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, blasĂ© 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.