Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Winnipeg playas Ultra Mega like it raw

Nothing terribly exciting planned for Canada Day? Why not head over to Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen West) where Winnipeg knuckleheads Ultra Mega will be headlining a celebratory triple bill with Toys Are Just and Sunbear starting at 10 pm.
If you've heard about Ultra Mega before and can't recall where or why, it's probably in connection with their indie-rock revisions of Wu Tang Clan classics issued on their limited-run Black Wu Jackets release. The video clip of their radical waltz-time reworking of ODB's Shimmy Shimmy Ya  never really turned out to be an internet sensation but it's still pretty darn entertaining nonetheless. If you can't make it to Mitzi's, Ultra Mega will be dropping by the Tranzac (292 Brunswick) for a show with the Storytellin' Liars on Friday (July 2). Jorts optional.

Shimmy Shimmy Ya by Ultra Mega

Ultra Mega

Monday, June 28, 2010

K-Dot-O-Dot's smokin' G20 clip

There was never any doubt that some opportunistic hip-hop artist would turn the footage of violence and vandalism shot at the G20 protests in Toronto on Saturday afternoon into a viral video clip but by Sunday? Yep, while you were watching news anchors trying to get a handle on what was happening to "Toronto the Good," the latest images of burning police cruisers on Queen Street West were being edited into a new video to accompany the K-Dot-O-Dot track Critical Bill from his Arkeologists-produced Buckwheats album, which itself was recorded in just one day. K-Dot doesn't waste any time.

If you want to see what K-Dot-O-Dot can do in front of a crowd, he'll be ripping it live with Buck 65 & King Reign, The Von Drats and Timbuktu & Chokeules at the release party for D-Sisive's Vaudeville album set for the El Mocambo on Thursday, July 8.
Below you'll find a download link for K-Dot-O-Dot's Buckwheats album and further down there's a stream for D-Sisive's Vaudeville.

1. Intro ft. Mami Uno
2. Critical Bill
3. Boat Drinks
4. Fuck Everybody ft. 9th Uno
5. Dick Punch
6. Molly Ringwald ft. Bambino, Paradox, 9thUno & Caution
7. Mr. Brownstone ft. Johnny Stash
8. Cooking With K ft. 9th Uno
9. Bad To The Bone ft. 9th Uno
10. Douchebag


1. Vaudeville (Friends Forever) 03:37
2. The Riot Song 03:39
3. Shotgun Wedding 02:43
4. Just An Ostrich 02:43
5. Ray Charles (Looking For A Star) (with King Reign) 04:08
6. Night My Baby Died (with Muneshine) 02:54
7. Percocet 06:07
8. Never Knew Me 03:32
9. Liberace (with Ron Sexsmith) 03:18
10. Scaredy Cat 03:42
11. Wichita 02:30
12. I Love A Girl 03:04
13. Aeroplane 03:08
14. West Coast 03:37
15. West Coast (Remix with Moka Only) 03:45


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Colonel Tom's twang summit @ Canadian Corps Hall Saturday night

Sure the G20 Summit has turned the Toronto city centre into a ghost town but Colonel Tom Parker isn't going to let the gathering of world leaders and the threat of widespread outbursts of giant bobblehead street theatre get in the way of a brew-hoisting good time this Saturday (June 26) and neither should you.
So Colonel Tom is putting on a twang summit of his own at the Canadian Corps Hall (201 Niagara) where he'll be deftly accompanied by his countrified fellow Lickin' Good Fried members as Colonel Tom & The American Pour and joining them on the bill are the seriously scorching local instro-mentalists Ancient Chinese Secret led by the six-string slinger deluxe Brian Connelly of Shadowy Men notoriety.
As if that wasn't enough to raise the roof already, DJ Phil Metric will be spinning a suitably unhinged assortment of roughneck rockabilly, hayseed honky tonk, greasy jukebox R&B and some other juvenile junk to keep the party poppin' between sets. You won't need a special badge to get in and that economically priced Corps beer will be as cold as Dalton McSpendy's fiscal policy. Tell a friend. Admission is $10 and doors open at 9:30 pm. For more information, call 416-504-6694.

Designed by Devo for your listening pleasure

Survey any random gathering of Devo fans for their opinion of the group's definitive album and you're likely to split the crowd four ways between Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Duty Now For The Future, Freedom Of Choice and New Traditionalists with the only real consensus being that 1990's Smooth Noodle Maps sucked even harder than either 1984's Shout or 1982's Oh, No! It's Devo
No doubt the song requests hollered at Mark Mothersbaugh and company during Devo's recent concert expeditions across North America gave them some useful insights into what would make for a successful comeback album. And just to be sure they got it exactly right, a post-recording focus group poll was conducted to help pinpoint the optimal audience-pleasing track listing. Damn, how Devo is that?
As a result of their elaborate investigation, Devo have issued their findings in the form of Something For Everybody (Warner)  – their first album of new material in 20 years. It's an apt title given that each of the songs selected seem pragmatically designed to elicit a favourable response from listeners who feel strongly about certain specific aspects of the group's five most popular albums. Yet, they've stopped well short of trying to replicate successful tunes note for note.
So if you've always believed they've never improved upon 1978's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, there's a track included for your listening pleasure which sounds like it could've been recorded with Brian Eno at Conny Plank's studio in Cologne and that goes for the other three most popular albums. They've also shrewdly included a few tunes that don't seem to be connected to any previous recording to appeal to both longtime followers who buy Devo recordings anticipating something fresh and unusual and those yet to be converted.
Even the choice of the colour scheme for the sleeve graphics – perceptively going with a blue power dome instead of their conventional red one now that blue is officially the new green – appears to be carefully considered and supported by thorough research. Yep, they've got it down to a science but then, you really wouldn't expect anything less from Devo.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Larry Jon Wilson 1940-2010

It saddens me greatly to have to report the passing of singer/songwriter Larry Jon Wilson who died of a stroke on Monday (June 21) while visiting family in Roanoke, Virginia. He was 69.
Born in Swainsboro, Georgia, Wilson taught himself to play guitar and write songs which eventually led him to Nashville where he recorded his critically acclaimed New Beginnings debut for Monument in 1975. Despite a disappointing lack of chart action (the frequent Tony Joe White comparisons didn't help), Wilson put out three more albums, 1976's Let Me Sing My Song To You, 1977's Loose Change and 1979's The Sojourner before packing up in 1980 and moving to Florida for a lengthy recording hiatus.
However Wilson never quit performing nor did he stop writing songs from his uniquely Southern perspective as can be seen in the essential 1981 documentary Heartworn Highways which features Wilson in the studio the morning after a rough night along with fellow Music City outlaws Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Young, David Allan Coe and youthful apprentices Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell.

Some twenty-eight years later, Jeb Loy Nichols and Jerry DeCicca of the Black Swans tracked him down and created a makeshift recording set-up in Wilson's beachfront residence where they documented Wilson informally playing through a selection of his recent compositions, sometimes spontaneously fitting together stray ideas and snippets as he went.
The brilliant comeback album that resulted, simply titled Larry Jon Wilson (1965 Records/Sony BMG), unfortunately suffered from the same distribution problems and negligible promotion which ensured all of his previous releases remained well under the radar.
Since the UK-based 1965 Records, a Sony BMG boutique label run by former Rough Trade A&R dude James Endeacott (who's lone claim to fame is signing The Libertines), were reluctant to send review copies to media and no Toronto retail outlets were stocking it, I actually had to win a copy of the CD in an online auction in order to write about the album – which I did. Evidently other journalists who were also fans of Wilson's work were not as lucky and those who'd never heard of him before weren't given the opportunity to play catch up.
Naturally, the folks at Sony BMG were too busy with Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and their  Country Gold: The 90s collection to bother with a record that might not sell platinum so
Drag City licensed the recording for North American release a year later.
That led to a tiny bit of Pitchfork hype but it was too little too late. Wilson soon sank back into obscurity and his impressive recorded legacy will now be left for those in-the-know to cherish and future generations to discover.
Here's a clip of Wilson recording Ohoopee River Bottomland which appeared on the second volume of the excellent series Country Got Soul (Casual) compiled by Jeb Loy Nichols. Hopefully we'll someday see a third volume highlighted by more stellar Wilson tunes from his Monument tenure.

Ohoopee River Bottomland by Larry Jon Wilson

New Beginnings
Let Me Sing My Song To You
Loose Change

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Return of the Grievous Angel

Unlikely as it may seem, long before Michael Bate made his name in this country skewering the rich, quasi-famous and the political elite as the co-founder of the Ottawa edition of notorious scandal sheet Frank, the British-born bane of Byron Muldoon was a stringer for Canadian Press when not playing steel guitar. 
Stranger still, while on his way up (or down) the media ladder, junior reporter Bate somehow managed to score an interview with Gram Parsons in March of 1973, two months after the release of his influential solo debut GP (Reprise/Warner) featuring his new discovery Emmylou Harris. Bate's fortuitous encounter in Boston proved to be among the last recorded conversations with the doomed country-rock pioneer as Parsons tragically died in Joshua Tree, California from an overdose of morphine and tequila just six months later on September 19, 1973.
Now that Bate's shit-disturbing days with Frank are well behind him, he has decided to parlay his 30 minute interview of a lifetime into a low-key musical production – sans fancy choreography and Broadway cliches – called Grievous Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons. While there's no shortage of traumatic events packed into Parsons short life to make for an epic tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks – aside from the whole bizarre body snatching and ritual burning scenario that later unfolded  – the production's success or failure will ultimately hinge on how effectively Parsons' timeless musical legacy is conveyed. It appears that Bate is mindful of that fact and astutely selected a couple of roots ringers of the appropriate age to play the vocally-demanding parts, namely Ottawa-based singer/songwriter Anders Drerup of Silver Creek in the lead role with Kelly Prescott (the daughter of Canuck country royals Randall Prescott and Tracey Brown) as Emmylou Harris.
Of course it's one thing to be able to hit the notes and quite another to deliver those classic songs with the sort of chemistry which marks the truly great duet pairings. No one will ever have the magic Parsons and Harris shared, that's a given, but the live recordings from a recent Grievous Angel performance at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa sound very promising (check the download links below).
You'll get a chance to see whether any sparks fly when Grievous Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons makes it's Toronto debut at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West) on Saturday, June 26 at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $25 advance and $27.50 at the door.

Return Of The Grievous Angel  download 

Wild Horses download

Brass Buttons download

Love Hurts

Grievous Angel site
Anders Drerup
Kelly Prescott
Hugh's Room

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stooges sweatin' to the oldies in T.O.

On Saturday night, a wiry Iggy Pop and the remains of the Stooges turned Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square into a giant mosh pit with songs from Raw Power and Kill City. Here are the first three songs from their set but be forewarned, the  combination of shaky cam images and the sound of Iggy struggling to hit the high notes on Search & Destroy may cause severe headaches.

Raw Power @ Yonge-Dundas Square June 19, 2010

Kill City 

Search & Destroy

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Justin Bieber stiffed for Polaris Prize

The Polaris Prize committee's version of the Top 40 was unveiled today and boy, are Justin Bieber fans gonna be pissed! Of course, neither of the Bieb's two releases involved the use of glockenspiel nor were they issued by Montreal's Secret City label so he never had a hope of making the Long List of Canadian albums (issued between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010) being considered for the $20,000 prize in the fifth annual running of the indie rock popularity contest.
The aim for the Polaris Prize may be to reward outstanding artistic achievement by rising Canadian talent whose sales figures and lack of industry connections would otherwise exclude them from Juno consideration by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts, but in reality, it all comes down to the sadly skewed opinions of a few music critics, bloggers, broadcasters and sundry insiders who don't have a good handle on anything which hasn't been hyped by Pitchfork and/or Exclaim. So perhaps if Bieber were to hire Owen Pallett for some string sweeting and maybe bring in Dan Snaith aka Caribou for some electronic tweakery, he may have a shot next year.
In the meantime, it's now up to the Polaris Jury to select the 10 albums from those listed below (in alphabetical order) that will make the Polaris Music Prize Short List, slated to be announced on July 6 at the Drake Hotel. For more information about the Polaris Prize visit their site

2010 Polaris Music Prize Long List

Apollo Ghosts - Mount Benson (Vancouver)

Bahamas - Pink Strat (Toronto)

The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Montréal)

Blue Rodeo - The Things We Left Behind (Toronto)

Brasstronaut - Mt. Chimaera (Vancouver)

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record (Toronto)

Basia Bulat - Heart Of My Own (London)

By Divine Right - Mutant Message (Toronto)

Caribou – Swim (Dundas)

Jason Collett - Rat A Tat Tat (Toronto)

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II) (Toronto)

Amelia Curran - Hunter Hunter (St. John’s)

Fred Fortin - Plastrer La Lune (Montréal)

Frog Eyes - Paul's Tomb: A Triumph (Victoria)

Hannah Georgas - This Is Good (Vancouver)

Ghostkeeper - Ghostkeeper (Calgary)

Holy Fuck - Latin (Toronto)

Karkwa - Les Chemins De Verre (Montréal)

LeE HARVeY OsMOND - A Quiet Evil (Hamilton)

Greg MacPherson - Mr. Invitation (Winnipeg)

Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice (Vancouver)

Misteur Valaire - Golden Bombay (Montréal)

The New Pornographers - Together (Vancouver)

Owen Pallett - Heartland (Toronto)

Plants And Animals - La La Land (Montréal)

Radio Radio - Belmundo Regal (Montréal)

Justin Rutledge - The Early Widows (Toronto)

The Sadies - Darker Circles (Toronto)

Shad - TSOL (London)

Elizabeth Shepherd - Heavy Falls The Night (Toronto)

The Slew - 100% (Montréal)

Meaghan Smith - The Cricket's Orchestra (Halifax)

South Rakkas Crew - The Stimulus Package (Toronto)

Tegan And Sara - Sainthood (Vancouver)

The Wooden Sky - If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone (Toronto)

Hawksley Workman - Meat (Huntsville)

You Say Party! We Say Die! - XXXX (Vancouver)

Young Galaxy - Invisible Republic (Montréal)

Yukon Blonde - Yukon Blonde (Vancouver)

Zeus - Say Us (Toronto)

Monday, June 14, 2010

T.V. eye on Iggy Pop

In case you haven't heard, Iggy Pop and the reconstituted Stooges with guitarist James Williamson, bassist Mike Watt and drummer Scott Asheton will be headlining a free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto on Saturday (June 19) at 9:30 pm joined by the Ravonettes (8 pm), Wavves (7 pm), Surfer Blood (6 pm) and a bunch of other bands who are just happy to be on the same bill.
Although Iggy's performances are legendary, some of his most entertaining moments happened far away from the stage in television studios. Here are just a few of Iggy's many memorable TV appearances over the past three decades:

Iggy Pop spars with Peter Gzowski 1977

Iggy Pop & David Bowie school Dinah Shore 1977

Iggy Pop talks career aspirations with Tony Wilson 1977

Iggy Pop tries out his Jerry Lewis in drag routine in France 1977

Iggy Pop battles Tom Snyder 1980

Iggy Pop reveals secret passion for household chores 1986

Iggy Pop discusses making The Idiot 2009

Iggy Pop reminisces with Jools Holland  2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dig Peter Case's Wig!

Peter Case photos by Ann Summa

Just seconds after Peter Case found out I was calling from Toronto for a 1989 interview about his outstanding second solo album The Man With The Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar (Geffen), he started reminiscing about making the trip from his Buffalo home to the Big Smoke some 20 years earlier to see the Yardbirds at Massey Hall only to be blown away by the local openers Luke and The Apostles. "Ever heard those guys? Man, they just about tore my head off that night! They were incredible!"
I didn't need any convincing as Luke and the Apostles' unhinged seven-inch sizzler Been Burnt was already one of my all-time favourite Canuck garage punk anthems. Right then I knew Case and I would get along just fine and I'm happy to say we've remained in touch ever since.
During that first conversation, I still recall Case talking about his rambling years during the early to mid 70s as street musician but what I remember most was the excited way he spoke about the pre-war blues that Harry Smith compiled on his groundbreaking Anthology of American Folk Music – long before it had been reissued for the digital age. Since Case's punk and mod days with the Nerves and the Plimsouls, he's been through many more changes but his feeling for the blues has never waned. That shouldn't come as a revelation to anyone whose been to one of Case's shows and heard him knock out out a near-forgotten number by Blind Willie McTell or Memphis Minnie just like he wrote the thing himself.
Of course, Case assembled the stellar Avalon Blues tribute to Mississippi John Hurt back in 2001 which wound up being nominated for a Grammy but over the years, I've always wondered why he's never really done a raucously ripping blues rock recording in the style of peak period Luke and The Apostles. That album was definitely in him, it just took a near death experience to bring it out.
To make a long story very short, back in January 2009, Case underwent successful heart surgery and has come blasting back with Wig! (Yep Roc), the sort of righteously rough-cut set of harp-wailing blues bashery (involving X drum pounder DJ Bonebrake and Gasoline Silver's Ron Franklin) guaranteed to scorch the shiny suits clean off those supper club pretenders clogging up the contemporary blues circuit on contact.
The CD and vinyl version of Wig! won't hit the streets until June 29, but you can pre-order a copy right now at the Yep Roc Records site (see link below) and get three extra songs as an early-bird bonus. You might wanna buy a duck but trust me, you'll be much happier with Case's Wig! 

Peter Case talks Wig!

More about Wig! from the man himself...

"It's not just a way of life, it's an explosive reaction against the tension of living in an insane century," says Peter Case.

Case is the rare songwriter who's considered life from all its angles and hasn't flipped yet, though he'll be the first to admit that as time goes by, the weirder it gets. Call him the optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist, but if ever the three-time Grammy-nominated artist had occasion to worry it was in 2009: "A heart-surgery-freak-out cut short my touring plans for the year. I was fortunate my medical problems didn't cut short my life," he says.

Like thousands of his fellow musicians and artists in the United States, Case was uninsured. "I was told I needed a sophisticated diagnostic test and cost was definitely an issue," he says. Surviving what started as a routine procedure that turned into an emergency room cliffhanger, Case rolled with the situation and followed the orders laid down by those more in the know. "I had no idea how I'd pay for it but the doctors just took great care of me and asked no questions. I owe them my life." He was surprised and ultimately grateful that the surgeon's had the fine taste to turn up John Coltrane's A Love Supreme as well as The Ramones in the o.r. (just before they knocked him out!).

Unable to work, Case was at home most of the year. "At first I was in a very diminished chord kind of mood," he says. "I was in recovery mode most of the rest of the year. Like a wounded animal that retires to the back of its cave until its had time to heal, I laid low in my pad, tried to get into shape, listened to records and watched cowboy, dinosaur, and crime movies, occasionally banging on the piano when the feeling hit, and letting time work its wonders.

When the medicals bills came following the surgery and the five day hospital stay, a fan stepped in and immediately founded Hidden Love, an organized effort to raise funds for the ongoing cost of Peter's care. Soon benefit shows were staged in Austin, Houston and Nashville where James McMurtry, Ian McLagen and others turned up for the cause. Case's hometown club McCabe's Guitar Shop organized a three-night extravaganza featuring heavyweights like master of ceremonies T Bone Burnett and performers Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, Stan Ridgway, Van Dyke Parks and many more. "My fans and friends really bailed me out and came through...I have a lot to be thankful for," he says.

While the recovering Case was woodshedding and cave dwelling, life outside was rolling on. He was asked to prepare the reissues of albums by his early bands, the Plimsouls, the Nerves and the Breakaways (his post-Nerves collaboration with Paul Collins). "I had four albums released in the year I was off and they were all recorded from 1976 to 1981," he says. "I had to do the mastering and spent quite a bit of time listening to the old records. I really dug hearing them again--the grooves, the guitars, the songs."

But man cannot live by reissues alone and by summer, Case returned to work: "The PC Tour 2009 made three stops, one the weekend before surgery at a little joint up in the Sierra Madres, another in the late Summer at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio and a final stop at McCabe's in December," he says. It was the McCabe's show that lead to the making of Wig!

"Guitarist and singer/songwriter Ron Franklin flew in from Minneapolis and joined drummer DJ Bonebrake (X, Knitters) and me for my sold-out comeback show. The night went great, the audience was enthusiastic for the new songs, and the gig turned out to be very inspiring. Ron stayed over the weekend, and ideas began to flow. Several songs were written, more were worked up and played, I started pulling lyrics out of envelopes and drawers to match the music that was going down, and by Tuesday morning the three of us had reconvened at Grandma's Warehouse Studio, in Echo Park, near downtown Los Angeles to cut an album to analog tape. We recorded eleven songs in two days.

"I completed the live tracks (vocals, guitar and/or piano and drums) by overdubbing amplified harmonica and laying on the electric bass using a Hofner I picked up at a friend's music store on Monday. It was my first time playing bass on a record since the Nerves. All the vocals, guitars and drums are live, and everything's on two-inch tape. There's one edit on the album, and it was made with a razor blade. One other song is included from sessions in 2005 at Infrasonic Sound in East Los Angeles with Duane Jarvis and several other musicians," he says of 'Somebody Told the Truth.' It was a brand new song that day, and what you hear here is the first and only take of the number. It seemed to fit the mood of the program at the McCabe's show, so I included it there, and the studio version here.

"We got together for one more session, in April, at Village Recorder Studio B in Los Angeles, and cut three more songs, using the same style and technique of recording. 'Dig What You're Putting Down,' 'Look Out!,' 'Ain't Got No Dough.' Don't bother trying to remember these song titles--soon they will be permanently emblazoned on your consciousness."

Dig What You're Putting Down by Peter Case

Milkcow Blues Boogie by Peter Case at The Sportsmen's Tavern, Buffalo 2004

Peter Case's official site
Yep Roc Records

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bassekou Kouyate and Tony Allen at Queen's Park... for free!

Since Sunjata Keita founded the Malian empire back in 1235 and declared that the ngoni would be the only instrument played in his court, there haven't been that many real innovations with the way the lute-like ancestor of the banjo is played in West Africa. That is, until Bassekou Kouyate came along and re-wrote the ngoni rule book.
Although the legendary Malian djéli Bazoumana Sissoko (1890-1987) from Segou – who composed what became the fledging Republic of Mali's national anthem in 1962 – is generally considered to be the greatest ngoni maestro that ever lived, he still plucked away in a soulfully slow style while seated just as his forebears had done. And over the course of seven centuries, the kora and more recently, the guitar have both eclipsed the ngoni as the axe of choice for aspiring young West African musicians relegating the ngoni to the background.
That all changed one night in the mid-80s when Kouyate, then gigging with the Rail Band,  finally got fed up with the group's guitarists enjoying all the female attention up front at Bamako's train station hot spot Buffet de la Gare. So he jury rigged a strap for his ngoni and moved into the spotlight and he's never looked back.
Kouyate, born into Mali's griot caste in the small village of Garana on the banks of the Niger River, was schooled in the cultural traditions of playing the four-stringed ngoni from age 12 by his father Moustafa Koyate. As his proficiency grew, the young Kouyate started experimenting with adding more strings to the consternation of his dad who bristled at the blasphemous concept.
Once the teenage Kouyete moved to Bamako however, his forward-looking approach to the ancient instrument earned him the respect of Mali's next generation of superstars, namely kora king Toumani "Too Much Money" Diabaté and guitar slinger Ali Farka Toure. It was actually Koyate's breakout appearance on the late great Toure's final studio album, 2006's Savane (World CIrcuit) that led to the recording of Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's critically acclaimed 2007 debut Segu Blue (Out Here) which won the praise of everyone from Damon Albarn and Fatboy Slim to highly influential broadcaster Charlie Gillett.
Suddenly Bassekou Kouyate  was being hyped as "the Jimi Hendrix of ngoni" and soon Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Bono were ringing him for studio collaborations while other fan club members such as banjo boy Béla Fleck and Bill Frisell have been seen trying to jump on stage with Kouyate at every opportunity.
After even more effusive plaudits were heaped upon Kouyate's follow up release I Speak Fula, the once mighty mid-level indie label Sub Pop, which never before showed the slightest interest in anything remotely African sounding, jumped on the Ngoni Ba bandwagon by forming a world music subsidiary called Next Ambiance to issue I Speak Fula for the North American market.
While rhe Segu Blue album, produced by Lucy Duran with a low-key field recording vibe, focused more on Kouyate's traditional side, the super-charged I Speak Fula no longer denies the American influences – it revels in them. The album has clearly been designed to suit the tastes of the global roots music buyers as well as those of the Bonnaroo generation which might be a turn off for those wishing to hear the simple beauty of the ngoni but the amped up developments were inevitable. Considering Kouyate chose to call his band Ngoni Ba – which means "Big Ngoni" – rocking sports stadiums and open fields filled with muddied hordes was probably always part of the plan. And now he's living the dream.
You can see Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba on stage with the mildly annoying Béla Fleck as part of the Luminato Festival's free performance program (astutely assembled by Derek Andrews) at Queen's Park in Toronto on Saturday (June 12) from 1 pm until 11 pm. Also be sure to check out the kick-ass Rachid Taha at 4 pm, Mr. Something Something at 6:30 pm and don't dare miss Fela Kuti's Afrobeat engine Tony Allen at 7:30 pm with Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba closing the show starting at 9 pm. Once again, it's all FREE!

Rock the Casbah
1:00 pm - Lo'Jo (France)
2:00 pm - Maryem Tollar Ensemble
3:00 pm - Karim Saada (Monteal)
4:00 pm - Rachid Taha (Algeria)

An African Prom
6:30 pm - Mr. Something Something (Toronto)
7:30 pm - Tony Allen (Nigeria)
9:00 pm - Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba (Mali) with Bela Fleck's Africa Project (USA) 

Ngoni Fola by Bassekou Kouyate

Bassekou Kouyate myspace
Luminato Festival 2010
Out Here Records
Sub Pop

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Foggy Hogtown Boys behaving badly?

Toronto's unstoppable bluegrass force, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, have always been better known for their super-tight ensemble play than their sense of humour but don't be fooled by the clean-cut stage presentation and all that ridiculously proficient picking. Once the house lights come up and their stringed companions are put to bed, Chris Quinn, Andrew Collins, John Showman, Chris Coole and Max Heineman are inveterate cut-ups and it's about time folks outside the group's small circle of elbow-bending buddies knew it.   
For their new self-released Scotch & Sofa disc – which they'll be unveiling at their release party on Friday (June 11) at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West) –  the typically neat 'n' tidy Foggy Five decided to get down 'n' dirty for their high concept CD sleeve photo shoot with hilarious results. It all fits perfectly with their chosen repertoire for the album which delves into the tried and true themes of drinking, gambling, rambling and cheating. It's just the sort of stuff that once made for classic country songs way back in the days before Nashville's finest left the honky tonks for hot tubs. But then, these hombres have made a career out of being more country than country.  
The great thing about the Foggy Hogtown Boys is that while they remain deeply immersed in old-school bluegrass tradition, enough to still have their Bill Monroe moments on Scotch & Sofa along with nods to the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs, they're anything but bound by it. Listen closely  and you'll also hear the influence of Jimmie Rodgers and maybe a little Papa Charlie Jackson too. Over the course of making five albums without interference from producers or labels, they've developed a uniquely Canuck approach to playing the bluegrass and old-time music they love which is somehow simultaneously both rootsier and more adventurous than what's currently being done by their similarly banjo-driven Southern counterparts.
Each virtuosic member continues to have numerous simultaneous side-projects on the go but that hasn't undermined what they do together as the Foggy Hogtown Boys. In fact, just the opposite is true as demonstrated by the broad range of song styles and structures on Scotch & Sofa which you simply won't encounter on contemporary bluegrass recordings. And if the sleeve images are any indication, they're still having a great time doing it.

Get In Line Brother at the Almonte Old Town Hall on Feb 6, 2010

Hugh's Room

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Selling Brazilian psych

Anyone whose done some record buying/swaping with overseas dealers will know that genre classifications and music descriptions are often subjective, varying greatly country to country. One person's "wild psychedelic freak out" is another person's AM radio pap.
Knowing how Brazilian sellers have an unfortunate tendency to describe well-groomed jovem guarda bands in matching suits la-la-la-ing through cheesy covers of pop ditties by the Turtles and the Fifth Dimension as "hard psych," the recent appearance of an archival collection called Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas (Tropicalia In Furs) left me more leery than elated. The fact that it was compiled from seven-inch singles dug up by Joel "Stones" Olveira, the kooky 36 year-old Brazilian-born New York-based proprietor of the tiny East Village record shop Tropicalia In Furs only heightened my concerns. A quick glance at the track listing of Olveira's collection subtitled "Tropicalia Psychedelic Masterpieces 1967-1976"– which oddly excluded everything cut by Tropicalia titans Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa or produced by the movement's musical mentor Rogerio Duprat – wasn't terribly comforting,  especially after noting that the majority of artists featured were not at all the politically subversive long-hair types but instead, simply turtleneck 'n' medallion pop star wannabes destined for oblivion.
On the upside, none of the 16 tracks on Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas have appeared on any of the numerous Brazilian music comps out there typically focusing on bossa jazz, samba soul and disco funk. On the downside however, collector-turned-compiler Olveira appears to have made the rookie mistake of placing a premium on rarity over musical quality when selecting tracks. It may have impressed his well-heeled shop clientele like Elijah "Frodo" Wood (who makes a brief cameo in the 15-minute video documentary included on the enhanced CD version) but it will ultimately cost him sales. And make no mistake, the seven-inch source material by artists like Loyce e Os Gnomes, Piry, Marisa Rossi, Celio Balona, Serguei, Com Os Falcoes Reais, Mac Rybell and the rest is definitely obscure, and probably largely unknown to many accumulators of vintage Brazilian vinyl. You won't find any of these records listed in your Hans Pokora guide so don't even bother looking.
Brazil's music consumers were largely LP-oriented during the late 60s and early 70s so the seven-inch format was primarily used by labels as a cost-effective test-marketing tool sent to radio station music directors and DJs to gauge whether an LP was worth releasing for a particular artist. The one-off pressing runs for the so-called "compactos" tended to be miniscule which means relatively few seven-inch records made it into general circulation. Consequently, some of the most experimental and exciting recordings cut in Brazil during the period never appeared on LP and have thus remained largely unknown right up until today.
The few vintage sevens which have appeared on the market in recent years were likely purchased in the 90s for resale by enterprising record dealers from Japan, the UK and Europe who strip-mined radio station archives of all the worthwhile vinyl that lay untouched since 80s digital changeover – the stuff which hadn't already been consigned to landfill. Some of those salvaged discs fell into the hands of Olveira in São Paolo who put them to work for him on Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas.
While there are many shortcomings to the 46 minute hodge-podge – artist images are just as scarce as biographical and discographical information – there are a number of pleasant surprises. One is the trippy Lindo Sonho Delirante (LSD geddit?) by Paraguayan transplant Fábio, a hard-belting sidekick of samba soulman Tim Maia whose freakishly funky Racional recordings are crazier than anything here incidentally. The other killer discovery is the fuzz-enriched Vou Sair Do Cativeiro (Escape From Captivity) by Ton & Sergio which shines bright amongst the ho-hum Hendrix tributes and boring Lennon & McCartney covers. Regrettably Olveira can offer no more relevant info about the mystery duo or their backing musicians than the simple fact that the record was issued by Polydor in 1971. It's sort of understandable since Olveira is a DJ/dealer not a historian and he was probably too busy helping design the snazzy accompanying 3D poster (right) to ask somebody, let alone conduct some serious investigative research.
The rest of the material has moments of greatness but suffers from varying degrees of wackness. It's not padded out with mediocre junk because better seven-inch recordings don't exist – there are lots of other dope singles tracks that could've been used which makes me wonder if Olveira is keeping the really good stuff to himself or maybe just planning a second volume.
In any case, the door has been left wide open for someone else to step up with an all killer, no filler collection of primo Brazilian psych to eclipse this well-intended but ultimately disappointing first attempt.

 Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas promo clip

 A Day At Tropicalia In Furs

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blue Shadows rescued from obscurity

It's waaaay overdue but The Blue Shadows' fantastic 1993 debut  On The Floor Of Heaven  – out of print for about 15 years – is finally back in circulation and it's been given the deluxe reissue treatment to boot.
Long considered among the great lost classics of Canadian roots music, the hugely promising first product of Billy Cowsill's singing and songwriting partnership with Jeff Hatcher – the closest thing to a Canuck Everly Brothers if ever there was – proved to be slightly ahead of the alt-country curve. No Depression magazine wouldn't hit the racks for another two years after all. Although On The Floor Of Heaven earned the Blue Shadows a 1994 Juno nod in the Country Group category (they were perplexingly edged out by the decidedly non-country Rankin Family), it would still take ages for the US real country community to clue into the twangy riches waiting to be discovered in the Great White North. 
For both Blue Shadows diehards and those arriving late to the party, the two-CD deluxe edition of On The Floor Of Heaven (Bumstead Records) – packaging the remastered album with a second disc of stellar studio outtakes – will be a revelatory delight.
Just the track-to-track compositional strength of the Blue Shadows' definitive work is awesome in itself – there's not a duff tune in the bunch – but combined with the impeccable arrangements, superb musicianship and thrilling close harmony singing makes On The Floor Of Heaven one of the greatest-ever Canadian albums in any genre. Add to that a second album's worth of unheard peak-period originals with a few well-chosen covers of Joni Mitchell's Raised On Robbery, Arthur Alexander's Soldier Of Love and Michel Pagliaro's What The Hell I Got and you've got just cause  for the Canadian Academy Of Recording Arts and Sciences to create a new Juno Awards category for Reissue Of The Year to properly honour this stellar set. In any case, the Blue Shadows need to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on the double.
Listening back to all this incredible Blue Shadows music makes you wonder how the events of Billy Cowsill's tragic life might've played out differently if Bumstead boss Larry Wanagas had the foresight to put out this deluxe reissue as a 10th anniversary release back in 2003 when the whole alt-country thing was reaching it's commercial crescendo. At the very least, Billy would've still been around to enjoy some of the belated accolades. Sadly, Cowsill passed away at his home in Calgary on February 18, 2006, less than two months after his brother Barry Cowsill was found dead in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So the story goes, one of Billy's final wishes was to have On The Floor Of Heaven re-released which he considered some of his very best work. Better late than never.

When Will This Heartache End  by The Blue Shadows

As an addendum, Blue Shadows fans will be pleased to hear that Vancouver singer Wendy Bird recently released an entire album of Jeff Hatcher songs called Natural Wonder (Beaumont Classic Records) and it's a corker. Produced by Odds mainman Craig Northey with a 70s Nashville vibe in mind, the two-day session at North Vancouver's Baker Street studio involved a stacked cast of Can-rock royalty including honorary Canuck Elvis Costello who stopped by to put some chunky guitar on a track.
It took them just 15 hours to get the 12 songs down and Northey, who came up with the brilliant concept of cutting Hatcher's overlooked gems, couldn't be more thrilled with the results judging by his website posting about the project. He's willing to put his bar tab where his mouth is.
"I implore you to buy this record. I will personally guarantee it. I don’t know the technicalities behind a personal guarantee but I am doing it right now. I suppose if you bought it and didn’t like it then I would have to buy you a drink or something. We’ll work that out later because it will never happen. You’ll love it. 
"I produced the record and played on it…but the list of people who played on it is pretty amazing... Elvis Costello, Barney Bentall and all his Legendary Hearts, Odds, Colin James, John Ellis, my sister Morag, Geoff Hicks, Simon Kendall, Rick Hopkins and other CJ band members and alumni and Adam Levy (Norah Jones etc).
"Even more amazing is that almost all these people played together live on a 2-day session. The songs are all Jeffrey Hatcher songs. Jeff is the unsung Canadian songwriter and he deserves a tribute as grand as Blackie and the Rodeo Kings did for Willie P. Bennett." I'll second that.
You can get Wendy Bird's Natural Wonder album from the Beaumont Classic Records site

The Blue Shadows

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Andy Votel recharges with Vintage Voltage

Since B-Music bigwig and hobbyist DJ and vinyl hound Andy Votel maintained an odd degree of regularity with releases of his prior Fat City mixtapes in three year intervals – Music To Watch Girls Cry (2001), Songs In The Key Of Death (2004) and One Nation Under A Grave (2007) – there was some speculation that a new collection of obscure head-nodders might be appearing in 2010. True to form, the so-called "Saxonic wax magnet" behind the FInders Keepers reissue operation has delivered Vintage Voltage, a 68-minute dazzler of a new set which takes a sharp turn from his prior mixes. Was that a sigh of relief? Yes, well Votel's cool but sometimes corny compendiums were starting to sound a little too much like the ho-hum handiwork of soundtrack-tweaker-for-hire David Holmes.
It appears that the daily ethnic psych and freak folk concerns of running an accidental world music label like Finders Keepers has sent Votel off in the opposite direction for Vintage Voltage which is largely built on hard-thumping Euro prog, robot rock, concrete pop and whirring sound library electronic jams. All of the found sounds (never any track listings from "no-tell Votel") are obscure enough to impress his cohorts like Cherrystones, Dom Thomas, Bob Stanley and Doug Shipton while steering clear of legal hassles.
If you were hoping to hear some airy-fairy drivel sung in Welsh over lightly strummed acoustic guitars and plucked harps, I'm afraid you're out of luck. However if say, the Tafo Brothers approach to plugged-in Lollywood pop is more your steez and you don't have enough jerky Japanese electro-rock, gurgling L’Illustration Musicale and MP2000-style synth drama in your life, then you'll find Vintage Voltage positively electrifying. 

Check out these sample clips...

Fat City Recordings
Finders Keepers
Andy Votel's myspace

Friday, June 4, 2010

Neko gets her Heart on

While touring through Australia in March, Neko Case turned up on the popular music-themed television quiz show Spicks and Specks hosted by stand-up Adam Hills. Her team, led by Kiwi comic Alan Brough (not above appearing in drag for butter commercials) out-scored the evening's competition 18-16. As a show closer, Neko was joined by sidekicks Kelly Hogan and Paul Rigby for an impromptu celebratory belt through Heart's Magic Man, probably thinking no one outside of Melbourne would ever see it. Uh huh.
But that was months ago and Neko now is safely back in the northern hemisphere. So fear not New Pornographers fans, Neko will be fronting the group with Carl Newman (formerly of the Insignificant Specks) for their upcoming Sound Academy show in Toronto with Dutchess and the Duke and The Dodos on Tuesday, June 15.

Magic Man by Neko Case

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Seu Jorge loves the sunshine... and Roy Ayers

Just in time for summer, Brazilian samba soul singer, actor and folk hero Seu Jorge has finished recording a new studio album, Seu Jorge and Almaz for Stones Throw's Now-Again subsidiary. Evidently, Seu Jorge initially came together with Nação Zumbi guitarist Lucio Maia, bassist Antonio Pinto and drummer Pupillo two years ago while working on a song for the Walter Salles film Linha de Passé about soccer and the favelas. Salles is the renowned Brazilian director behind The Motorcycle Diaries who initially recommended Seu Jorge to Fernando Meirelles for a career-making part in City of God so coming up with a tune was the least he could do, right?
Seu Jorge hit it off with the Almaz crew and recorded some tracks with producer Mario Caldatto, Jr., the Beastie Boys sidekick who currently makes his home in Brazil. The resulting Seu Jorge and Almaz album is set for release on July 27 to coincide with the group's North American tour which brings them to Toronto for a show at The Phoenix on August 2.
Although Das Model, their version of Kraftwerk's memorable Man Machine joint seems like it could be a crossover smash, the first track to emerge from the sessions is an exquisitely chilled version of the Roy Ayers classic Everbody Loves The Sunshine. And yes, it's dope.
Listen for yourself...

Everybody Loves The Sunshine by Seu Jorge and Almaz

Seu Jorge and Almaz
01. Errare Humanum
02. Das Model
03. Cristina
04. Saudosa Bahia
05. Cirandar
06. Tempo De Amor
07. Everybody Loves The Sunshine
08. Pai Joao
09. Rock With You
10. Cala Boca, Menino
11. Girl You Move Me
12. Juizo Final

Seu Jorge and Almaz
North American Tour Dates:
7.23 Miami, FL Fillmore Theater
7.24 Orlando, FL Club Firestone
7.25 Atlanta, GA Variety
7.27 Washington, DC 9:30 Club
7.28 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero
7.29 New York, NY Joe's Pub
7.30 New York, NY Terminal 5
7.31 Boston, MA Royale Boston
8.1 Montreal, PQ Osheaga Festival
8.2 Toronto, ONT Phoenix
8.3 Chicago, IL Congress Theater
8.6 Vancouver, BC Vogue
8.7 Seattle, WA King Cat
8.8 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
8.10 San Francisco, CA Regency
8.11 San Diego, CA Belly Up
8.13 Los Angeles, CA Hotel Café
8.14 Los Angeles, CA Club Nokia

Das Model TV promotional clip by Kraftwerk

Caitlin Rose in full bloom

Congratulations to the music biz judges of BMI's Road To Bonnaroo competition for having the good sense to select Nashville singer/songwriter Caitlin Rose as one of four acts to be added to the 2010 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The smokin', drinkin' and pinball-playin'  22 year-old hotshot singer/songwriter, who'll soon have Jenny Lewis and Neko Case watching their backs, beat out hoards of bearded Southern dude rockers led by Kroeger-esque frontmen reeking of Polo and PBR at four 8 Off 8th shows at Nashville's Mercy Lounge to join fellow Road To Bonnaroo winners The Non-Commissioned Officers, How I Became The Bomb and Space Capone in earning coveted slots at the four-day event (Thursday to Sunday June 10-13) held on a 700-acre farm in the middle of nowh... er... lovely Manchester, Tennessee.

Everything suddenly seems to be falling into place for Rose who formerly fronted the horribly-named Nashville buzz band Save Macaullay which never made it outside of Davidson County and whose mom Liz Rose pays the bills by writing hits for Taylor Swift. In February, the younger Rose's stellar seven-song Dead Flowers EP – featuring her winning rendition of the Stones' brush-off missive title track, a cautionary tale of teen pregnancy called Shotgun Wedding and her catchy ditty about forbidden love known as Gorilla Man – was  picked up for UK release by the Names label and then in March she knocked out a crowd of industry insiders at three cool SXSW showcase gigs in Austin. Her upcoming Bonnaroo closing day gig at the Troo Music Lounge on Sunday (June 13) at 1:20 pm along with her appearance at the UK's stacked Green Man Festival August 20-22 and some gushing Daytrotter hype (see links below) should provide a huge boost to her profile beyond her already sizable drunken werewolf girl following. It's all a sweet set-up for her forthcoming album currently in the final tweaking stage and slated for release in September which should make October's Austin City Limits Festival in Austin one helluva coming out party for Rose.

Sinful Wishing Well at SXSW 2010

Shanghai Cigarettes at SXSW 2010


Caitlin on Daytrotter
Bonnaroo Festival
Green Man Festival
Names Records