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.
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.
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.
This has been a big year for me musically, my band, New Romancer, played their first show, I started writing for The Spill Magazine, and I probably listened to more music than I have before. 2016 has also been a difficult year as many great musicians have passed away. Seeing as best of lists are a customary thing to do, I figured I should put one together. I decided to do an unordered list as I have a difficult time saying that one album is truly superior to another especially if they are among my favourites.
TOP ALBUMS OF 2016
BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The suitably titled fourth release from these hip-hop Jazz fusion artists is a wholly enjoyable listen. With vocal contributions from the likes of Sam Herring and Charlotte Day Wilson, it shows growth and experimentation from these talented musicians.
WHITNEY – LIGHT UPON THE LAKE
It’s been a good year for Whitney they’ve garnered international recognition for their laid back, country twang inspired sound, and have toured extensively to promote their debut album. Light Upon The Lake is a captivating listen, and Whitney is a pleasure to see live.
SKIPTRACING – MILD HIGH CLUB
In Alex Brettin’s follow-up to Timeline, we get to see him further explore his Mac DeMarco inspire, 70’s radio infused sound. I found this album oddly difficult to put down as it takes influence from soft rock, Jazz, and even standard pop. A very unique and enjoyable mid-fi listen.
BAT FOR LASHES – THE BRIDE
I’m a big fan of concept albums. I really appreciate when an artist attempts to convey a story through their music. Bat for Lashes’ newest release relays the rather sorrowful tale of The Bride. This album contains her signature soaring vocals and is filled with interesting instrumentation. This was only made better by seeing her perform live.
CHILDISH GAMBINO – “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!”
Whether you love or hate Bino’s new direction, it’s undeniably interesting. “Awaken, My Love!” sees him leave behind rap for soulful R&B. I appreciate his attempt at switching genres and while the new style may shock fans of his rap, it will provide new areas for the talented Donald Glover to experiment with.
STRFKR – BEING NO ONE, GOING NOWHERE
I’m a longtime fan of STRFKR. I’ve played their previous releases countless times and I was very excited for this release. It contains everything I enjoy about STRFKR: introspective lyrics, catchy upbeat synths, and even Alan Watts samples. I wrote a review on this album if you want more details. I’m excited to see them live next year.
ANGEL OLSEN – MY WOMAN
This album was my first introduction to Olsen and I was pleasantly surprised. Her delicate vocals, interesting lyrics, and relaxed guitar playing create an interesting soundscape to get lost in. This record has been on repeat since I discovered it.
LASER – NIGHT DRIVER
While this is their first release as Laser, the musicians in this band are incredibly experienced. Laser is fronted by Lisa Lobsinger of Broken Social Scene and features some extremely talented musicians. This low-key album can be a difficult one to get into yet is oddly satisfying to complete.
BAND OF SKULLS – BY DEFAULT
I’ve been a fan of Band of Skulls ever since I heard their debut album. Their straightforward rock sound is perfect for getting pumped up or hitting the highway. By Default contains more of their distinct sound and highlights some of the talents hidden in this three piece band.
CHARLOTTE DAY WILSON – CDW -EP
I know this is technically an EP not a full-length release but I’ve loved this release immensely this year. I first got word of Charlotte Day Wilson from her appearance on BadBadNotGood’s IV, since then I’ve waited in anticipation to hear more of this talented artist. This soulful R&Bish debut EP is absolutely delightful and has some addicting vocal work on it.
I went to 33 performances this year. Here are my favourites.
THE ZOLAS W/FAST ROMANTICS @ UNION HALL MARCH 31, 2016
I always enjoy seeing The Zolas, this time was made extra special due to us being invited to their Sonic 102.9 radio session. After meeting them at the session and seeing their show that evening I was impressed. I was even more impressed by the band’s ability to recognise us after their show with The Strumbellas later in the fall.
BAT FOR LASHES @ UNION CHAPEL MAY 16, 2016
This was a magnificent performance by an artist I had been dying to see. The Union Chapel was a perfect venue to see her perform excerpts from her then-unreleased album, The Bride. This intimate concert gave me a new perspective on Bat for Lashes and also reinforced my appreciation of old churches as concert venues. This concert was filmed and portions have been released.
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA W/WHITNEY @ STARLITE ROOM MAY 24, 2016
When attending this concert I wasn’t very familiar with the works of either band. I immediately garnered fandom for Whitney and appreciation for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Whitney blew me away with their unique styling and instrumentation. I’d gladly go see either act again.
OF MONTREAL W/MOREWINE AND MITCHMATIC @ THE NEEDLE VINYL TAVERN JUNE 19, 2016
of Montreal is a rather bizarre band. Their show was packed with energy and musicianship. It was truly fantastic to see this act on their first trip to Edmonton. Opening for of Montreal was local talents Morewine and Michmatic both of which performed excellent sets and continue to be active in Edmonton’s music scene.
STING AND PETER GABRIEL: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS @ REXALL PLACE JULY 24, 2016
It’s always special when artists collaborate and share a stage. It’s even more special when two legendary artists like Sting and Peter Gabriel do it. This performance featured the two covering each other’s material, singing their own songs, and working together to create an exceptionally symbiotic stage.
STURGILL SIMPSON @ UNION HALL AUGUST 14, 2016
Sturgill Simpson has been making waves in the country and popular music scenes. His rants have made headlines and his Grammy nomination has stunned most everyone. It’s for these reasons that he makes the list. His actually fantastic performance was overshadowed by the terrible venue and absolutely awful audience. Sturgill is awesome. Union Hall can eat a bag of dicks.
AN EVENING WITH DAVID CROSBY @ WINSPEAR CENTRE SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
David Crosby is a legendary musician, most well known for his work with the Byrds and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. His intimate and relaxed performance featured his playing some of his old material, doing the occasional cover, and showcasing his newest works. Just Crosby, a guitar, and his son at a piano resulted in an empty looking stage yet a full sounding hall.
TOKYO POLICE CLUB W/THE ELWINS AND BORN RUFFIANS @ STARLITE ROOM OCTOBER 8, 2016
My goodness, what a lineup for a single night. These three indie bands have been on fire the past few years with their releases surging over airwaves and their concerts garnering attention. Up+Downtown a relatively new multi-venue music festival brought these and many more artists in town for a weekend of music. Hopefully, next year’s festival will have as good of a lineup.
PURITY RING W/HANA @ WINSPEAR CENTRE OCTOBER 21, 2016
While the Winspear Centre is typically associated with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and other highbrow acts it is a fantastic venue for artists of all styles. Electronically based Purity Ring and HANA had the venue’s acoustic properties pushed as their thumping bass lines and soaring vocals ripped through the hall. I wrote a review of this hometown show.
JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW W/ALAN RAYMAN @ WINSPEAR CENTRE NOVEMBER 21, 2016
I very much enjoy seeing James Vincent McMorrow live. His last performance at the Winspear was a solo tour de force and convinced me to go see him again. This time he was in the company of his band to promote his newest and fullest-sounding album yet. Joining him for this leg of the tour was the mysterious and artistically interesting Alan Rayman.
Welp, there’s my picks for this year. Hope 2017 is even better.
I don’t remember the first time I saw Corb Lund play live, must have been back about ’06 or ’07. It was in Churchill Square, or the Concrete Polygon as we like to call it. I think it was for the food festival, anyhow, I was working at Hope Mission at the time so Valerie and Joel met me there and we walked over to Churchill Square to catch his show. Some of my co-workers were already listening to his music and I knew they had good taste in music so I thought it prudent to hear what they were listening to and raving about so much.
My suspicions were confirmed, they did have good taste in music. Corb Lund and his band delivered a crowd-rousing show that left me wanting more. So I went to the store and bought two CD’s: Modern Pain and Five Dollar Bill.
The Music resonated with me. It spoke of things I was familiar with and we humans do like the familiar even when it is new.
I had been raised on country and western music. My Dad was a guitar player heavily influenced by Hank Williams and the Carter family with a little Flatt and Scruggs thrown in. In fact, I didn’t know there were other kinds of music until my teen years when I was introduced to rock and roll. Since then I have been on a life-long journey of new musical discoveries, everything from ABBA to Zappa but always retaining a love for country and western music.
Corb Lund was a breath of fresh country air in an era when most country and western music was barely discernible from pop music. Corb Lund knew his musical heritage and didn’t stray too far from the template.
On February 6th at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, henceforth know as the Jube, I was able to revisit the music of Mr Lund and it warmed my soul. His music has changed, not a lot, but it has matured and grown with him. His lyrics are the icing on the cake for me though. In his early albums I tapped my toes along to “We Used to Ride ’em”, and I really used to. I could relate. I used to ride ’em, not for very long, but I did. I was good for six seconds but that isn’t enough in a rodeo. I used to ride ’em though and Corb Lund gave me a song about it. And then “The Truck Got Stuck”, I was there. The only difference between a 4 wheel drive and a two wheel drive is that the 4 wheel drive gets stuck further in. I got stuck more times that I care to remember, even had the Hutterites pull me out once. I laughed as a flood of memories washed over me in tune to “The Truck Got Stuck”.
Corb Lund delighted me and many others that February evening with a well-rounded show of both golden oldies and new tunes. His backing band were amazing, being an envious guitar player wannabe I was particularly impressed by Grant Siemens. He blew me away with his guitar, mandolin and lap steel playing. Now I want a baritone guitar, thanks a lot Grant. Another highlight of the evening was a guest appearance by Geoff Berner singing “That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby”. A seriously hilarious song that resonated with me from the years that I worked in the inner city with the homeless, marginalised and wonderful people that live there. Mr Berner sang with The Hurtin’ Albertans backing him up and it was good. After the concert, Corb Lund was in the lobby signing and smiling but there was a road weariness evident in his face. He was polite and gracious but stopped short of being in the moment, I understand. It’s not an easy life and after working hard for an hour and a half he probably would have enjoyed a quiet room with a view instead of groupies and autograph hounds. I am in the latter bunch, an autograph seeker. He was polite enough to do two signatures for me and with a third on a record that I bought at the merch table, I left the Jube a happy man.
If The Corb Lund Band, The Hurtin’ Albertans or The Smalls ever play your town I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to hear them live. They are good on vinyl at thirty-three and a third but even better on a stage in your hometown (bonus if it’s Corb Lund’s hometown as well).
I enjoy seeing a band multiple times in different venues and different situations. Yukon Blonde is my most recent multi-view band. When I last saw them they were opening for Hey Rosetta! at the prestigious Francis Winspear Centre for Music, this time they were headlining the significantly less formal Starlite Room. The informal bar setting fitted the band’s songs of young love and desired girls nicely.
As much as I enjoy the musical stylings of Yukon Blonde, the portion of the evening I most anticipated came in the form of the opener, On An On. Hailing from Minneapolis, formed from the dissolved band Scattered Trees, their spacey Indie Rock sound captivated my ears since I first heard Give In. Their fantastic set contained a number of my favourite songs (setlist found below) and sounded almost exactly the same as their recordings. Despite the sound being slightly muddled at the beginning it was a very strong opening set.
Yukon Blonde took the stage shortly after 10 pm and quickly electrified the room. Their Indie yet still radio friendly songs are quickly recognisable and make it easy to join the hoard of fans belting out lyrics. Since this was a casual Saturday night concert I stuck around after the show to meet the band and attempt to snag a setlist and tour poster (I was successful). The band was very accommodating, inviting us backstage in an attempt to locate all five of their members and offering to sign my poster and setlist.
The concert had a certain unapologetic Canadian air to it. Not only does the band come from British Columbia and reference a territory in their name, but during the slight break between the main set and their encore performance of “Stairway,” the audience added, “please” to the standard chant of “one more song” in a bizarre display of politeness. As the concert also coincided Rebecca’s Birthday the band lead an uncoordinated audience in a rendition of Happy Birthday.
All in all it was a very good concert, having seen the headliner twice I would recommend seeing them for a lively Indie concert. If you get the chance also check out On An On as I thoroughly enjoy their music. Yukon Blonde is currently touring Canada with On An On.