The Record Box for Friday, July 24th

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FATHER’S DAY Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters (Stony Plain) *****A new album from Ronnie Earl is always cause for celebration.  Voted “Blues Guitarist of The year” in 2014 by The Blues Foundation in 2014, this is Earl’s 9th album.  His records are usually instrumental with 1 or 2 vocal cuts, but he’s flipped that around on Father’s Day as only one of these 12 is an instrumental.  In typical Earl style, they’re all exquisite.Ronnie pays homage to many of his blues influences on the new album, tracking songs from Otis Rush, Magic Sam, BB King and more.  The 3 original tunes include a re-working of his own Follow Your Heart as well as 2 new tunes that speak to the power of love and forgiveness; Higher Love and the title track.His band of 25 years, The Broadcasters, is in fine form this time out, their musical relationship seeming almost telepathic.  Two special guest vocalists are included this time too, Diane Blue (she’s worked with Earl before) and Chicago-based Michael Ledbetter- yes, a distant relative of Leadbelly.  Their talents take some of the weight off of Ronnie-to my ears his playing is both more relaxed and more insistent, and powerful.Living Blues Magazine praises him as “One of the most sensitive, refined and exquisite guitarists on the international blues scene”, and I’d put him right at the top with Buddy Guy.  There is so much great guitar on this record, from the exquisite lead work on the title cut to the blasts of SRV-like ferocity heard elsewhere.  The up-tempo stuff is great, but slow numbers like I’ll Take Care of You is the ear candy for me, with Earl’s guitar languidly coloring in the spaces behind Diane Blue’s spine tingling vocal- the hair on my arms is standing up just writing about it!The packaging for Father’s Day also includes a photo of Ronnie’s dad on the back, reading a newspaper article about his son.  On the inside, Earl includes this dedication; “This album is made for my beautiful father, and we came to peace in the end.  Don’t ever give up on your family and don’t quit until the miracle happens.”  This is a record jam-packed with heart, soul, and incredible performances- surely one of the stand-out releases of 2015.  Wonderful.ESSENTIALS:  Father’s Day, I’ll Take Care of You, Right Place Wrong Time THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAIN YEARS Jeff Healey (Stony Plain) *** ½ Here’s the latest in this wonderful reissue series by Stony Plain celebrating some of their most acclaimed artists, revealing a Jeff Healey that his mainstream fans may not be familiar with.  Before becoming a blues rock God, Jeff’s first love was vintage swing and jazz.  The 4 discs he recorded for the label before his death in 2008 reflect a return to that first love, and that’s what is celebrated here.It’s no secret that Jeff was a musicologist and serious record collector who eventually amassed a collection of 30,000 78’s from the twenties and thirties.  He was also a highly respected jazz broadcaster on CBC Radio, and then later on Jazz FM in Toronto.  By the late 90’s Healey tired of being a ‘rock star’, opening the club Healey’s where he and his new musical cohorts, The Jazz Wizards, would play on Saturday afternoons.  Though he would also form a new blues/rock band, it was The Jazz Wizards that held his heart and imagination.The Best Of The Stony Plain Years is exactly that- the cream of the 4 albums Jeff recorded for the label with  a bonus cut, Sweet Georgia Brown with trombonist Chris Barber, that was previously a promo only track released to radio stations.  Throwing this in the CD player is like instant time travel as it whisks you back to the late twenties, the kind of music you’d hear coming from gin mills and the speakeasies downtown.  The performances by Jeff and the various band members are expert and joyous, a hell bent for leather kind of joie de vivre that could veer off into a massive train wreck at any moment, yet never does.  In a weird way, it reminds me of watching classic Warner Brothers’ cartoons.Most of these songs are from before even my parents’ time, but as the drummer for the high school jazz band back in the 70’s I’ve played some of them too and so have fond memories of my own.  I love all the discs The Jeff Healey Band recorded and have them all too, including the Roadhouse soundtrack which sports 3 JHB tracks… but The Best Of The Stony Plain Years is just plain fun to listen to as it shows Jeff in his natural habitat, exercising different musical muscles.  This may not sound like the guy that recorded See The Light or had the balls to cover The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps and ask George Harrison to play on it, but it is.  Look at this collection as another side of a musician we already know so well, having some fun.ESSENTIALS:  Star Dust, Sing You Sinners, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms MOTION FEVER B.D. Gottfried (Last Tango)  ****Here we are with Gottfried’s 7th solo album.  Even though several other publications have said interesting things about his past work, this is my first encounter with the Ontario-based artist’s particular brand of guitar driven rock & roll- and I like it.Produced by Juno Award winner Siegfried Meier (Kittie) and mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins), Motion Fever packs a sonic wallop. Combining prog rock ambition with a sort of punk willfulness, B.D. Gottfried charts his own musical course here, gleefully oblivious to the demands of the pop landscape- which in itself is a rare feat these days.  He’s not a guy trying to come up with the next big hit smash single, he’s making the music he feels- but if a planet smashing hit comes out of this, then why not?This disc is full of excellent rock grooves.  Some of the melodies may remind you of songs from your past that you can’t quite grasp yet somehow feel instantly familiar. For example, Vanishing Point has me thinking of mid-period Kinks, yet I’m not exactly sure why.  Love the bluesy guitar solos I’ve heard so far and the surprisingly broad palette too- from the driving first single Sociopathic Traffic to the piano ballad Reckless Little Wonder, BDG’s restless musical spirit doesn’t stay in any one particular place for too long.What really makes Motion Fever stand out, though, is the lyrical depth throughout- complex word play that gets the point of any given song across by painting pictures in new and interesting ways.  It is that spirit that first drew me to The Tragically Hip back in the 90’s, and it makes the song Purgatory an interesting listen, even as he sings over what sounds like the main riff from I Was Made For Lovin’ You by Kiss.  B.D. Gottfried’s spirit in these tracks reminds me of a favorite Far Side cartoon from years ago.  Cowboys discussing an impending gun battle, where the lead guy says “And you up on the roof- for God’s sake if you ARE plugged, don’t just slump over and die- put some drama into it and throw yourself screaming from the edge.”The musical fearlessness of Motion Fever is compelling, and the way Gottfried navigates his way through the album with a complete disregard for ‘what might sell’ is refreshing.  No phalanx of dancers and jiggling bums here, these songs come from a much deeper place- and thank God for that.ESSENTIALS:  Sociopathic Traffic, Untraceable, Vanishing Point PURGATORY Borealis (AFM) ****+It’s the 3rd album for this Canadian metal band and their first for this European label.  A combination of progressive and classic power metal with the high drama of symphonic metal, this young band wants to take over the world.It could be an age thing, but I have a problem with most of what passes for metal these days- the blast-beat drumming, monotonous riffs, and incomprehensible ‘Cookie Monster’ style vocals.  For me, metal should be like classical music- big and dramatic.  Borealis may be a young band (founded in ’05 when the members were still teens) but Purgatory is a fully aware album that recognizes and combines many of the best elements of the genre- high drama, superior (yet not overly complicated) musicianship that makes for an energetic and rewarding listen.  Never been a head banger (I get motion sickness easily- it’s pathetic) but thanks to this record, the steering wheel in my car has taken quite a beating.Purgatory is an intense yet still melodic album, and the bio says that fans of bands like Evergrey, Kamelot and Nocturnal Rites will embrace this sound too.  Instead of just being brutal and punishing, the music on this album embraces the full spectrum of what is heavy metal and the results are heroic- sort of like Styx and Kansas meets Fight, Rob Halford’s post Judas Priest band from the early 90’s.  This is a thought provoking, melodic yet very physical album loaded with hard riffs, symphonic touches courtesy of the keyboards, and impassioned vocals from Matt Marinelli that lift you up.Thanks to Purgatory, it feels like Borealis is a band on the verge of big things.  The album is out now, and you can catch them opening for Evergrey on their North American tour- keep an eye on these guys.ESSENTIALS:  Place of Darkness, The Chosen One, Rest My Child BEEN AROUND A WHILE Dalannah and Owen (Quest Records) *****What a deliciously simple and hypnotic album!  Dalannah Bowen follows up the success of her 2012 solo effort Them Menz with an exquisitely powerful collaboration with award winning bassist Owen Veber that is likely to be near the top of many ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year.“When I realized that this year I would be turning 70, I started looking back at my life and thinking about all the life experiences I’ve had” Dalannah says.  “Now I, for the most part, walk in joy and peace… sometimes I’m amazed that I survived all the cards dealt to me in my early years.”  So, it is a life well lived that informs these songs- when she sings a song like Inner City Blues, there’s no doubt in your mind that she has surely been there.  And further, there’s nary a false note on the entire album.Been Around A While is a mix of original and classic blues material delivered by this duo, and a ballsy album it is too in its simplicity- Owen’s bass and Ms. Bowen’s voice, and that’s IT. It’s a combination of lowdown blues and slinky jazz that just feels so… cool.  Whether they’re strolling through an original or getting down on blues classics by Son House, BB King or Robert Johnson, it feels like you’re part of the conversation too.  Bowen’s powerfully expressive voice and Owen’s smooth and complimentary bass lines make for an uncommonly intimate experience that you aren’t likely to forget.To anyone that has heard this album, it comes as no surprise that Dalannah & Owen were the first B.C.-based act to make the finals at the recent International Blues Challenge in Memphis.  Bowen is well known as a volunteer and advocate within the poorest postal code in Canada, Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and she brings this depth to her music as well.  Owen has forged a 40 year career as a bassist, plying his trade in a variety of genres.  Together their musical talents compliment each other perfectly. There’s no other word for it- Been Around A While is stunning.ESSENTIALS:  Inner City Blues, Come On in My Kitchen, Queen Bee LIVE AT THE MAYNE STAGE Amy Hart (Vizz Tone/ Painted Rock Records)  ****Recorded a year ago at the semi-famous Chicago venue and filmed for a PBS special that aired this past spring, Live At Mayne Stage is the latest chapter in a rock solid career that has taken Hart from her native Chicago to Kathmandu.  It’s also a real good time.Starting out on the west side of Chicago, Amy Hart found herself playing with Junior Wells and opening shows for the likes of Koko Taylor and James Cotton.  These days her touring band includes Gene Bush (former student of Mississippi John Hurt) on dobro, Grammy nominated blues harpist PT Gazell, her husband Wally Hoffman on upright bass, and Matt McDowell on drums, with Amy on guitar and vocals.  Mayne Stage has a softer, more organic feel than her previous work, with a nod to her own personal journey of and years of writing, traveling and living.  This isn’t the really gutbucket stuff that sometimes makes for high drama in the blues, but it’s mighty tasty nonetheless with solid, funky grooves that you could hang your jacket on.There’s nothing quite equal to the thrill of a band of musicians that plays and works well together, and Amy Hart’s band has that thing that comes from talent and experience.  They’re having a great time on stage, and you can feel that feeding back to the audience as well.  According to the inner sleeve all 12 of these songs are Amy Hart originals too- somewhat unusual in the blues, where including a handful of ‘standards’ is de rigeur. She definitely has a way with words, tells a good story and is a solid guitarist too, serving the song as a player instead of hogging the spotlight with lengthy solos.  She has a great band here and there’s room enough for everyone to express themselves as players.Live At The Mayne Stage is one of those albums you like a little more with each play- this disc will mean something else, something more to me tomorrow than it does today, and that’s pretty cool.ESSENTIALS:  Congratulations, Ribcage, Get The Girls Dancin’CARNERO VAQUERO Ian Tyson (Stony Plain) *****There aren’t many real cowboy storytellers left in the world, but we should thank God that one of the very best is still with us.  Though he’s perhaps still best known for the first song he ever wrote, Four Strong Winds, Ian Tyson proves with this new album that he can still take us back home.Though I’ve been aware of Tyson’s music throughout most of my life, thanks to reading his biography and albums like  Raven Singer and Songs From The Gravel Road plus the privilege of seeing him in concert a couple of years ago, I’ve really become a fan fairly recently.  As he says on his website (www.iantyson.com) that by this age he expected to “… be hiding out in some warm climate, sipping a cool drink and embarrassing all the young fillies”, but at the age of 81 he has more music to make and more stories to tell.I recall from his biography (The Long Trail: My Life In The West) that he enjoys witnessing and taking part in cowboy poetry gatherings, and that sense of legend and life in this part of the country (Alberta) comes through strong and clear on Carnero Vaquero.  “Carnero”, by the way, is Spanish for ‘ram’ and Vaquero means ‘cowboy, and on the inside sleeve the CD is dedicated to “the bighorn ram with the biggest curl in the world, who died after being struck by a vehicle near Longview, Alberta in March 2015.”  So, yeah- Ian walks the walk and talks the talk.This is Tyson’s 13th album for Stony Plain and like the man himself, these 10 songs ring as true as the western skies over the foothills of the Rockies that he calls home.  Carnero Vaquero was produced by Tyson and recorded at The Stone House, just down the gravel road from his ranch house.  Intimate, warm and not overly complicated, the album draws you directly into his life- a place where he writes these songs and reads books on the history of the early west.  It’s the world he feels most comfortable in and we’re the lucky ones in that he is able and willing to share his discoveries with us.Though at his age one could easily understand Ian wanting to put his boots up and relax, in 2012 he underwent surgery to correct a vocal problem that threatened his ability to make music.  But as his website says “Your 80’s, Tyson tells people, is not a time for sissies.  Age is one thing, but the changing west is another, and since Tyson moved to Alberta 40 years ago he’s seen way more changes than he’s comfortable with.  But the sky and the mountains keep him there, and his alternating regrets and optimism spark his song writing.”   It is that sense of longing, hope and wistful regret that come through in these songs, and it’s what puts these songs close to the hearts of anyone that is willing to give them a listen.While I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a hit or two from the album to draw more people to it, one has to doubt whether the thought has even crossed Tyson’s mind.  Ian Tyson is a man with many stories left to tell, and Carnero Vaquero is as clear a picture of the world he inhabits as any album that has come before.  Listen to these songs… absorb them and treasure them as secret messages from a disappearing world. Close your eyes when you spin this CD if you can, and you’ll see that world clear as day.ESSENTIALS:  Shawnie, Cottonwood Canyon, Will JamesCHOICES & CHANCES Smith & Wesley (Garage Door) **** +The label debut here for this country band, hailing from the North Georgia/ Chattanooga area, comes from outside the Nashville factory system.  The 11 deeply personal yet somehow universal songs lift Choices & Chances above the fray.The band is definitely a family affair.  Led by Scott and Todd Smith, they changed the name after recent passing of their father Wes, who introduced them to the country classics and all the legends of country at an early age.  Keyboard player Greg Gordy went to high school with the Smith boys, Steve & Josh Pettyjohn on electric guitars are a father and son team, and bassist Dee Callihan is a member of the Pettyjohn family by marriage.More than just songs about pickup trucks, whiskey, your mama and guitars, Choices And Chances charts a deliberate course- you could almost say it’s a ‘country concept album’.  “(It) was recorded to be heard as a listening experience from start to finish” says Scott Smith.  “The first part of the album is about decisions made and the repercussions from those decisions.”  “Whether it is betrayal, bad habits or questionable decision making, most of these types of choices often have less than favorable results” adds brother Todd. “As the journey proceeds, the songs lend themselves to better moods, courtship, love and reflection; thus proving there is a chance of a better tomorrow out there.”It’s been said elsewhere that country is the white man’s blues, and I’m really feeling that on this disc- both sonically and emotionally.  Songs like Whiskey, Roll On Smoothly and Bottle’s Half Full speak of good times that were carried a little too far and Country Dreams, which closes out the record, is the most personal of the 11 songs.  Says Scott Smith, “I will always be thankful that our father introduced Todd and me to the country classics and all the legends of country at an early age.  Country Dreams is a tribute to those legends and the influence they have had on our passion, thus allowing us to be fortunate enough to do what we love to do.”For me, Choices & Chances is like Garth Brooks meets Brooks & Dunn, that sort of firepower.  You could almost say this is country music for folks that aren’t really into country, combining traditional musical elements with the sort of brute power and real blues elements that might be considered rude in Nashville.  What chafes me about most modern country music is its assembly line nature, a paint-by-numbers approach that drains it of emotional honesty- however, that’s not a problem with this lot.  Musical excellence and songs from the heart that tell stories we can all relate to make Choices & Chances a great album, regardless of genre.ESSENTIALS:  Need Somebody Bad (first single), Thirty Pieces (could be a HUGE hit), Country Dreams, Whiskey MEGATROPOLIS 2.0 Iron Savior (AFM)  ***+This is a re-release of the German power metal’s 2007 album- remixed, remastered, and a pair of bonus tracks tossed in for good measure.  Very much traditional metal in an 80’s and 90’s kind of way, it’s an easy record to like.If Accept and Judas Priest were to somehow merge, they might sound something like Iron Savior.  Tons of palm muted riffing recalls JP’s early 80’s glory days and the pace is relentless, frenetic, and energetic.  Singer Piet Sielck is the sole remaining founding member from the band’s first days in 1997 and he’s got an excellent rock & roll shout- not quite as husky as Mark Tornillo of Accept, but certainly in the same neighborhood.  The music on this album is almost a physical force- with the right speakers and amp, it probably is.For rock & roll, particularly this style of metal, I look for energy first, songs second, and musicianship third, and Megatropolis 2.0 delivers on all three with room to spare.  The cover art and indeed some of the lyrics themselves indicate the band’s fascination with science fiction themes. I can easily picture shattering the speed limit with this playing at top volume in my PT, the tight, disciplined musical performances urging me on.As for what the songs are about directly, I have no idea and don’t really care, though I may choose to dive in deeper and figure that out later.  Megatropolis 2.0 is a crushing slab of traditional heavy metal that’s giving me the energy boost I desperately need today, and I’m good with that.  Listening to this makes me want to check out the rest of their catalogue too, so well done boys- mission accomplished.ESSENTIALS:  Hammerdown (bonus track), title cut, Cybermatic Queen REBEL Lynch Mob (Frontiers) **** ½ Though this, Lynch Mob’s 2nd album for Frontiers, isn’t out until August 21st, I’ve been enjoying it in the car so much the last couple of days that I had to share. Rebel is fisted clenched, bare knuckled rock & roll at its loudest and best.The group consists of ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch, singer Oni Logan, ex- Dokken and Dio and current Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson, and drummer Brian Tichy from Whitesnake, Billy Idol and Slash.  With that kind of rock & roll pedigree you’ve probably already got a handle on the vibe of the new album, and you’re probably right.  Rebel is a melodic rock album with balls and there’s an old school bluesy undercurrent at work too.  Throw this in the CD player and it sounds good… it feels right.I’ve long been a fan of George Lynch’s guitar playing and always thought he was far too talented for a band like Dokken, a band I like about as much as Twister Sister, which is to say not at all.  Lynch’s playing here is massive as wall after wall of brutal riffs hit you, and his leads are always exciting.  As a singer, Logan recalls a combination of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and Dug Pinnick from King’s X, two other bands I enjoy a great deal.  As a bassist Pilson mirrors Lynch’s every move, making the tunes thicker and the melodies meatier, though I’d guess a more adventurous player like Geezer Butler or John Paul Jones might really open up the songs. As a drummer Tichy isn’t overly complicated or showy, and so matches the proceedings perfectly.If you’re into Whitesnake, especially their last few albums, I’d wager that Lynch Mob’s Rebel is something you can really sink your teeth into.  The music on Rebel is extremely physical, and George Lynch sounds positively inspired, moreso than he has in recent outings.  This, kids, is a great piece of rock & roll.ESSENTIALS:  Sanctuary, Automatic Fix, Jelly Roll

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