Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Still Miss Joe Strummer

“We aren't particularly talented. We try harder!”

Born August 21, 1952 --- Died  December 22, 2002 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Radio Radio

XL Sun Spot
As a Musical Immigrant, radio has played a big part in my life. When I turned 10 (or 11, I can't remember) I received a transistor radio for my birthday. I listened to Buddy B on CKXL spinning the top 40 hits in the late 60s.

Since underground FM hadn't made it to my small city on the Canadian prairie, Calgary, I had to settle for the late night radio show on "XL" called Groove Yard. The DJ used to play longer and heavy songs like Hendrix which frankly scared the crap out of me under the covers at night.

Like many of my generation, radio influenced me to make music a priority in my life. When I got to high school I spun records over the PA system but I was too shy to use the microphone to DJ. I just wanted to share my music with the kids in the lunchroom. Frankly I don't think they could hear it very well with the tinny speaker.

The "pizza" logo from the 80s. 
Fast forward to university. The day I walked onto the U of Calgary campus, I also walked into the campus radio station CJSW. I worked up the guts to DJ and had a blast. Same in Windsor Ontario at U of W. Volunteered at CJAM.

Earned a communications degree and a journalism degree. I worked at two private radio stations as a news reporter then for more than two decades at CBC Radio Calgary, Edmonton, Windsor and Sudbury in many capacities, mostly as a current affairs producer and as a features reporter. I even got to produce a one hour radio documentary about Canada's travelling rock festival - Festival Express. I'm very proud of that.

So add it all up and radio was my life.

Now it's not.

I don't work in the business anymore so that, and digital music, has changed the way I consume radio. While in the news business, I only listened to news radio - CBC and our private competition to see if THEY were onto something WE weren't. 

Now I work in communications for a college, I am liberated from news/talk in the morning so I usually start with CKUA, Alberta's community radio station that plays an eclectic variety of music. I find some of their on air people insufferable and overly sincere and they work too hard to be clever but their taste in music is impeccable. 

I also flip to CBC Radio 2 which is Canada's FM service that follows a similar format to CKUA. I even tune into a clone of the old 'XL which is programming to my demographic but as soon as a commercial or DJ comes on I'm outta here. And, okay, I skip back to our local CBC station for news etc. but if it gets the least bit annoying I jump to music.

Of course we live in the world of time shifting and podcasting so you can listen to all these radio stations even if you're reading this blog in Bulgaria, which is extremely cool. As a musical immigrant I had the pleasure of listening to my late friend David Gold being interviewed on a Finnish radio station via my computer. That would have been unthinkable when I first met David about 10 years ago.

My big new radio passion is American public radio via podcast. I am captivated by Fresh Air, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and This American Life. I am a loyal fan and they make up my nighttime listening.

I used to think Canadian public radio was far superior to US but I am sad to say our radio service has been left in the dust. I'm afraid the slashing and burning carried out lately by the Stephen Harper Conservative government will put the final few nails in the coffin of Canadian public radio - death by a thousand cuts as we said when I worked for the Mother Corp. and this makes me sad.

As for the future of radio in general? For one thing, private radio will pretty much always remain crap. But radio will survive and maybe even thrive. When it emerged as a force in the 1920s, people predicted radio would decimate the magazine industry and movie attendance. When television's popularity soared in the 40s and 50s, people predicted it would be the end of radio and movies. They're all still here.

When new media (like this internet "thing") bump into old media, the old seem to simply redefine themselves. Also, I'd like to remind all the young 'uns that podcasting is pretty much time shifting radio. 

I feel both fear and excitement for young people who are pondering future jobs in the media - DJs, newsies, video shooters etc. Conventional media radio, TV and yes of course newspapers are all in flux. Fear because those jobs are disappearing. Excitement because they may end up running their own radio/tv/newspaper on the internet as a blog. Something I couldn't dream of when I was a 10 year old listening to my transistor.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Press Play> Vol.22 Harris Eisenstadt Jazz Composer, Drummer, Improviser

I am pleased to add one of Canada's shining lights in the world of jazz to my blog.Harris Eisenstadt's reputation in the jazz world has blossomed.

His home base these days is Brooklyn N.Y. He grew up in Toronto, studied music at the California Institute of Arts and has spent many months in Africa studying with master musicians.

Here's a nice succinct biography from AllAboutJazz.com

One of only a handful of drummers equally well-known for his work as a composer, Eisenstadt is among the most versatile and prolific musicians of his generation. 

His eclectic resume includes studies with some of the most respected names in both improvised music and West African drumming, and performances in genres ranging from film and theatre to poetry and dance to contemporary classical and opera.

Most active in jazz and improvised music, as both an in- demand sideman and a bandleader, he has performed all over the globe, earned commissions from organizations such as Meet The Composer and the American Composers Forum, and appeared on more than 40 recordings over the past decade.

You can get some insight into Harris' music when he talks about his Canada Day II project in this video. (He has since released Canada Day III

Harris visited Calgary on a recent tour through Canada playing most of the major jazz festivals and venues as a member of the François Houle Quintet plus Benoît Delbecq. I asked him if he would PRESS PLAY> I am pleased to tell you he complied. Here's Harris' answers to some questions about the records that have influenced his music.

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

Cuban Bata, Senegalese Mbalax, Radiohead, Feist, Bjork, 1970s Springsteen, Craig Taborn, Benoit Delbecq

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

All of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet and John Coltrane Quartet records. The revolutionary drumming of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones... as well as the visceral power of the music and the beyond-distinct instantly-identifiable individual voices and group sounds.

What was the first record you bought?

Eric Clapton Time Pieces There was definitely a classic rock influence from my dad, who played the drums in a rock band in the '60s, though it was Time Pieces because I had somehow fallen in love with the song Layla. I don't remember my dad having Clapton tapes. I remember him playing along to Rolling Stones, J. Geils Band, Men at Work and CCR.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

My One and Only Love John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman - This was actually one of the 60s Coltrane records I wasn't deeply into already when I met my wife Sara. She loved it and we listened to it endlessly for years. We still put it on regularly. (Written by Guy Wood and lyrics by Robert Mellin, recorded by Doris Day and Andre Previn in 1962)

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Sade, Lovers Rock Guilty because the electro/smooth jazz/pop vibe can sometimes be a little much. Lots of chord suspensions, etc., but seriously, I love Sade's singular sound. It's as distinct as Miles or Coltrane. As soon as you hear it you know it's her. Guilty pleasure also because the beats/loops are pretty clean and surgical. It's not really my approach to groove playing at all, but I love it nonetheless.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Mbaye Dieye Faye, Rimbi Rimbi pop star Senegal. I just downloaded a couple of his records on emusic.com. I heard him live in Dakar and I studied with his extended family, one of the handful of famous traditional drumming families in Dakar.

Which of your records is your favourite?

Canada Day III (Songlines) and Canada Day Octet (482 Music), my two new leader records III is a continuation of my working group's concept, adventurous and accessible song forms with lots of different structures for individual solo voices to emerge.
Octet is another in a series of long-form compositions for medium-sized ensembles and the first time I've tried expanding my already-existing working group rather than building a new ensemble from scratch.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn’t?

I can’t remember (maybe that’s a good thing!)

You can find him on facebook and on twitter @HEisenstadt and on YouTube

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Canada's Festival Express - The Radio Documentary - Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, The Band

In June 1970 a bunch of musicians gathered in central Canada. They boarded a train and headed west.
It was no ordinary group of travellers. 

There was Janis Joplin, the Band, the Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy and a host of others. It was Festival Express. The train was full of the most popular musicians of the day. It was chugging its way from city to city for a series of concerts. Sort of a movable Woodstock. And it was heading for my home town.

I was so excited I was vibrating. 

I read everything I could about the concert. I got my hands on a round "rumpersticker," Yes you read right  "RUMPersticker" - to wear proudly on the the back pocket of my Lee jeans.  

There were free concerts on weekends on an empty lot in "East Village" (Where they created a mini Hait-Ashbury on a section of 8th Avenue S.E. in Calgary where the municipal building stands today). 

I was barely a teenager but I was hoping upon hope that my parents would let me go to the big show. No way. 1) I was too young to hang around with with a bunch of pot smoking hippys. 2) The ticket price ($10 advanced, $12 at the door) was OUTRAGEOUS. 

I may not have gone to Festival Express when it came to Calgary's McMahon Stadium on July 4, 1970 but 30 years later I did get to produce a one-hour radio documentary about Festival Express for the program DNTO on CBC Radio One. It aired about three years before the documentary film came out. Here it is on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

The movie Festival Express was supposed to come out one year after my documentary aired on CBC but it didn't come out until 2003. I was pleased that the producers invited me to the premier at the Toronto Film Festival. Thank goodness this movie finally made it. Festival Express is a piece of Rock and Roll history particularly because it was Janis Joplin's final concert tour. It is also Canadian history. Thank goodness the story has been told and the music has been preserved. I hope you listened to my radio documentary and enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Death and Rebirth of Rock n Roll.

The year was 1973. I was a wee lad (actually not so wee I was in high school) and American Graffiti was all the rage.

The movie was a big hit.

So was the soundtrack.

High schools and night clubs held 50s themed dances. Boys and girls rolled up the legs of their jeans. Boys put water in their hair to look like greasers. Brave ones actually used Brylcream. And we all danced to the best and the worst of 50s early 60s pre-Beatles rock n roll.

Also, remember Sha Na Na?

In retrospect it was all pretty cornball and quite embarrassing. It was media hype and manufactured nostalgia that promoted a comic image of the era without paying respect to the rhythm and blues and country and western that defined the music. That kind of overly sentimental Disneyfication of American roots music was the kiss of death of rock n roll.

But something happened. Maybe it was John Lennon's 1975 Rock 'n' Roll album that breathed new life into the art form. It certainly gave it back some credibility.

Fast forward to punk in the late 1970s that shocked  rock and roll's heart back to beating, a movement that inspired one of my all time favourite bands that revived traditional rockabilly rock and roll with all its rough edges intact - the Blasters.

I am pleased to report the Blasters have released a record as of June 2012, the first new material in years. Fun on a Saturday Night.

Here's a link to an NPR report about their return. I'll post links to new video material when it's available but meanwhile here's an early performance, a Blasters classic (a Little Willie John cover) and below that, a video from a 2010 show, one of their great songs - American Music.

The Blasters first record came out in 1980. They were part of scene some refer to as Cowpunk  that includes X, Rank and File (Alejandro Escovedo was a member) and Los Lobos.  And for the record, when people mention 80s music THESE are the bands I think of. (Musical Immigrant note: Look for X's John Doe at the 2012 Calgary Folk Music Festival.)

Musical Immigrant news update: As of June 2012, word via Dave Alvin on Facebook that his brother Phil Alvin, the lead singer in the Blasters, fell ill in Spain, while the band was on tour. Wishing Mr. Alvin, his family and the band all the best.

At the same time as The Blasters are making new music, more artists are emerging to breath life into this style of rock and rock. My newest find is J.D. McPherson. His debut Signs & Signifiers is terrific. It reached the top of the Americana charts soon after it's release.

As a musical immigrant, my earliest memories are of a time when rock and roll was rebel outsider music, then it became the main-est of mainstream, then a parody of itself and now, well, in some respects it has become part of a redefined folk/roots tradition where country, R&B and soul music mish and mash and comes out as indie-alt-country-roots-rock-Americana (see No Depression the online magazine for more of this stuff.) and I couldn't be happier with its latest reincarnation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Calgary Folk Festival: Four To Look For - Bradley, Barr, Brown and Carpenter

I was asked to help out with the Calgary Folk Music Festival podcasts again this year. The talented, clever and all around wonderful Johanna Schwartz and I sat down in the University of Calgary's CJSW studios to talk about some of the artists I am looking forward to at this year's festival. Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.

I have always said the ones I am looking forward to are the ones I don't know yet but I did come up with these four artists coming to perform on Prince's Island in Calgary July 26 to 29.

Charles Bradley

The Barr Brothers

Junior Brown

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Find podcast produced by the Calgary Folk Music Festival here and soon here.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

God Save Neil Young

I love Neil Young, particularly for all the musical chances he takes, but it took an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) to realize how Canadian he remains even though he has lived most of his life in the United States.

He was appearing on Fresh Air. It's a daily interview program with host Terry Gross. Imagine a combination of Peter Gzowski and Vicki Gaberau. That's Terry. She's as much beloved by her American fans as Vicki and the late Peter are and were loved by their Canadian fans.

Terry was talking to Neil about his new record Americana and she seemed quite perplexed by his cover of God Save the Queen. I must admit I was too, until I heard Neil's explanation of why he decided to record a collection of old folk songs with his band Crazy Horse.

You can hear his explanation in the interview but it was plain to me that the interviewer REALLY wanted to hear Neil say he recorded the American folk songs because they were from his childhood and, well, the God Save the Queen thing was just lost on her. I'm not sure she really understood why he didn't record My Country 'Tis of Thee. (Musical Immigrant's digression: During another interview with a Canadian expat, the fellow mentioned John Diefenbaker. I was shocked when Terry Gross drew a blank and said. "Who's he?")

What this interview confirmed for me is that Americans don't understand the "otherness" that Canadian artists bring to the table. Young and many other artists who border hop to make a living never really lose their "outsider's" view of the United States of America. It shapes their world view and influences their art and it makes me appreciate them even more when they come home for a visit.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Music on the Internet.

Of course there were places to find out about music before the digital revolution. We bought Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, NME and the Georgia Strait to read record reviews. Word of mouth worked like "Hey did you hear the new Chilliwack record? It's wicked."

It was clunky but word about great new music that wasn't in the mainstream did travel but I sure like it better now.

I've recently had two great experiences of how a simple Facebook post and a Google search put great music in my hands within minutes of coming to my attention.

For digital natives (born after the invention of email) it's pretty much a 'meh' experience but for we digital immigrants (who remember the world before email) it really is amazing how news about a new artist is lightning and how easy and quick it is to snap the music into your ipod.

One night I was poking around on Twitter and Facebook and my friend Helen posted this video on FB along with "You should see this." Boy am I glad I took her advice.

As soon as I watched this and tweeted it to friends, I went in search of her music to download. A name like LP makes Googling a bit of a challenge. I looked for her music on my subscription download service site first, emusic.com but no luck. I then checked iTunes and she has a five song EP that includes a video for each of her songs for $5.99 - Into the Wild (Live at East West Studios) EP  as well as a single. a studio version of the above song. And yes I also found her website. And what do you know, she also has an interview in Rolling Stone.

Funny thing too. The next day I was tweeting about her to a friend and damned if @lprock isn't now following me on twitter.

My second great online music experience was discovering this duo from Quebec called DobaCaracol and their song Etrange.

This time I heard it the old fashioned way, on CKUA. My 10 year old daughter and I were bopping to this song all the way to her school. The announcer's French was lousy, probably slightly better than mine, and I couldn't make out his pronunciation of the artist's name or the name of the song. 

Luckily I took note of the time I heard the song. The first chance I had I looked on CKUA.com to see if they uploaded their playlist for that day and they did. (Another good reason to donate money to them every few months when they have their fundraisers.) The artist DobaCaracol and song Etrange were listed and lo and behold a quick search on emusic.com turned up the record. It's called Soley. Downloaded it on the double. ---- They say good news travels fast. I say good music on the internet travels faster and I'm so glad it does.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Press Play> Vol.21 J R Shore Singer Songwriter, Calgary Folk Festival Song Contest

The music of J. R. Shore was my second revelation as a judge at the 2012 Calgary Folk Festival Song Writing Competition, which only goes to show you that I need to get out more.

The song he performed in the Pros and Prose category. The song is called  Dayton Free. It tells the story about a slave who writes a letter to his former master. You can read the letter and the history surrounding it  here and here. It's a great story well told in song.

On top of that, J.R. played a baritone ukulele I'm a sucker for that instrument and it's not something you see every day.

Both the performance and the song were worthy of one of the top prizes (2nd) in the contest.

J.R. is not a newcomer to the business, nor is he new to winning prizes in this particular contest (see bio and video below.) Here's his contest winning entry from a previous contest - 2010 in the Beaver Tales category.

excerpt from J.R.'s website bio

At the crossroads between Nashville Tennessee, Austin Texas and Calgary Alberta, lives the musical soul of J.R. Shore.

Kinky Friedman and JR 
Shore is equal parts storyteller, social commentator and performer. His songs provide a glimpse into years gone by, as well as present day characters with melody and lyrics that have audiences hanging on every line.

A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Shore began his musical career in the early 90's with the Grateful Dead inspired, Hiway 2. Original projects, Sgt.Singalong and the Military and Panama Red followed, with Shore developing greater and greater depth in his writing and performing. In 2004, Shore and his wife relocated to Music City, U.S.A. He seized the opportunity to see first-hand, what it takes to write and play with some of the best in the business.

Extended journeys through the American South gave Shore a taste of where his music came from. Having the opportunity to rub shoulders with Buddy Miller, Chip Taylor and Guy Clark gave Shore the inspiration to spread his own wings wide and carve his own path. After two years in Nashville, playing such venues as The Bluebird Cafe, Mercy Lounge and The Basement, Shore was ready to return back to his home turf, Calgary, Alberta, and ply his songwriting trade in some familiar digs.

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

I'm currently in the midst of a decade-long stretch of really digging Texas singer-songwriters. The new tribute to Guy Clark, This One's For Him, is chalk full of amazing songs and performances. Jerry Jeff Walker is also getting steady play, mostly on my turntable. Viva Terlingua is my current Jerry Jeff favourite.

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?
The music of The Band probably figures most centrally into my influences. I was bringing in songs by The Band with my first band in Edmonton in the mid-90s, and today I'm part of the Front Porch Roots Revue's, Tribute to The Band. The true songwriter approach from Robbie Robertson, combined with incredibly skilled and heartfelt performances from the rest of the band, and the rhythm section...you just can't say enough about their influence on roots music today. Lyrically and stylistically, they captured the weirdness and beauty of the deep south that I've always been fascinated by myself.

What was the first record you bought?

My older sisters exposed me to a lot of their music before I bought anything myself. I remember listening to a lot of Elvis Costello and Squeeze as a kid. I think the first album I ever purchased was David Bowie's Lets Dance. I haven't listened to it in a while now. I think it would still stack up pretty well without feeling overly dated.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

The new album of covers of Shel Silverstein poems and songs is fantastic (Twistable, Turnable Man - A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein). John Prine sings a terribly sad song about his guitar not writing any new songs, called This Guitar is For Sale. It pulls right at the heartstrings of any songwriter. That's probably my favourite cover right now. 

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?
I don't tend to feel too guilty about what I listen to. One of the things I love is the mainstream country artists who have covered some of Darrell Scott's material, like Travis Tritt and The Dixie Chicks. They are great tunes, and their ability to cross over into the mainstream is an interesting feat.

Long Time Gone from the Dixie Chicks 2001 record Home 
Long Time Gone from Darrell Scott's and Tim O'Brien's 2000 record Real Time

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

I actually love the fidelity of car speakers playing music really loud. When I'm in the car on my own these days, I'm listening to a lot of the new Felice Brothers Celebration Florida and the new Tom Waits Bad as Me. Both are very well produced albums with a lot of instrumental nooks and crannies. Perfect for the car.

Which of your records is your favourite?

I think the album I just recorded is my favourite. It's a beast of an album with 12 originals and eight covers. It'll be out sometime in winter 2013. It was a great chance for me to put my material up alongside some of my biggest influences like Gram Parsons, Neil Young and The Grateful Dead.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn't?

I've got my fair share of albums I've listened to, only a time or two. To be honest, none come to mind specifically, so they must be pretty forgettable

Follow JR Shore on twitter @jrshore
Like JR Shore on Facebook
Email JR Shore jrshore45@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Press Play> Vol. 20 Joe Nolan, Singersongwriter, Guitarist, Calgary Folk Festival Songwriting Contest Winner

My first and only encounter, so far, with Joe Nolan adds up to a single song.

It turned out to be a very important song. A wonderful song. One good enough to win him first prize in the 2012 Calgary Folk Music Festival Song Contest in the Pros and Pros category. He received a not-too-shabby prize - $3000 in cash and an appearance at the Calgary Folk Club. I was on the four-person judging team for the contest and we all agreed it was worthy of the top prize.

Here's part of the lyric and a link so you can listen.

High as the Moon

"You only love me when you're high as the moon, 
you only live me when you're high.
Well I'll see you later, on the street
Where we'll trip into each others evening
You only love me when you're falling down, 
you only love me when you're falling."

Even though I've only ever seen him perform just one song, I can tell that Joe is an amazing talent. Between his beautiful lyric and soulful guitar playin (he made his blue telecaster cry!) he won me over right away. His talent has been noticed by some other heavy hitters. He was accompanied during his contest appearance by one of Calgary's master musicians Russell Broom

His 2010 record Goodbye Cinderella includes a who's who of Nashville hotshots and was produced by Colin Linden and engineered by John Whynot.   

Joe was nominated in the Best New/Emerging Artist category at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards. He has been performing non-stop over the past few years building an ever growing fan base. He has been sharing stages with established artists including Todd Snider, Colin Linden, Sam Baker, Gurf Morlix, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women, Matthew Barber, Oh Susanna and the legendary Peter Asher. He'll be trading licks with even more at the 2012 Calgary Folk Music Festival where he is appearing. I know I'll be checking him out at Prince's Island Park because, frankly, one song is not enough. 

I asked Joe Nolan to PRESS PLAY> and it's no surprise his influences are a mixture of roots, blues and rock n roll. 

The Great Muddy Waters
What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

It was definitely guitar playing, especially when I was younger, that influenced me. Same with rock and roll and melodies. Melodies were huge. My favourite song for years was Crimson and Clover.

When I was young I loved the Monkees, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Cockburn, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix...

As I got older I was attracted to Lyrics more and more. Waits, Young, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, and I'm really loving the Tragically Hip these days. Gord Downie makes some of the nicest melodies.

These are a few the records that have influenced my music among many many others...

Tom Waits - Closing Time 
Neil Young  - Decade
Dire Straits - Dire Straits
Bob Dylan  - Blonde on Blonde
Eric Clapton - Cream of Clapton

What was the first record you bought?

Joe's garage sale purchase
It was either Offspring - Conspiracy Theory at a garage sale or Blink 182 - Dude Ranch

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

Right now it would be Jeff Buckley's version of I Know It's Over, a song written by The Smiths.

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Hmmm, I don't really have one. I dig everything I listen to and I don't have any problem saying it or defending it.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Rickie Lee Jones - Sermon on Exposition Boulevard.
Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA

Which of your records is your favourite?

My favorite one has not been made yet.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn’t?

Well I remember when I was way younger I bought Pink Floyd's record - The Division Bell from Walmart. I listened to it and found it quite distasteful. I brought it back and said it was scratched. Not sure I feel that way anymore now though.

Follow Joe on Twitter @joenolansongs
Find Joe on Facebook here and here 

Get in touch with Joe's manager: neil@indeliblemusic.com
Get in touch with Joe's agent: chris@mongrelm.com
Get in touch with Joe's guy in Europe: hakan@rootsy.nu
Get in touch with Joe: joenolanmusic@hotmail.com

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Press Play> Vol. 19 Ann Vriend, Singer, Songwriter, Pianist

If you get the chance to see Anne Vriend live, do it. I was introduced to her music a few months ago at a small venue in Calgary and was knocked out by her performance, just her and her piano.

She has a wonderful way of telling a story in a song, whether she rips a page from her family history or sings about affairs of the heart.

Her piano playing is impressive. I was a little surprised to hear influences of stride piano in her approach. It's not what I'm used to from singer songwriters whose instrument is piano.

Then there's her voice. As she shared with us during her show, one critic describes it this way - "where Dolly Parton and Aretha Franklin meet (see quote below). That critic is not wrong. There are shades of country and soul in her singing. From a growl to a whisper. On top of everything, she has a great sense of humour.

SOME PRESS QUOTES (from her website..)

First, the voice: “Soulful, inspiring, brave and bluesy” (Rip It Up, Adelaide) with a “vocal range from vulnerable delicacy to blasts of soulful power” (Halifax Chronicle) Vriend's vocal sound has been described as an enchanting cross between Dolly Parton and a young Aretha Franklin and as “almost confronting” by The Sydney Morning Herald.

ANNE VRIEND HISTORY (from her website..

Ann Vriend (pronounced Vreend) was born in Vancouver B.C. When her parents discovered their 3-year-old could play nursery songs on a Fisher Price xylophone, they encouraged her musical development by enrolling her in violin lessons.

At age nine, when Vriend sought to accompany herself as a songwriter, she took piano lessons from an elderly woman down the street who charged $5 per visit.

In high school, in order to be able to do submit her home-made recordings for a school project, Vriend was coerced into performing three of her compositions at the school talent show.

Accolades from her fellow students evolved into projects with older students in bands, interest from record labels, praise from critics, and loyal fans around the world.

Ann Vriend has a strong following in her home province of Alberta, and I think she's a viral video away from  a much wider audience.

I am so pleased Ann came through for me when I asked her to PRESS PLAY> 

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

As a kid I would say Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel). And Raffi, everything by Raffi. Which later I found out was produced and arranged and nearly all instruments played by Ken Whitely. So, really, he has to be in that list, too.

What was the first record you bought?

Graceland (Paul Simon) with money from my first flyer route.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

Hallelujah performed by Jeff Buckley. (written by Leonard Cohen)

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

OK ComputerRadiohead  

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Bruce Springsteen, the album with Lucky Town on it, but only because my drummer, as the driver, gets to determine the playlist and he thinks it's funny to put that song on whenever I am trying to have a nap. And yet I keep hiring him..... hmmm.

Which of YOUR records is your favourite? (or one where you appear as a guest?) 
NOT Ann's favourite of her records

Oh man, I haven't guested much other than on some very obscure recordings (is this a sign? hmmm...) so by default I would have to say one of mine, but I always have an uncomfortable relationship with my own albums, so my answer, which I hope comes true, is: one in the future (title yet to be determined).

(Musical Immigrant's note: here's a review of
Love & Other Messes)

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn't?

Milli Vanilli ..(just kidding)

(Musical Immigrant's note: I'm not sure whether her "just kidding" means a) she's really glad she bought it or b) she never actually bought it.)  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bye Bye Bluegrass Nazi, Hello Hipster

I was at a concert in Washington D.C. recently that would have killed a Bluegrass Nazi. I know. Using the word "Nazi" when not referring to WW II isn't very PC, but that's what they're called. The term commonly describes fans who narrowly define what's acceptable within a music genre and reject deviation. There are also jazz, classical and even metal Nazis.

The show featured the band the Infamous Stringdusters at a venue called the 9:30 Club. The opening act was  Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad who turned out to be a self-described psychedelic reggae five piece band.

When I told the cab driver where I wanted to go he asked me "Who's playing there?"
The bouncer at the 9:30 Club 

 "Why do you ask?"

"Well.. uh..," he said. "Um.. it's mostly kids there."

"What? You think I'm too old for this place?"

His response was a nervous laugh which meant  YES.

The place was packed. And, he was right, it was a younger crowd, but there were 40-pluses there too sprinkled among the young and the hip.

The show was similar to most rock shows I've been to but nothing like any bluegrass concert I have attended. It was St. Patrick's Day so there was a titch more drinking than usual and funny hats and of course boys trying to hook up with girls.

The opening act was solid. The young white reggae band was tight and the crowd was into them. In the back of my mind I thought about a Ramones / Joe Jackson show I went to in the late 70s. Half the audience - Ramones fans - left before Jackson came on stage because, presumably he wasn't punk enough.

That didn't happen. The reggae band finished. Nobody left. After a break with funk and R 'n' B playing on the PA, the all-acoustic headliners took the stage and the crowd went wild. It's no wonder. While the concert was rooted in bluegrass, the energy, volume and light show was strictly rock n roll. It was great.

Bluegrass is based on old styles of American folk music but it's not as old as many people think. The term was coined in the late 30s and 40s  and was defined by the music played by Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, the banjo player who played in Bill's band.

A traditional Bluegrass band was four or five pieces -  upright bass (never electric), banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. Depending who you talk to a Dobro / resonator slide guitar is also acceptable. NEVER DRUMS. Bluegrass vocals are harmonies with the tenor vocal up front. Every body wears shirt and tie and cowboy hats.

I watched a serious, no foolin' Bluegrass-Nazi up close once. My friend Mike Stevens, a harmonica player, was performing with Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys at a bluegrass festival in upstate New York in the mid 90s. I was sitting with friends at the Jim and Jesse record table. A man walked up and began yelling at us, really yelled for five minutes and he wouldn't let up: "Tell Jim and Jesse they don't need no goddamn harmonica player." He stared us down as if he really expected us to say okay we're leaving. We didn't.

Happily though, bands such as New Grass Revival as far back as the 70s were bucking the trend while using bluegrass as a jumping off point to reinvent the music. They added electric instruments and drums and rock/pop style vocals and basically pissed off the traditionalists. Even one of the fathers of bluegrass, Earl Scruggs, stretched the genre when he performed with his sons in the Earl Scruggs Revue. I am happy to tell you I saw them perform in Calgary, Alberta many years ago.  

Many young bands have breathed new life into the genre, all thanks to the alt.country Americana "Oh Brother..musical wave that blew in in the late 90s. Nickel Creek, Old Crow Medicine Show, Punch Brothers and (a favourite) Avett Brothers.You'll find all of them along the punk, rock n roll and traditional stringband / bluegrass folk roots music continuum. While at the same time, Steve Martin has picked up his ol' banjo and breathed life into the more traditional side of things fronting the Steep Canyon Rangers. And of course you can always depend on Bela Fleck to open up his bag of banjo tricks, even though he keeps at least a toe dipped in the bluegrass water.

I know you bluegrass Nazis are still out there. I can hear you breathing. But it does my heart good to know that this traditionally based acoustic music has outgrown you and it packing in a wider audience in clubs and festivals all over North America.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Davy, Mickey, Mike, Peter and Frank or Zappa and the Monkees of Invention

I don't remember seeing this when the Monkees was first run on TV but, as a 10 year old, I must have seen it. I watched the Monkees religiously. Zappa's appearance didn't leave an impression on me then but it sure resonates today.

While his death triggered memories for me and probably every other North American in their 40s and 50s, it wasn't unitil I saw the comment below that I began to reflect on how the Monkees influenced my musical taste.

My friend Helen M. wrote: "My first idiot moment as a budding rock critic: passionate argument in the schoolyard with another Grade 5 student about who was the better band, The Monkees or the The Beatles."

I remember putting up posters of the Monkees and the Beatles on my bedroom wall; begging for guitar lessons because of the Monkees, even though I had fought tooth and nail to quit piano a few short years before. I had all the Monkees' records. I even found out that they didn't write their own songs or play their own instruments and I really didn't mind, at first. 

Yes indeed. I was a fan. Then I got older and my taste in music changed and nature took its course.

I loved the Monkees. 

Then they sucked. 

It was a rite of passage. 

While I was trying to shed the fun goofy music of my youth for the serious deep and meaningful complex cool stuff, the people actually making the music were far less worried about what was considered cool.

Obviously Zappa put the Monkees in the proper context earlier than I did.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Press Play> Vol. 18 Valdy, Singer Songwriter, Canadian Folk Icon

Valdy is the first musician who has contributed to my blog who I can call a true musical icon.

He helped define the roll of the singer songwriter in Canadian music when he emerged in the 70s. Many of the big names in music north of the 49th will tell you about Valdy's influence on their music.

He has been around the Canadian music scene for four decades. He has a stack of music awards: gold records, Junos and such. It will also come as no surprise to people who know Valdy and his music that he was named to the Order of Canada in 2011.You can find out more about him on his website. Here is his entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

While the troubadour flies under the radar of mainstream pop music, he continues to tour and perform across North America solo or as a duo with his friend and fellow Salt Spring Islander Gary Fjellgaard.

I've seen Valdy perform a dozen, maybe two dozen times over the years. Every time I see his show I am reminded of his many talents as a singer, a songwriter, guitar player and as an overall entertainer. I have never left a Valdy show without a smile on my face.

He calls the song Play Me A Rock 'n' Roll Song (video below) "my hit" but he had a number of hit songs on Canadian radio, particularly in 70s and 80s including: A Good Song, Simple Life, David Bradstreet's Renaissance (Let's Dance That Old Dance) and Bob Ruzicka's Yes I Can (Anyway You Want Me).

I bumped into Valdy during his recent stop in Calgary to play a couple of local folk clubs including my own home club The Nick, and I asked him to PRESS PLAY>. He obliged. I think you'll find his musical choices as enlightening and entertaining as a Valdy performance.

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

Christine Bougie (lap steel) her album called Aloha Supreme

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

Henry Mancini Music from Peter Gun

Leon Russell Delta Lady

Carol King Tapestry

What was the first record you bought?

Jimmy Yancey Barrelhouse, Boogie Woogie and Blues

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

Cohen and Warnes
Leonard Cohen's Song for Bernadette by Jennifer Warnes (from Warnes' record of Cohen songs Famous Blue Raincoat.)

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

None, there is no guilt in aural pleasure.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Victor Mecyssne Skinnybones

Which of your records is your favourite?

Coastline of Our Dreams: the Songs of Ian Tamblyn

(Musical Immigrant's note: Valdy's track on this tribute record is Long Lost French Cafe. I find it interesting that Valdy chose a tribute album to a fellow singer-songwriter, Ian Tamblyn, as his favourite recording even though he has about 14 albums and 22 singles to his credit. I emailed and asked him to elaborate. If I hear back I'll let you know.)

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn't?

I look for the good in what I invest in; the CDs laid on me are often ghastly, but that doesn't answer your question, does it. Quiet Nights by Diana Krall was a bit too sleepy for me, lovely lush strings, but a turn down a different road stylistically. I like her bop.

Valdy has a new record 
Read Between the Lines 
Find it at his website