Monday, June 01, 2009

Music Reviews For Summer

No one commented on my last note over at facebook so I'll try again. It's summetime peoples and time to get your groove on. Now I have fairly eclectic tastes in music so I really think there is something here for everyone. So, are you sitting comfortably? Good! Let's begin -

Willie Nile has been writing songs, playing, singing and recording them for more than 25 years. And he has avoided being a huge commercial success by being way better than the vast majority of so-called "artists" that get peddled to you by "the machine" as Pink Floyd aptly named it. What's Willie's music like? Well some have compared him to Dylan & Springsteen. I'd add that there's a healthy dose of Lou Reed, Tom Petty and John Hiatt in there somewhere too. This album was recorded in New York City and that fabled musical locale oozes through every jangly guitar chord and joyfully shouted chorus line. Willie rocks, writes solid melodies, has a peculiar voice, dares lyrics that would make most songsmiths blanch in fear and has a way lot of soul. Visit his website for a free download of "Give Me Tomorrow" which is a great song but only one of my favorites, including "Run", "Doomsday Dance" and the title track, from his new album "House of a Thousand Guitars".

I listen to everything I get and rate it all. Every song on "House" got 5 stars from me except two which got 4 each. I developed a keen sense of "good" after 5 years at Kelly's Stereo Mart and House of Stein where I had to ignore the music constantly playing in the record department in order to work. It developed in me a sensitivity to better music which would penetrate my defenses. If Willie Nile had been playing, I'd have stopped dead in my tracks to listen. You should too.

Joshua Radin is relatively new on the music scene - his debut album appeared in 2004 - compared to Willie. Joshua is also from another part of the musical spectrum, although a closely connected part to where you find Willie Nile. Some of Nile's tunes and lyrics could be embraced by current folk aficionados, or earlier ones too (check out "After The War is Over"). Joshua is much closer to the folk world. His predominately acoustic arrangements and personal, introspective approach conjure up images of Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor and Harry Chapin. But Joshua has a tuneful way with a song and a thoroughly 21st century perspective. You can hear clips from three songs from his new album on Mom & Pop Records - "Simple Times". I just can't accurately describe how infectious his songs are and it's a shame that one of the clips isn't for his tune "Vegetable Car". Still, if you want to enjoy about an hour with a truly gifted songwriter who can put you "in the story" with effortless grace as he plays, you owe it to yourself to listen.

LIGHTS is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and tied up with a riddle. OK, that may be a bit too much but there is very little biographical info (from trustworthy sources) available currently about this extremely talented, multi-instrumentalist from (supposedly) Toronto. Her latest self-titled EP notes inside that she is managed by none other than Jian Ghomeshi - host of CBC radio's pop-culture daily show "Q", and former "King of Spain" as a founding member of Moxie Fruvous. Jian has been around Canada's pop music scene for a while and he knows people. He also obviously knows a good thing when he hears it and LIGHTS is VERY good. Now I have come to the temple of pop/dance/techno only recently, mostly because I was put off by the heaps of trash piled up around the doors left by no-talent also-rans who thought they could craft a good tune. But, there is some real gold in those halls and I'm a sucker for a well crafted pop song. LIGHTS gives me the same feeling I got the first time I heard Fountains of Wayne play "Stacey's Mom". If you listen to radio you have already heard "Drive My Soul". Every time I listen to this 6 song EP my estimation of each song goes up a notch. Good fun. Clean fun. Canadian fun. What more could you ask for?

I first heard The Stills when they opened this year's highly disappointing Juno Awards show with their killer tune "Being Here". To say the show went downhill from there would do downhill skiing a nearly irreparable disservice, but The Stills shone - brightly. Their penultimate album "Oceans Will Rise" has the feeling that that may be a joyful response to attending one of their live shows as opposed to some sort of ecological prophesy of doom. Some critics have labeled them as having an "80's sound", but that pigeonholes them too tightly. They definitely have a rock presence, but they also layer their sound with acoustic guitars, piano and rich harmonies. The songs swagger, strut and sway with hypnotic rhythm and purposeful intent. Echoes of The Clash, early U2, Simple Minds - before they we co-opted by the movie biz - and hints of The Cure waft tantalizingly through the music The Stills produce. They also easily stand toe-to-toe with current bands like The Killers, Matchbox 20 and My Morning Jacket. This year's Juno Awards caused me to despair that not much good was happening currently in Canadian music - but The Stills are shining a ray of hope. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, after all Great Big Sea did a KILLER version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" to close the show - waitaminit, that song is around 40 years old. Yep, it's a long walk, across dry land to find something "good" AND "new". Speaking of "new", The Stills have a new album available now - "Without Feathers".

OK it just cleaned up last year and it was on sale on so I bought it. Yep I'm talking about Coldplay's "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" (Ever notice how feminists never complain when "Death" or "The Devil" are referred to using male pronouns? But god has to be a "she" - so let's tear down the double standard and erect a brand new one on top of its bones - but I digress.) What can I say - this time the "great unwashed" and those who lead them got it right. I won't add much to what has already been written, spun, gushed and otherwise bellowed from the rooftops about this one except to say this is the first Coldplay album I've heard where I've really, really liked more than one song. In this case LOTS more than one song. Coldplay are the current standard bearers of the ongoing "British Invasion". I think they have finally landed for good - certainly better. Oh, and did I mention that it's currently on sale?

And finally in the "This Just In Department": Dala has just released a new album. I was introduced to this exceptionally talented Canadian duo at "Stuart McLeans' Vinyl Cafe Christmas" show last year. My best attempt at describing the amazing two-part harmonies these girls create is to say that if the Everly Brothers had been sisters they would have been Dala. Their 3rd album "Who Do You Think You Are" is still in very high rotation on my playlist after 6 months. Their new album "Everybody Is Somebody" arrives on June 6th. If you frequent the movies you'll see an add spot for it. My suggestion - buy "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Angels and Thieves" (their fist album) on because they are a package and pre-order "Everyone Is Someone" (on sale for only $9.99). Trust me, you'll love their stuff. Have I ever been wrong before?

Trust me!

By my count that's two Yankees, a band of Brits and three Canadian acts. Balanced music coverage for your listening pleasure. I've done all the hard work so it's your turn now. And I'd like some feed back this time IF you're not TOO busy.

So "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!". It's summertime! Music time!