

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

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

Chris Dave and the Drumhedz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22 from Norman’s View

I am sitting here listening to Bahamas new album Earthtones, which is a great listen, and thinking to myself about the music that 2018 has started with. First up was Daniel Romano in concert in a new venue called The Aviary. It is a cosy little room that worked really good for the band to work out in. It was a rocking good start to the year.

This last week has been crazy with new music. First Aid Kit came out with a new full-length album called Ruins. They are a pair of young women working out relationships and the confusion and pain of youthful romance and heartache. They are darn good at working all of that into very likeable songs. The problem for me is the irreconcilable fact that I left my teenage angst and broken hearts behind me many years ago, and these songs, as good as they are, simply do not resonate with me on a personal level. What does resonate with me is the music that First Aid Kit back up all of their writing with. They say on their bio that they listened to the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Carter Family and The Louvin Brothers and I can hear overtones of all that and more in their songs. There is a lilt, a sway, a dos-e-do, and a vintage to their music that harkens back to these great musicians of the past that we should not forget. I am grateful for First Aid Kit and their nod of appreciation to the foundation builders of Americana music.First Aid Kit_Ruins

The Shins pulled out all the stops with their newest old release, The Worms Heart. I confess that I have listened to them only casually in the past but this release has demanded repeated listens from me. This is art rock in that it is a flipped version of their last album Heartworms, the order of the songs if reversed and all of them are played in a different style than the original. I know that this doesn’t work for some folks but I found that I liked the end result of this endeavour. This album has a more grunge/garage rock feel to it. Jangling guitars and moaning organs that often sound heavy-handed manage to rumble on and create something new and interesting. I like the concept, and contrary to many of the reviews that I have read online, I actually like the end product. Yes, it is sloppy and uneven at times but I take that as part of the process of reinventing the songs so I give it a thumbs up.shins

Unfortunately, I have to throw in thumbs down review, well, actually a palm flat out and then brought slowly up to your forehead area. They Might Be Giants are rated as one of, if not the most, prolific music writers of all time and this is their nineteenth album if my counting is correct. The unfortunate part is that prolific does not always bring quality along with it. The bottom line on this album is this: if you like They Might Be Giants you will like this recording. If you are new to TMBG’s you might or might not find this a good listen. I found it to be less than engaging. I often overlooked the cheesy music and listened to the lyrics but on this recording, called I Like Fun, I couldn’t have fun listening to more of the same old.
A slight bump on the road of music we find ourselves on. On a different wavelength, I have revisited some old albums and I did have fun with that. Abbey Road, by nonother than The Beatles. It has not lost any of its charms or listening quality over the years and it still gets me singing in the car to myself.
Dave Edmunds, often overlooked but a classic from the new wave era. I have a fistful of his albums but I shook the dust off of Repeat When Necessary and found that I still liked it as much now as I did in 1979 when it was released. It was released at the same time as Nick Lowe’s Labour of Lust which is another personal favourite of mine and both records feature the same lineup of musicians: Edmunds, Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, collectively known as Rockpile. A couple of stand out tracks are Crawling From The Wreckage and Queen of Hearts. Good Stuff.dave edmunds
Well, that is a wrap for this week, I look forward to what lies in store next week. For concerts, we are going to see Daniel Romano again, this time with Ancient Shapes at The Empress Ale House. For album listening, I have no idea what the future holds. Until next time, keep your needle in the groove and fingers on the fretboard/keyboard.