Sunday, December 30, 2012

BEST OF 2012 (Part Four)

Bonnie Raitt - "Slipstream" - American treasure with some of the strongest hands in music. Gorgeous covers (including a couple of hidden gems from Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind") and originals.

Joey Ramone - "...Ya Know?" - Rumours circulating for years became reality in 2012 as Joey's brother Mickey Leigh took original vocal tracks (After eight years of legal wrangling resulted in the Estate of Joey Ramone finally reacquiring the demos) and was able to put out the equivalent of a late career solo Joey Ramone album. It's wonderful. It's also difficult to believe that Joey, Johnny & Dee Dee are gone.

The Rolling Stones - "Some Girls Live In Texas '78" - Tremendous combo blu-ray & cd package. The Stones at their absolute peak on stage. Hard to imagine Keith Richards playing any better than he did this night in Fort Worth on July 18, 1978 when it was all bout the music. Only the music.

John K. Samson - Literate leader of The Weakerthans flies solo for the first time. Still singing about Canadiana, mostly through a lens on the road, plus computer games and hockey (an appeal to get Reggie Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame). Well read kid from Winnipeg.

The Sheepdogs - "The Sheepdogs" - Major label debut for Saskatchewan foursome is a real winner. Produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, the boys have The Guess Who and BTO DNA in abundance. But it sounds so fresh. Another nominee for rock and roll album of the year.

Shovels and Rope - "O' Be Joyful" - Riding the recent retro folk-country-rock craze, married couple Michael Trent and Carrie Ann Hearst bring energy, originality and desperation to the Americana scene.  "Birmingham" is as good a song I heard this year.

J.D. Belanger (J.D. Slim) - "J.D. Belanger AKA J.D. Slim" - Think what Sugar Sammy did this year is impressive? Anybody else on the local music scene pull off what JD did - a double CD featuring a who's who of the  Montreal blues scene including J.D.'s longtime musical partner Jim Zeller  plus, among others, Stephen Barry, Breen LeBoeuf, Pat Loiselle, Bob Walsh and Guy Belanger? What's so special? One CD in French. The other in English. Now that's Quebec blues.

Patti Smith - "Banga" - Still in fine form now on the other side of 65. Beautifully written, sung and played by Patti and her longtime band. Inspiring.

Todd Snider - "Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables" - One of my favourite songwriters and story tellers who's one stop in Montreal came courtesy of those of us at BillyBob Productions (Gary Silverman, Lloyd Fischler, Andy Besner & myself) when we were active on the Montreal music scene (1996 - 2005). Todd played on Oscar night, a freezing Sunday, at the old Club One on lower Crescent. We didn't think he had an audience in Montreal but Todd was managed at the time by Al Bunetta, longtime manager for John Prine (and co-founder with Prine of Oh Boy Records). We had been the first Montreal promotion company to invite Prine to play in Montreal (one music industry type told us we'd be lucky to sell 30 tickets for "An english-american singer-songwriter who's never been here"). Impressed by our persistence Prine agreed to slash his performance fee and forego his usual demand for a theatre venue as long as we took him for an authentic French dinner the night before the concert. Bunetta decided to make a weekend of it as well bringing along a publicist/soundman plus Prine's guitarist and bass player. What a weekend. We took them to Le Mas Des Oliviers on Bishop where we might have emptied their collection of red wine. Bunetta spent the rest of the night looking for a single joint to smoke while I walked Prine back to his hotel. As we crossed Bishop a couple of guys yelled at me "Hey Mitch! Great show!". Want to take this opportunity to thank you guys wherever you are. It's not often John Prine is walking around while fans are saluting the other guy. The next night, Prine played to a sold out Spectrum (with Tom Russell as opener) opening up with "Spanish Pipedream" (She was a level headed dancer on the road to alcohol/ And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal) after fulfilling my personal request for "Bad Boy" during late afternoon sound check (Prine was quick to seek me out after the concert to apologize for not including "Bad Boy" on his setlist. But added that was the reason he played it in the emptiness of the Spectrum. How about that, huh?). Maybe our greatest night ever. Certainly one to be very proud of. And we actually made a couple of hundred dollars. So Bunetta remembered us as Snider was wrapping up a solo tour of Canada and asked if we would mind having him play for us. For the usual solo songwriter fee of $500. Maybe if it was a non-Oscar or Saturday night there would have been 20 people in Club One instead of 10-12. But I'll never forget Snider playing his heart out as if the place was packed. And we sure enjoyed ourselves at the bar afterwards. Todd Snider is a major talent in the tradition of Prine, Loudon Wainwright III, Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard and another of his troubadour heroes - Jerry Jeff Walker.

Todd Snider - "Time As We Know It - The Songs Of Jerry Jeff Walker" - A dozen Walker originals including classics "Mr. Bojangles" and "Pissin' In The Wind".

Bruce Springsteen - "Wrecking Ball" - Not a huge fan of Bruce as produced by Brendan O'Brien. So I was happy to hear him move in another direction for this collection of "angry" songs (Ron Aniello who doubles as multi - instrumentalist). It's still a big sound but captured mostly without the E Street Band (Roy Bittan and Gary Tallent are only members of band who do not get credit for working on album). And of course highlighted by the final appearance of Clarence Clemons. There's a lot more here than "We Take Care Of Our Own".  Springsteen kind of nails America 2012. But unlike Ry Cooder's "Election Special" people will be listening to this forever.

Leeroy Stagger - "Radiant Land" - As good a "Made in Canada" album produced all year. Stagger has some Springsteen-esque qualities but he's much closer in spirit to Steve Earle, who's always been more of an outlaw than The Boss (Can't see Bruce writing "Capitalism Must Die!". Can definitely see Steve Earle writing that). Hope to see more of him around Montreal in 2013.

Tedeschi Trucks Band - "Everybody's Talkin'" - Ace musicians - and husband and wife -  Derek Trucks (best slide guitarist in U.S.?) and Susan Tedeschi take their band on the road to soaring and joyous heights in front of live audeience. Magic.

The Tragically Hip - "Now For Plan A" - Canada's best rock band sounding like Canada's best rock band. A let's-cut-it-live-in-the-studio feel to it. Now when does Montreal get to see them again?

Loudon Wainwright III - "Older Than My Old Man Now" - Wainwright doing what he does best. Singing about his life. And losses. With uncanny observatory powers, good humour and sensitivity. Helped out by his son, daughters, sister-in law, surviving ex-wives, best friend (Chaim Tannenbaum) plus a couple of other notables named Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Chris Smither.

The Wallflowers - "Glad All Over" - Welcome return from a group trapped by it's early stardom. Following a couple of roots heavy solo releases, Jakob Dylan brings the boys back together ("Reboot The Mission") with help from one of their idols, Mick Jones. Sounds like they're having fun again.

Jack White - "Blunderbuss" - Anybody not expect White's first solo effort to be as great as it is?  Is there anything he can't do?

"Listen, Whitey! (The Sounds Of Black Power 1967-1974)" - Companion to the Pat Thomas book of roughly the same name, it's a cool history lesson, especially for the hip hop generation who might never have heard of say, Gil Scott-Heron. In addition to the music (including John Lennon & Yoko Ono's tribute to Angela Davis & Dylan's ode to fallen prisoner George Jackson) there are snippets of speeches by Panthers Stokely Carmichael & Eldridge Cleaver and classic stand up from longtime activist Dick Gregory.

Andre Williams & The Sadies - "Night & Day" - Take a high energy, heavy touring Canadian roots rock band, add a forgotten once homeless rough 'n ready R & B singer who's into his 70s and you have a story that can't possibly be created. And maybe a movie. What a great and greasy rock and roll album.

Amy Winehouse - "At The BBC" - Beautiful tribute to troubled soulful songstress.  One CD & Three DVDs featuring BBC Sessions Live, an Amy tribute put together by longtime musician/TV host Jools Holland and a documentary. Still so sad.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Americana" - Leave it to a group of Canadian rockers to take an English anthem ("God Save The Queen") and slap it at the end of a collection of folk standards called "Americana".  Just a warm up act.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Psychedelic Pill" - So the first rock and roll album made by Neil and The Horse in eight years garners the usual responses - Indulgent. Shoddy. Raw. Self-centered. As Paul McCartney once said about criticism of The White Album, "It's The Beatles. It's the White Album. It's fucking great. Shut up". If you don't like a 28 minute album opener simply hit "skip". I'm with Neil Young all the way. Especially when he plays with his raw, noisy, indulgent shoddy mates.

ZZ Top - "La Futura" - Rock and roll hall of famers and modern blues greats team up with producer Rick Rubin and his American Recordings label and receive a much needed Black Keys - like jolt.

Special Features tomorrow...

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