Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Music Highlights

As you all know music is one of my great passions. 2009 offered up a plethora of awesome musical experiences and here are a few - some you can share and some were of the "you had to be there" variety.

In the "live - you had to be there" category, I have to place worship at Balgonie Baptist Church (BBC) in the #1 spot. We are blessed with an over abundance of talented people and I can honestly say that not a month goes by without my being awed on at least one Sunday morning by what our worship people offer up. My highlights this year were experiencing a new level of musical expression develop between Luke Ashton and Jared Schroeder. On at least two occasions they created near "pin-drop" moments with mesmerizing offerings. We also had the blessing of Marina Dovell joining our regular soloists - Brenda Kramer, Denise Lindenbach and Daphne Morris by providing several wonderful special music numbers And I was able to get involved too, as a percussionist - including my first live hand drum performances using an excellent djembe the Schroeders picked up for a song during their visit to Jamaica.

All of our worship leaders & musicians did wonderfully all year. Our Christmas cantata - directed by Denise Lindenbach - was great and we had everyone from kids on up offer us musical worship, encouragement and joy in 2009. 2010 is only going to be better I am sure!

Concert-wise we backed off a bit this year, despite being tempted by Aerosmith (who didn't make it to Regina ultimately because of Steven Tyler's antics and misfortunes) and ZZ Top (whom I love, but who I also don't trust live after the really poor show we saw them do in the 80's). Chantal Kreviazuk was very good, but we really went to see Dala who were beyond superb as they opened for her. Unfortunately they were allotted a short amount of time and we still have not seen them with a band - so we have yet to hear live what the CD's promise so tantalizingly - maybe in 2010.

So here is my top new music choices for 2009 in no particular order:

The North Mississippi Allstars - "Do It Like We Used To Do" (2009) - double live CD & DVD combo - Songs of the South Records - SOTS-009. I stumbled across these boys through following John Hiatt's work. Jim Dickinson produced John's last two CDs. Jim is the father of Luther (guitars) & Cody (drums) who along with Chris Chew (bass) make up the core of this band. These guys are the most exciting southern/blues/rock players I've heard in ages! "Do It Like We Used To Do" is an excellent way to get to know them, especially the loose and quirky documentary on the DVD that chronicles the musical lives and growth of Luther & Cody. The best song that encapsulates what these boys do is "Po Black Maddie/Skinny Woman" a 12+ minute marathon in which they cover musical styles that range from The Fabulous Thunderbirds to Stevie Ray Vaughan to The Allman Brothers to Lynyrd Skynyrd. If you like any of those folks try the Allstars. You'll LOVE 'em! But forget HMV - they are totally clueless - so order it online from

Dala - "Everybody is Somebody" (2009) - Campus Music/Lenz Entertainment - 0001. I am really running out of superlatives for both the songwriting abilities of Sheila Carabine & Amanda Walther and their musical talent as players & singers. This is their fourth CD of original music (they also participated in a charity Neil Young tribute CD called "Borrowed Tunes II"). This is their strongest showing yet - and that's saying something. I recently tweaked my system to coax better sound from it and this CD is now in my "let me play something to impress you" list. Try it and again, don't take your $ to HMV - you'll only encourage 'em. Google 'Dala girls' instead and follow the links or go to the ever-reliable

Ian Hunter - "Man Overboard" (2009) - New West Records - NW6167. Ian Hunter made his bones as the permanently "hidden behind huge sunglasses" frontman for the British R&B-influenced glam-rock group Mott the Hoople. When no less than David Bowie wrote "All the Young Dudes" for them in 1972 (I was 12! Sheesh!) they climbed to the top of the charts and got some attention on this side of the Atlantic as well. Despite their fame coming from a song penned by someone outside of the band, they developed a catalog of strong tunes - the majority of which were written by Hunter. Hunter has continued his career since, regularly putting out albums but staying out of the mainstream (where I like to be listening). He is to my mind as strong a songwriter as Warren Zevon, John Hiatt, Randy Newman, Mark Knopfler or Bruce Springsteen. Lyrically, "Man Overboard" is filled with Hunter's trademark quirkiness, humor & deft emotional truth. Musically, it has some of the best hooks I've heard all year - listen to "River of Tears", "Flowers" or "Arms and Legs". If you don't have any Hunter on your CD shelf this is a great one to start with.

Speaking of Mark Knopfler he released "Get Lucky" and I bought the "Deluxe Edition" - Vertigo Records/Universal Music - 0252708671 which contains a DVD with several musical portions and a very interesting (if you are an electronics gear nerd like I am) tour of British Grove Studios which Mark designed and built with help from his long-time American producer Chuck Ainlay. I was fascinated by the details of the studio (as an example Mark has the 24 channel recording/mixing console that Paul McCartney used to record "Band on the Run"). It's not a name-dropping, self-congratulatory video by any means - in fact Mark and Chuck are so laid back it's a wonder they ever get anything done - but it's a nice addition and a real "peak behind the scenes". One word of caution though - my copy was incorrectly formatted so it wouldn't play in my Sony DVD players. I had a devil of a time getting customer support from Universal but eventually they sent me a replacement so if you order it you should get one that works. If not let me know - I saved the contact info - just in case.

Now to the music - Mark is mining his Celtic side again (Yay!) which shows strongly on "Border Reiver" & "Piper to the End". "Cleaning My Gun" is a solid bluesy number and the rest fall neatly into Mark's growing catalog. While this CD doesn't quite measure up to the high water mark of 2004's "Shangri-La" it is, never the less, a very strong collection, superbly recorded and wonderfully played by Mark's incredible band - comprised of Guy Fletcher, Danny Cummings, Richard Bennett, Matt Rollings, John McCusker & Glenn Worf - who may be the best collection of players anywhere, anyway, anytime! I say "get it" and you might "Get Lucky", too!

I just can't stop listening to Metric - "Fantasies" (2009) - Metric Productions Inc. / Last Gang Records - Q2 00871. From the funky and overblown riff in "Stadium Love" to the addictive hook and confident swagger of "Gimme Sympathy" to the hypnotic, sinewy rhythm of "Twilight Galaxy" to the raw power and propulsion in "Satellite Mind" all hanging deliciously on Emily Haines' luxurious vocals this CD has legs that won't quit! While I have to note a minor language warning, I can say that the words chosen aren't gratuitous or flagrantly used. Add to the fact that this band is Canadian and world class to boot and how can you go wrong? Only if you buy it from HMV! So don't! Remember - make a big enough order on and the shipping is free.

When Johnny Cash gave his daughter Rosanne the list of 11 songs that appear on her new CD - Rosanne Cash - "The List" - Manhattan Records - 509996 96576 2 7 - he wasn't suggesting she record them - only that she need to know them to gain, as Rosanne said later in an interview, "my musical education". Her education seems to have attained the highest level imaginable with this collection of superb songs made even more wonderful by Cash's stunning performance and the production and arrangements provided by her new husband John Leventhal. As previously with ex-husband Rodney Crowell, Rosanne seems to do her best work with the one or ones she loves around her. My favs on this disc are her versions of "500 Miles", "The Long Black Veil", "Miss the Mississippi and You" & "Girl From the North Country". You might have different ones, but that's OK because every single song on this disc is worthy of loving because they were passed from father to daughter in love and from daughter to us in that same spirit.

Christmas allowed me the means and excuse to obtain "The Beatles" - The Stereo Box Set (2009) - EMI. All I can say is WOW!!. 220+ songs! The vast majority of them written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney and recorded in just 7 short years between 1963 and 1969. When you are faced with the sheer volume and brilliant quality of their songwriting output all at once it is truly amazing. The set is lovingly remastered into stereo when that was the best choice although some tunes are presented in mono. The individual CDs are packaged with the original artwork and liner notes plus included productions notes - often from fifth Beatle, producer George Martin. Each CD contains a mini documentary about the making of each album, filled with studio out takes and comments from John, Paul, George, Ringo & Martin. The sound is excellent and the inclusion of all of the singles including German renditions of - "She Loves You" & "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" are an absolute treat! I got mine on sale at Costco which has it at the lowest price I've seen anywhere. After the $25 'instant rebate' they have on it currently each CD will cost you less than $10 per disc - less than downloading. If you are a pop/rock music fan of any level you owe it to yourself to get this into your collection.

As you have no doubt noticed, I'm no fan of HMV. It's not just them - I'm down on all corporate record stores as of 2009. I do urge you to support independent shops and specialty stores, but for the most part the chain stores have lost it badly and HMV is only a few years (if not months) away from serious financial trouble. How do I know? Look at their product mix. They have added books, games and who knows what else. At the end of days with Kelly's Stereo Mart/ House of Stein they were selling gas barbecues! These are classic signs of a retailer who has lost their clientele and their corporate direction. My advice? Get really familiar with shopping for your music online. Find websites or publications that can help you find the music you want to listen to - radio is still some help here. Support LIVE music and musicians by attending concerts and buying their CDs - especially if they are marketing directly. And keep listening! There is GREAT music out there once you get past the corporate dreck being foisted on us.

Have a Happy 2010 and ROCK ON!