Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Singles Scene #17 - Aberfoyle Market

Rain, a lot of rain. It was raining and the wife and I popped out on a Sunday morning to the Aberfoyle Antique Market looking for a knick-knack that would look good on the corner of our deck. We found it, and old wood stove, and the Mrs. was running to the bank machine to get the money. But, it was raining. So instead of going with her, I wandered to the stall next door, which had records dangerously close to getting wet.

The albums were the usual lot of common stuff, things that as a long time record collector I either already had, or had long ago determined I didn’t want. But beside the albums, in four whole rows, singles! Hundreds of them, nicely stacked in the vertical for ease of flip-through. Haven’t bought some Canadian in while, I thought, and quickly hit BTO’s My Wheels Won’t Turn. Game on, and since I was picking up some Canadian anyway, I grabbed a few others: Mull of Kintyre; Rod Stewart’s Jeff Beck reunion, People Get Ready; ELO’s Telephone Line; Robert Plant’s Little by Little. Then I hit on something, Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song with Hey Hey What Can I Do on the flip. My heart skipped a beat: could it be my personal holy grail, a 1970 original of this very, very hard to find single? I have an early 80’s re-release, but this is different: the Red Atlantic label instead of Gold, first initials on song writing credit, no mention of previous release. Could it be? It may be, holy s@$t it might just be. 

Now I’m in, and I’m screaming for the wife to hand me cash while I hunt for just one more piece of Canadiana. It turns up in the form of something I love, Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch, with the gorgeous Still Not Used To on side B. I look for the vendor, who picks through my pile, says $2.00 a record, which I might normally balk at if I didn’t have a possible gem, the single I have searched for since the late 1970’s, in the pile. He never noticed any possible value in the stack, but not wanting to appear like an easy mark, I offer him $10 for the pile, which he happily takes.

My Wheels Won’t Turn is the lead single of BTO’s 1977 album Freeways. By 1977, BTO had peaked, both musically and in popularity, and Freeways, while by no means a bad album, doesn’t match up to their earlier work.  My Wheels Won't Turn carries the grit of the best BTO material,  but lacks the melodic sensibility that took BTO beyond a mere hard rock band. Randy Bachman's singing, as well, lacks melody and enthusiasm. 

Dan Hill's Sometimes When We Touch  is such a well known piece there is probably not much point in reviewing it. It is a sappy bit of tripe, a love it or hate it song. As pointed out when I reviewed Hill's album, Longer Fuse, I love it, mostly because it found me when I was most susceptible to such a song, i.e. after I discovered music, before I discovered Led Zeppelin. It is worth noting, however, that unlike a lot of sappy pop songs through the years, it really is a well crafted composition.

The flip side of Sometimes When We Touch is my favorite Dan Hill song. Still Not Used To is the kind of song Hill does best. Acoustic guitar, his wonderfully expressive voice and a song that is both poignantly personal and self-effacing. Examining his then burgeoning career and how he feels about it,  Still Not Used To explores an artist having success and wondering how or why:

Still not used to having people, pay to hear me.Guess I'm still a child, tryin' so hard to please,tryin' to seek approval through my songs...

After this single, a lot more people paid to hear Dan Hill, he found a lot more approval for his songs. It was a life changing single, and giving both sides a hearing it's easy enough to understand why.

Sitting on the deck, typing beside the wood stove, Led Zeppelin's Hey Hey What Can I Do just finished and Dan Hill's Still Not Used To about to come on, I'd have to say it was a Sunday morning well spent.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Singles Scene #16: Brantford

I’m driving out to Brantford with a purpose: I’m looking for an 8-track player. A couple of years ago I was at the Cross Roads Trading Post, a great junk market in Brantford. It was easy to find the first time, and I’ve even been back, so a quick trip in and out and I should be good.

Two hours later, I haven’t a clue where this place is, can’t remember what it’s called and have about an hour left before the stores start closing down on this Sunday afternoon. My wife called to ask me to pick up milk, and I mention I haven’t a clue where I‘m supposed to be. She pulls out The Wayback Times and gave me an address in about thirty seconds. It’s a Bingo, and I arrive at the Trading Post just after 4:00.

The Crossroads Trading Post is a one storied, horseshoe shaped building with a plane on the roof, an outdoor market in the courtyard, and a mass of electronics, furniture, old phones and assorted antique/collectible/junk. It may be January, but the outdoor stalls are still full of old tools and household items. I move around it quickly, find no 8-track player and get inside opting not to, in Ebeneezer Scrooge‘s words, “conduct my affairs in the teeth of inclement weather.”

Inside I find a few spots that are promising, including literally a stack of electronics at the back. In the quadraphonic pile-up, a couple of old stereo systems with built in 8-tracks. It’s not what I’m looking for: either a stand-alone unit or a smaller component. As tempting as it is to re-buy my first stereo, a Lloyd's unit with turntable AM/FM radio and 8-track player/recorder, it‘s not what I need. There is one, a small unit, with built in radio, but it is outside of my price range and I’m not willing to move on the budget I gave myself.

I may have crapped out on the 8-track player, but around the corner and two stalls away from my first stereo lies a box of singles. If I can’t get what I want, I‘ll take what I need.

There’s a couple of hundred here, not sorted, at $1/per. The range is varied, from Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle to Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face. Picking through it, I buy a couple of non-Canadian’s: Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll and, believe it or not, Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together (one day I’ll have the coolest jukebox). Somewhere between Dolce, Joe and Seger, Bob, was a couple of pieces of Canadiana.

Besides some local stuff, Celebrating Brantford sort of thing, I find four Canadian singles: Prism’s Young and Restless, Gino Vannelli’s Black Cars, Dan Hill’s Can’t We Try and the obscure title of the day, Kitchener’s Charity Brown’s You Beat Me To The Punch.

Raised in Kitchener, Charity Brown returned last year during the Kitchener Blues Festival to a full and enthusiastic crowd. Singing blues songs now, in the 70’s she was doing contemporary pop, with pictures of a very, very cute Charity Brown staring out from the album covers. The song she is most known for is Take Me In You Arms, which sadly, I didn’t find.

What I got was has her second single, You Beat Me To The Punch on side one, and side two has her first single, Jimmy Mack. You Beat Me To The Punch is on old Smokey Robinson song, and has all the earmarks, and sound of a pre-Beatles rock and roll song. It’s alright, but out of place as a 70’s pop hit. The other single, the old Martha and the Vandellas song, Jimmy Mack, works much better. It is still a Motown song, and Brown has a clean, clear voice that handles the song beautifully. The sort of thing you could play at a dance or party and get away with it.

Dan Hill, on the other hand, your not playing at too many parties, and at dances only to get the couples snuggling. Can’t We Try was a 1987 release, ten years after “that” Dan Hill song. What’s surprising is it’s a duet with Vonda Shepard, who would earn fame in the 90’s as the singer at Ally McBeal’s favourite drinking spot. It is a reasonably standard Dan Hill ballad: the duet format works and it is a pretty song.

Prism Young and Restless is a more known entity, and I like both this band and song. Regardless of their overly 80’s keyboard, Prism always had a strong pop sensibility with a solid rock edge. It’s been a while since I heard this song, and I enjoy it. The b/side, Deception, is more of a rocker is a pretty good song.

Last up is Gino Vanelli. By 1986, Montréaler Vannelli had been a been recording for over ten years. He had early success in the United States, particularly Grammy nominated song I Just Wanna Stop. Black Cars was a phenomenally successful song for Vannelli, but it must be said, I never liked it. This kind of 80’s electronic/keyboard music was never to my taste, and listening now I still only got halfway through the song. Black Cars is, for better or worse exactly what you remember it to be. For me, that for the worst.

As I drive away, not in a Black Car, from Brantford, four Canadian songs (plus two non-Canadian) to the better and $6.00 to the worst, I’m feeling pretty good. The Charity Brown, The Prism and maybe even the Dan Hill will get played again. Black Car, on the other hand, only comes out on 80’s night, which may never come.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Bachman & Turner

When Randy Bachman decided to record a solo album with guest singers, one of his first calls was to his old Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) partner C.F. (call me Fred) Turner. The two got together and recorded Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out. The results so pleased them that Bachman shelved the solo album and BTO was reborn. Except, Robbie Bachman and - how was this allowed to happen? - Blair Thornton objected to the use of the name and sued (Thornton is often erroneously referred to in media reports of this as “an original member“). So Bachman & Turner was born.bachmanturner

“…people are saying this album sounds like it was supposed to be released in 1977,” Bachman has said of Bachman & Turner, the new album that was released Tuesday. “That’s what I was trying for. People… don’t want… Fred doing a rap/hip-hop kind of thing.”

There’s a lot in that statement, not the least is that the album sounds like 1977, when BTO was on the down side, instead of 1974, the middle year of their three best albums. In 1973 BTO released their very good, but rough debut album, followed the same year by their breakthrough Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. In that one year Blue Collar, Takin’ Care of Business and Let it Ride were written, recorded and released. The next year they replaced the third Bachman, Tim, with Thornton and released Not Fragile. Roll On Down the Highway, You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet and Rock is My Life were on that album. In 1975, it was Four Wheel Drive, and Head On, adding the title track, Hey You, Take it Like a Man and Lookin’ Out for #1 to the canon. Other than the 1976 single, Down to the Line, that was pretty much BTO. Saying Bachman-Turner sounds like 1977, then, is a back-handed compliment.

Yet it’s also accurate. After Four Wheel Drive, something changed in the BTO sound. They approached melody different, the guitar took on a new tone. The difference was there, hard to define, but they weren’t the same band that recorded Takin’ Care of Business. So it is with the new album. It is loaded with good songs, bereft of great ones.

The album is often hard rocking as Can’t Go Back to Memphis, I’ve Seen The Light and the above mentioned Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out remind one of that old BTO adage, “you ask do we play heavy music, well are thunderheads just another cloud?”

Can’t Go Back to Memphis, however, suffers from vocals that are run through what sounds like an old blues harp microphone. I’ve Seen the Light as well as Moonlight Rider and Rollin’ Along all benefit from Turner dropping his Fred persona and singing like C.F. Turner of old. So much so that Moonlight Rider and Rollin’ Along are the albums best songs.

Rollin’ Aling, was in fact pre-released as a single. It is the albums signature piece and, as Fred Turner said of it, the continuation of Roll On Down the Highway. That’s a fair description and it is as enjoyable a song.

Moonlight Rider, on the other hand, is Turning Japanese meets The Letter. The opening is reminiscent of Turning Japanese‘s signature lick, but the song melodically is The Letter to a tee. The two combine to make a great rock and roll song.

According to a CTV report, “an early listener… told Bachman… Find Some Love, was ‘the greatest Led Zeppelin song since Led Zeppelin.’” It’s true too, it is eerily familiar to when Zeppelin covered Harlequin’s I Did it For Love… No, wait, that can’t be right. Find Some Love doesn’t bear superficial comparison to Led Zeppelin, but again, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. It is a hard rockin’ guitar song with the soul of a pop song, very reminiscent of fellow CanCon rockers Harlequin. Slave to the Rhythm is in a similar vein, a pop song dressed up as a rocker.

BTO wasn’t one for ballads, at least not in the traditional sense. When they slowed it down, Bachman’s jazz sensibilities emerged, and some real gems that combined a jazz feel and harmonic structure with a slow rock beat produced some of BTO’s best songs. On this disc the role falls to Traffic Jam. As nice harmonically as Blue Collar or Lookin’ Out for #1, melodically it is not as consistent, and because of this doesn’t work as well as the those earlier pieces.

While there is much good in the new Bachman-Turner album, it is not flawless. If you wrote a 70’s sitcom called That’s What It Is, then Bachman & Turner have a theme song for you. That’s What It Is is bad disco, done by guys who obviously don’t get disco. Try the Theme from Rocky (Gonna Fly Now) meets the barf bucket and your close. Repo Man is of another category of bad: boring and dumb. Waiting Game features a lousy vocal performance by Bachman, and Neutral Zone is just that, blasé and neutral. It’s not that it’s a bad song, but when was the last time you listened to “that song that didn’t bother you that much?”

Bachman-Turner is a good, not great album by a couple of guys well past their prime who have found a way to tap into that prime and come close. By 1977 standards, it’s an OK rock album. But today’s, it’s far above average.


1. Rollin' Along
2. That's What It Is
3.Moonlight Rider
4. Find Some Love
5. Slave To The Rhythm
6. Waiting Game
7. I've Seen The Light
8. Can't Go Back To Memphis
9. Rock 'N' Roll Is The Only Way Out
10. Neutral Zone
11. Traffic Jam
12.Repo Man

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Singles Scene #15

Waterford: I talk a lot about Vinyl. The glory of the black plastic, spinning away at such or another speed, creating marvellous, analog music. Magic. img040But part of the fun of records was they didn’t have to be made of vinyl. You could, and they did, cut the grooves into a thick piece of paper, protect it with lacquer and it would work. It would suck, quality wise, but it worked. You could put a record in the cereal box, or McDonalds could give out Alf records on their happy meal box.

Waterford is in South-West Ontario, one of those towns that dots the area West of Brantford South of London between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. It’s tiny with two beautiful old churches and a one block downtown. Alice Street runs off the downtown, along the waterfront, and in a big old warehouse on Alice is the Waterford Antique Market. It’s a standard antique market, with multiple vendors selling various pieces of old junk: furniture, phones, books &tc. Waterford Antique Market is actually fairly large for the size of the town it’s in. Of course, it’s got records.

LP’s there’s always LP‘s, and lots of them. But they also have a nice collection of 45’s. Among them, an odd shaped cardboard recording of The Greater Evangelistic Crusade of Toronto (from the Billy Graham team) from 1955. It appears to commemorate their CNE crusade from that year, including a picture of a packed grandstand. I have little interest in the music, but it’s a gem from a collectible standpoint. As well, there was a 45 of the National Anthem, an “extraordinary recording [that] was made especially for the 1976 Olympic Games and via satellite broadcast was heard by more than two billion people around the world.” Complete with gate-fold 45 cover and pull out picture collage. Again, a nice piece for a Canadian music collector. On top of those two, a few others were amongst the pieces: April Wine’s Just Between You and Me; Alannah Myles’ Love is; Rock and Hyde’s I Will.

img041Sadly, as happens at these stores, prices are affixed to the records with stickers. In some cases, right on the playable part of the record. Granted, the records were only $1.00, but slapping a sticker on them does harm. The stickering massacre includes the cardboard Greater Evangelistic Crusade recording and the sticker which is not coming off without damaging the record itself. Fortunately, everything was ½ off when I got to the counter, which means my $7.00 worth of records (I picked up a couple of non-Canadians) was obtained for $3.50.

On further review: the cardboard record works, but it is, in fact, a 78. I don’t have the capability (actually, not true. I have a new USB turntable that, supposedly, has the ability to record a 78 at 45RPM and speed it up. I have no idea how, though).

Oh Canada comes in Instrumental, English, French and Bilingual versions. It’s a pretty standard, end of the broadcast day version, and I have heard it innumerable times. If I ever get an ice rink in my back yard again, and get some hockey going, there is no need to invite The Nylons to sing - we have an anthem. Otherwise, this will likely sit in my collection unused.

Rock and Hyde were Bob Rock and Paul Hyde, the soul of the Payola$, post Payola$. One of my favourite albums of the time, the time being 1987. It’s easy to remember why. I Will is the second single on the album, the stunning Dirty Water being the first and better received. But this is good, up tempo pop song. Lots of 80’s style keyboards, but Bob Rock went on to be a metal producer, and it has that bit of an edge.

img039The b side, What Children Say, is different. Keyboard used to create a different sound, and typically bright lyrics, I like this a lot after not hearing it for years. Sadly, the record itself is not in good shape. It is warped heavily, causing the needle to wobble around. The sound however, does not seem affected, and it’s a wonderful listen.

I was a big April Wine fan in 1981 when Nature of the Beast came out. Just Between You and Me is very familiar to me as a song I heard a million times, but also as a song I heard on the radio yesterday. No surprise here. By 1981 April Wine had figured out their sound. It was layered, clean and polished. They were pros, and this is a good example of everything that was good, very good about April Wine, but also everything that was wrong with them. It’s a nice guitar ballad, with solid musicianship, good tune, nice lyrics, what can be wrong. Yet at the end of the day, it’s a little too polished. A mistake, a wrong note wouldn’t hurt.

Big City Girls is the other side of April Wine. An up tempo rocker with a boogie rhythm and lyrics suggest something or another of sex. I saw these guys live a number of times in this era, and they were always a fun band. This is one of those fun songs, and listening to it now I can see Brian Greenway and Jerry Moffat bouncing on the drum risers to it.

Love Is was Alannah Myles first single of her debut album. I remember this album well, and even played this song in a band at one time. It is a good solid rocker, complete with great lick, thick bass drum driving the rhythm, and a chick that can flat our sing. The complaint stands that the album, and song, may be overproduced, but 21 years later, Love Is still sounds pretty good.

Another up-tempo number, Rock This Joint is weaker, but not a lot so. On an album that featured Love is, Lover of Mine, Still Got This Thing and the spine chilling Black Velvet, Rock This Joint suffers by comparison. But for a lot of other artists, a lot of other albums, this may have been a hit.

A guy walks into an antique warehouse in the middle of nowhere, and comes out the other end with 3 good rockers, that all have pretty good b sides, plus a national anthem and a Billy Graham cardboard 78 for less than 5 bucks. A good haul, a good day topped off with a good listen.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Milk Crate Classic #7: April Wine - Stand Back

Ever since the idea of the Milk Crate Classics was allocated to me I knew that sooner or later, I would cover April Wine. From day one, the question I have rolled in my mind is "Stand Back" or "The Whole Worlds Goin' Crazy"? These two albums always stand side by side in my memory, and they have these past six months while I mentally debated the relative merits of covering each. I had reached a tentative decision with myself whenaprilwine13 I decided to listen to the album of choice: "The Whole Worlds Goin' Crazy". One side of the album was all I needed to change my mind. "The Whole Worlds Goin' Crazy" is so unbelievably dated and, I hate to say it, mediocre. What was one of my all time favourites came crashing down around more mature sensibilities.

"Stand Back" was April Wine's fourth album (fifth if you include the live album), and the first completely free of the founding Henman brothers. It was a springboard to some moderate success that would come in the mid seventies, notably with "The Whole Worlds Goin Crazy" and "First Glance." Yet I always thought it a bit of a second rate album, the one that wouldn't stand up over time. And that annoying song Oowatanite, who would listen to that in 30 years time? So 30 years later when I hear April Wine on the radio, why is it always that song? If not that, then Tonight is A Wonderful Time To Fall in Love or the ballad I Wouldn't Want To Lose Your Love. I would never have dreamed that I Wouldn't Want To Lose Your Love would sound better than Crazy's Like A Lover, Like A Song; the latter always seemed so much deeper. I realized some years ago that deep in pop music usually means piled higher, and Like A Lover, Like A Song is no exception. How could such a notable know-it-all be so wrong? I'm still not sure, maybe "Stand Back" was difficult to digest then because it wasn't as trendy. The music had much more merit in it's own right than other, more timely albums from Canada's Spinal Tap.

aprilwine12Going through the album, most of the songs are good in their own way. Oowatanite is, it turns out, just a great rocker. It affords an early glimpse at the stadium rock-stars that April Wine eventually became. It's worth noting that when April Wine was selling out the C.N.E. Grandstand every August, this was the opener. Great way to start a concert and a great way to start an album. Victim of Your Love, Baby Don't Got Some Soul and Tonight is A Wonderful Time to Fall in Love all hold up well over time. Some old favorites still sparkle, as well. Cum Hear the Band was always a song I enjoyed, and it's still a nice song. One of my all time April Wine favorites comes from this album, as well: Not for You, Not for Rock and Roll is still what it advertises, a good, straight ahead rock and roll song.

All the joy at discovering this long lost classic aside, "Stand Back" has always had it's weak moments, and still does. Sloe Poke is still a lame attempt to sex up the album (as is the spelling on Cum Hear the Band) and Wouldn't Want Your Love (Any Other Way) is a little too pop for even my tastes. As well, I have never got Highway Hard Run, and I still don't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those tripe heads who think rock and roll songs should say something or mean something - Barney Bentall can leave Jelly Roll just as it is and I won't mind. But Highway Hard Run seems to be attempting something and, I think, fails miserably. It is just not a very good song. However, the song truly deserving of never being played again is Don't Push Me Around. I used to think this was a good song, many probably did. But the chorus must be re-heard to be believed:

            Hey man I said don't push me around.
            Hey man I'm 18 and I've been around.

As well, such truly charming lines as

            I've got an old Cadillac
            I like to sit in the back
            and flog the dog between the covers of sex-teen.

"Stand Back" is a good, not great, old album. April Wine was still five years away from becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but "Stand Back" was a prelude to what was coming. The sign of what was to come was there for all to see, and I have finally seen it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Singles Scene #14

Freelton: Freelton sits on highway 6, approximately 6 KM south of Guelph. It is one of those "if you blink you miss it kind of towns," particularly as the highway runs past the edge of it, not through it. But if you get off at Freelton Road, you quickly find yourself at a pair of old barns. Inside those barns: treasure.

The Freelton Antique Mall is one of those a little bit of everything places, and should really have the word "Collectibles" somewhere in it's title. Today's mission: find an antique rod iron lamp for the Mrs. and an old dial phone for my office. We had great success on the lamp, but I couldn't find a phone in black at a price I like (now of I wanted a turquoise or avocado phone, those they have... cheap). Secondary to those silly trinkets, my eyes are always open for records, and of course, 45's.

The Freelton Market has two barns. The main one if stuffed with goodies, separate vendors have booths and you pay at the main counter. The second barn is more open, has less vendors, and the vendors are right there taking you cash.  It is in this second barn that I find some old 45's.

They have a few hundred - 60's and 70's mostly. After pulling through the top box, the vendor pointed out their was more below, but I had my haul. At 50c each, I grabbed eight records, four of which are Canadian: Prism's Take Me Away; Loverboy's The Kid is Hot Tonight; Ian Thomas' Pilot and Dan Hill's All I See is Your Face.

I've always liked Prism, ever since their first single, 1977's Spaceship Superstar.img024 Take Me Away is from a year later and Prisms second album, the always seemed to be there See Forever Eyes.  Prism rode the sweet pure voice of Ron Tabak and the keyboard/guitar pop sensibilities of Lindsay Mitchell and John Hall to worldwide acclaim with a series of radio friendly songs and albums. Four albums in three years to be exact. There fifth single, Take Me Away, comes in year two and is classic Prism. That soaring voice, clean sound and pop back beat (that's  Bryan Adam's writing foil Jim Vallance on drums) leave you feeling good and with the melody stuck in your head.

Local boy Ian Thomas, and brother of SCTV's Dave Thomas, has a writing credit biography that would please the most ambitious of songwriters, including one of my all time favourites, Right Before Your Eyes.  With a discography that includes Painted Ladies, Coming Home and The Runner, Pilot, the opening song from 1979's Glider is one of his weaker efforts.  Taken in isolation, however, Pilot is not a bad song. It has a disco, funk, jazzy groove that people like the Michael McDonald led Doobie Brothers were having success with at the time. It suffers from a weak keyboard sound, not unpopular at the time but is still a listenable and solid contribution to Thomas' discography.

Loverboy is the official punchline to many Canadian music jokes these days, but people forget how they stormed onto the scene in the summer of 1980. Their debut img023self titled album was the hot album that year on the back of two huge singles, Turn Me Loose and The Kid is Hot Tonight.  The remarkable thing about this inaugural single is it has both songs on it. Keyboards were a hot item in 1980, and Loverboy brought it immediately with a keyboard introduction that segued into a great bass groove before Paul Dean's guitar came in loud and heavy, in case anyone thought this was going to be another soft new wave band.  They weren't and at seventeen, I never again roller skated without this song being played.img022

The flip side is single number two, The Kid is Hot Tonight. It's hard to say why Loverboy became a punchline: it could be Mike Reno's weight gain in the 90's; possibly the red leather pants they became synonymous with; perhaps it's the formulaic songs. As to the latter point, The Kid is Hot Tonight plays right onto the formula established in Turn Me Loose: heavy guitar, thick bass and lots of keyboards. Once again, it works, and works really well. Perhaps it's because I was seventeen in the summer of 1980, but listening now I don't hear the joke. This is solid, good rock 'n' roll and I have no complaints against it.

Dan Hill seems to be getting a fair shake on this blog lately. This is not intentional, sometimes things just run in streaks. All I See is Your Face had the impossible task of following up Hill's greatest hit, Sometimes When We Touch. Off the follow up album Frozen in the Night, All I See is Your Face is another pretty song that is recognizably Hill, without being a copycat of it's predecessor. Surprisingly, the b/ side is, again, a future single - with Hill's second biggest hit, Let The Song Last Forever, sandwiched in between them.  Dark Side of Atlanta is a more poignantly personal piece that is familiar to Hill fans. Told in story form, it captures Hill at his songwriting, if not his commercial best. Less familiar, a harder song than All I See is Your Face, it is, however, more worthwhile. Another single I'm glad I bought, but really for the b/ side.

No surprises today, I grew up with all these songs and they all hold up in my memory. Nothing here is outstanding, but if your a pop music fan, or a fan of the late 70's early 80's music, then four good singles. If only I could have found that 70's phone to go along  with them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

CD Review: Stephen Fearing - The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing

It was the late 90's, around the time of his first album Industrial Lullaby,  that I first heard Stephen Fearing. He was on TV,  TVO's In Studio if memory serves me correctly. His playing was virtually classical, with two and three separate lines of music weaving across his finger picked guitar. Yet unlike any classical player I had ever seen, he was singing as well as playing this complex music. I've been a fan since.

[caption id="attachment_121" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Best of Stephen Fearing"]The Best of Stephen Fearing[/caption]

I saw him live once, in one of the most amazing shows I have ever been to. It was in a music store in Fearing's hometown of Guelph. Expensive hand-made acoustic guitars lined the wall of Folkway Music, adding ambiance and sympathetic harmony while Fearing played acoustically and un-amplified for about 50 lucky fans. It was one of those deeply poetic moments when art reaches down and touches you deeply. A fabulous performance that left everybody feeling overawed.

Fearings problem has always been in his recorded output. Put simply, additional instrumentation, added harmonies and basic production mean that his virtuosic guitar playing gets either simplified or lost, his percussive right hand technique disappears for a drummer, always it seems, to the songs detriment. Buy the live CD would be my advice, not a studio one.

Putting his recent Best of CD, The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing on the stereo, it was a pleasure to hear the bulk of the music was stripped down to it's basic elements the way a Stephen Fearing song should. Sure, some of the music is overly produced and subsequently uninteresting. And yes, Fearing's habit of lyrically reaching unnecessarily for profundity and depth is on full display. But that does not mean this is not a very good CD.

I always wonder how a guy like Fearing chooses songs for a best of CD. If your Dan Hill or Bruce Cockburn it's easy enough, you pick the songs that get, or got, radio airplay. But what if you rarely get radio time? Pick your favourites? The ones the fans tell you they love? Flip a coin? Either way, Fearing chose reasonably well, and the amount of paired down songs that made the collection tell you that Fearing understands his strengths as well as anyone.

The dichotomy between the two types of songs, heavily acoustic and heavily produced, is no more apparent than the collection's second song, Yellow Jacket. The verses are stripped back, that right hand percussion and delicate finger-picking over a strongly melodic vocal line. At the chorus, however, in comes orchestration and extra vocals, and a nice song begins to fall down. It's not enough to ruin the song, but it hurts the effort.

Under no circumstances should it be said that all tracks with band are not good, as someone throwing the CD on and playing from the beginning will quickly find out. The opening track, Home, is a mid tempo, almost poppy piece, crossing between Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young in a song that could easily get heavy radio rotation. And it is, for all my complaints about what makes a good Stephen Fearing song, a very listenable piece.

But the collections strengths are in it's simple numbers: The Bells of Morning, played live; The Longest Road, also live; the marvellous guitar solo in Dog on a Chain/ James Melody. All predominately acoustic, all exceptional songs.

The highlight of the album is the very pretty title track The Man Who Married Music: a deeply sweet almost apologetic song to his wife, filled out wonderfully with banjo, Dobro guitar, mandolin and haunting background vocals, The Man Who Married Music is a testament to Fearing's songwriting and an example of how production can benefit his songs. All the added instrumentation complements his wonderful guitar work, layering a finely honed song from the pen of a craftsman.

If your looking to pick up some quality Canadian music, but unsure what to get, grab Stephen Fearing's The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing, a solid collection of the best from one of Canada's most respected music men.

1. Home
2. Yellow Jacket
3. The Finest Kind
4. Beguiling Eyes
5. The Bells of Morning
6. Turn Out The Lights
7. Expectations
8. That's How I Walk
9. The Longest Road
10. Welfare Wednesday
11. Anything You Want
12. Dog on a Chain/ James Melody
13. The Man Who Married Music
14. The Big East West
15. No Dress Rehearsal

Available from True North Records