Friday, March 26, 2010

Meet The Curse!

Calling all Toronto punk fans: Patsy Poison, Anna Bourque and Mickey Skin of The Curse will be joining Treat Me Like Dirt author Liz Worth to sign books, singles and whatever else you'd like inked at the Downtown Record Show at The Estonian House (958 Broadview) on Sunday (March 29) from 2 - 4pm. Vinyl junkies should note that the event begins at 11 am and admission is $5 at the door.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrani

In this strangely compelling 18-minute Ramin Bahrani short film, a plastic grocery bag (voiced by German auteur Werner Herzog) discovers what it's like to be immortal.

Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrani

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A taste of Forgiveness

As most of you already know, Broken Social Scene's much anticipated new recording Forgiveness Rock Record is officially released on May 4 by Arts & Crafts, although I'm guessing all of the album's 14 songs co-produced by Tortoise's John McEntire will be familiar to fans long before the street date. Here are the first three to get you started...


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sharon Jones Live @ SXSW

"She Ain't A Child No More" by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings @ WOXY Lounge

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Lawn: older, wiser and still better than the Rheostatics

Gord Cumming of the Lawn @ The Comfort Zone, photo by Graham Kennedy

Martian Awareness Ball heads West

Many people celebrate St. Patrick's Day but none do it up quite like the fabulous Mary Margaret O'Hara and her party-starting brother Marcus whose 32nd Annual Martian Awareness Ball is set for Wednesday (March 17) at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West).
Yep, you read that right, the unhinged celebrity sing-a-thon in green is at Lula this year so don't show up at the Horseshoe unless you really want to hear Scout Niblett explain how certain chemical engineering processes and astrological phases relate to her songs. Those who'd rather leave the slide rule at home and hang out with the eminently entertaining O'Hara clan, the Lula Lounge doors open at 8 pm, show time is 9:30 pm and tickets $15 at the door or $10 advance if you order them here.

Beautiful by Mary Margaret O'Hara w/ Blue Rodeo for Kumbaya 1993 @ Ontario Place

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ian Blurton + Huron = Comfort Zone quake

The pairing of Can-rock guitar god Ian Blurton (C'mon, Change Of Heart, Blurtonia, Bionic, etc.) with hard-walloping Hamiltonian hombres Huron is match made in hairy heaven, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Neil Young sat in with the Rockets' Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina for their set opening for the Barry Goldberg Reunion at the Whiskey A Go-Go back in August 1968.
Here's a sampling of what you can expect when Huron joins Ian Blurton tonight for the Perlich Post Presents CMF showcase at the Comfort Zone tonight:

Sin's A Good Man's Brother by Ian Blurton & Huron Live @ The Dakota

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The amazing return of The Lawn

Since the announcement that The Lawn would headline the Perlich Post Presents CMF showcase on Friday (March 12) at the Comfort Zone, I've been approached by just as many people delighted with the prospect of a 25th anniversary reunion gig as those perplexed by it.
For those too young to have seen slide slashing singer Gord Cumming dueling guitar leads with the virtuosic Patrick Gregory while the full-tilt rhythm section of his brother Richard Gregory and drummer Mike Duggan riffed and ripped away with glee at the Cabana Room way back in mid-80s, the Lawn were simply the most exciting, entertaining and innovative band on Toronto's lively Queen West strip. The fact that these sharper-than-your-average-rockers were never overly adept at self-promotion combined with a totally unique sound which was a few years ahead of it's time contributed to the Lawn's premature dissolution.
More people might be aware of The Lawn's greatness today had their marvelously memorable tunes like Beluger, Catwalk Slip and Reconsider Baby been made available in the digital format. They all appear on the group's first and best album, 1986's Peace In The Valley LP, self-released in an edition of 500 vinyl copies (only 100 of which came with silk-screened sleeve art) and never reissued. Incredible but true.
Fortunately the original members of the Lawn, despite going their separate ways years ago – Mike Duggan recently opened the restaurant Duggan's Brewery (75 Victoria), graciously agreed to get back together for one more kick at the can. Seeing their rehearsal Sunday afternoon, it was astounding how quickly they were able to get themselves back in the groove and sounding remarkably like The Lawn I knew and loved. Before the practice session, I sat down for a chat with Gord Cumming.

Although you were scene contemporaries of Blue Rodeo, The Rheostatics, Change Of Heart and Tulpa, the Lawn had a totally unique sound unlike anything else happening in Toronto at the time. In fact, I've played Peace In The Valley for a couple of people who thought you might be from Manchester because you reminded them of The Smiths. How did you arrive at your sound?
We didn't contrive to be different like the weird guy at school but at the same time, we never wanted to do what the other bands were doing. We each read good books, watched cool films and listened to amazing music. We all grew up with the early Who, Beatles and Stones records. As teenagers, we just assumed everyone else was also buying import singles by The Fall, Gang Of Four, the Buzzcocks and Pere Ubu at the Record Peddler as soon as they came out.  But I'd have to say that growing up, learning to play guitar and sing with these guys had a lot to do with the individuality of our approach.
At the risk of sounding like a dick, when R.E.M. became popular, we had to change our sound slightly because we'd already been doing the jangly thing. Then about a year later, the Smiths came along and it was like "Oh shit, not again – everyone's gonna think we're ripping off the Smiths." So we made a few more adjustments. There could be a logical explanation why Johnny Marr was playing similar stuff on guitar as Patrick (Gregory) on the other side of the Atlantic at around the same time – maybe a shared Richard Thompson inspiration – who knows. It's strange, but those kinds of odd parallels have happened throughout music history. 

Prior to the Lawn, you were already using lap steel and slide guitar in a decidedly non-country, non-blues fashion with the group's precursor band, Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos. What prompted the unusual choice of instrument and what influence did it have on your singing?
In the Fall of 1979, I went downtown with my friend Julian with the idea of buying an electric bass. On the way, Julian says, "I don't know why you're buying a bass when you can't even play one. You like Poco so much, why don't you get a pedal steel guitar like Rusty Young and be the first country punk!" So I came home with a 1958 Gibson lap steel and tried running it through a bunch of distortion pedals to use it to make ambient noise kinda like what Allen Ravenstine was doing with Pere Ubu. I'd just fool around tweaking different things until someone would say, "hey, that sounds cool" and then I'd be like "hmm, let me see if I can do that again." Everyone else was experimenting with stuff so we didn't think having a lap steel in the band was that weird.
I taught myself to sing like I taught myself to play lap steel and slide guitar. The slide parts I play and my song lyrics are both based on melodies I hear in my head. Over the years, I've been told many times that what I'm playing is wrong and that I should learn some theory but I've always been worried that taking lessons might alter what I'm doing – not for the better.

How challenging has it been to get The Lawn up and running after such a lengthy hiatus?
There have definitely been a few surprises. Listening back to some of the old recordings, I was amazed that we could play some of that stuff and so fast. We were all much younger, pumped on adrenaline just trying to keep up with each other. One part seemed particularly complex so I thought would take a few hours at home to figure out but once I started into it, everything just came back like magic. Muscle memory I guess.
With Mike (Duggan) firing on all eight cylinders, and somehow remembering every little drum shot and riff he used to play, it definitely made it much easier for the rest of us to find our place and play our parts. There have been a few bum notes here and there during rehearsals but there was the first time around too. The important thing is that the feel of The Lawn is there and that's what I'm really happy about.
All the songs we ever played were written as a group where we each developed our own parts, sometimes at rehearsals but often on stage during shows with the spontaneous feedback of our audience – it was an interactive process. So we're very fortunate to have all of the original members involved. No disrespect to all the great musicians who did fill-ins for us over the years but I really don't think it could be The Lawn without these four people playing together. We have a chemistry that can't be duplicated.   


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More Dexateens

Since posting the Dexateens' spirit-raising Halloween hoedown on Monday, there have been a few requests for more tunes from the Tuscaloosa 'teens. Since their new recording – which they'll likely be previewing Friday night at the Comfort Zone – isn't quite ready for broadcast, here are a couple of classic clips from Alabama's finest. Roll, Tide, Roll!

Grandaddy's Mouth by the Dexateens

Makers Mound by the Dexateens @ Stokin' The Fire BBQ Fest 2008

 "It's not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win 
that makes the difference."   Bear Bryant

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dexateens: Alabama's ghost busters

Two years back, the Dexateens decided to spend Halloween using their music to conjure the spirits that are said to haunt Jemison Mental Hospital, an abandoned 19th century psychiatric institution known as "Old Bryce" on the outskirts of their hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Director Paul Hanninen was on hand to document the results. The Dexateens play the Perlich Post Presents showcase at the Comfort Zone (480 Spadina) on Friday (March 12) as part of CMF 2010.

Dexateens present "Old Bryce" part 1

Dexateens present "Old Bryce" part 2

Dexateens present "Old Bryce" part 3

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Daptone's ever-expanding funk empire

With Kid Cudi and Billy Blue Fresh taking a sampling tip from 50 Cent and jacking the guitar hook from The Traitor by the Menahan Street Band to nasty-up their own joints, the Dunham label subsidiary of Daptone has decided to capitalize on the hip-hop community's obvious appreciation of the Menahan's dark vibe by releasing a rap record of their own.
But instead of collaborating with  some overpaid MC whose gonna demand that their entire posse get paid for a cloudy studio session, they've gone with some less-expensive rising stars, 3 Titans. Never heard of 'em? Well, they're actually three fresh-flowing fifth graders better known around the school yard as Khalil Jackson, Jorden Plaines and Dallas Ifill who drop some 11-year-old wisdom about the value of education on the message single College b/w The Life Of A Scholar. The tight two-sider is produced by Dunham mainman Thomas Brenneck (of Dap Kings fame) and drummer Homer Steinweiss who enhance the bumpin' grooves with righteous vibes sweetening and a solid boom-bap respectively.  Check it out...

College by 3 Titans

Life Of A Scholar by 3 Titans

At the moment, Brenneck is in the studio putting the finishing touches on the much anticipated debut album from hard-belting soul shouter Charles Bradley whose 2007 single The World (Is Going Up In Flames) is one of the highlights of last year's excellent Daptone Gold collection.

The World (Is Going Up In Flames) by Charles Bradley @ Barrymore Theatre, Madison Wisconsin Dec 3, 2008

While we're on the subject of Daptone, label boss Gabriel Roth recently sat down for an in-depth interview with Wax Poetics contributor Jeff "Chairman" Mao presented by Red Bull Music Academy.
In the lengthy but engaging chat, the producer, arranger, composer, engineer, plumber and musician breaks down the Daptone philosophy, reveals a few Bushwick recording secrets, discusses his tenuous relationship with the music biz and recalls some lessons learned the hard way.
Roth also previews new recordings from the Budos Band (at the Horseshoe April 1) and Sharon Jones (at the Sound Academy May 25) in addition to spinning some of the Dap Kings uncredited moonlighting projects. The bit about Clive Davis asking him to produce the new Rod Stewart album at the 47 minute mark is too good to miss. Incidentally, the new album from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, I Learned The Hard Way is due from Daptone April 6.

Gabriel Roth – The Mathematics Of Soul


Thursday, March 4, 2010

A new Jimi Hendrix album... that doesn't suck!

Like many people who've purchased posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases of dubious origin in hopes of hearing some overlooked bit of brilliance only to be disappointed, when I heard about the Hendrix estate's claim that there were enough unreleased recordings to release a new album every 12 to 18 months for the next decade, I wasn't overly optimistic about the quality of the material.
Sure Jimi was a workaholic who spent countless hours in the studio putting down tracks but not everything captured on tape was pure gold and I've got the bootlegs loaded with wanky jamming recorded on what could be a dictaphone hidden under a pillow in the next room to prove it.
So even though the new Valleys Of Neptune (Sony Legacy) album – in stores March 9 – boasts "12 previously unreleased studio recordings" and it was being mixed by Hendrix's engineer of choice Eddie Kramer, I was still skeptical about the performances captured, especially since there's a number of alternate versions of well-known Hendrix classics such as Fire, Red House and Stone Free.
Well, I'm happy to report that not only did the shockingly good Valleys Of Neptune far exceeded my low expectations, there are some genuinely revelatory "holy shit" moments sure to floor even the most jaded heard-it-all-before Hendrix fanatics.
Those who check the track listing and assume that Hear My Train A Comin' is just a cleaned up version of the 12-string take that's been floating around for ages will be pleasantly surprised to find that this is rollicking full-band blast with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding attacking as if their jobs were on the line while Hendrix rips away like he'd been listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Ohio. Only this was evidently recorded in April of 1969, over a year before the Kent State shootings which inspired Neil Young to write the song Ohio in the first place. Interesting, n'cest pas?

And I know some are dreading the appearance of yet another rendition of Fire but trust me, you've never heard Hendrix and crew rocket through the changes at such a blistering clip. Our man can barely spit out the phrases while the Experience rhythm section thunders away, ignoring Jimi's plea to slow down and continues forth in a flailing frenzy that comes within spitting distance of punk rock.
If you're thinking that the instrumental take of Sunshine of Your Love included here is just one of the familar versions stripped of the vocal track or a rehearsal demo, guess again. Hendrix cuts loose at a quicker than usual tempo and takes the opportunity to playfully one-up his friendly rival Eric Clapton six ways to Sunday in a delightfully non-challant show of string-bending bravura.
Hendrix spotters will note that the title track, Valleys Of Neptune, was previously included with 1991's Lifelines: The Jimi Hendrix Story (Warner) five-CD box. However, that was just a demo and here we finally get to hear a more fully realized version although it still doesn't seem finished. While there are a number of intriguing twists and turns and Hendrix belts his apocalyptic vision with soulful authority, the conspicuous absence of a hallmark solo and the ponderous fade at the end suggests Hendrix wasn't yet done with the track.  
While Mr. Bad Luck may initially look like an unknown song, it's actually an early incarnation of Look Over Yonder dating back to 1967 with rhythm accompaniment added by Mitchell and Redding in 1987. To their credit and that of Kramer, everything flows together so seamlessly, you'd never know that Mr. Bad Luck was a salvage job unlike the moody closer Crying Blue Rain which sounds like a patchwork quilt, albeit artfully assembled. On the whole, the hour-long Valleys Of Neptune is a much more enjoyable "new" Hendrix album than anyone could've hoped for in 2010, 40 years after his tragic demise.   
Along with the release of Valleys Of Neptune on CD and numbered limited-edition 180 gram vinyl (5,000 copies) currently available for pre-order at the link below, Experience Hendrix and their new distribution partner Sony Legacy are re-launching the catalog titles Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland and First Rays Of The New Rising Sun on CD/DVD and limited-edition vinyl.