SWEET BLUES Mike Goudreau & The Boppin’ Blues Band (PMG/ZED) *** ½
This is the band’s 6th release, and Mike’s 18th overall since he started recording in 1994. The group name is a nod to Vancouver’s Powder Blues and, musically speaking, the music is similar- mostly jump blues with bright horn charts, a party looking for a place to happen.
Goudreau was born in 1965 in Vermont into a musical family with an English mother and French Canadian father. He picked up his first guitar at age 14 and hasn’t looked back since. His early influences run the gamut, from Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash to The Beatles and The Stones to all the blues greats like Albert King and the Vaughan brothers as well as Downchild and Powder Blues. That gives him quite a pool to draw from, and he does it well.
Mike’s use of a horn section and acoustic piano link his sound to Powder Blues in particular and I’m sure it’s a comparison he doesn’t mind. Sweet Blues is sure the right title for this collection, a set of lively originals that’s sure to get even the most jaded toe tapping. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Goudreau himself, Sweet Blues has a clean but meaty sound. He’s a fine singer and guitar player, and the band swings in the pocket like nobody’s business- their enthusiasm is definitely catchy.
Sweet Blues is an uptown as opposed to a downtown vibe for the most part. The musicianship is right on the money and the performances are joyous- can’t wait to road test this baby!
ESSENTIALS: Last Call Blues, Gonna Find Somebody Else, Long Gone
WE ARE IRELAND/ NO. 1 POPULAR & INDIE/ EMERGING IRISH MUSIC Various Artists (First Music Contact) ****
March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day- when those of us non-Irish get to wear something green and get shit-faced. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night but, thanks to First Music Contact, we have an authentic soundtrack to go with it. This disc is a dozen songs by a dozen Irish artists you’ve likely never heard of before- a joyously surprising voyage of purest musical discovery.
First Music Contact (FMC) is Ireland’s national resource organization for artists working in the popular music sector. They’ve developed an online music portal to showcase new Irish music (breakingtunes.com) and they also curate an annual showcase festival. “Music From Ireland” is the Irish music export office which supports Irish artists traveling to a number of showcase festivals around the world. Together with Culture Ireland, there are responsible for the compilation we are discussing here, and the two that follow. Now that’s the technical stuff out of the way.
So much great music to absorb here, I feel like I’m in a scene from the movie “High Fidelity”, and nary an Irish Rovers song in sight. If this is Irish pop and indie music, I’d better start checking out some Irish radio stations. This is so different, so passionate compared to the crap we mostly get on this side of the pond it’s laughable. Check out the heavy vibe of a band called Clutch as they roar through Bitch Falcon, the light acoustic feel of Lo by Lisa Hannigan, or the snotty techno punk of Girl Band’s Peals For Lunch, and you’ve got a pretty good feel for the range of what’s happening over there.
Waiting for a musical adventure? Buy the ticket, take the ride; We Are Ireland/ No.1 Popular & Indie will not disappoint.
ESSENTIALS: Soul Food- Rusangano Family, Bitch Falcon- Clutch, Lo- Lisa Hannigan
WE ARE IRELAND/ NO. 2 TRADITIONAL & FOLK/ EMERGING IRISH MUSIC Various Artists (First Music Contact) **** ½
This is the second of three compilations released just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and the details of the first two paragraphs of the above review also apply here. As you would expect from a traditional and folk compilation, there’s a lot more of the Celtic feel to these songs than in the pop & indie collection.
There are certainly similarities to some of the more traditional stuff here to music from the east coast of Canada, like the song Trip To Gort by Maritin O’Connor, Donal Lunny & Zoe Conway… not a bad way to go if you’re looking to throw a little Irish into your St. Patty’s Day. Hell, there’s even an inherent ‘Irishness’ to the folk songs too, in varying degrees. Nobody does high and lonesome like the Irish, so I’d save Landless’s Lassie Lie Near Me toward the end of the evening- it’s romantic, sad, and built for holding someone close.
Whereas the Popular & Indie collection is a straight up (and worthwhile) musical adventure, Traditional & Folk is much closer to the Irish experience as we know it- let the good times roll!
ESSENTIALS: Lassie Lie Near Me (Landless), Trip To Gort (Maritin O’Connor, Donal Lunny & Zoe Conway), Vividity (NOTIFY)
WE ARE IRELAND/ NO. 3 CONTEMPORARY & JAZZ/ EMERGING IRISH MUSIC Various Artists (First Music Contact) ***
Our third and final compilation in this series presents an overview of current innovators on the Irish jazz scene, and spans three generations of unique and creative performers. It’s also the longest of the three discs.
Don’t let the fact that I gave this volume a lower mark throw you… as a music fan my tastes lean towards basic rock and pop sounds, blues too. When it comes to jazz though, particularly in its purest and most avant garde forms, I feel like I don’t have the musical vocabulary needed to grasp and understand it. I can appreciate a fine instrumental performance in any genre, but to get what’s really going on in some of these songs takes concentrated listening, and you need to be in the right head space for that.
Of the three discs in this series, this one will require the most listens in order to get inside the music (isn’t that always the mission?) and get a firm grip on what is going on. Some of the tracks are fluid and atmospheric, others startling, and it will take more than a few spins for me to decide how I feel about each of them and what they mean to me. Even as a reviewer I am loathe to label things, but this set feels like what I refer to as ‘crazy jazz’, the way out there stuff that flaunts the rules. The cool thing about jazz, though, is that they compose as they go along and that takes talent and confidence… something this world could use more of, I think.
ESSENTIALS: Choral (Irene Buckley), Piano Trio Movement 2 (John Buckley), Just A Lighter Cut Of The Same Girls (Brian Irvine)
IT’S TIME Steve Kozak Band (independent) ****
If you like your blues to come wrapped up in a swingin’ sound with vintage production techniques, get ready to do some time traveling with the Steve Kozak Band and their particular brand of West Coast blues.
The album title, to me, has two possible meanings; referring to the time you have to put in to master blues guitar (30 years for Steve), or it’s time they put out a vintage vibe record like this. It’s Time is a mix of fairly obscure covers and self-penned tunes that mix together nicely, powered by tasty licks and understated riffs, for an early 60’s feel and a record that would sound comfortable next to wax by Willie Dixon or John Lee Hooker.
The Steve Kozak band is Steve on vocals and guitar, Dave Webb on Hammond organ and piano, Roger Brant on bass and Chris Nordquist on drums. For this disc they were joined in the studio by The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer (check them out if you haven’t already), Jerry Cook and Dave Vidal. After spending as many years as I did in advertising I am loathe to use popular buzz words, but what these guys have created together can be accurately called an ‘authentic’ blues sound and feel. They swing, jump and get down, with little showing off as everybody plays in service of the song at hand.
Covers on It’s Time include Brook Benton’s Kiddio and Magic Sam’s Every Night and Every Day. Numbers penned by Kozak, like the autobiographical and deeply personal A Stranger In My Hometown and Goin’ Fishin’ stand tall next to the classic covers here. I’m not keen on reverb and would have preferred a cleaner sound here, but there’s doubt when you spin this bad boy that you’re listening to real deal blues.
ESSENTIALS: Goin’ Fishin’, One Woman I Need, That’s Cool With Me
INTO THE GLOW Locomotive Ghost (Last Tango/ independent) *****
What has kept me writing album reviews for over 27 years now is the occasional unexpectedly wonderful surprise, and Calgary’s Locomotive Glow certainly falls into that category. Into The Glow is their 4th long player and as charming a pop album as you could hope to meet.
Locomotive Ghost was formed by singer Mike Buckley and bassist Ben Nixon while attending Selkirk College’s music program at the Nelson, BC campus. They played together off and on for nearly a year before focusing on the band and settling on the name, which they found in an Allen Ginsberg poem. After graduating from the music program Buckley & Nixon relocated to Calgary where they eventually added vocalist/ pianist Laura Schoenberg and drummer James Bundy. 2 E.P.’s, 2 albums and a compilation later, we arrive at Into The Glow.
When I call Into The Glow a ‘pop’ album, I mean it in the classic sense- it’s a collection of songs with dramatic, emotionally charged lyrics and instantly likeable melodies of surprising depth, as opposed to a bunch of tunes about shaking your ass that treat you as if you’re an idiot. Lightning, the song that opens this set, is a spirited rocker with quiet verses and choruses that kick out the jams- but where I really feel this album is on quieter songs like In The Garden, and there are more of those on this disc.
Calling this album ‘haunting’ sounds punny but Into The Glow is one of those discs that, after you stop listening, lyrical and melodic fragments continue to float in and out of your consciousness for some time. In my experience, in over 50 years of being a music fan, that’s a pretty rare thing. This is a truly great record.
ESSENTIALS: In The Garden, Fool, Lightning Bolt