Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Huge Orange Flying Boat

May 10, 2009

As the echoes of our passing fade all there is to say.

Bruce Cockburn

Time Me At The Crossroads

Welcome to Part III of my multi-part review of Bruce Cockburn’s Slice O Life.  You can read Part I and Part II by clicking. I also apologize for the lack of a podcast. I am having some issues elated to my account (no fault of libsyn) and can’t post anything right now. I will be back with them in the very new feature. I appreciate your patience.

This final section begins with a brief story about the pan handlers of Bruce’s current hometown, Kingston.

We’ve reached a portion of the set that contains three classics, beginning with the timeless Wondering Where The Lions Are. Since this is a solo show Bruce enlists his audience to echo the refrain.  I’ve said a lot about this song in a past post and my opinion remains unchanged.  It’s a song that I never grow tired of hearing.

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear. If you are familiar with this song, then you know it is often more spoken than sung.  The history of the environental movement is a bit of a mystery to me, but I have to think that this song represnts what was once great fervor about saving the rainforests.  When’s the last time you saw a commercial abotu saving the rainforests?  It’s been awhile for me.

Celestial Horses contains one of the few problems on this CD. There is a noticeable buzz in the song, which is a bit distracting, but isn’t a huge issue.  The song itself is quite beautiful in this venue.  It actually reminds me of a few Paul Simon songs, like Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War.  Yet it is unmistakeably Bruce Cockburn.

Most artists who play music similar to Bruce would never get as angry as If I Had A Rocket Launcher.  Of course, it does happen from time to time, and when we remember that Bruce came up in the rabble rousing milieu that was the 1960’s.  In this format the song has the feel of a solitary voice yelling at the wall of meaningless violence.

Child of the Wind is a straight ahead folk song.  There is beauty in simplicity.  I could hear Joel Plaskett playing this song.  Bruce has been widely covered, perhaps most famously by The Barenaked Ladies, which is a testament to his influence and skillful songwriting.

The concert portion of the album wraps up with Tie Me At The Crossroads. It’s been a great ride.

The album has a bonus section of soundcheck material.  It’s interesting to listen to and to get a slice of backstage chatter. The three tracks each have something a little different to offer.  I actually sumbled across a fascinating debate about the legacy of Kit Carson after listening to the song again.

Overall I greatly enjoyed Slice O Life. Bruce Cockburn is such a talented musician that even when he is alone for two hours he can create a transcendent experience.  His voice has changed a bit over the years, which is not a bad thing, and his guitar playing remains exemplary.  Although this concert is a collection of songs spanning is career I think it’s worth commenting on the content of his compositions.The quality of his lyric writing is perhaps unsurpassed in Canadian music.  He merges spiritual, political, emotional, social, and natural themes and creates compositions that paint pictures and tell stories.  If you aren’t a Bruce Cockburn fan this album might convince you to change your mind. Particularly if you appreciate strong acoustic guitar playing and entertaining songs.  This is obviously a must for all Bruce Cockburn fans. Bruce Cockburn has a reputation for outstanding solo concerts, and this album does not disappoint.

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We’ve Even Got A Bearded Folk Singer

May 9, 2009

Dark things drift across the screen.

Bruce Cockburn

Put It In Your Heart

Welcome to Part II of my review of Bruce Cockburn’s new live album, Slice O Life.  Part I is here, and Part III will arrive tomorrow.

My friend Dave sent me a tab for Pacing the Cage and said “this looks pretty easy.”  Certainly in the context of Bruce’s other compositions this one is simpler.  yet it is as beautiful as any of his songs.  I’ve proven who I am so many times, the magnetic strips worn thin.  I marvel at his ability to capture narrative in these songs.  It is very difficult to write a compelling song that tells an authentic story.  Bruce manages to encaspulates bits of his life into entertaining and memorable songs without sounding contrived.

Before we get into the instrumental The End of All Rivers, Bruce talks about playing a fraternity hayride in 1960’s Boston.  He was, and still is, the bearded folksinger.  I first heard The End of All Rivers in that CBC Radio 2 podcast.  With remarkable skill Bruce has infused this piece with the sense of being on a river.  The melody moves like a current through the song.  This is a song that deserves silent and awestruck appreciation.

Soul of a Man starts out with a bluesy solo before becoming even more bluesy.  This is no surprise since it’s a Blind Willie Johnson song. The blues have stood the test of time despite representing a fairly narrow range of possibilities.  Now perhaps that is true of all music genres, but as this track demonstrates, a blues song from 80 years ago remains fresh in the hands of a skilled musician.  The same might not be said about other songs.

Bruce ventures into flamenco-esque territory with the beginning of  Wait No MoreFold me into you, you know were I’m dying to be. This is an appropriate choice after the previous songs, as we are treated to another blues-infused piece.  The solo features some spanish flavour, but would also fit into a psychedelic song.  Wait No More is a sonic trip.

One of the best features of this album is that these performances are so different from the album versions.  Many bands give more or less a carbon copy of their music when playing live, which is fine if you are in the audience, but not so special on an album.

Bruce tries out a brand new song, apparently for the first time in front of an audience. It’s a very slow tune called The City Is Hungry.  It is reminiscent of Robbie Robertson in some ways. It’s likely this song will change quite a bit before it arrives on an album, if it does at all. Live albums are rife with songs that later disappeared altogether.  That is one of the best feature of many live discs. This one definitely has the feel of a work in progress, as Bruce wanders a bit around the fretboard.  New songs are often a bit directionless at first.

We’ve reached the final song for today, Put It In Your Heart.  The pace has picked up and the crowd reacts appreciatively.  With the cut and paste nature of this album it’s hard to know which songs go together, so it’s possible this song isn’t a change of tempo for this audience.  It is for us though. I suggest listening very carefully to the guitar in any Bruce Cockburn song. At first you might think you can hear everything, but on closer inspection you will notice things happening that didn’t seem to be there before.  He often includes momentary inflections and intentionally stray notes. Put It In Your Heart is a deeply passionate song.

Look for Part III tomorrow as we roll through a bunch of the classics, hear a bit of his sound check and I give my final analysis.

Make Me Your Animal

February 20, 2009

I will always be the worst.

Matthew Good Band

Generation X-Wing

“Hey Peter”

“Yes?”

“Why don’t you do one of those unsolicited reviews of an album that’s old and mostly forgotten?”

“I could do that. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, Matt Good has been all popular as a solo artist in the last few years. You should go back to his earlier days and talk about Raygun. As a bonus it’s short so you won’t have to write much.”

“That’s a good idea! I’ll do it!”

It’s 1996.  I’m in Grade 9 and The Matthew Good Band has been enjoying enormous indie success.  Dave Genn (now of 54*40? What?) has just joined the group, and they are just a short time away from exploding with Underdogs and it’s rocking single Everything is Automatic. It seems like a good time for an album bridging EP.  Raygun appears with a new version of Haven’t Slept In Years (I’ll get to that) and a bizarre cover picture of a man with a 1940’s futuristic gun strapped to his face.  But what really matters is the music, and this collection succeeds in a wide variety of ways.

The first of 5 tracks is the title one, Raygun.  It builds up with heavy drums, bass and guitar.  There was something about Matt Good’s voice that moved teenaged me.  It still does I think. This song is everything you’d expect from this group, up tempo, yet at times understated.  The sound was particularly popular in the late 90’s which were my formative music years.  Matt Good was known for his politically charged and somewhat crude lyrics.  He has a bit of Dave Matthews and a bit of Bob Dylan in his words.

The ode to Star Wars (not really) Generation X-Wing starts out with drums that sound like the beginning of Love Shack. I love the B-52’s.  The song quickly becomes much more Matthew Good Band.  This song displays his love of almost howling vocal parts.  Yea you can call me loser, yeah you can call me anything.  This song seems to be about feeling inadequate, or at least recognizing that you just aren’t that great of a person.  I’ve heard Matt Good isn’t the nicest guy to deal with, but at least he knows it! The solo in Generation X-Wing is not very notable, and it’s followed by a feedback laced rambling speech.  Yet somehow this is still an entertaining song.

Haven’t Slept in Years was on Last of the Ghetto Astronauts but it was remade for the EP.  The beginning of this song is just awesome.  I was once in a jam grou that only did Matthew Good Band songs. It was a lot of fun.  This is definitely the stand out track on the disc.  Although you could argue that there is not a huge difference between any early Matthew Good Band songs, they all still have merit as creative rock pieces.  What they realized that a lot of other hard rock bands don’t is that you can’t just pound out a bunch of power chords and a big solo and consider yourself an interesting musician.  Matt Good and his proteges were always diversifying their songs, adding bits and pieces that made them fun to listen to, all while maintaining that rock ethic.  Haven’t talked to anybody else.

I’ve never been to Alabama. I guess Matt Good has. But what is life if not a joke? That is a wonderful question. See rather than singing abotu some girl he slept with, or lost, Matt Good wants us to ponder the very meaning of our existence in the context of a dingy hotel in a backwater town.  He is also obsessed with using television as an image in his songs.  I think he views it as a black hole in human culture, since the characters who watch TV or are on TV are inevitably shallow, lost or hopeless.

So Long, Mrs. Smith echoes back to Matt Good’s early days as a solo artist. Yes he was a folky troubadour before making it as a rock star, and then going back to being a folky solo guy.  I don’t think he could do an album without a song like this. Apparations, and Strange Days are two more examples.

This is a short little EP, but it is highly enjoyable.  If you’ve got half an hour to pass away, I’d suggest putting it on.  If you’re like me it will be a nice flashback to a simpler more awkward time in your life.

I See Houses

December 21, 2008

So these are my crimes.

The Verve

Numbness

Before I break into Part II of my review of Forth I wanted to relay a story.  The NHL Network is showing the Buffalo-LA game from the other night.  The Kings broadcaster had a between periods segment on Jason Pominville’s blog.  Only when they showed him typing with text overlayed on the screen it had a big underlined typo. Don’t you think they could get a better shot? It also appears that he has someone else type it for him.

Nubmness starts out sounding like a Modest Mouse song.  It’s sad that this album came out only 4 months ago and it already seems to have disappeared from people’s radar.  Numbness on my brain… This song has a highly enjoyable bass line. Once again though the vocal is unintelligible to me.  He could be singing about anything. I do love the random guitar parts that sweep in and out of earshot.  Or in the case of one part, sweep across the stereo spectrum.

The next song contains a literal description of what I can only guess is Richard Ashcroft’s neighbourhood back home.  I See Houses is both the title and the first line.  This song makes extensive use of a string part.  There is also a fair amount of piano in here. I once again wonder aloud how much a band that goes 10 years between albums is affected by the changing currents of music.  To me this album sounds like it could’ve come out in 1999 and I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s a fairly logical successor to Urban Hymns. I won’t be late, won’t be late, no. The piano is fantastic.  It’s understated and simple but it suits the repetitive nature of the song perfectly and gives a nice underpinning to the rest of that instrumental parts of the song.

Noise Epic is the appropriately named next song. It clocks in at a healthy 8:14, making it the longest song on an album of long songs.  The guitar effects in this song and many others remind me of The Matthew Good Band, and the sorts of tones they used on their three big albums.  Noise Epic features a driving bass line and a talking almost white rapping part. But it’s still mostly talking. I like it.  Once again though it is somewhat buried (intentionally) in the mix so it’s not 100% clear what he’s saying. It does seem like they are using American imagery in the song. At the midpoint the song starts to slow down and build up all at once.  I wonder where we are headed here.  The drums kick back in and I can envision a Jimi Hendrix style jam session. Is it 1970? Maybe. But this is still definitely The Verve. Overall I really enjoy this song in spite of it’s obscene length.  I especially love that there are two false endings.  The final minute and a half of Noise Epic is the most hard rocking part of the entire album. I got spirit…Wake up wake up wake up wake up…ironic after a long song.

From the longest to the shortest.  Valium Skies is the only song under 5 minutes on the entire album.  The dedication to such complex layering is admirable.  Every moment it seems as if 10 things are happening that I can’t hear on top of everything I can.  She’s got the things I need, yea the air I breath. This is a top 3 song for me.  It’s a regular old love song with more sweeping guitar effects.  I think this song would be as nice on an acoustic guitar.  I think that’s how a love song should be. If it can be stripped down to one instrument and one voice and still be beautiful, then it’s a winner.  And when it comes to my valium skies, she don’t mind if I cry…

Columbo was a favourite tv show of mine growing up.  I’m anxious to figure out if this song is actually about the famed detective. Especially since Peter Falk just passed away last week.  If you aren’t sure who I am talking about, maybe you know him as the Grandpa in The Princess Bride. This song would’ve made an ultra-hip theme song for the show.  Some people have compared this song to Lovesong by The Cure. I can see some of the similarities.  It might be similar to the way that Smells Like Teen Spirit is Louie Louie. Similar rhythmic setup, but with enough of The Verve to separate it. I can see what people are saying though.

The very final track is Appalachian Springs. To me, if a group is at all interested in creating a dynamic album they should be concerned with how they leave the audience. How does the last song wrap things up?  This song is an Urban Hymns style ballad along the lines of Lucky Man. Cause solitude, sacred mood, Appalachian springs, all my things, took a step to the left, took a  step to the right, saw myself, and I wasn’t quite right. I think it’s a nice trip back for fans of the band. It doesn’t seem to point to their future direction, but this whole album has been a hybrid of their early and later work.  I’m not sure where The Verve will go from here. Maybe they can keep standing still.

My final verdict on the album has a couple of parts. First, if you like The Verve for more than just Bittersweet Symphony, then you should already own this album. It has all the elements that made you a fan in the first place.  If you aren’t familiar with their work, and are a fan of bands like Radiohead, Coldplay, Blur, Oasis, or really any British rock of the 90’s then I’d recommend checking out the singles, previewing the songs online, and giving them a chance. You’ll likely be very satisfied. For everyone else, maybe youshould try to. This album won’t blow anyone away, but it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour and or so. Slipping in and out of the dreams…

Sit and Wonder

December 20, 2008

No bed of roses, her cheeks like peaches, I ain’t gonna wait no more, oh give me some light.

The Verve

Sit and Wonder

Music can feel different depending on the time of day you are listening.  I have decided to do a proper review of an album that is now a few months old but is still fresh in my mind.  That is, Forth by The Verve.  Now most of you will be familiar with the group through their hit single Bittersweet Symphony. In fact, in North America they are often considered a one hit wonder. In the UK, however, they were quite popular and well known without Bittersweet Symphony. Among my friends they are also much more.  The band broke up a number of years ago, but, as many bands do, they reunited recently and put together a brand new album. The leader, Richard Ashcroft, remains a fine songwriter and musician.  My plan for this review is to follow the pattern established with the post on Wide Mouth Mason. Rather than simply giving an overall response and pointing out a few noteworthy tracks, I will go song by song. This will be in two parts with Part II coming tomorrow.

The album opens with my favourite song, Sit and Wonder.  I think The Verve distinguish themselves from similar bands by their blend of electric layering and rich melody.  This fact was more evident on Urban Hymns than on their latest release. I love the drums on this song because even though they share some modern drumming conventions, they are complex enough to enhance the song. This song is arguably more of a rock song than most of the band’s earlier work.  This is definitely the direction they are headed in.As is normal for The Verve there is a highly enjoyable breakdown section.  Something’s going on inside my (unintelligible). That’s me transcribing the lyrics.  The band was part of the shoegazing movement in Britain, though there music transcended it.  One of the hallmarks of shoegazing were vocal parts that were often impossible to make out clearly and served to suit the overall sonic texture more than the message of the song’s lyrics.  Although not considered shoegazers, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke often muffles his words out of self-consciousness.

The album itself is only 10 songs, but each (save 1)  is over 5 minutes in length. This is a tradition for the band.

Next we run into Love is Noise . This song has a weird vocal part that runs through out.It sounds like it belongs on U2’s Zooropa album.  It must be difficult to go from being a band in the late 90’s to a band in 2008.  Musical tastes, particularly among The Verve’s fan base, must’ve changed a bit.  Love is Noise seems like a song that could sparkle live, even if it is merely average on the album. I actually think the first half of the strange vocal part would be amazing if it was song by a soulful female choir.  That would really pop out of this mix. I think this is one song that grows on you before it’s even over, one advantage of longer songs.

Rather Be starts out like a Robbie Williams song.  That is seriously the first thing that popped in my head. It could also be a Coldplay song. I wonder if that’s a coincidence? Of course if it was Coldplay the guitar would be louder.  Is there anywhere better than here? As much as this song is about losing a lover, I wonder if it is about losing the band?  After a somewhat successful solo run, Richard Ashcroft obviously decided that being in a band was a good spot for him.  This song has a background part that could be more effective with if it sat in the mix differently. It seems like this part, and the one in Love is Noise were recorded quickly without regard for how they should fit.  Still I like the song overall.  The missing guitar is stepping up a little bit now. I do, however, love how Ashcroft’s voice fits in.

I’m going to finish Part I with Judas then pick up the last 6 songs tomorrow (along with a final verdict). This song begins with a nice sonic journey. It’s the sort of song that makes me thing of driving on country highways, through the rocks and trees. Also of afternoons in Tobermory, up against the rocks, with the birds and spiders.  This is a very pretty song.  Like many Verve songs the vocals are sparse at times, and that suits their style of music.  For a dream to happen, you gotta let it go. There is a break down bit with a falsetto Gotta let it go repeated over and over. It reminds me of Flight of the Conchords. They usually do that for comic effect. It’s fun to listen for the many layers in these songs. It’s like diving deeper and deeper into the ocean to see what’s down there.

That’s all for today! Part II tomorrow.