Reviews

PAUL MYERS
: "A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio"

Paul Myers

(Jawbone Press)

Paul Myers is a professed pop music junkie and his love for the genre allowed him the luxury of recording music of his own while growing up in Toronto (like his critically acclaimed band The Gravelberrys) and to write about it as a fan. His previous books have included biographies of Canada’s The Barenaked Ladies and British musical émigré Long John Baldry.

In Myers’ latest biography he tackles the studio work of International Jack-of-All-Trades Todd Rundgren – and not Rundgren's personal life - through an unprecedented overview of 40 years of recording, production and technological innovation that has impacted the likes of not only the major stars whose careers were launched by his pop music acumen – Meat Loaf, XTC, The Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Grand Funk, Sparks, Hall & Oates, The Tubes, Bourgeois-Tagg, and Alice Cooper – but other aspiring one-man operators like Prince. Many know Rundgren from solo works like “Hello, It’s Me”, “I Saw The Light” and the uncharacteristic party anthem “Bang On The Drum” and/or his performance based bands Nazz and Utopia, but few know his behind-the-scenes career which Myers extensively dissects and analyzes with surprising objectivity here.

DEE LONG: 
“LifeAfterLife”

Dee Long

(Dee Long Music)

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer  Dee Long continues his 45 year musical trajectory by re-inventing not just himself on his seventh solo disc…but his songs.

After a decade in the internationally celebrated mystery band Klaatu (the media thought they were The Beatles reunited) and another decade as a solo artist with Bullseye Records, Dee has decided to revisit his most successful Klaatu songs and re-design his solo material for a modern ear and, hopefully, a younger audience.

With the shine and sparkle of high definition stereo and authentic drum loop samples programmed by Long himself, he fleshes out unrealized song demos from the dawn of the early 1970s like “1, 2, 3, 5”, “Silver Ocean”, “Mexico”, “Collision Course” and “Whatever” and his mid-career solo tracks such as “Never Go Back” and “I Cry Out” that suffered at the hands of dated 1980’s production are finally given their due. But, it’s the Klaatu songs that benefit the most from being polished and put into a modern context.  Fan favourites like “Mister Manson”, “I Can’t Help It”, “Older”, and “Hanus of Uranus” (under its original title) are all here plus, arguably, his greatest song - “Little Neutrino” - featuring help from Canadian session drummer Randy Cooke and co-engineered by Grammy award winner John Jones.

THE TREWS: 
“Hope & Ruin”


Trews

(Bumstead/Universal)

With career that is five albums deep, The Trews have begun to grow comfortable in their own skin. “Hope & Ruin” is a shuffled deck that would seem schizophrenic from any other act. In this round, the band sounds its most Canadian which comes honestly from the production & co-writing influence of The Tragically Hip’s Gord Sinclair. Guitarist/vocalist Colin MacDonald gets to show the world what the Hip might sound like with an articulate and accessible lead vocalist on tracks like “One By One”, “If You Wanna Start Again” and the introspective “Dreaming Man”. Sinclair, meanwhile, gets to show how The Trews sound like with more dynamics and atmosphere.

But first they must mine the familiar in songs like “Stay With Me”, the Dave Rave co-written new single/video “The World, I Know” and the throw-back Celtic ditty “Love Is The Real Thing”. Nothing against these tracks per se but the beacons of light start with “Misery Loves Company” – a blistering speedy power pop manifesto that is only a few beats per minute short of going off the rails while the title track hints at the Trews’ contemporary thermometer by incorporating a timely Arcade Fire gang chant; the brilliant lyrical ode to bands that haven’t lived up to their fans’ expectations called “I’ll Find Someone Who Will” leaps out of the speakers on the back of Jack Syperek (bass) and Sean Dalton (drums);  “People of the Deer” is the lone Trews trademarked rock anthem “hit” as guitarist John-Angus MacDonald gets his Hendrix on.

HOODED FANG: Tosta Mista

hooded fang

Daps

Almost a year to the day, multi-membered popsters Hooded Fang have dropped their follow-up album. It’s a good one and bound to win them new fans, since the debut album’s too cool for the crew’s title Album, guaranteed it wouldn’t do much standing out.

As a result, not as many people heard that collection of catchy and clever pop confections as should have. So here’s the Fangers chance to do it all over again and they have.

A little deeper this time, nods and snarls to the dark side of romance, most notably “Clap”, but overall the loose, jammy vibe is intact, enabling them to deal with some tricky subject matter and keep smiling

Big ups for the 180 turn on the cover art, going from retro-minimalist lettering on the debut to imagistic Lucha Libre masks rendered in vivid detailing but still staying within the cartoonish parameters set by the debut cover.
The musical style has undergone significant revision. It sounds like it was recorded on vintage lo-fi equipment with a raw and organic feel and a distinctly surf guitar undertow.

The album moves out at a brisk pace, clocking in at a sizzling22 minutes and change, packing seven songs and the “Big Blue” series of instrumental interludes. The danger therefore and it does come down in places, is that songs bleed into each other but the ‘Big Blue’ interludes serve as breathing spaces and sets up nicely for the next sonic blast.

Saidah Baba Talibah: (S)Cream

Scream

Last Gang/Universal

Just in time for Toronto’s Caribana comes this kickass, stomping, soul shaking funk/rock throwdown. It’s in the genes of Saidah Baba Talibah, daughter of jazz and blues legend Salome Bey, that her take on R&B is steeped in the roots of the genre which allows for a lot more hard rocking and psych jamming than current forms.

Given her rep for powerhouse live performances, the challenge had to be to get all that energy and intensity on the record. The way forward was to go with variety, the many flavors–including rock, funk and soul, as an introduction to just how many different ways she can light up a song.
Largely alternating between fiery funk rock and sultry downbeat numbers, the range, command and interpretive skills of the lady are impressive. While ‘Place Called Grace’ bangs like nobody’s business ably abetted by Donna Grantis’ wicked guitar work, a more mainstreamed version of Talibah treats us to the standout ballad “High,” in which she breaks down her bad habit for a certain sugar man.  In the same pocket is the sultry “No More,” and this time she’s so done with being done wrong it won’t be happening anymore.

Overall, a catchy mix of the now and the then in soul music. Occasionally raw, ebullient, sassy and seductive, (S)Cream is everything Talibah’s many fans have been hoping it would be.

Saidah Baba Talibah brings the album out to play at Harbourfront for a free show Fri.Jul.29

James Lizzard

The Sweetness: What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?

The Sweetness

Independent

This first release from a Toronto/Austin mashup group raises the bar for harmonic percussive folk. Sure there’s such a genre. Toronto solo artists Chloe Charles and Sam McLellan and Austin’s Aly Tadros and Douglas Jay Boyd came together in downtown Memphis, Tennessee during this year’s Folk Alliance International.The chemistry was instant and the mutation into a band seemingly inevitable.

Each accomplished individually, singer-songwriter Chloe Charles and composer/session musician/double bassist Sam McLellan, singer-songwriter Aly

Tadros and singer-songwriter/percussionist Douglas Jay Boyd  join forces as The Sweetness and launch their debut album “What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?”

The result is infused with the freshnes of a band together but a few weeks before the album was cut.. Rich four-part harmonies and heavy cajon-driven backbeats echo, lush harmonies soar atop eerie rhythm patterns.

Elsewhere, mind-entrancing, double-tracked she-vocals slink around spooky settings for gaunt and edgy folk-blues. Don’t let the band name fool you, this is one crew way into getting beyond the merely quirky into darker and unsettling territory.

And with Chloe Charles’ range and Aly Tadros’ haunting tones they’ve got the vocal flexibility to carry the heaviest of moods.

James Lizzard

Austra: Feel It break

Austra

Domino/Paper Bag

This bracing antidote to flirty summer fun never really had its day in the sun on original release. Hoping to redress that, we'll get the big ups out of the way. Feel It Break is intelligent, quirky, broody synth pop, Goth guitar rock with a dance club sensibility and the soaring vocals of opera-trained underground diva Katie Stelmanis. With its forceful production and stronger emphasis on rhythm Feel It Break may piss off Austra fans that cling to the ethereal sounds of debut album Katie Stelmanis. There's some of that here but there's so much that's unexpected also.

When first single "Beat And The Pulse" dropped last year, it was thought to be an experimental one-of; instead, it was the sign of things to come and with Feel It Break, those things have arrived full force.

Dark electronic and searing, histrionic vocals are reminiscent of Fever Ray and early Kate Bush but this Katie brings her own high-drama operatic nuances to the proceedings.

Stelmanis' childhood experience with the Canadian Opera Company is evident as she delivers lines that are alternately delicate and booming.

Hard at work behind the voice, Austra the band are keeners for high-gloss, stacatto coldwave vibes closer to Nine Inch Nails than anythng contemporary. It's retro, it's futuro, it's epic and you can dance to its ofttimes dark subject mater.

Graham Wright: Shirts Vs Skins

Shirts vs Skins

FU:M Records

Wow, is modern fame ever fleeting. Usually in the opposite direction. After years of slogging, Tokyo Police Club are finally breaking out of the indie ghetto and blam! solo album from the keyboard player.

Which is fine as Graham Wright’s keyboard stylings is a significant contributor to the TPC sound and maybe dude has things to say outside of the format of Tokyo Police Club.

He does and he doesn’t. He’s big on reportage from the teen-sheen relationship angst wars but TPC has covered that turf in the past, so that’s not it. So it’s the music then. Nah, this is high octane power pop of the sort TPC have brought to a refinement, just a shade more ligtweight.Not necessarily a bad thing in this genre and Wright does on occasion dip into more rootsy approaches.

It’s in the lyricism where the wheels fall off  While TPC have dabbled in heartbreak teen rock, the arrangments usually bring something a little different and Dave Monk’s lyrics are worlds apart from Wright’s buzz word dropping and face value observations.
Shirts vs. Skins is a collection of Nineties classic power-pop , with period sense of irony to the fore. The good news is this means hooks and skittery synth passages galore and the catchiness of such as ‘Leftovers’ and “Something Stupid” make this a decent summertime waster and girl-chaser soundtrack. Except for “Canadian Thanksgiving” which veers perilously close to misogony a time or two.

James Lizzard

CD Review: Invitation – Bernie Senensky

Bernie Senensky

By Bill McDonald

“Invitation” is the latest addition to the Bernie Senensky discography. And, a great addition it is.
In this trio recording, with Gene Perla on bass and Ben Riley on drums, Senensky delivers his trademark compelling melodic lines with the seemingly effortless creativity. In their rhythmic and soloing contributions, Perla and Riley dovetail perfectly.

“Invitation” (P.M. Records, www.pmrecords.com) is a mix of standards and original compositions. Senensky brings his insightful melodic interpretations to chestnuts such as “Old Folks”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and “Young and Foolish”. The trio also shines on two personal favourites – the title track, “Invitation” and the haunting “My One and Only Love”.

In sharing the umbrella with these classics, Senensky’s personal compositions intertwine perfectly. From the opening energy of “Come to Me”, and “Blues for E.J” (his tribute to the late jazz legend, Elvin Jones) to the closing bebop “Bud Lines”, Senensky’s compositional talents shine brightly. One other original contribution from bassist Perla, “Bill’s Waltz” also highlights this CD.

FINE CANADIAN FORCES: Hebrew Lessons

Fine Canadian Forces

Independent

Here’s a collection that’s just a lot of loopy , goofy fun. Fine Canadian Forces is multi-instrumentalist Jordan Fine of much indie cred and a fondness for using the loop pedal in constructing his Modern Jazz, Noise Rock, Neo-Pop sound collages.


Fine sticthes together intricate sonic adventures backboned by repitition, both of the melodic and vocal nature. The lyrics tend to be looped variants on either funny or cryptic one-liners likely meant to illustrate where the piece is ‘coming’ from.


While all this may sound ultra-hipster and like, too cool, Fine is too clever for that, and manages to keep the furthest out excursions of interest to even the most casual listener. Dude really uleashes his compositional chops however, when he turns his hand to rearranging pop standards.


This type of thing usually falls prey to the desire to re-invent the wheel, ending up re-imagining the original until all traces are virtually wiped clean. Fine pulls it off via clever song choices and an approach which challenges the original while keeping a firm hold on its choicest bits.


While  Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.walk proudest in their new clothes, they’re stand back and take notice pieces.


Much better in its sly way is the Gospel-tinged reworking of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love’ which is simultaneously elevating and hilarious, courtesy of a stone-cold deadpan vocal.

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