Rock Doc reviews for oct.18th

VAPOR TRAILS: REMIXED Rush (Anthem) ****

The original mix of Rush’s comeback album has been a source of aggravation for the band- so much so that it has been remixed.  Are the results worth?  At $12.95 at Wal-Mart on the Thanksgiving weekend, I’d say yes- that is, if you like the album in the first place, and I know lots of people that don’t.

“It’s a terrible feeling that, due to a lack of objectivity, you let an imperfect piece of work get out there” Geddy Lee said in Rolling Stone magazine.  “The sonic defects got lost in the excitement of the band’s return to functionality.  It has always been a bee in my bonnet.”  Indeed, the original version came out some 11 years ago, after a long period of inactivity following the deaths of drummer/ lyricist Neil Peart’s daughter and his wife.  Many doubted they’d be back at all- we were overjoyed with such a strong return.

I was happy to have Rush back in 2002.  Knowing why they had taken a long break, I was eager to find out how Neil would address that lyrically, being rewarded with The Stars Look Down, surely the most personal song he’s ever written.  Other songs like Secret Touch deal with the aftermath of tragedy as did the Tragically Hip-esque (how’s that for a phrase?) Ghost Rider, but I think it’s safe to say that fans were genuinely excited that the band had decided to continue after all.

The Vapor Trails of 2002, mixed by David Leonard, was densely packed, with all of the faders set to stun, and therein lies the rub. The idea to remix the album started with Retrospective III and the results of tinkering with One Little Victory for the compilation.  You could hear all the instruments, all those cool little things Peart is up to on the drums, as opposed to the song being one almighty roar.  If one song could be saved by a remix, then why not the entire album?

The job of remixing was given to David Bottrill, with Geddy and Alex approving everything along the way.  Neil tried but, understandably, had a difficult time listening to the record and deferred to his band mates.  The difference between the original mix and this one, released Sept.30th, 2013, is similar to watching one of your favorite movies on VHS, then seeing it again on Blu-ray- that’s how it felt Thanksgiving Saturday as I listened to both versions back-to-back- hearing things I hadn’t noticed before, even enjoying some of the empty spaces afforded by the new mix.

Of course, only hard core Rush fans give a shit- if you didn’t buy Vapor Trails in ’02 you won’t care now.  As a fan since the first album- even though I don’t like everything they’ve done- this was money well spent to me.

COOL CUTS:  One Little Victory, The Stars Look Down, Ghost Rider


STARTED WITH A SONG Brett Kissel (Warner)  **** ½

This guy is one to watch.  At 23 years old he’s already released a couple of albums independently and garnered 2 CCMA nominations.  Started With A Song is causing a serious fuss at country radio, and with good reason- it’s a pretty damn good album.

SWAS is described as the new wave of old country , each song a slice of real-life sentiment, emotional touchstones that run the gamut of highs and lows that explore deep love, trying moments and poignant reflection- plus party anthems too, of course!  With the title song as the first single, Kissel made broadcasting history by being added to play lists at 93% of the country radio stations in Canada, breaking Taylor Swift’s record.

The single thing I like best about Started With A Song is it’s straight up country- not a country record that secretly wants to be a rock or pop record, and that kind of honesty in this genre has become all too rare.  “I craved the spotlight” says the Flat Lake Alberta native of his childhood. “Any opportunity to stand up on the couch to belt out a tune when I was 3 or 4 years old, I always took.”  Then his grandmother bought him a Sears catalogue guitar just before his 7th birthday, and his fate was sealed.  At the age of 12 he got $50 for playing a show for the 4-H Club and figured he could do this for a living.

Again, my impatience with country music has much to do with music that sounds like it wants to be something else.  With Brett Kissel’s major label debut there isn’t a scrap of doubt about who he is or who he wants to be.  He’s not just going to be big (and I mean Garth Brooks big) in Canada, the world is his for the asking- just one listen to this album and that much is clear.

COOL CUTS: title track, Girl In A Cowboy Hat, Canadian Kid


 CLASSIC CANADIAN ROCK Various Artists (Solid Gold/ True North) ****

This is the first of two compilations highlighting the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, perhaps the most vibrant times our country’s music industry has known.  With one exception, I know and love every one of these tracks.

If you’re anywhere near my age each of these 10 tracks will bring a flood of memories.   Barney Bentall’s Something To Live For is the first song I ever heard on CD, at the news director’s apartment when I was working radio in Quesnel.  Rush’s Closer To The Heart takes me back to my very first Rush concert, Vancouver in the late 70’s, when they toured A Farewell To Kings, and dropping some acid that turned out to be a total rip off.

The press release I received with this doesn’t indicate whether the songs have been re-mastered- unlikely with a budget collection- but they sound great, even on my computer speakers.  Several different labels were sourced for this, not unlike the K-Tel albums of yore, but if I have a beef it’s that there are only 10 songs.  Then again in the days of vinyl 10 songs was the standard, so I dig that old-school connection.  Just because a compact disc can hold 80 minutes of music doesn’t mean it has to.

With artists like Doucette, Chilliwack, Rush, Max Webster, Gowan and Coney Hatch (the only song I didn’t know) Classic Canadian Rock is an entertaining collection.  We could debate until the cows come home about who isn’t on here that perhaps should be (Trooper or Doug & The Slugs, anyone?) but I’ll take this as is, thank you very much.

COOL CUTS: Fly At Night (Chilliwack), Something To Live For (Barney Bentall & The Legendary Hearts), Mama Let Him Play (Doucette)


HUSH YOUR FUSS! Dave Riley & Bob Corritore (SWMAF/ Vizztone) **** ½

This is the third album together for this duo, described as “Mississippi meets Chicago”.  These original songs feature rootsy old-school storytelling blues with a rural flavor.  In other words, Hush Your Fuss! As about as blue as blues can be.

Produced by Corritone (an award winning harp player) this set has an organic feel that you can just groove on all day, aided and abetted by Bob’s inclusion of some in between track chatter on the final product.  The band is rounded out by Riley’s son Dave Jr. on bass, Brian Fahey on drums, with some keyboards from Gloria Bailey, playing the kind of music you’d expect to hear coming from just about any juke joint in the deep south.

Love the sense of humor too.  On the slow burning blues Snuff Dippin’ Woman Riley sings about ‘snuff juice runnin’ all down her chin’ and how ‘she kissed me once, but I’ll never let her kiss me again’. Of course there’s lots of upbeat stuff on this album too, but it’s the slow and greasy numbers that gets my mojo workin’.

Most of the soloing on this album is done with Corritore’s harp, an excellent counterpoint to Riley’s weathered and gruff (but mostly joyful) singing style.  No boundaries are pushed on these dozen songs, not particularly, but that’s fine by me- Hush Your Fuss is an easy going collection of down home blues that I’ll be enjoying and sharing on my radio show for many years to come.

COOL CUTS:  Snuff Dippin’ Woman, Home In Chicago, Hush My Fuss

CLASSIC CANADIAN POP Various Artists (Solid Gold/ True North) ****

Like the rock set just reviewed, this compilation is also set of radio hits from decades gone by.  A nostalgic trip to be sure, but one worth enjoying again for those of us that were actually there.

With the exception of Chilliwack, Canadian Pop is definitely eastern-centric with groups like Downchild, Toronto (also represented on Canadian Rock) and Rough Trade.  Some of these groups like Sattalites and Men’s Room I’ve never heard of before, and Pukka Orchestra I know only by name- so to have a set of classic tunes also be a journey of discovery too is a bonus.

Canadian music has, at times, been known to be unexpectedly brave- the example here is the gay anthem High School Confidential by Rough Trade.  Assumed to be a lusty male fantasy song simply sung by a chick Carole Pope, Rough Trade’s singer, is gay.  So the song is a coming out of sorts, surely a brave step back in the day, and a testament to Pope’s songwriting talent that HSC is related to and embraced by, everybody.

From the hard rock leanings of Rough Trade to the folk music of Bruce Cockburn and the joyous blues of Downchild, our music scene was (and continues to be) as diverse as it is entertaining.  Classic Canadian Pop and its sister Canadian Rock are the aural equivalents of flipping through an old photo album and fondly reminiscing- and who doesn’t enjoy doing that?

COOL CUTS:  High School Confidential (Rough Trade), Gimme Some Kinda Sign (Sattalites), Flip Flop & Fly (Downchild)


BLISS AVENUE Dana Fuchs (Ruf)  ***

It’s the third album for this Florida born/ New York based belter.  A powerhouse vocalist to be sure, but the blues/rock melodies over which she plies her trade are stunningly average.

As a vocalist she’s a cross between Janis Joplin and Amanda Marshall- remember her? According to the bio this is her most personal album to date, covering everything from life on the road to the tragic loss of her brother.  “I really purged my soul in a starker, more naked way, both lyrically and musically” says Dana.  “I want this album to reach people in a way that’s meant to be inclusive.  Not like ‘here’s my world and my story’, but rather ‘here’s my story- can you relate…?”

Rather than straight up blues, Bliss Avenue is an album of many flavors, adding soul, roots and southern rock into the blend as well, with emphasis on soul.  For a record so focused on personal themes as this one is, that makes perfect sense.  Bliss is being heralded as Dana’s most honest and unflinching album to date, co-written and produced with her guitarist/ wingman Jon Diamond.

The showstopper on this record is So Hard To Move, which surely must be about her brother; “I got the news from a friend, sayin’ you’d come back to me again/ but you were too tired of livin’ to fight for a lie you knew you’d been given/now the sun has gone and closed his eyes- a bloodshot moon cries a sweet lullaby”. Sounds like an overdose, but in a much broader sense most of us have been down that emotional tunnel before, some more than once.

The sex kitten photos are fun to look at but I don’t think they serve the music particularly.  Emotionally deep but musically average- depending on which exit you use, Bliss Avenue is decent company and not a bad place to visit at all.

COOL CUTS:  So Hard To Move, How Did Things Get This Way, Baby Loves The Life


LIGHTNING BOLT Pearl Jam (Monkeywrench/ Republic) *****

So here it is, the new Pearl Jam album, released this past Tuesday.  Once again- though it hasn’t always been so- the Seattle band proves that, when it comes to making a joyous rock & roll noise, they have few peers.

I’m not a PJ fan that’s going to splooge all over every note on the new album, it’s worth pointing out that this is my first Pearl Jam album since 1998’s Yield.  I heard the advance single from Lightning (Mind Your Manners) and liked it enough to think it worth checking back in on the boys to see how they’re doing. As it turns out, they’re doing very well.

Produced by Brendan O’Brien Lightning Bolt is simply a great sounding album, from the rockers down to ballads like Sirens.  According to an interview with guitarist Mike McCready on CFOX out of Vancouver last month, it took about a year to put this together, with the band having a list of something like 30 songs that had to be trimmed down to the dozen that appear on the new record. What impresses me most, though, is how comfortable Pearl Jam sound in their own skin, a relaxed confidence that I haven’t really  noticed in their previous work.

If you’re after more than sonic grooviness however, Eddie Vedder’s lyrics don’t disappoint.  From the bitterness of My Father’s Son (“Forget the insemination and for that I’m supposed to be glad?/ What a pity you left us so soon to climb your mountain of regret”) to the spirituality of a track like Swallowed Whole (“I could choose a path, I could choose the word/ I can start the healing/ bring it now, now, now, now”) he certainly gives us a lot to think about- whether looking inward at ourselves or wondering which flakes of his own life he’s chosen to reveal in these songs.

Though Lightning Bolt is a fine collection of songs that the iTunes generation will judge and treat on a track-by-track basis, I love the way this plays as an album, from a ballad like Pendulum or Sirens to full throated rockers like Mind Your Manners.  It keeps shifting and moving, keeping you engaged from front to back.  The gentlemen of Pearl Jam are masters of their instruments and Eddie Vedder is still one of the best vocalists in rock & roll, sounding as good if not better than when the band started 22 years ago.

I suppose that people who never gave a crap about Pearl Jam will continue to feel the same way, but Lightning Bolt is good, maybe even great- after all, it successfully lured a fair weather fan like me back into the fold.  If you’ve been with them for the entire ride, I can only imagine you’re losing your mind over how well this record turned out.

COOL CUTS:  Mind Your Manners, Yellow Moon, Getaway

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