The Record Box for Sunday, April 5th

TRACKER Mark Knopfler (Mercury) *****I’ve been looking forward to this since last fall when it was first announced, and Knopfler does not disappoint. If you’ve listened to any of his post-Dire Straits stuff, particularly 2012’s Privateering and enjoyed it, Tracker won’t let you down.”Privateering came about because, in a sense, that’s how I saw my whole thing, my operation” Mark says. “Tracker is a very similar sort of thing. You’re involved in tracking down subject matter, tracking down an idea, investigating the whole thing. Sometimes you’re not exactly sure what it is you’re tracking, and you find out as you’re circling it, and getting closer to it. That’s part of the thrill.”Knopfler’s solo work has captured my heart and imagination since “Golden Heart” even moreso than Dire Straits ever did. Tracker carries with it the thread of Celtic melody, fine musicianship and intimate, personal observations that were evident back in 1996, everyday portraits of everyday life, drawn from people both real and imagined, that must make Springsteen jealous. Some of these songs have an historic feel and that’s not by accident. “You’re also tracking back in time, and to me the question of time is much more important as I’ve got older” Knopfler observes. “Some of the songs will, I hope, reflect all that. “Influences on the new record include Bob Dylan who asked Knopfler to come out on the road twice since Mark’s last album, and collaborations with new friends like Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennies, who does background vocals on 3 of the songs and is featured on Wherever I Go, which closes out the album. Of all the songs, though, Beryl (inspired by one of his favorite authors, Beryl Bainbridge) bears a deliberate resemblance to Dire Straits. “I think there was a definite nod to early Straits with Beryl” he agrees. “That was a deliberate thing, going back to a period because it suited the song. I took a sort of Sultans Of Swing to it for that reason, because it’s something you’d associate with a time. So in your head, there’s an appropriateness to the style.”The gift of Tracker is that the stories in the songs invite you to just go away and wander, get lost, if only for a little while. Knopfler’s portraits of the folks that populate his songs is so vivid that it can feel like you’re actually watching the tales unfold or, sometimes, that you’re living them. I wouldn’t call Mark one of the best guitarists around, but he is one the finest, most subtle to pick up the instrument. Consider Tracker to be the latest chapter in a continually unfolding story that gets better with each telling. Sublime, melodic time travel- that’s Tracker.ESSENTIALS: Beryl, Broken Bones, Wherever I Go (featuring Ruth Moody), SkydiverDEFENDERS OF THE FAITH: SPECIAL 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Judas Priest (Columbia/ Sony Legacy) ***If any one city can be said to have given birth to heavy metal, it would be Birmingham, England. That’s where Black Sabbath began, 2 members of Led Zeppelin are from the area and, in 1969, Judas Priest began a long journey that continues to this day. What we have here is the 30th anniversary release of their 9th album; the original album re-mastered, and a full concert over 2 CD’s recorded on the tour, and a must-have for every Priest fan.By 1984 when this record came out, Judas Priest were already worldwide hit. As the followup to 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance, their best selling disc to date, they had quite an act to follow. Recorded mainly in Ibiza, Spain as were Vengeance” and Point Of Entry, Defenders is also the 4th album in a row produced by Tom Allom, who had also engineered Black Sabbath’s early records. Sonically Vengeance and Defenders are quite similar, but this album marks the beginning of the slide of the group’s commercial fortunes.Allom’s production on British Steel (Priest’s breakthrough record) and Point Of Entry was sharp and hard, but starting with Vengeance the rest of the band’s albums he would produce were more compressed, the edges softer and more round, almost synthetic, to fit in more with what was happening with the rest of the world, musically speaking.Despite a contemporizing of their sound, with Defenders Of The Faith the songwriting triumverate of Halford, Tipton & Downing were still at the top of their game. I can’t help but think that, if they’d had the same Tom Allom at the production board that had coaxed British Steel out of them, Defenders would have been an amazing disc and outsold even SFV. The exception, songwriting-wise, is Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, written by Bob Halligan Jr.- and one of the standout tracks. The unspoken theme throughout is of a post- apocalyptic world, and the usual metal themes of heroic violence and freedom prevail.The live portion of this 30th anniversary re-release is a concert recorded at Long Beach Arena May 5th 1984, one of many Judas Priest strongholds throughout the U.S. It’s not quite as polished as your standard live album with Halford’s vocals a little buried in the mix at times, but it seems like an honest document of the period. When most bands go out they’ll play 3 or 4 songs from the new album, but here Judas Priest rolls out 9 out of the 10 songs from Defenders Of The Faith. The exception is Eat Me Alive, decried by critics of the time as a song about oral sex at gunpoint. A rock song about getting a blowie, how unusual… (kaff, kaff)Defenders Of The Faith is their first album after reaching the peak, and as such deserves to be celebrated by this special anniversary reissue. The Priest were still very much at the peak of their powers, but cracks began to appear big-time with their next album Turbo and its extensive use of electronics and synthesized guitars signaling their loss of direction. In 1984 with Defenders Of The Faith to present to the world, Judas Priest was still on top of the slag heap, reigning champions of the music they loved to make, and indeed defenders of the faith.ESSENTIAL:STUDIO: The Sentinel, Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, Love BitesLIVE: Metal Gods, The Hellion/Electric Eye, Hell Bent For LeatherREVERIE Cherie Currie (I-Tunes) ****It’s not nearly often enough we get to say Here’s some new music from the former Runaways singer, but that’s the case today. Reverie is Cherie’s first collection of new music since 1980’s Messin’ With The Boys with her twin sister Marie. A combination between the pop sensibilities of Boys with the muscle of her Runaways’ stuff, Reverie is as good as I dare hoped it would be.The Runaways were Kim Fowley’s creation and the record she did with Marie was suprisingly good, but perhaps not an honest document of Cherie as an artist- a little too slick, featuring members of Toto and producer/ keyboard player Jai Winding. Reverie feels like who I imagine Cherie to be, particularly as a longtime Runaways fan (since the first album) and knowing what I do about her life, after reading her biography Neon Angel and following her on facebook.I don’t know much about the particulars of this album other than what she has revealed via facebook- producer Kim Fowley had some involvement prior to his death from cancer earlier this year, and her son Jake Hayes- his father is her ex-husband. actor Robert Hayes from the Airplane! movies- plays guitar on it and had a hand in production as well. She has recently re-connected with former Runaways guitarist Lita Ford, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she’s on a couple of these tracks as well.Reverie is a combination of blue collar rock sensibilities, and the kind of music you might expect a 55 year old woman to create. It’s an album that mixes rock & roll with ballads and songs of hope, and while Cherie’s vocals are very much recognizable, she’s a far better singer now than she was at 15 when she first joined The Runaways. There’s an autobiographical element to the album as well- just listen to I’m Happy and you’ll hear what I mean. As a nod to her past, Currie re-does a pair of Runaways classics, Is It Day Or Night? and American Nights, doing her ex-bandmates proud in lifting the songs up.Currie is lucky to have survived her rock & roll beginnings in the 70’s, and some of the things she’s been through as covered in her book are genuinely chilling. For much of the intervening time she’s made her way in the world as a chainsaw carver, occasionally dipping her toes into music throughout. Reverie is, in a way, a re-telling of her life story along with a look at where she is today. It’s a blast to listen to, and here’s to hoping it serves as an announcement of her return to active duty.ESSENTIALS: Queen Of The Asphalt Jungle, I’m Happy, Believe, ReverieTHE LIBERATOR Carla Bonnell (independent) *** 1/2When I got an email from Carla’s promo people asking if I was planning to review her new album, I got a laugh when I replied “Sure- that’s the one with the chick with a guitar riding a bear, right?” The describes the painting on the CD cover, but not the refereshing brace of roots/country songs you’ll find inside, as refreshing as a Maritime breeze.The Liberator is the followup to her 2013 Nashville release Back To You. Bonnell felt a calling to return to her roots for the new disc, so she returned to the Maritimes and recorded The Liberator in Nova Scotia with performer/ producer J.P. Cormier, known for his work with Jimmy Rankin and the late Rita McNeil. Deejay Brent Buchanan (KHJ Country) rightly praises the new batch of songs by saying “Carla really hit a homer with this new CD. You can relate to every song, and that’s what country music is all about.” Can’t argue with Brent on either account.If I had to call this album something, I’d say it’s country folk, sort of a cross between Jim Croce and maybe Union Station. The musicianship on The Liberator is exquisite- deftly played acoustic guitars, mandolins for color and flavor, with each song easily relatable to your own life- either what has happened to you, or things you’re going through now. Making music that listeners can see themselves in is no mean feat, and Bonnell accomplishes that with room to spare.Carla Bonnell’s voice is quite ordinary- unadorned but tuneful with no frilly vibrato or fancy vocal tricks. Far from being a complaint that’s a compliment, and exactly what songs like The Drive need to come across. When you put on a CD like this your first shouldn’t be “dazzle me” but “Tell me some stories and make me believe them” and that she does. Songs with down home themes expertly played and delivered with sincereity and honesty- that’s what Ian Tyson does, and Carla Bonnell too. Well done.ESSENTIALS: Cariboo Express, The Last Train, Gypsy HeartHEARTS ON FIRE Colin James (Universal) ***** +I’ve been listening to Colin James on the radio for decades, but this is only the second Colin James disc to join my collection- after 2005’s Limelight– but on a recent trip to the local HMV to pick up the new Mark Knopfler, I saw Hearts On Fire on the racks in the new music section and it whispered “take me home”… so I did.The bombast of earlier hits like Voodoo Thing, Chicks Guitars & The Third World War and Five Long Years have been exciting, but I have a theory that artists like this do their most exciting stuff early on and get deep later on- call it ‘The Mellencamp Effect’ if you like. The new disc was co-produced by James and Colin Linden (Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn) a guy who knows a thing or two about going deep, and he pulls a marvelous, slow burning performance out of Colin. Of course having Linden, Willie Weeks and Reese Wynans (amongst others) in the studio doesn’t hurt either.7 of these cuts are originals and the other 5 are covers. James is painting with a wider sonic palate here, though mainly an acoustic one. You’ll certainly feel the blues when you listen to Hearts On Fire, but there’s some roots business being done here and yes, even rock & roll, as on Honey Bee, co-written with Craig Northey of Vancouver’s Odds, a rockin’ blues raveup that easily matches the energy of the hits mentioned earlier.Of the style blending on this album, Colin said recently in The Toronto Star that “It’s instinct. I think everyone knows in their heart where they should be at any given time. In a way, this is a record I was meant to make two years ago. I felt it was time to do something out of the ordinary for me.” In that same interview, he explains his working relationship with producer/ guitarist Colin Linden; “Colin Linden & I go back to when I was 13 years old so we’ve been friends forever” he says. “I don’t think there’s anybody that knows me better than Colin. We both have the same musical reference points, and he knows the different incarnations of what I’ve done over the years.”In some ways, Hearts On Fire feels like a Mark Knopfler record; subtle playing (a term you don’t usually associate with a Colin James record) and the songs don’t feel forced- they have a life of their own, and reach your heat in many different ways. This disc may not be a Colin James you are completely familiar with, but I promise you he is worth getting to know.ESSENTIALS: Paper Airplanes, Honey Bee, Stay, Roll Me Sunday MorningCHIN UP John Campbelljohn (Nood) *****Eastcoast blues guitar master John Campbelljohn has just released his 12th album in Chin Up. If you dig slide guitar in particular, this batch of tunes will keep you entertained for a long time to come.JCJ hails from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and, over the course of a 4 decades-plus long career he’s been nominated for and won countless music awards including Maple Blues Awards, East Coast Music Awards, Music Nova Scortia Entertainer Of The Year, Blues Recording Of The Year and Musician Of The Year. The bio I recieved with this says if you like Sonny Landreth, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman and Ry Cooder then this is your kind of music and, being familiar with each of those players, I’d say that’s accurate. They say you can judge somebody by the company they keep- Campbelljohn has been featured on recordings and live shows with Sting, Joni Mitchell, Emmy Lou Harris, Leonard Cohen, Joe Ely, Willie Nelson, Robben Ford and Alvin Lee. Curious? Interested? You should be.Chin Up is a mesmerizing collection as JCJ exhibits a progressive, sophisticated approach to songwriting. Yes this is the blues, but you’ll also hear rock, reggae, Celtic, funk and country effortlessly weaving in and out here too. He can get you rockin’ out one minute with songs like Castaway or The Mumble Boogie one minute they slay with some of the tastiest, most subtle guitar you’ll ever hear on How Stupid Is That, with a wink and a smile.The musicianship on this disc- from Campbelljohn as well as all the supporting players- is nothing short of dazzling, and even when he’s spinning a yarn or telling a tale, you can see bits of your own life in the songs too, and that pulls us in even deeper. Chops galore delivering entertaining songs, Chin Up is perfect- I wouldn’t change a note.ESSENTIALS: The Mumble Boogie, ThePoor Man Pays, How Stupid is ThatDAY INTO NIGHT Tad Robinson (Severn) **** +This, Tad Robinson’s 6th album, is one of the most souful records you’ll hear this year. He’s a 7 times Blues Music Award nominee, and these 12 blues drenched soul numbers definitely take him to a new level.Tad’s voice reminds me of soul greats like Otis and Sam & Dave as he works almost effortlessly over some of the sweetest grooves this side of Motown. Working in the label’s studio, augmenting his band with some of their studio guys “produced a spontaneous combustion” says Robinson. Tad points to Lonely Talking as the deepest soul/blues cut on the album. “Anson (Funderburgh, guitarist) provided a real gut-check with a call and response to my vocal, which gives it deep passion and intensity” he notes.The songs on Day Into Night are reflections of the way we connect, love, and remember, flowing from soul celebrations of sturdy, tested love to the blues of relationships tangled up in doubt, old flames and new attractions- a road that those of us with some mileage have traveled a time or two. Their re-working of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s Lead Me On “goes to the heart of the record with its message of trust and humility” declares Robinson. “In the end, that’s the essence of the entire disc.”There’s some great uptempo stuff here on Day Into Night, and some first rate baby-makin’ music too. Think of it as a soul journey- relax, and enjoy the ride.ESSENTIALS: Lead Me On, Soul Lover, NightwatchERNESTO & DELILAH Kevin Breit featuring Rebecca Jenkins (Poverty Playlist) **** +I’ve had this double disc set for a few weeks, that’s how long it took me to work up the nerve to slip it in the CD changer. Mandolin music does not play to my wheelhouse as the kids might say, and 2012’s Field Recording, another album of mandolin stuff, caught me somewhat by surprise. But I am familiar with Kevin Breit, mainly through his work with Harry Manx, so I knew there would come a time that I would take a deep breath and dive in- today is that day.Disc one, “Ernesto”, is a collection of songs by Brazilian composer Ernesto Ciari. Thomas Dooley, whom Kevin had met through working with Dooley’s son Keith, had visited the Ciari family in Brazil to bring back rare and forgotten manuscripts that Ernesto had written before his suicide in 1972. When it came time to record these works Ernesto’s only child, Romero, attended the sessions. As Kevin says in the liner notes, “He was a valuable part of the team with his anecdotes and translations of letters written by his father to his mother during dark and bright periods. I was the proverbial fly on the wall and feel honored to have witnessed the first to last note of Ernesto”.Disco two, Delilah, is a collection of original songs that features Rebecca Jenkins on vocals. Kevin first met her during an event that honored Joni Mitchell, for which he was hired to play guitar in the house band. What song she sang he can’t recall, but of the night he says “She was great- this I remember crystal clear.” In Y2K he recorded Burnt Bulb On Broadway, a fictitious play about the life of family, based in Brandon, Manitoba. Remembering Rebecca’s performance at the Joni Mitchell tribute and her performance of I’ll be Home For Christmas from a holiday recording at the Glenn Gould Theatre, he asked her to sing the main song of his and the rest, as they say, is history.Ernesto is an exotic experience as Brazlian rhythms and musical themes weave around each other to reveal dark and joyous themes without saying a word. When you listen, preferably reclined back in a chair with your eyes closed, the disc takes you down to exotic South America and shows you around. These pieces are the work of a tortured soul, and that absolutely comes out in the performances.Delilah is another mandolin album- I want to call it more modern sounding, but that doesn’t quite feel right. Kevin’s and Rebecca’s voices blend quite nicely over these 11 cuts, with an overall ‘country’ feeling that acts as an effective counterpoint to Ernesto- a similar experience emotionally in ways I can’t really articulate… perhaps like the flip side of the coin.A double disc album for anyone is an ambitious creative task but Breit, along with his collaborators make it a sublime experience that, for me at least, was almost impossible to absorb in one sitting. I`m glad I finally found my way in. The mandolin still isn’t my favorite instrument, but Kevin uses it say nearly as masterfully as he does a guitar. When I started listening to Ernesto & Delilah I was afraid I wouldn’t like it- now I’m afraid I won`t be able to leave it alone.ESSENTIALS: Ernesto: Mulher Quieta, Como Uma Corrida de CavaloDelilah: Murderous Dimitri, Ghost Of California, Cut Me Down

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