Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review

The band’s return to the ACC finds the usual frenetic energy somewhat lacking, owing to less anthem-y new songs and a very chatty Chad Kroeger, though the execution of the set was technically flawless.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Feb 23 2015

Nickelback
2.5 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, Feb. 22.

Nickelback has changed its performance tactic.

Once a combo that used all the bells and whistles available at its disposal with somewhat reckless abandon, the B.C.-based hard rock quartet showed unexpected restraint with the special effects at its Air Canada Centre performance Sunday night.

Explosions? Not a one.

Flashpots? Zilch.

Fire . . . okay, there was some pyro, but its inclusion seemed more of an afterthought to the three or four songs for which it was employed.

Switch them on.

Switch them off.

Woo-hoo!

No, the Chad Kroeger-fronted foursome (occasionally boosted by one member with the sporadic appearance of third guitarist Tim Hay), performing in front of a half circle-shaped projection screen and a light show that wasn’t anything to write home about, decided instead to focus on two traits: personality (Kroeger’s) and music.

And I never thought I’d say this about a Nickelback concert, but I missed the bombast.

Perhaps the thunderous detonations and unexpected bursts of flame added an illusion of intensity and energy to the proceedings in previous tours — this is my third go round with the rockers — but the razor edge that gives the band that additional power boost seemed a little dulled without them.

Some of the lack of dynamism might also be the result of a few developments: firstly, the band’s eighth album, No Fixed Address, finds songwriting genius Kroeger misplacing the Midas Touch that has sold over 50 million albums as he stretches into new territory: the political “Edge of a Revolution,” with its calls for change, and “She Keeps Me Up,” a funky, almost disco-ish number.

While he should be applauded for trying to expand his horizons — Nickelback detractors often accuse him of repeatedly writing “the same song” over again — these songs don’t offer the same staying power as the naughty “Something in Your Mouth” or the country-flavoured ballad “Photograph,” both which drew wild cheering and applause from the estimated 15,000 in attendance.

The other change is front man Kroeger’s comfort level with his audience. Talk about casual: Kroeger was a regular chatterbox.

“It’s so great to be playing a rock ’n’ roll show on Canadian soil,” he bellowed after the opener, “A Million Miles an Hour,” a song noted for the disciplined rhythms dispatched by the anchoring tandem of bassist Mike Kroeger and drummer Daniel Adair.

“It’s fr*#$% cold Canadian soil, but we can handle the weather.”

The disarmingly frank and funny Chad Kroeger dialogue didn’t disperse after the first few numbers; it carried on for the entire show.

“Since this is a Nickelback show, there will be vulgarity,” he joked at another point, projecting an earthy persona that the audience just lapped up.

The relaxed informality again translated into a subtle loss of energy, although the execution of the show’s 19 songs — Silver Side Up’s “Too Bad” and a somewhat listless “How You Remind Me,” All the Right Reasons’ “Rock Star” and Dark Horse’s driving “Burn It to the Ground,” a solid choice for encore if there ever was one and one of the evening standouts — was technically flawless.

So yeah, it was a regular campfire gathering, even with a handful of covers thrown in, including an Eagles sing-along for “Take It Easy” and the first verse and chorus of “Hotel California.”

For all the Nickelback hits that could have been included — “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” “Never Again” and “Lullaby” among them — it made you wonder why precious concert time was given to meaningless covers like Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” or Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” the latter sung by Ryan Peake.

Oh, there was one constant from the old Nickelback days: beer.

The old tradition of flinging quarter cups of beer into the audience still gives Nickelback that blue-collar aura that it does so well.

Maybe that’s the secret . . . the drunker one gets, the faster they sound.

Either way, fans in general were thrilled to the point of delirium with how Nickelback reminded them that rock ’n’ roll in general is one big, escapist celebration — even without the explosions.

Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review | Toronto Star

Dan Mangan forges new frontiers with Blacksmith

The Juno-winning musician and songwriter rides a layered new album into Saturday’s Massey Hall show.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Feb 25 2015

Dan Mangan is going deep.

The 31-year-old eloquent, observant singer and songwriter has returned with a newly named band Blacksmith to introduce what’s arguably his finest album to date in Club Meds.

The Smithers, B.C., native views the CD, his first since 2011’s Juno-winning Oh Fortune, as a new chapter in his life, following some life changes that included becoming a parent for the first time.

“It’s great,” says Mangan, down the line from Montreal, of son Jude. “For myself, it forced me to slow down a little bit. I have a tendency to be hyperactive — not really in my demeanour, but just in my incessant need to be working on things. If I’m idle for five seconds, I start to go crazy.
“So I think it forced me to stop and slow down and go ‘wait, wait, wait: Maybe all you need to do right now is hold this little human and enjoy that.’ So that’s been really good for me. I feel a little bit calmer since I’ve had a kid, which is crazy, because my life is a million times more hectic.”

Mangan, who headlines at Massey Hall Saturday night with his band Blacksmith (John Walsh, Gord Grdina and Kenton Loewen), special guest Hayden and Calgary’s Astral Swans, says the break after touring Oh Fortune allowed him to sit back and reassess his situation.

“We were pretty beat at the end of the 2012 Oh Fortune cycle. The band would be in the airport terminal, and we’d look around at each other and we were all bagged with circles under our eyes,” he laughs. “Even before I had the band, I’d been touring alone a good seven years, sometimes 200 shows a year.
“So I thought, okay, let’s take a breath, you know — and coming back after a little bit of time, it’s amazing what it did for the band. The mojo was intensified and everybody came at the new material with a lot of excitement and new energy and ready to grab it by the balls and go for it.”

Club Meds displays a continued maturity in the fully realized Mangan sound: intoxicating melodies and pointedly astute lyrics wrapped in soothingly warm and sometimes lush alt-rock arrangements.

Mangan says he’s become a better communicator.

“I’ve grown up a little bit, I’ve learned to articulate myself in different ways,” he admits. “And I’ve felt, in some ways, I’ve always been a little bit political. I’ve always had opinions coming through in the songs, but I think I was a little bit timid to really dig into it, partly because I don’t think I knew how to articulate these things through song when I was younger.”

Club Meds also has an irresistible momentum about it, with a strong, natural flow almost dreamily tying together songs like “Vessel” and “Mouthpiece.”
“It’s a fairly romantic and nostalgic notion at this point, but I still have a tender place for the album as a whole piece . . . I like how the album bobs and weaves and goes in all these different directions and takes you on a bit of a journey,” Mangan says.

One of the themes on Club Meds is hinted at in the title.

“I feel like it’s about sedation,” Mangan confirms. “It’s also the willful blindness, the complacence of delusion that we all wander in and out of. As much as it’s about sedation, it’s also about being awake.
“For myself, I can think about those moments of being truly awake and connected with other people and connect with other streams of thought in the universe. You know those moments where you feel really lucid and sort of tapped in and alive, like your blood is flowing. That’s a truly beautiful place to be.”

Dan Mangan forges new frontiers with Blacksmith | Toronto Star

Julian Taylor revels in versatility

Toronto musician plays R&B at the Horseshoe one night, partakes in folk festival the next.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Feb 12 2015

Julian Taylor is used to shaking it up.

For example, those headed to the Horseshoe on Saturday night will experience the full electrifying and soulful R&B glory of the eight-piece Julian Taylor Band as they perform songs from their acclaimed album Tech Noir.

On Friday and Sunday, you’ll find Taylor doing the solo singer-songwriter thing at the Irish pub Dora Keogh, partaking in the annual Danforth-centric folk fest Winterfolk XIII (David Essig, Jack de Keyzer, Lynn Miles and Hotcha! are among the headliners) and showing off his acoustic guitar chops.

Source his former band Staggered Crossing on YouTube to hear his rock edge.

Taylor is quite the chameleon.

“I can do many things,” he says. “Tech Noir is a rock soul record with which I think I’ve found my niche, but I like writing campfire songs and playing acoustic guitar just as much of that.
“It’s great to be versatile. Over the past couple of weeks I was part of the Gordon Lightfoot tribute at Hugh’s Room and I was also part of the global (Bob) Marley (70th birthday) tribute last weekend. So I get to do a lot of things.”

Taylor said the public’s modern and varied music tastes have allowed him to branch out accordingly.

“The general public has been exposed to so much stuff culturally — music, art, literature — that nowadays they’re way more open.”

The 36-year-old even points to his 3-year-old daughter Ella as “a barometer” of taste, saying she breaks out into spontaneous dance whenever she hears something she likes and will barely react if she hears something she doesn’t.

“When I was recording Tech Noir, I had a lot of friends listen to it, but it was mostly my daughter who told me if it was good or not,” he says. “If we could dance in the living room, then it was working.”

His latest song off Tech Noir, “Be Good to Your Woman,” has evolved into a campaign Taylor said is designed to “spark the conversation about trying to stop violence against women.”

He’s inviting everyone to submit a video to begoodtoyourwoman.com to share positive stories about their relationships and the respect with which people should be accorded.

He’s also pledged $2 from the sale of every copy of Tech Noir to the Canadian Women’s Foundation in honour of the cause.

In the meantime, Taylor, whose songs have been placed in such TV shows as Haven and Elementary, says he will be previewing new material for the Horseshoe Tavern crowd, and is grateful for the support radio outlets like the CBC have given his music.

“What Tech Noir means to me is ‘black future,’ he says. “I wanted to take the feeling of black music in the past and create something new and fresh, yet old, and I think we basically accomplished that.
“Folks that have heard it seem to like it, so I’m not complaining.”

Julian Taylor revels in versatility | Toronto Star

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15

Jill will showcase material from Fool’s Gold, while Matthew has new album Big Romance

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Nov 14 2014

 

Jill Barber has been waiting for this.

When the 34-year-old singer and songwriter takes to the Massey Hall stage on Saturday night as headliner, it will be the crowning achievement thus far of a career that has taken the Port Credit native through numerous styles, seven albums and three continents.

“It’s huge,” said Barber of her appearance at the 120-year-old venue.

“On Saturday night, there will be three big events in my life that are standouts: getting married, having my baby and performing my own show at Massey Hall. It is beyond my wildest dreams, which is an incredible feeling. I really think, when I was a teenager growing up in Port Credit, of being a musician, that playing the Rivoli felt like that would be the pinnacle, so to be invited to play onstage of Massey Hall is a great honour and I really feel it. I feel it a lot.”

Making the occasion even more special will be her warm-up act, her older brother Matthew Barber, a potent singer and songwriter in his own right who has eight albums to his credit, and the one who inspired her to follow her musical dreams.

“It’s totally a dream come true,” says Jill, who will perform material from her latest collection, Fool’s Gold. “My parents, who will be in the audience, what a big night it is for them. It’s a family celebration, obviously with my family, my parents, my brother and I, also with my musical family: my band, the label and all of the people that I work with on a daily basis. It’s a celebration for everybody. It’s not the size of the room, it’s the prestige and the fact that we all got here together is something that we’re all celebrating.”

Matthew, who’s pushing his own new album, Big Romance, has previously experienced the awe factor of the Massey stage.

“I’ve played there as a drummer with Doug Paisley when we opened for Jim Cuddy once and I know that when you’re up there the time flies rather quickly. You’ve got to take a minute to stop and savour the moment, so I’ll do that.”

Produced by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Big Romance offers more of Matthew’s predilection for strong, pop-hooked melodies that are both personal and potent; something he felt was strengthened by Louris’s presence.

“I was aiming for a classic sounding album,” says Matthew. “I’m a huge fan of Gary’s songwriting and the Jayhawks, and I wanted to bring him in to help us craft an album that’s interesting from beginning to end but has classic sensibilities and also some hooks. There’s really no more of a conceptual angle than that.”

Aside from “On the 505,” which is a song concerning the Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting last summer, and “Magic Greg,” an ode to one of Matthew’s late friends, Barber says the remaining eight songs on Big Romance are deal with “existential issues that I’m always interested in, or issues of science and nature and making sense of the world, or just issues of the heart and the emotions that go along with love and relationship. That’s my usual terrain for songwriting.”

But not his only terrain: Barber will also provide the music for the new John Patrick Shanley play A Woman Is a Secret, premiering at Toronto’s Theatre Centre on March 20.

It’s not the first time Barber’s dabbled in theatre; he finds scoring for plays refreshes him when it comes to penning material for his records.

“It’s a nice diversion. I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to keep the songwriting wheels turning, but having these set parameters to contend with where you’re writing for a particular show or writing for particular characters is a nice, different way to work. So when I come back to writing my own material for my next record, it’s fresh.”

He also revealed he’ll be cutting a duets album next year with Jill, whom he calls “amazing.”

“I’m very proud of and inspired by her,” says Matthew. “She’s really crafted her own sound and her own esthetic package, for sure. She experimented with some sounds and has found a style that really works for her.”

Central to that sound is Jill’s plush, torchy voice, described by the authoritative All Music Guide website as a “mid-century blend of little-girl timbre and orotund vowels,” and suited to the jazz-influenced songs that she’s written for Fool’s Gold, some of which sound like a throwback to yesteryear.

It’s been a journey of stylistic twists and turns for Vancouver-based Jill, who began her career with more of a folk esthetic on her first two EPs and 2006’s For All Time before switching directions and being embraced by the jazz community for 2008’s Chances.

Barber said her writing style evolved accordingly once she left her guitar out of the process.

“The way I write songs most of the time these days is a cappella,” says the bilingual Jill, who also released a collection of French-language covers last year called Chansons.

“So it’s really just my voice. I’ll take a little demo recording of me singing a cappella to one of my band mates and they will help me create the music underneath it, so my vocal melody is always the first thing that is written, along with the lyric.

“Back in the day I wrote with my guitar at the same time. But because I’m not the world’s greatest guitar player, I started to find as I started to explore jazzier vocal stylings it became harder for me to accompany myself. So when I put down my guitar, I could sing any melody and was free to let my voice lead the way.”

Jill says she’s always felt a deeper connection to older music.

“Back in university, I would go to the local record shop and thumb through the old dusty records. I would essentially pick out the records that I thought had cool record covers, and I’d take them home and I’d listen to them. There was something about this old jazz, these old standards, and the way these men and women delivered these songs that, to me, instantly felt like a soundtrack: this beautiful, whimsical, romantic experience.

“So I think that when I’m writing, it doesn’t matter what style I’m writing in, I’m trying to write music that is timeless, that might be old but hasn’t aged.”

Massey Hall concertgoers will receive a generous taste of these contemporary “vintage” originals, as Jill says she’s employed a three-piece string section, a three-piece horn section, backing singers and hired a special lightning designer for the show.

“We’re gonna go to town!” she declares. “My two Fool’s Gold producers — Drew Jurecka and Les Cooper — have been working tirelessly on arrangements just to put this show over the top. We’re pulling out all the stops that we know how to pull out and it’s going to be really special.”

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15 | Toronto Star

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences

New touring circuits, more cash and ego spark musical reunion craze.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Nov 20 2014

With the imminent return to Toronto of acts like Moist and The Tea Party after lengthy hiatuses, reunion fever is running high.

While it isn’t necessarily a new trend, many domestic and international acts are mending fences in 2014 and flaunting new leases on life.

Whether it’s the recent return of Christine McVie to the Fleetwood Mac fold, Queen resurfacing with Adam Lambert or the Spandau Ballet reunion that hits Toronto in February, there are common denominators explaining a band’s decision to get back together, including new touring circuits and better cash for bookings, says veteran music industry observer Larry LeBlanc.

“Nowadays the casino business is a huge business and it loves the heritage acts,” says LeBlanc, a senior CelebrityAccess writer. “In some cases, those groups end up making more money today than they made back then. At the same time, the money being paid today is astronomical from what it was.”

But LeBlanc says the motivating factor to reunite may be a simpler one: ego.

“It all goes back to nobody wants to go work in a hardware store,” he laughs. “I’m serious. Once you’ve been in the spotlight, and the spotlight may get smaller and smaller, but to be removed from it is very unnerving.”

Homegrown acts Moist and The Tea Party are returning after absences of 13 and seven years, respectively, and with new albums.

MOIST

For Moist, which performs at the Danforth Music Hall Saturday night on the heels of its new Glory Under Dangerous Skies, the reconsolidation came following a get-together for drinks in 2013.

“I started do to solo projects and I got drawn away by all sorts of different things,” singer David Usher, who has released seven solo albums, said Tuesday. “Everyone else did too, which in my mind is a very natural thing. You want to try new things as an artist at a certain point.

“But we’ve remained friends. Kevin (Young, Moist’s original keyboardist) plays in my band, and then every year we’re having a drink and it always comes up that we should play a show. Last summer was the first time when everyone said, ‘Yeah, let’s play a show.’ Then that turned into six shows over Christmas.”

Those six shows featured original members Usher, Young, guitarist Mark Makoway and bassist Jeff Pearce, along with newer members Francis Fillion on drums and second guitarist Jonathan Gallivan. Pearce has since dropped out and been replaced by bassist Louis Lalancette.

According to Usher, whose band burst onto the Canadian scene with the driving hit “Push” and the bestselling album Silver, the concerts and favourable fan reaction sparked the desire to reconvene for recording and touring, which demanded more of a commitment than Pearce was willing to give.

“It was kind of an unspoken thing that we just naturally wanted to get back into the studio and write together again,” says Usher. “After the Christmas show, we did four days of writing in Montreal and the songs were coming so quickly that we really felt that we were coming into a record cycle. When we started talking about going back on the road, that was more than Jeff was really up for. He’s got a young family. He still remembers that this band tends to take over your life.”

TEA PARTY

Windsor’s Tea Party, performing at the Kool Haus on Nov. 27, reunited in 2012 with original members Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatman, and has already issued a live album of its Australian tour

.
They spent the better part of 2014 in Australia — nowadays singer, guitarist and songwriter Martin calls Perth home — and Toronto’s Revolution Studios recording The Ocean at the End, their first studio album since 2004’s Seven Circles.

Speaking on the phone en route to a Halifax gig, Martin said the band members entered their hiatus acrimoniously, but missing friendships and the urge to create paved the way for their reunion.

Their motivation to reconnect was “the fact that we couldn’t stand to be away from each other anymore or the music that we’ve made or the music that we could make once again,” says Martin.

“I think that the three of us as individuals did a lot of maturing and soul-searching during our seven-year hiatus. At the end, we really couldn’t have been further apart. It just didn’t feel like the band anymore. It was too many cooks in the kitchen and I wanted that Tea Party back that was of the era of Edges of Twilight/Transmission where we were just firing on all cylinders, when I was the captain of the ship and that was it.

“It took awhile for us to come back to something like that, but we certainly have it now. It’s great.”

Martin says that unlike many bands, economics weren’t a factor in the Tea Party reunion.

“It’s the work ethic, the love of making the type of music we can make,” Martin explains. “The Tea Party is a pretty successful band; we don’t need the money. We’re not doing this for anything else except for art. We did the record on our own terms, made the record we wanted to make and now the three of us are just having a blast.”

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences | Toronto Star

Bob Dylan and The Band’s complete Basement Tapes resurface at last

Toronto duo largely responsible for lifting the veil off “the most sought after and mysterious recordings from the post-nuclear, pre-digital era.”

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Nov 05 2014

 

Sitting at Johnny Rockets, a ’50s-style burger joint in Yonge-Dundas Square, my dining companion pulls out a cardboard envelope and hands it over.

“Open it up and have a look. Have a little whiff,” he insists.

Inside is a box containing a reel of recording tape, inscribed in marker with the following song titles in order: “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “Any Day Now — I Shall Be Released,” “If Your Memory Serves You Well,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (Take 2 is written beside it in pencil), “I Shall Be Released” and two separate takes of “Too Much of Nothing.”

It takes a moment to sink in and realize what I’m actually holding: an original Basement Tape, one of the more than 20 reels recorded by Bob Dylan and the majority of Toronto legends The Band when Dylan was convalescing in Woodstock, N.Y., following a 1966 motorcycle accident.

How do I know it’s an original?

Because my dining companion is Toronto’s Jan Haust, Canadian music archivist, current curator of the Dylan-driven collection, and primarily responsible for the release earlier this week of The Basement Tapes Complete, a lavish six-CD set issued by Sony’s Legacy that finally lifts the veil off what Haust calls “the most sought after and mysterious recordings from the post-nuclear, pre-digital era.”

He’s not kidding. Music fans have been waiting nearly half a century to hear these recordings: 138 takes of 115 songs, all of them recorded informally throughout 1967 by The Band’s Garth Hudson, mostly in the cramped Woodstock-area basement of the abode known as Big Pink.

Jan Haust with Garth Hudson

Every note of such future Dylan-penned classics as “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “I Shall Be Released,” “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “The Mighty Quinn;” covers of well known and obscure songs like Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and Johnny Cash’s “Belshazzar” has been lovingly restored and digitally remastered in Toronto by Haust and renowned Cowboy Junkies engineer and producer Peter J. Moore.

Prior to this week’s releases (there’s also a two-disc Sony edition of highlights called The Basement Tapes Raw), fans had received a limited taste of the Big Pink sessions, including the official 24-song The Basement Tapes and a few tracks that have surfaced since, mostly notably “I’m Not There” from the 2007 Todd Haynes film of the same name.

The Basement Tapes sessions were significant for a number of reasons.

First, the relaxed atmosphere of everyone crammed into an intimate space allowed Dylan (who performs at the Sony Centre on Nov. 17 and 18) to explore another songwriting direction, which was a little more laidback and humorous.

“What was going on for the most part, pretty basic,” recalls Hudson, who set up the basement with microphones, a recorder and a mixer, in a separate phone interview.

“He (Bob) would write the song upstairs, couch and coffee table, then take it down and we would play it, and usually, not even run through it once. We’d do the introduction and then a bit of the song and then I would put the machine on record.”

Some argue it may have been the birth of alt-country, but a bigger significance is that it completed a musical coming of age.

“It’s where it all ended up coming together,” notes Haust. “And that’s the fascinating component here. The basement is the incubator of what became The Band.”

The Band

For Haust, the release of The Basement Tapes Complete marks the end of a 12-year journey for him and Moore, the engineer. The duo first heard the tapes, through an arrangement via Haust’s friendship with Hudson, when Robbie Robertson was assembling 2005’s The Band box set A Musical History.

“Some of the tapes were in rough shape, through no fault of Garth Hudson’s and through no fault of anyone’s,” Haust recalls.

Several reels were mouldy and Moore had to delicately unwind and re-spool some 1,800 feet of “very, very thin” reel-to-reel tape by hand on a few others to “flatten them out.”

There was also a bigger challenge: all the songs were recorded on a rare quarter-track machine with such poor quality tape that Moore didn’t have the equipment for proper playback, let alone restoration.

“These tapes were never meant to be heard by the public,” said Moore in a separate interview. “These were sketches — the jotting down of ideas. So the tape’s speed was 7½ inches per second, where most of your quality pro recordings are at 30 or 15 inches per second. I told Jan, there’s no such thing as a professional quarter-track machine.”

So Moore had to get a playback tape head custom made for his own equipment and found a New Jersey manufacturer who had the expertise to make it. The request was so rare that the manufacturer, Jim French, had only built one prior to Moore’s request.

The buyer? Neil Young, known for being quite persnickety when it comes to technical recording tools.

“Once I heard that, I knew I was following the right logic,” Moore says.

When Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen and Sony Music finally commissioned Haust and Moore to assemble The Basement Tapes Complete, the duo huddled in Moore’s studio from March through September, deciding to follow Garth Hudson’s original lead and sonically restore what was going on in the basement.

“We kept the integrity of what Garth envisioned,” says Moore. “I didn’t add reverb or anything to these tapes. I’m phase correcting — not changing the picture, just realigning the lens.

“But when you realign the lens, all of a sudden you have that much more depth of field. I phase corrected a lot of the tapes and suddenly the bass appears. You’re actually hearing the bass for the first time — Rick (Danko) and his lovely melodic glissandos and everything he’s doing on that bass.

“Whereas on the bootlegs, there’s no top end, no bottom end, just more of a whiny mid-range. I’m bringing it into focus.”

The sound is immaculate, even impressing the man who commandeered the original tape recorder, Garth Hudson.

“I remember the sounds very well, the background sounds and the instruments,” Hudson says. “What we have now is clarity. It was a lot of work on Jan’s part and Peter Moore with his incredible talent. The voice is more alive. It’s clearer. And Peter has also assembled and revived tape that has been crinkled, stretched. So it’s been a big process.”

Now that The Basement Tapes Complete has finally seen the light of day, Haust and Moore have one more ambitious project in mind: an eight-CD, DVD and book box set chronicling Levon and The Hawks, dating back to their individual pre-Ronnie Hawkins musical pursuits in the late ’50s.

In the meantime, Haust will savour the arrival of The Basement Tapes Complete.

“I’m pleased as punch that we were able to put it together,” says Haust.
“This is the first time ever that a Bob Dylan project was produced in Toronto. That’s very significant. It’s four Canadian rock ’n’ rollers and an American folksinger. Now we’ve set the record straight. . . .

“We have cleaned up these recordings. We have repaired the damaged tape. We have treated these 47-year-old recordings like the archaeological gems that they are.

“This isn’t the Mona Lisa. These are the sketches.”

Sony executive Steve Berkowitz, Jan Haust and Peter J. Moore receiving a Grammy for their compilation and restoration work on Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes Complete

 

Bob Dylan and The Band’s complete Basement Tapes resurface at last | Toronto Star

Oh Susanna beats cancer to sing other people’s songs

Oh Susanna’s Suzie Ungerleider had to delay her Namedropper album — with contributions from Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett, Melissa McClelland and others — for treatment, but she finally debuts it in concert on Saturday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Oct 23 2014

When Oh Susanna performs Saturday night at the Great Hall, Suzie Ungerleider will be celebrating not only a sparkling new album called Namedropper, but successful treatment for breast cancer.

It was about 18 months ago, during the late stages of mixing the new Jim Bryson-produced album, a collection of 14 original songs written specifically for Ungerleider by numerous respected Canadian songwriters, that the Massachusetts-born, Vancouver-raised, west-end Toronto resident was diagnosed.

“I discovered a lump in my breast, had it checked out and it turned out to be cancer,” said Ungerleider, who will be celebrating her 44th birthday Saturday, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

“I went through surgery and chemo and genetic testing and radiation — I did it all. And the message the doctors gave me is, ‘We’re going to do all the stuff because, medically, you’re very young and we feel it will give you a long life afterwards.’”

Ungerleider concluded treatment “around Valentine’s Day” this year and her cancer is in remission, finally enabling her to focus on launching the Kickstarter-funded Namedropper after being forced to sit on its release for a year.

The project, her sixth album, is a respite from the gloomy and transformative Appalachian-flavoured folk and alt-country balladry on which she has built her considerable North American and European following.

The new originals, contributed by the likes of Ron Sexsmith, Royal Wood, the husband-and-wife Whitehorse team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, Jim Cuddy and many others, certainly sound a little brighter and more pop-oriented than Ungerleider’s signature sound.

It was part of the game plan, although the Juno-nominated singer and songwriter admits she initially had a different vision.

“I had this idea for several years where I wanted to make a record of songs by people I know, but I was just going to choose songs of my friends that I loved,” says Ungerleider.

But it was producer Bryson who suggested commissioning the originals from the writers.

“I said, ‘that’s a great idea. Can you ask them?’” Ungerleider recalls, a hearty laugh resonating over the phone.

“It turned into a whole different ballgame when that happened. I got to put on different masks and it was really fun and liberating.”

The choice of Ottawa-based Bryson, an artist in his own right, as producer, reflected her desire to stretch artistically.

“I wanted someone who was going to make me do what’s a little less comfortable for me, push me and make it sound interesting and less folkie than I probably would otherwise,” Ungerleider admits.

“I love Jim’s creativity and I said to him, ‘I think you should do this because you’re kind of bizarre and way weirder than I am,’” she laughs. “He loves doing weird stuff sonically.”

In terms of approaching songwriters like Joel Plaskett, Nathan’s Keri Latimer and Amelia Curran, Ungerleider only imposed one imperative.

“The requirement was that I’d know the people personally, but not necessarily super well,” she explains. “Some of the people that Jim suggested I couldn’t do because I didn’t know them. But he started out with his list, and then I’d run into people and say, ’Oh, maybe you want to do this, too.’ Then suddenly, it was, ‘Oh, we’re asking too many people.’ So in the end, we had too much stuff. We couldn’t get it all done, but it was a good problem to have.”

Bryson and Ungerleider also wanted to avoid “slow, waltzy songs” and have the writers “think outside the box, because that was the whole idea of the project.”

For Sexsmith’s “Wait Until The Sun Comes Up,” he consulted his Stephen Foster songbook; Cuddy’s “Dying Light” “feels more autobiographical than his normal material,” Ungerleider says, and Melissa McClelland’s rocking “Mozart for the Cat” was inspired by Ungerleider’s son Sal, who was born three months premature.

“There were some stories that were personal, and some where we let the writers do what they wanted to do and get the inspiration however they wanted it.”

Saturday night’s show — which will include Bryson on guitars and keys, bassist Eli Abrams, Ungerleider’s husband Cam Giroux on drums and The Good Lovelies’ Caroline Brooks on harmonies, along with “some people showing up and doing stuff” — is a precursor to tours of Western Canada, the U.K. in January and the Netherlands next spring.

But it also gets the Sonic Unyon recording artist back in the swing of things, to the point where she’s experiencing a new zest for writing.

“I am kind of a lazy person,” she laughs. “I wanted to get the joy back in writing.
“Sometimes I beat myself up about writing, and I feel that going through this illness made me realize that I needed to change my thoughts, have it be more of a joy and not be so overwrought about it.

“Sometimes writing for me can be difficult because I take a serious tone with it. But this was a lovely way to have some new voices in my head.”

Oh Susanna beats cancer to sing other people’s songs | Toronto Star

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara

Southworth’s latest theme album is a double disc, with an “American” and “Canadian” side. He plays Toronto’s Music Gallery on Sunday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 11 2014

For his latest album Niagara, technically constructed as a double album with a nine-song “Canadian” disc and an 11-song “American” disc, John Southworth has specific instructions as to how it should be heard.

“It’s not meant to be listened to all at once,” explained the Sussex, England-born Southworth one afternoon last weekend over a pint at the Rhino, near his current Parkdale home.

“It’s two records, so I’d be happy if someone ignored one side for a period of time before hearing it. In that sense, it’s almost a book disguised as an album.”

It’s also not surprising that the 42-year-old eclectic songwriter, troubadour, filmmaker and children’s book author prefers people to allot the proper amount of time for his music to sink in. Songs like “Niagara Falls is Not Niagara Falls” and “The Horse that Swam Across the Sea” on the Canadian side, and “Poor Boy from Buffalo” and “Womb of Time” on the American side are generally gentle reveries with slight jazzy overtones, songs that require a deeper listen before the bigger picture is revealed.

Generally, it’s a largely mellow project that dwells on the concept of home, and an attempt to explore its definition.

“I consider Toronto part of Niagara, since it’s just across the lake,” Southworth says. “I thought it would be the great, necessary and moral thing to make a record about where I’ve spent most of my life.”

 

Southworth will perform plenty of Niagara songs and also dive into his 13-album catalogue when he appears with his longtime band The South Seas at the Music Gallery on Sunday (7 p.m., $15, no opening act.)

“I feel, more as I get older, a desire to connect in terms of what is home. What feels like home? And I struggle with that, no matter how long I’ve lived here, and I want to know why.
“These are the songs about it, although not every song covers the topic. But I think I knew I was always going to make a record called Niagara.”

Southworth allows that one prominent Niagara location — those famous falls — has been referenced consistently in his music over the years.

“Niagara Falls, as a place, has appeared in a lyric on almost half of my records,” says Southworth. “Not out of any preconceived plan, but it’s lived in my consciousness for awhile.

“And I see Niagara Falls as a symbol and a metaphor for many things in our world now, especially North America. I envision it 1,000 years ago before anything and I reflect on this natural creation and the way it’s been ignored. It’s a symbol for me on where we’re heading on a spiritual level, or where we’re at as a culture and a civilization.

“And these two little towns (Niagara Falls, Ont. and N.Y.) that have sprung up on either side, divided by a natural wonder, dividing two countries, there’s so much to explore and write about it.”

The topic of separation within such a close proximity fascinates him, one that he translated into the story of two lovers in “Poor Boy from Buffalo.”

“The woman lives in St. Catharines and the man lives in Buffalo, and they have to continue their relationship with this border between them, and usually do so by night,” explains Southworth, who co-wrote two songs with Buck 65 on the Toronto rhymer’s just-released Neverlove.

“I like the idea that there are people living lives very close to each other, but are divided by a natural border. For all of us, we are living very close to our American counterparts, but we have no idea what they’re like, and they have no idea what we’re like.”

It’s also a return of sorts to an earlier Southworth tendency of naming his albums after locations: one that began with his debut, 1998’s Mars, Pennsylvania, and continued on with 1999’s Sedona, Arizona, 2000’s Banff Springs, Transylvania, 2001’s Rose Milk Appalachia EP and 2005’s Yosemite before he felt the practice “was becoming a little too precious.”

Although Southworth views Niagara as “tying my first record and this record together as a whole,” his means of recording and arranging has definitely changed over the years.

“When I started out and I made that first record, I was 23. At that time, I would write and control all the arrangements. But as I’ve grown, I do the opposite now. There’s very little on here that’s pre-arranged. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked with Toronto musicians who have an improv jazz background.

“Now we play music where anything can happen. When we record studio takes, what you’re hearing is very immediate — they’re learning the songs. If things aren’t happening in three takes, I abandon them.

“In essence, I’ve become more of a jazz musician, although I still have pop sensibilities as a songwriter.”

Southworth’s first children’s book, Daydreams for Night, is out this month through Simply Read.

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara | Toronto Star

Canadian country music star Brett Kissel performs Thursday in Bowmanville

Singer with eight CCMA nominations kicks off Boots & Hearts Festival Thursday night

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Jul 30 2014

When Canadian country star Brett Kissel hits the road for a nationwide tour with headliner Brad Paisley in October, the eight-time Canadian Country Music Award nominee will be financing the trek by selling a few of his cows.

Seriously.

The 23-year-old Kissel, who was raised on a 100-year-old cattle ranch in Flat Lake, Alta., about two-and-a-half hours outside Edmonton, reveals he was once paid for a concert by cow instead of cash, a newer breed called Speckle Park.

“All my cows calved out, so the herd has increased from 30 to 60 since then,” Kissel explained yesterday from a Calgary recording studio, where he’s working on new material.

“There’s a plan for us to keep what’s called a ‘replacement heifer’ so you keep your heifers, which are female, to increase the herd, and you sell the steers and make some money on that.

“The good news is that a few of those steers I’m going to sell are going to help fund my participation on the Brad Paisley tour.”

Before he hits the road with Paisley, however, Kissel appears at the Thursday night opening blast-off of this long weekend’s Boots & Hearts Festival in nearby Bowmanville, warming up for fellow Canuck Dallas Smith.

And although the fest is headlined by such veteran acts as Toby Keith, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Kissel isn’t intimidated. He says he and the former singer for rock band Default plan to give the country greats a run for their money.

Kissel says the homegrown stars are quite capable of kicking butt onstage.

“Dallas Smith and I are performing the show together and, even though he’s the headliner and I’m opening, we both have the same collective goal: we are there to play the kickoff party and we are there to set the bar very high for the rest of the weekend. We want to make sure we put our foot on the gas pedal and don’t let it off.”

The “gas pedal” reference could apply to Kissel’s career. The public largely knows him through his debut album, Started With a Song, the energetic hits “Started With a Song,” “Raise Your Glass,” “3-2-1” and “Tough People Do,” and winning a Juno Award in March for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, but he first picked up the guitar at age seven, performing Johnny Cash covers at talent shows at the age of 10 and releasing his first album at 13.

Before he signed with Warner Music Canada, Kissel’s independent album sales were each in the five figures and he had headlined Canada’s largest country music festival, The Big Valley Jamboree, in Camrose, Alta.

He also had the distinction, at the age of 15, of being the youngest ever CCMA Award nominee, for Rising Star. So you can imagine his excitement at being nominated for eight CCMA Awards this year. He’ll be in Edmonton on Sept. 7 to hopefully hear his name called.

“There’s no better feeling really, because a lot of hard work has gone into my career in general over the last few years,” says Kissel, who is co-managed by Bob Doyle, Garth Brooks’ manager.

“It’s great to feel this recognition, but in some ways it doesn’t even feel real because it’s a pretty outstanding feeling to get eight of them. We expected maybe one or two. To quadruple my expectations is remarkable.”

Aside from the usual nods for Male Artist, Single and Songwriter (for “Started With a Song”), and Album, one award that Kissel is curiously up for is Interactive Artist of the Year.

He says that his social media activity is one of the more important aspects of his career.

“In this day and age, it’s one of the most important factors to determine success,” Kissel notes. “I now have a direct link to 25,000 people who follow me because they’re interested in what I’m doing, whether I’m hanging out on the farm with the cows or I’m out on the road with my Young Guns tour. These are the people that care about me and it’s important for me to show them that I care about them back.

“Whether they’re confiding in me about a tough time that they’re going through or they’re expressing their excitement about coming out to Boots & Hearts, for example, it’s just important for me to engage. I know the feeling I get when Brad Paisley or George Strait will tweet me back, and say, ‘Thanks, Brett, for the comment.’ I still get giddy myself.”

But whether he wins or loses, Kissel is hoping for one thing at the telecast: good seats.

“The first year I attended the CCMAs was over in Edmonton 10 years ago and I swear I had second-to-last-row seating with my mom,” he says. “Fast forward 10 years and I hope I’m somewhere close to the front row. At least if I have some good seats, I’ll be happy.”

Canadian country music star Brett Kissel performs Thursday in Bowmanville | Toronto Star

Music promoter Richard Flohil reflects on a six-decade career

Music promoter Richard Flohil reflects on a six-decade career
He’s helped launch the careers of Loreena McKennitt and k.d. lang. At 80, he’s finally agreed to slow down his famously tireless pace.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Jun 27 2014

Now that he’s turned 80, Richard Flohil swears he’s going to slow the pace a bit.

What that actually means is anybody’s guess, because those who know the publicist and promoter extraordinaire — a master raconteur who corners the market on British charm and has helped the likes of Loreena McKennitt, k.d. lang and many others achieve global stardom — are flabbergasted by his tireless work ethic that includes a five-night-a-week commitment to hearing live music.

In a personal note distributed via email to colleagues last week, Flohil said he was “beginning to pull back a little,” but would stay involved “especially with special projects that inspire and/or amuse me.”

At this point, those projects include finishing a crowdfunded book he’s tentatively titled Louis Armstrong’s Laxative and 100 Other Mostly True Stories About a Life In Music and actively promoting up to 15 shows a year (Hugh’s Room is a favourite venue) with fellow promoter Tom Dertinger. Flohil also travels across Canada to attend folk festivals and mentors his own publicity clients in ways that exceed his job description.

So if he is contemplating some relaxation, there’s a strong possibility the public at large won’t notice it: music is clearly Flohil’s elixir of youth.

“I wish I knew who I’d stolen this from,” he says, his eyes twinkling as he quaffs a pint of ale at a Roncesvalles watering hole one recent sunny afternoon.

“But the age you go into music is the age you stay forever.

“I’m 34,” he grins.

His unbridled enthusiasm for the art form is no less diminished from the days of his early fascination with American jazz and blues. If anything, it’s grown exponentially, fueled in part by an eye-opening visit to the Mariposa folk festival in 1965, where he met Gordon Lightfoot, Ian & Sylvia, Buffy Ste. Marie, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs and The Staple Singers, acts he said “widened my head and almost made me evangelical.”

That passion has played an integral role in the formative years of many Canadian and U.S. acts, some who have gone on to become global superstars: McKennitt, lang, the Downchild Blues Band, Serena Ryder, Ani DiFranco, Laura Smith . . . the list is impressive.

“I think he has a particular talent for nurturing young artists, particularly when they’re starting out,” says Juno Award winner Loreena McKennitt, who has sold more than 14 million copies of her unique brand of world music.

“I think he’s got a good ear, and he’s very enthusiastic, which may sound kind of trite but being enthusiastic is a large part of developing enough confidence to move forward. And he’s very familiar with setting up the right circumstance for someone starting out. I think that takes a very particular nurturing hand and mind.”

And those nurtured artists have loved him back.

One need only to glance at the lineup that’s rocking the Horseshoe Tavern stage this Friday night to fete “Flo” into his ninth decade to realize how warmly and affectionately he’s regarded: Tom Wilson, Alejandra Ribera, Roxanne Potvin, Scarlett Jane, Ariana Gillis, Paul Reddick, Shakura S’Aida and others are volunteering their time to pay tribute to their champion, who in turn is transforming his birthday bash into a fundraiser for the Unison Benevolent Fund, which provides counseling, emergency relief and benefit programs for the Canadian music community.

“I like being part of the music community — they’re all really good people,” repeats the founder of publicity and promotion firm Richard Flohil and Associates, a few times over the course of the next 90 minutes.

Flohil says he loves hearing and working with musicians so much that he would jump on stage if he could. But he figures the public would fare better with him remaining behind the scenes.

“The reason I’m on the business side is because I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument and I dance like a pregnant elephant. Not a pretty sight and not to be done in public.”

The Richard Flohil story begins back in Selby, Yorkshire where he was born to Dutch and English parents. He attended private school and eventually apprenticed as a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Press, moving on to work at three other papers.

When he hit 20, he tried his hand at publicity: his first client, future James Bond theme composer John Barry.

But he wanted out of Britain.

“I wanted to rediscover American jazz and blues musicians, because in the ’50s they weren’t allowed to come to Britain very often,” Flohil admits.

“Occasionally Louis Armstrong came and Lonnie Johnson came, and I met Big Bill Broonzy, but by and large the British Musicians Union wasn’t going to let American musicians come to Britain unless British musicians were allowed to come to America.”

In 1957, he arrived in Toronto with $300 in his pocket, and was instantly smitten by the thriving music scene.

“The first afternoon I walked down Yonge Street and I saw a sign saying, ‘All this week: Earl Hines and his All-Stars,’” Flohil recalls. “I walked in the bar and I said, ‘Earl Hines is playing here? The same Earl Hines who played with Louis Armstrong in the ’20s? How much is it to get in?’

“The bartender said, ‘It’s free, but you must buy two drinks.’ And I thought, ‘this must be the Promised Land.’

“The next night I found a New Orleans jazz club, and the night after that I wandered down to King Street East, and the Town Tavern. It was April ’57, and on stage underneath this silent black and white television airing a hockey playoff game is this rotund black pianist from Montreal called Oscar Peterson, who I never heard of. Blew my lights out.

“Then I went to Maple Leaf Gardens, the Irving Feld Parade of Stars, for $2.50, featuring the 16-year-old boy wonder from Ottawa, Canada:  Paul Anka, and Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino, LaVerne Baker and Clyde McPhatter.”

After a series of jobs editing trade magazines, Flohil eventually branched out into publicity and also landed a gig as the editor of CAPAC’s (a forerunner of SOCAN) membership music magazine, keeping that gig for 20 years.

When he decided to move into concert promotion, Flohil capitalized on the Chicago blues sojourns he had made while living in England.

“If I have a claim to fame, I’m the guy who was involved in bringing Buddy Guy here for the first time, lesser known artists like Robert Nighthawk and Sleepy John Estes, and later on B.B. King and Bobby Bland. So that got me into small level promotions.

“I was also involved with bigger shows — Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, the Chieftains — with mixed results, but that seed has become the preserve of giant companies who have endless resources. And I couldn’t compete with that. “

In 1980, he co-founded respected music industry trade magazine The Record, handling reviews but still entrenched in publicity, and in 2002 became editor of Applaud, a magazine aimed at promoting Canadian music outside Canada, that lasted five years.

As much as he loves music and the people that make it, Flohil does have criteria when it comes to taking on clients (“good songs, a distinctive voice, ambition”), as well hearing music that emotionally touches him.

“To me, music has to hit two parts of the following four parts of your body: head, heart, groin, feet,” says Flohil, whose numerous accolades include the Estelle Klein Lifetime Achievement Award and SOCAN’s Special Achievement Award.

“Any two of those — if it’s just one, it won’t work for me.”
As for secrets to his success, Richard Flohil says his personal catalyst is anticipation.

“I think the key, apart from listening to lots and lots of music (he boasts a music collection of 12,000 discs) is to have something to look forward to,” says Flohil, who is tentatively planning a trip to India in 2015.

“I still want to do intriguing special projects. For example, Stony Plain Records, who I’ve worked with forever, has a 40th anniversary coming next year. I want to be involved in that, and if there’s a CD, I want to help choose the music and write the liner notes.”

While Flohil laments that he’s never “made very much money at” his career, his days have been filled with entertaining memories.

“I’ve had this amazing life with all these people, these stories and adventures and misadventures. So I just keep going.”

Music promoter Richard Flohil reflects on a six-decade career | Toronto Star