This Is Now And...Then
IN THE PINES
Toronto hard rock foursome Old James' new five track e.p. follows a previous demo release and significant lineup changes. But the rock solid foundation of the Stephenson brothers, vocalist Brian and drummer Chris, remains.
Deeply influenced by the Seattle sound, Old James offer a spirited take on earthy blue collar rock with occasional hints of 70's Southern boogie and good old classic rock. The whole disc could be deep cuts from Pearl Jam's Yield album actually (that's a good thing, folks).
The new release opens with "Just Be" a tough rocker with a stadium sized chant during the coda.
Next up "Spade" has a confident thick riff, gruff vocals and a spacey guitar solo.
"The Wave" boasts meaty instrumentation with forceful lead vocals.
Finally "Don't Put It On Me" (also the band's debut music video) amps up Andy Thompson's perfectly fluid guitar solo.
Stephenson's voice proves to be quite versatile, switching from gruff howls to smooth crooning occasionally unleashing a truly primal scream.
Interestingly drummer Chris Stephenson, one of the most powerful and energetic young drummers in metal, shows great restraint by simply servicing the songs without the additional percussion flourishes he is more than capable of.
Lyrically the band couldn't be more different than the grunge style they're influenced by musically. Rather than angst-filled, self centered tales of social alienation, Old James almost exclusively have a positive even inspirational tone to their lyrics. Brian Stephenson might be the hard rock world's Deepak Chopra but it's still a party. There's just a few things to think about while head banging around the bonfire.
Clockwise is a loose assemblage of Toronto musician Claude Kent and his rotating bunch of locals. The 2015 album This Is Now And...Then is a near-perfect presentation of principled song craft showcasing intelligent, wry lyricism with a welcoming blast of adult pop arrangements. Kent's a detail specialist who never lets his own romantic shortcomings escape his reflective gaze. In pure pop tradition, the hooks are in the melodies not the guitar work.
The album opens with "I Don't Know" a Nick Lowe type track with a purposeful lead vocal, warm organ flourishes and a tight drum sound.
A dreamy intro begins "Still Got It Bad" which has friendly hand-claps during the concise guitar solo. Kent leans hard into the chorus ("I bet you still got it bad!") with increased determination.
Another winner straight out of the gate, "All I Want Is Everything" has sugary harmony vocals and the immortal refrain, "all I want is everything in the world, all I need is everything and the girl".
On "Sugar Coat It", Kent channels his inner Graham Parker over squealing feedback.
The album's sunny upbeat vibe takes a dark turn on "Someone Or Something New". Here Kent explores dark introspection stating "since you put me down I've been riddled with doubt".
Why this album didn't get wider exposure upon release is a mystery. Recommended for fans of Rockpile, Elvis Costello, Squeeze etc.
The debut e.p. from AroarA (ex-Broken Social Scene guitarist and Apostle Of Hustle architect Andrew Whiteman with partner Ariel Engle) takes inspiration from the 2007 book of poetry In The Pines by experimental poet Alice Notley . The five songs on the e.p. use portions of Notley's poems for lyrics while the duo create a musical backdrop that is at once graceful and sleazy.
Musically AroarA doesn't stray too far from the Apostle Of Hustle template. Electronic squeals pierce the space in between dirty Cuban style guitar picking and echoey percussion. Thick keyboard and guitar textures push and pull under the vocals creating a palpable tension.
The opener "11" (all song titles are simply numerals) presents shimmering guitar notes cascading over a galloping beat. The second track "6" ends with a flurry of jagged guitar leading to a fading finish .
On "5" Whiteman's weary vocals contrast nicely with Engle's clean and elegant tone. For the final track,"13", a shuffling rhythm underscores an exquisite vocal performance from Engle who gently caresses Notley's text as if it were her own. When she sings "if I find your soul, do you want it? Do you even know?" she's clearly on the verge of unlocking some of Notley's secret codes.
Beards Of Prey
The full length album In The Pines not only follows a previously released five-track e.p., it builds on that disc to complete Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle's ambitious project incorporating the poetry of Alice Notley. Notley's book (also titled In The Pines ) is a series of powerful accounts describing the hallucinations of a Hepatitis "C" patient. The book's title is a reference to the traditional American folk song of the same name popularized by Leadbelly in the forties while many younger music fans may know it from Nirvana's 1994 MTV Unplugged version under the title "Where Did You Sleep Last Night. My early introduction to it was on a Long John Baldry album from the 70's where it was simply called "Black Girl".
Whiteman is no stranger to literary influences, past work has drawn inspiration from Kenneth Patchen, Herman Hess and Alan Ginsberg among others. But Notley's writings have especially invigorated the guitarist, leading to a total of fourteen new compositions between the two releases (there is no duplication of tracks on the e.p. and full album).
Opening song "14" (yes, all song titles are numbered. No, they are not in numeric consecutive order. All the better to dispel preconceptions of content) has Engel confidently declaring "I was born to be your poet!" over firm piano playing and a dry acoustic guitar. The coda features a suite of wordless vocal layering and textured percussion added to increasingly clustered guitars.
During "8" Whiteman eschews his usual Cuban tendencies for a brief guitar solo that surprisingly brings an Indian classical aspect to his music for the first time.
Under Engel bodly stating that "no cathedral can hold this song", "10" has an odd see-sawing keyboard throb throughout that adds a tremendous amount of swing to the album. This is followed by the mournful "3" in which Engel intones solemly over a sparse and lonely backdrop.
On "4" (the sixth track) Whiteman's guitar stings sharply through a rigid percussion loop while Engle channels her inner-Marianne Faithfull, turning her usual crystal clear tone into a harsh rasp.
For his lead vocal on "1" Whiteman gives it his best swagger over a popping stand up bass and the album's most Dylanesque lyrics.
Listeners are encouraged to play around with the sequencing of the tracks between the e.p. and the album to create a personal flow of the material.
Me, I wouldn't change a thing about it the way it is.
What's most surprising about local bluesman Brother Paul's debut release Blind Spot is, well, just how little blues music is on it. That's ok though, the addition of a mournful pedal steel guitar burnishes the material with a wisp of vintage country leanings (and also gives a nod to Kim Deschamps' work on Cowboy Junkies' 1988 The Trinity Sessions album). In addition to the bright pedal steel, Paul has surrounded himself with a company of sympathetic player committed to fleshing out his subtle character sketches.
Opening track "Your Sin" features a slinky groove shuffling along underneath Brother Paul's lascivious advances. "Murder Ballad" has some clean guitar playing betraying the threatening subject matter (it's not called "Murder Ballad" for nothing).
On a heartfelt cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (which also appeared on The Trinity Sessions), Paul stretches his vocals a bit, savoring the emotionally wounded lyrics. Vocally it's the album's purest track.
The album ends with the stark "My Own" as Paul pleads his case for forgiveness to a departed lover. The plaintive yearning hints that Brother Paul may be trying to convince himself more than anyone that he is worthy of redemption. If he is looking at himself, that mirror just might have a blind spot itself.
This London, Ontario quartet are working hard on a thrash-grunge merger with plenty of groove for good measure. Their self-titled debut seven track release is full of thick slabs of loud guitars, booming drums and lead vocalist Justin Wolfe's brawny roar.
The band use gang chant vocals on "Don't Hold Me Back" and "Nothing Left Inside" to add extra heft to the material. "You Can Have It All" has a mean swing to it, reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People", but updates the sense of menace.
The disc ends with a malevolent cover of Alice In Chain's 1992 track "Would?" giving Wolfe a chance to really scream with all his might.
Beards Of Prey are obviously quite committed to delivering quality product. By the time they've prepared a follow-up release, they'll truly be ready for flight.
DUST & HARD ATTACK
Marianne Faithfull's hugely successful 1979 comeback album Broken English recently has been given the 2 disc deluxe edition treatment and it is a huge improvement on an already classic release. The original eight song magnum opus has been newly remastered embellishing the harsh blend of punk guitars and slick synthesizer accents.
Most exciting here is the second disc which has the never released, thought to be lost early version of the album before all the additional synth overdubs were added. This "naked" mix is simply a revelation as the sound of the songs finally match the brutal honesty of the confrontational lyrics (no contemporary female artist today would dare tackle something like the still shocking "Why'd Ya Do It"). Fittingly angular guitars jab and accent Faithfull's unflinching tales of hard living.
Additional bonus tracks include three different single mixes of the title track (all interesting), a remix of the notorious "Why'd Ya Do It" and a 1982 re-recording of Faithfull's 1969 Stones cover "Sister Morphine". Extra video content on disc one is a 13 minute short film directed by Derek Jarman in 1979 to promote the album.
The 24 page booklet liner notes give an overview on the making of the record and features pics of ten different international singles releases.
In the early 70's Dust out of New York City released two albums of raw, driving hard rock. Their self-titled debut came out in 1971 and the follow-up Hard Attack surfaced in 1972. Both albums have just been reissued together on a single CD.
So who were they? A serious power trio consisting of Kenny Aaronson on bass (who went on to play with Sammy Hagar, Bob Dylan and others), Marc Bell on drums (who became Marky Ramone of The Ramones) and Richie Wise on vocals and guitar.
Originally released in 1971 and 1972 respectfully, the albums were recorded at Bell Sound Studios and produced and largely written by Richie Wise and manager Kenny Kerner.
Wise and Kerner went on to produce the first two albums by Kiss whose 1974 debut was also recorded at Bell Sounds.
The music is early hard rock with some splashes of psychedelia obviously inspired by groups like Blue Cheer, Cactus and some Jethro Tull.