Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review- Iggy Pop; Open Up and Bleed, by Paul Trynka

Warning; This is a rather lengthy book review. Paul Trynka wrote a lengthy, but well researched biography of Iggy Pop, a very influential performer. I had hoped to convince one of several music publications to run this review, but there were no takers. Ho hum. Anyhow, once upon a time, publications like Rolling Stone ran in-depth reviews of products associated with preferred artists. I don't want this review to sit in my hard drive forever, and the book is still rather current (summer 2007), so here is my review of Iggy Pop; Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka. I hope it isn't too long for a blog post.

Iggy Pop; Open Up and Bleed, By Paul Trynka. (Broadway Books)

Open Up and Bleed is the most extensive book written about the life of James Osterberg, better known as Iggy Pop. Previously, all fans had to go by were Iggy’s less than completely reliable 1983 autobiography I Need More and the excellent, but brief Per Nilsson book The Wild One. The English writer and Mojo Magazine editor Paul Trynka has, over the course of many years, managed to track down pretty much everyone from Iggy’s past who was willing to discuss their relationship with Iggy.

Indeed, the coverage of James’ Osterberg’s childhood is more thorough than that of his seventies concert tours. Former school mates and ex-girlfriends are consulted along with other people from Iggy’s Ann Arbor days.

Iggy Pop, or James Jewel Osterberg (named after his father James) was raised in a close knit, if uptight family where both parents worked and the preferred recreational father and son activity was golf. James, or Jim, as just about everybody in this book including its author calls Iggy when he’s in his “normal” persona, was an exceptional student as well as quite the social climber, while growing up. Interestingly, Iggy’s father was raised by a Jewish couple who adopted him, but Iggy would later make some rather anti-Semitic remarks on stage, as well as record most of his best music with a guitarist who had a Nazi fetish which included wearing SS outfits on stage. This incongruity is seldom addressed in Open Up and Bleed, but the author doesn’t gloss over or ignore Ron Asheton’s Nazi predilections, either. Trynka mentions Ron’s Nazi paraphernalia was still a fixture of life in his mother’s basement in Ann Arbor, where he was living in 1996 when the author stopped in for an interview.

One interesting observation that comes up early in the book is that being raised in a trailer park, Iggy’s stern school teacher father left no public misconceptions about his family’s social or economic status around affluent Ann Arbor. While trailer parks have long been associated with poverty and stereotyped as populated only by white trash, Jim lived in a solid community which was ultimately razed to make room for a highway.

Jim was apparently popular with the girls from a young age, which was presumably helped by his well built body and rather large penis which comes up, so to speak, through the course of the book. Suffice to say, even when he was a broke has-been, which happened several times in his remarkable career, Jim never had a problem finding girls, even if some of them were underage.

By the time The Stooges were formed with the thuggish Asheton brothers and the late Dave Alexander, playing Michigan clubs, their music was taken to be either avant-garde or merely bizarre. One early show was busted by the police who found a naked Iggy fronting a loud band. Thinking they had stumbled upon some illegal gay strip club, the cops had to promise not to beat up the naked singer before Iggy could be persuaded to emerge from hiding.

Various lingering debates among Iggy fans over such matters as how much input came from the respective producers of the three Stooges albums are discussed at some length in Open Up and Bleed. Over the years, Iggy and the Stooges have lamented the production on all of their records, especially the first and third releases. An early and long time champion of the band, Danny Fields (who got them signed to Elektra Records with the MC 5 in 1968) managed to get the well respected John Cale to produce the Stooges debut, and regardless of Jim’s comments about Cale and his input, it would seem the producer was indeed an active and effective producer for The Stooges. The 1973 classic record “Raw Power” was produced by David Bowie. He was later referred to as “that fucking carrot top” who destroyed a brilliant recording by Iggy and the rest of the band. The Stooges used to describe their mix as heavier, and without the yelping sound on the original record. Unfortunately for the Stooges, their preferred mixes have been well distributed among fans and sold by bootleggers over the years, and the record as produced by Bowie sounds undeniably livelier.

In any case, David Bowie would prove to be Jim Osterberg’s best friend for many years. David suggests they grew apart in the nineties after Jim was sick of discussing David Bowie in every single interview. Paul Trynka asserts the both Jim and David recorded much of their best work collaboratively over their time living and recording in Berlin in the mid-seventies, and he has a point. In fact, many long time fans probably feel the 1978 album “Lust For Life” is Iggy’s last great record.

David Bowie came to Jim’s aid several times before their retreat to Berlin. In 1972, Bowie got Jim signed to his MainMan management company and despite what became of MainMan, David was clearly looking out for Jim. He would repeat the favour a couple of years later, and even after their time in Berlin, the two would work together again in the late 1980’s.

In 1972, the original Stooges had blown apart. MainMan saw Iggy as a solo artist rather than the Stooges as a group. The afore-mentioned Danny Fields, is one of the book’s most engaging raconteurs. He described the Stooges highs and lows from that brief two year period when they looked to be poised for success. Iggy himself was a big hit with the trendy regulars at Max’s Kansas City during several visits to the New York City night spot, and Danny Fields had the presence of mind to have recorded a few of the New York Stooges performances for posterity. Whether these include the recently discovered 1970 recording from Ungano’s, a New York City club, is not mentioned, but Danny’s perspective is interesting.

Danny also introduced Jim to cocaine in Los Angeles during the “Fun House” recording sessions in 1969. Jim, or perhaps more accurately Iggy, would have problems with coke and other drugs for almost two decades. Nonetheless, this unfortunate introduction was bound to happen, as cocaine suddenly appeared all over Ann Arbor when Jim returned from L.A. Paul Trynka blames President Nixon’s 1969 crackdown on marijuana for the rise in cocaine use at this time. Apparently, Michigan stoners first had to content themselves with opium-laced hash from Canada, then cocaine made a splash, and heroin came on the scene. By the fall of 1970, the author described heroin as “flooding” Detroit. The Stooges, like many other Detroit musicians, ended up strung out on junk before long, and by 1971 they were often getting paid in cocaine or heroin. Danny Fields described a double bill featuring Alice Cooper and The Stooges, and each act was getting paid 1500$. Danny saw Alice Cooper’s band getting ready with their make up and wigs while he pulled a needle out of Iggy’s arm, squirting blood on his face. It was obvious at the moment, he said, that one of the two bands in the room was on the verge of stardom while the other was heading for the bathroom floor.

In 1971, Iggy and MC 5 guitarist Wayne Kramer even had a heroin selling business, which seemed to involve Iggy steering clients for Wayne who had a good heroin supplier in Detroit. The partnership was terminated at gunpoint by Kramer, who returned from an MC 5 tour to find no money or dope or Iggy- he had been hospitalized for an overdose.

By the time David Bowie visited Jim in rehab in 1975, the singer’s post-Stooges L.A. accommodations ran the gamut, from living off rich girls to sharing a garage floor with some male hustler to a forced stay in a mental hospital. The following year, he was invited to join Bowie’s “Station to Station” tour, and a year later the two would be recording the Iggy Pop “comeback” album, “The Idiot.”

There are a few topics which are covered all too briefly in Open Up and Bleed and Iggy’s 1970’s live career is one of them. While Paul Trynka talked to Michael Tippin, who recorded some of the Stooges Detroit concerts, including the notorious final show at Michigan Palace, the final Stooges tour is written off as a doomed waste of time. “There were no good shows” is one quote used, but there was surely more that could have been written about this period of Jim’s life. The 1977 tour is barely discussed at all; this was Jim’s triumphant come-back tour, the shows were often very well received, and the up and coming band Blondie shared the bill. Debbie Harry discusses this tour more in her book than Trynka’s scant coverage here. In fact, she describes Iggy and some of the Blondie members playing an after-show in Seattle, where Iggy sang Doors and MC 5 covers for a few lucky fans. There were also other events on this tour, like Jim jamming with old friends in Ann Arbor. Given he would later share a tour with Wayne Kramer, last seen robbing Jim for revenge in 1971, there must have been a few interesting tales left out of the book. The subsequent “Lust For Life” tour receives little coverage, and when the topic of Jim’s stage work does come up, the author suggests Jim’s constant touring from 1979-82 did more harm than good for his creativity and his career.

I have to disagree with this assessment, especially in the case of singers like Iggy Pop, who’s reputation comes from his live appearances more than his records. “New Values,” “Soldier” and “Party” are described as being mediocre to dreadful records, in descending order. Road-testing new material would have quite likely saved Jim the trouble of recording some of the turkeys he released in the early eighties. Iggy Pop was a steady live draw, and it was his concerts (and definitely not his new records) that kept his fans around during those years. Touring was also the only way for Jim to make any money; his records were expensive to record, and kept tanking. The expenses of studio bills and a cocaine habit took a lot of road work, and Jim was living night to night.

The author proposes “Lust For Life” should have been a strong seller, having made the English charts upon release, but at this time, in the summer of 1977, Elvis Presley died. This meant RCA Records virtually shelved all non-Elvis projects, and went into overdrive rush-releasing Elvis product through the rest of the year. Once the first pressing of “Lust For Life” sold out in the U.K. there were no subsequent pressings, and the l.p. disappeared from stores. This notion hasn’t been brought up before, but it would be interesting to see what other well-regarded records fell off the radar over the years due to circumstances that had nothing to do with the artist.

Paul Trynka gives the reader a stronger appreciation for Jim’s backing bands over the years. The Stooges, for all their perceived incompetence, were one of the most adventurous sounding groups to emerge from the musical hotbed of the Motor City, and later players included the famous Sales brothers (bass and guitar), Ivan Kral from Patti Smith’s band, Fred Sonic Smith, Carlos Alomar from David Bowie’s group, and many others. For all the debauchery and antics of an Iggy Pop performance, the band’s playing was usually tight, and surely helped Iggy Pop get repeat bookings when album sales might have suggested it wasn’t worth bringing Iggy Pop to one’s town.

After bottoming out again in 1983, Iggy pulled himself together and apparently quit cocaine again. Quitting such a destructive drug was obviously a sound move, but the influence cocaine on Jim’s studio work is unclear; if coke helped ruin albums like “Party”, suggests Trynka, then it must have helped during the equally coke-infused “Lust For Life” sessions, or it might not have had much effect on Jim’s recording sessions. The author also paraphrases the photographer Robert Matheu on the topic of being “clean”; “drug-free simply meant that it was not cool to share your cocaine anymore; instead, everyone snorted in private.”

Regardless, Jim’s relative good health was matched by David Bowie’s when they got together to record “Blah Blah Blah.” This was described by many fans and critics as the best 1980’s record that Bowie never made, and clearly his influence is all over the poppy album. “Blah Blah Blah” was the best selling Iggy Pop album in many years, and his cover of “Real Wild Child” was a hit in England, where Iggy records always sold better than they did Stateside. The record is described as a pristine, crisp recording, and the author seems to quite like the record. Many long-time fans certainly found it too slick and watered down, but they were waiting for him when Iggy hit the road again in 1986. This is cited as a particularly strong tour, but despite the longer sets, the energy level seemed to wane a little with all the synthesizers and sound effects that characterized these shows.

The follow-up “Instinct” record and tour is decried by Trynka as corporate rock, and lamented Iggy’s going on tour with a “hair band”, but only one “hairy” newcomer was on that tour. It was also hailed by a lot of fans as Iggy’s return to hard rock, after drifting dangerously far into Bowie-territory over the previous two years. Of course, the quality of Iggy Pop records and tours is as debatable as any esthetic argument, but almost everyone was surprised when the follow-up record, “Brick By Brick” became the best selling Iggy release to date. In fact, the nineties were Jim’s most prosperous decade ever; his old songs suddenly became hip, as one popular new artist after another insisted on singing Iggy’s praises. The smash hit movie “Trainspotting” featured a generous helping of Iggy music in the soundtrack, and “Lust For Life” enjoyed a second life as a hit song and a third life as a catchy jingle, minus the “liquor and drugs” reference (at least until the song is licensed by some private rehab-clinic). A string of increasingly predictable releases followed, but once again it was the live performances (as well as “Lust For Life” by this point) that kept Iggy in demand. One drawback with Iggy Pop recording sessions for many years now has been the steadfast desire for one record company after another to hook him up with a hot-shot producer-du-jour who was expected to get a commercial success out of the work. One would have thought this unreliable method would have lost favour by now, but perhaps the need for record company staff to cover themselves for slow sellers requires they only release the most commercial sounding music they can.

Trynka suggests Iggy’s constant touring was an attempt to make up for wasting so much time, blowing off potential work right through the early and mid-seventies. It could well be the case, as Iggy is hardly desperate for cash, as he was on those early eighties tours.

Finally, in 2003, twenty years after publishing his often petty autobiography, the impossible finally happened; the Stooges reunited. They played on some of Iggy’s c.d. “Skull Ring” and even performed a few dates together. The shows presumably went well, because The Stooges have been playing on and off ever since. Earlier this year they recorded a new c.d. together called “The Weirdness.” Open Up and Bleed is nothing if not up to date.

Overall, this huge undertaking has paid off in an enjoyable and informative read. Anyone interested in this book is presumably an Iggy fan already, but there Paul Trynka adds plenty to the already well known facts about Iggy Pop. There are a few points where the author might have dug a little deeper, most notably on Iggy Pop’s live career. There are plenty of bootlegs and other live recordings, as well as other people’s accounts of those shows. Similarly, the infamous Skydog label is barely discussed, and erroneously cited as beginning operations in 1973 with the release of a Flamin’ Groovies album. In fact, Skydog released a (terrible) performance of Jimi Hendrix with Jim Morrison in 1970, as well as the first Velvet Underground bootleg, using Brigid Polk’s Sony cassette recording that was later used for the “Live at Max’s Kansas City” set. There was a lot of controversy over the “Metallic K.O.” Skydog release in 1976; it was by all accounts a bootleg, and Iggy claimed the label’s owner Marc Zermati never had permission to release the set. “Metallic K.O.” must be one of the most influential rock albums of the seventies, and the controversy surrounding it surely contributed to its punk cache. In fact, a complete discography of The Stooges that included the bootleg and quasi-legitimate releases through the seventies and eighties would have been an excellent addition, and it has after all been almost twenty years since Per Nilsson’s book (with it’s extensive discography and listing of available recordings) book came out. More pictures would have been most welcome as well. That said, there is a decent collection of pictures featured, covering Jim’s entire life on and off stage. Open Up and Bleed is one of the more ambitious recent books about any rock star, and the research is complemented by some particularly well informed interviews.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Concert Review; Ernest Ranglin and Tabarruk; Sunday, August 5/07, Harbourfront, Toronto

The guitar player Ernest Ranglin has been touring and recording for more than fifty years. By the mid 1950's, the accomplished musician had already played the Jamaican hotel circuit and toured the Caribbean. In 1958, he led his own five piece band when one Chris Blackwell caught them playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, and he was inspired to record the band for his new Island Records label. While there is an obvious jazz leaning in Ernest's guitar style in the mento days, Ranglin's subsequent recordings at Federal Records by Coxsone Dodd were recorded after the mento music style had waned and been replaced by American R&B. These instrumentals sounded a little like R&B records, but with the beat shifted, and some insist these Coxsone productions of Ernest Ranglin's group are the very first ska recordings. After a brief stint working as an in-house arranger for JBC radio, Ernest Ranglin was summoned by Chris Blackwell to London, England, where Ranglin quickly established himself at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. With more commercial success in mind, Chris Blackwell had Ranglin and other musicians back Millie Small for "My Boy Lollipop" which was the first Jamaican single to break out as a world wide hit.
Despite his renowned status, Ranglin has recorded only sporadically since the early seventies, including 1970's "Boss Reggae" and "Sound and Power" in 1975. He toured as a member of Jimmy Cliff's band in the mid-seventies, and he didn't release his next record "In Search of the Lost Riddim" until 2000. That release saw Ranglin recording in Africa, and returning to the stage. His appearance at Hoarbourfront that summer precipitated several successful return appearances at Hugh's Room.
The sound check took place before noon, when hardly anyone was milling about Harbourfront. Everybody seemed to be in good spirits, and Ernest's local backing band, Tabrruk, have played enough shows with him to guarantee a comfortable fit between the guitarist and Tabarruk. Local singer and fellow reggae veteran Jay Douglas joined the show for a song, but most of the concert consisted of the smooth (but not slick) instrumentals that have defined Ranglin's sound in recent years. Tabarruk was augmented by the two-man horn section of Nick "Brownman" and Marcus Ali, who have provided a fantastic addition to plenty of local concerts by various artists around town over the years.
There was another nod to the roots of reggae with "54-46 (That's My Number)" but Ernest Ranglin's sophisticated live performance arrangements lend themselves to his earlier jazz influences, such as Wes Montgomery. This daytime show got the attention it deserved from the audience, for the most part. While Harbourfront's daytime concerts bring out a high ratio of audience members just passing through, there were enough fans of both Ernest Ranglin and jazzy guitar performances (the latter group surely converted to Ranglin fans by the end of the show) to ensure an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. Ernest and Tabarruk played for an hour, and despite the brevity of this performance, everyone on stage and off seemed to have had a great time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Barrington Levy; August 5/07 Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

A rare local appearance from Barrington Levy seemed like the perfect end to Caribana/ Lord Simcoe weekend. The singer has been recording since his 1977 single "My Black Girl", and he was entertaining dancehall crowds since the age of 14. In the early 1980's, Barrington Levy and his producer Junjo Lawes made hit records and popular live appearances in England. Backed by the Channel One All Stars (subsequently renamed the Roots Radics), Barrington's records and performances did well enough, but in 1985 "Here I Come" gave Barrington and his new producer Jah Screw a major international reggae hit. They scored again with "Under Me Sensi", which has been resurrected more than once, and it is probably Levy's most enduring classic. Levy has also had success covering old songs himself, such as "Too Experienced".
Tonight, Barrington Levy and his reliably hot band played a pounding, solid set of old and new music occasionally punctuated by a few flashy guitar licks. He must have been pleased by the turn-out as the entire area was packed shoulder to shoulder. The heavy Jamaican presence presumably helped too, but Levy was clearly enjoying himself. Many people in the audience knew the words and sang along even to lesser known songs like the "Black Roses" and "Danger". Barrington tried a couple of new tracks out as well, and they too were well received.
Other songs like "Reggae Music" and "Dangerous Times" (about a sloppy philanderer) were stretched out by the band, but "Here I Come" got a particularly raucous response, as Barrington broke down to all the song's rude components for the delighted crowd. Levy broke into a capella singing and rhyming several times during the show, and even after 30 years in the business, he can easily belt out rapid-fire lyrics as well as the best rappers and dancehall singers. This was a high energy event that must have been one of Barrington's best North American audiences in a long time.
No pictures, I was too far away, it was too dark outside, and shots of Barrington were too blurry.

Concert Review; Kathy Brown and Tabarruk, Sunday, August 5/07 Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

As part of Harbourfront's "Island Soul" festival this weekend, we were treated to several free performances. The first two were afternoon shows, featuring one veteran of Jamaican music and one relative newcomer. Ernest Ranglin and Kathy Brown both gave excellent performances on this sunny afternoon. They both play music that is restrained and refined, which was fitting for the mellow atmosphere around Harbourfront. All of Sunday's live performances were broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 fm.
Kathy Brown is a pianist who had a remarkable back-up plan; she is also a medical doctor in her native Kingston, Jamaica. This afternoon was her Canadian debut, and she had the compatible and versatile Jason Wilson and Tabarruk backing her up. Long time Jamaican-Canadian drummer Everton "Pablo" Paul has been playing percussion regularly with Tabarruk, and the two drummers (Paul plays hand drums in this band) gel seamlessly for a steady rhythm section that did not interfere with Kathy Brown's piano playing.
Brown opened with a tune called "Rasta Journey", which combines elements from older melodies such as "Rastaman Chant" and "Rivers of Babylon". That was followed by a cover of "Get Up Stand Up" that was introduced as a Bob Marley song, but it was barely recognizable. It was a treat to hear a cover like the well worn "Get Up Stand Up" played with significantly different arrangements from the familiar Wailers versions. This was followed by an unusual take of "The Flintstones" theme. Kathy's eclecticism shifted to the appropriately titled "Latin Groove" which, Kathy said, was inspired by Cuban rhythms which used to be very popular in Jamaica. A cover of "Afro Blue" came next. While the familiar notes trickled out from the stage, Kathy and Tabarruk got to stretch out a little. Kathy described the track as "a song of communication" which seemed fitting. The last song was another instrumental cover of a Wailers hit, "Could You Be Loved?" which featured the pianist and Jason Wilson the organist trading off keyboard licks. Kathy Brown was very well received by the surprisingly attentive crowd. Daytime Harbourfront audiences are often a finicky bunch, composed of as many tourists out for a stroll as there are fans of the artist performing. Holding this audiences attention was no small task, but Kathy Brown's piano playing provided a rare moment of an audience listening closely to a relatively unknown musician.
Pictures at

Various Comedians; Just For Laughs Festival, July 27/07 Massey Hall, Toronto

The Just For Laughs inaugural run in our city included free outdoor shows and other events including a couple of promising bills at Massey Hall for Friday and Saturday. When Lewis Black was added to the M.C. slot as well as his scheduled performance for Friday's show, it looked like an amusing night was coming up. Richard Lewis, a veteran comic and more recently showing up on the television series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was also scheduled to perform, along with some lesser known stand-up comedians.
There was a brief introduction and the band at the back of the stage played a few bars from various tunes, which they would do between the other artists' sets. Lewis Black delivered two hilarious monologues which the audience loved. During his opening set, Black apologized for George Bush and launched into a classic Black style tirade about a trip to Salt Lake City, Mormons, a trip to a local Jesus museum, complete with a 14 foot high pop-up Jesus model, before he continued to suggest those who can't get to Salt Lake City check out Las Vegas on Christmas Eve. Despite being Jewish, Black explained, he knew there must be something wrong with a casino's giant games rooms, packed with angry slot machine gamblers, cursing to a background of Christmas carols. Lewis Black left the stage to uproarious applause, promising to come back later.
Bob Marley and Ardal O'Hanlon were the next two artists. The Irish O'Hanlon described Irish immigration as a recent reversal to the historic emigration that defined the Emerald Isle, but neither comic was stunningly funny. An MTV host delivered a few jokes as well, with some recurring gag about her wet vagina, but the next truly funny monologue came from Richard Lewis.
Lewis came out dressed in black, with his hair slicked back, "looking like Captain Kirk's Rabbi", because, he explained, he is now sixty years old and "doesn't give a fuck" - about anything. His balls hang below his penis, his parents are now dead and therefore he now forgives them, he stopped caring about seeing a shrink, because he doesn't give a fuck anymore. On a happier note, he said he felt honoured to share the Massey Hall stage with Neil Young (albeit 36 years apart), which was an honour compared to his 1977 debut at the O'Keefe Centre opening for Sonny and Cher. Richard Lewis described Bill Clinton as a possible sex addict, but at least he didn't speak English as a second language. Given how many comics quit drugs and alcohol, as Richard Lewis did, and emerge from the clean-up palpably less funny, Richard Lewis must have been pleased with his well received set.
Lewis Black returned for another monologue which went over as well as his earlier appearance. He talked about health care briefly before asking why old stem cell samples, which used to be tossed out unceremoniously, are now reclassified as sacred babies-in-waiting. Black then recalled how America has had illegal immigrants for as long as anyone can remember, yet suddenly, in 2007, it became a new hot-button issue, complete with a resulting border fence built, at least in part (and Black did not make this up), by labourers working illegally in the United States.
Jeremy Hotz is an African-born, Canadian-raised, and America-residing comedian. He made a few funny observations, comparing integration in Canada, South Africa, and in the United States, citing the de facto segregation that exists across the States. Hotz said he was awaiting a green Card, which would define him as an "African American" although he is white and grew up in Canada.
For much of the audience, the surprise of the evening must have been the night's final act, Filipino-American Jo Joy. His act bounced between discussing Asians in North America and comparing male and female organs. Koy called Chinese people "the rudest Asian people" and imitated an impatient waiter in a Chinese restaurant. He then described the vagina as a loving, intricate and detailed work of art from God, while the penis must have been an afterthought. Jo then said His afterthought, the penis, looks awful; "like a drunk falling out of the back of a car". That joke alone got a round of applause, but most of Koy's act was strong enough to keep the crowd laughing. If Lewis Black and Richard Lewis were the dependable comedic draws for this evening, Jo Koy was definitely the biggest surprise. He greeted a few fans outside Massey Hall after the show, (as did Lewis Black) and many outside seemed to agree he was one of the funniest artists of the evening.
Lewis Black picture can be seen at

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Concert Review; John Fogerty; Friday July 20/07, Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto

John Fogerty has probably visited Toronto more often in the last 10 years than he did in the 25-odd years since Creedence Clearwater Revival folded. The leader of that legendary band wrote and recorded almost as many hits as the Rolling Stones, and all within a few frantic years starting with the band’s 1968 self-titled debut. For almost two decades, he refused to perform C.C.R. songs in public, until Bob Dylan met John Fogerty, and joked that the world might only remember “Proud Mary” as an Ike & Tina Turner song. Since that legendary club meeting and live jam in 1987, John Fogerty, the writer and voice of C.C.R. has played many of his hits in concert. The man can still sing very well, and his band is as good as Creedence ever was. Like C.C.R, they still rarely jam or improvise on stage, preferring to play the songs straight. Fogerty’s band works as a tight, well rehearsed live juke box, and the hits pour out nightly.

John Fogerty kicked off with “Travellin’ Band”, postponing his standard opener, “Born On The Bayou” until later on. He played the odd vintage surprise, such as “Ramble Tamble” from the first Creedence record, but Fogerty mostly stuck to a rather conservative set list. There were a few “Centerfield” cuts, along with the well received “Déjà vu (All Over Again)” from 2004, during which the video screen displayed the coffins of American soldiers returning from Iraq.

That was followed by “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, one of the few songs that featured some stretching out among band members, although even this rendition virtually matched the 1969 extended Creedence version. The guitar playing was split between John and Billy Burnette, while drummer Kenny Aronoff held the dueling guitars together.

John introduced the next song, a new one from his forthcoming release, and dedicated it to his daughter. The new song “Don’t You Wish It Was True?” is classic Fogerty- irresistibly catchy and easy to remember. It was played on the P.A. system at the end of the night for good measure.

From here, the band launched into the old C.C.R. finale “Keep On Chooglin’”. This was a surprisingly short version too, but it did give the band one more chance to show off just a little bit. Tonight’s version was surprisingly short, but the band was perhaps wary of the 11 p.m. curfew in effect at the Ampitheatre.

The cowbell in the follow-up could only have been the start of “Down On The Corner”. These were followed by a couple of songs from the 1986 record “Centerfield”- the title track, “Rock and Roll Girls”, and “The Old Man Down the Road”.

On the 2004 “Vote For Change” tour, “Fortunate Son” was practically dedicated to George W. Bush. That political slant was replaced tonight by a lot of “God Bless You’s” between songs, but it was still a treat to hear John sing that particular song. In fact, it sounded more energetic than the brief finale of “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary”. John Fogerty’s current touring band naturally consists of well seasoned players, and one wonders if John is needlessly resisting any urge to change some of the live arrangements of the songs they perform. Surely he has heard the Ohio Players’ deep, slow, thick-as-molasses funky version of “Proud Mary” or Gene Harris’ gospelized version of “Green River”? Still, Fogerty’s voice and playing have survived the last few decades largely intact, and that alone is no small feat.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mini Review; The Black Lips, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Spring 2007

In the wake of so many pretty-boy punk bands hyped by the music industry in an ever increasingly desperate attempt to remain current, I was prepared to dislike this Atlanta-based group. Instead, the Black Lips were surprisingly energetic, and used their sheer nerve to overcome obvious comparisons to fellow hard rocking Stooges disciples like Thee Hypnotics. In fact, they showed a few of us aging cynics that there are bands still eager to rock hard, without pretending to be hardened street punks.
The Black Lips' high energy music is complemented by raucous performances, although the antics that are becoming part of their reputation generally took a back seat to the music tonight. There were occasional moments of gratuitous silliness, which was only mildly distasteful, but thankfully the band seemed more intent on getting across with their music instead of the odd bit of spitting or drooling. With respect to stage antics like this- either do something crazy or don't, but mere drooling between verses is hardly shocking or necessary at a show that is rocking in it's own right; the band didn't seem particularly inebriated and the audience was with them from the first song. Altogether, the Black Lips put on a pretty hot set at Lee's Palace, although in retrospect their slot as the opening act perhaps ought to have been reversed.

Note; I slapped this quick review together, saved it with notes on a different topic altogether, and came across it while looking for something else entirely. Pictures of this entertaining night are at in the 'Live Pics' set.

Concert Review; Dennis Coffey, Saturday July 14/07, Harbourfront, Toronto and the Orbit Room (with The A Team)

After playing regularly for years around Detroit, the ex-Motown session guitarist Dennis Coffey has played a few rare of out-of-town shows. He rocked the South By South West festival in Austin earlier this year, and at long last a Toronto date was arranged for a show at Harbourfront.
It was a fine Saturday evening to enjoy Harbourfront, but once again the drawback to free concerts here is the number of curious bystanders who often come and go, with cell phones and loud children in full effect. Luckily, Dennis Coffey seemed to have attracted a more pensive element, because the crowd was paying attention to the music. One other drawback is the strict deadline imposed by the city, requiring the last notes at outdoor concerts be played by 11 p.m. sharp. As an opening act, Dennis Coffey had only an hour to show Torontonians what we've been missing, and he made the most of it. Dennis was augmented by a few local musicians, recruited by a local bass player introduced only as "Adrian". Together, they performed about a half dozen instrumental tunes.
The audience was able to get into the groove right away with the infectious opening number, "It's Your Thing". Dennis' cover of this song is on his first solo record, "Hair and Thangs". There was virtually no talking between songs, save for a couple of "Thank You's" for the audience and the backing band, who did an excellent job.
After a meandering instrumental, Dennis Coffey returned to familiar ground, when he played "Just My Imagination". For all the intense sounding guitar effects he still uses, Dennis Coffey led the band with a surprisingly subdued sound. The resulting guitar sound is almost reminiscent of Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominoes, when he was still willing to cut loose, but not in his Cream style, with the guitar as loud as possible.
Dennis introduced his next number, the funk/ blaxploitation classic "Black Belt Jones". While replicating the distorted, effects laden vocals on this song would be next to impossible on stage, Dennis substituted that motif with a tight jam, bouncing between his guitar and the Moog and Fender Rhodes keyboard flourishes. Not surprisingly, the set's closer was Dennis' biggest solo hit, "Scorpio", from the 1971 Detroit Guitar Band record "Evolution". This track was both a certified dance floor smash back in the proverbial day, and it also joined a select few instrumentals like "Apache" in creating the base for the beginnings of hip hop. While samples of music from James Brown and P-Funk eclipsed "Scorpio", this instrumental was an integral part of the seventies hip hop parties that took off in the Bronx before taking over the world. Tonight's version was in the Dennis' current jazz-funk groove, rather than the hard funk that characterized much of those Detroit Guitar Band records. Dennis Coffey played as well as ever, before he thanked the crowd, and "Adrian", who did a commendable job in assembling the back up band. Adrian also got an opportunity to demonstrate his own considerable capabilities during this final number. Altogether, this was a damn fine and overdue debut from one of Detroit's finest session guitarists.
"Scorpio" wrapped up his Harbourfront set, but Dennis wasn't finished playing to Toronto funk fans; word quickly spread Dennis would likely drop in at the Orbit Room later on this Saturday night.

Dennis Coffey and The A Team; Saturday July 14/07 Orbit Room, Toronto.

This was a huge treat, and a surprise until word started getting around at Harbourfront that Dennis was ready to play some more. Local band The A- Team was the scheduled act, but they were lucky to have been playing this popular little spot on the same night Dennis Coffey was in town, and dropped in with his new bride (they married last weekend) and a couple of friends. The A Team's guitar player, as capable as anyone else in this tight band, was gracious enough to lend Dennis his guitar when Dennis broke a string.

After the band played a few eighties R&B covers, Dennis got up on stage while they were playing Chuck Brown's classic "Bustin' Loose". Dennis certainly did bust loose in here, bringing the funk on harder than he did earlier for the Harbourfront audience earlier this evening. A packed, sweaty club should be funkier than an outdoor stage, in front of a seated audience, in daylight. Sure enough, Dennis didn't disappoint. He went through an array of his effects, throwing all manner of licks, notes and riffs at the appreciative crowd. The extended jam morphed into Terrence Trent D'Arby's eighties pop hit "Wishing Well", and even that soft song rocked with Dennis' help. While he was only on stage for two songs by definition, the protracted demonstration of guitar-led funkiness that Dennis laid out for us was as gratifying as his earlier set. The notion of playing one show, and going to jam later at another venue has all but died out in recent years, so let's also thank Dennis Coffey for reminding us of that grand tradition as well.

Pictures of both concerts can be seen at

Concert Review: Various Artists- Afrofest, July 7-8, Queen's Park, Toronto

How appropriate that Toronto's first big, free, summer music party comes right after Dominion Day. There are always plenty of events competing for folks' attention, from the re-named Steelback Indie to the official Yonge Street party, but that is what makes Afrofest one of the city's best loved music events among Africans and the sonically adventurous, and one of Toronto's best kept secrets, simultaneously.
For the nineteenth year, Music Africa have once again excelled in booking a wide array of talent featuring African music (with a dash of samba on Saturday) from the continent and more locally sourced grooves. There were no less than three stages set up at Queen's Park, including one for hand drummers looking to do their thing with like minded people. There was also the "Village" full of food and souvenir vendors, selling everything from incense to dvd's to large exotic insects preserved as paperweights. This is also one of the few truly all-ages events in this city, where all ages usually means "all" of those years from 16 to 18, or else family events geared more for little children than anyone else. Afrofests brings out families, singles, couples, and people of all ages and colours seeking a good time. Once again, the entire event was broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 FM ( online), complete with between-set interviews with some of the artists.
Saturday saw a few local acts demonstrate their dancing and drumming, and local act Samba Squad fit right in despite their obvious Brazilian-inspired sound. Cameroonian singer Nya Soleil led his band through an upbeat set of melodic, almost gentle African grooves with his band. Unfortunately, so few people in the audience spoke French, so basic stage chatter like introducing the band and inviting the audience to sing along were largely lost on the crowd. HAJAMadagascar and The Groovy People followed Nya Soleil, playing even more upbeat music for the growing mass of spectators. Dancing in the crowd picked up during HAJAMadagascar's set, creating what the Afrofest Official Guide describes as "a real riba satrana"- or dust ball, referring to the dust that kicks kicked by dancers on the ground. HAJAMadagascar (sic) is a musicologist and multi-instrumentalist who led his band The Groovy People through different genres of Malagasy music. This was yet another excellent Canadian debut for an African artist performing at this festival. It is also likely one of the few places in North America where one can expect a decent turn-out of people from the home countries of most Afrofest performers, from Madagascar to Morocco. Saturday night's final performance ended at 11 p.m. as required by law, but not before the Mali-Quebec collaboration Abdoulaye Diabate and Source played a rousing set that kept everyone on their feet. Their Afro-fusion sound was augmented by Japanese keyboardist Emi Yabuno, and the band was led by Abdoulaye Diabate and Quebecois musician Sylvain Leroux, who stood side by side for most of the performance.
Sunday started at a leisurely pace, with a dance performance getting things underway. Pekoce, a keyboard player and M.C. from the Democratic Republic of Congo went over particularly well with the younger members of the audience. Isaac Akrong & African Dance Ensemble followed, featuring a percussion section backing a dance, which was choreographed by musicologist Isaac Akrong for Music Africa to celebrate fifty years of Independence in Ghana. This ensemble included a large, cubic, drum, which one could hit from the side, or straddle while playing the front surface. In a weekend packed with exotic drums, this one stood out in particular.
Maroc'N'Real followed with Hassan El Hadi, who is one of Morrocco's best loved oude players. Singer Sabah Lachgar's vocals maintained a North African feel to the music, which was complemented by flute playing from Marie Saintonge. Their music was enjoyed, but the audience's excitement rose palpably between sets, with the anticipated arrival of the Cape Verde singer, Lura.
It was a mere coincidence that Brazilian rhythms would return for a second day at Afrofest, but Lura's Bossa Nova sound was very enthusiastically received. Despite the sudden rain, Lura danced around the stage and seemed to enjoy herself. Her songs, in Portuguese, are apparently in the Cape Verde Batuku style that describes local issues, but like calypso and reggae, one can talk politics and keep the groove flowing, as Lura demonstrated.
Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga closed Afrofest with another drum-heavy set that inspired the crowd to keep on dancing despite the long day. The Congolese born Samba Mapangala got his musical start in Uganda and later in Nairobi, Kenya. With his group Orchestra Virunga, Samba recorded a number of African hits through the 1980's. He has since relocated to Maryland, but he brought several Virunga alumni for this appearance. Queen's Park was by now filled with eager fans dancing away, but the show still ended on time.
Next year, Afrofest turns twenty. It has slowly but steadily grown into one of the most musically reliable events of the season, despite bringing in acts which few people outside the various African and World Music communities have even heard of. This is a challenge which is only compounded by recruiting acts which would normally be prohibitively expensive for promoters to bring to Toronto. Adventurous music fans who missed Afrofest this year should keep this festival in mind for 2008.
Pictures of Afrofest are posted at, check under the "Live Shots" set.

Concert Review; Antibalas; Friday, June 29, 2007, Opera House, Toronto.

Bands that rise slowly and steadily are few and far between these days. It seems more efficient to hype somebody into large venues, and hope to get at least one or two high-earning tours out of them before a new flavour hits the scene. Antibalas went from playing to a handful of us at their Lee’s Palace debut, to packing the Horseshoe, and this time they played to a rather full Opera House. They have worked hard on the road to present the tight Afrobeat Orchestra which has earned a dedicated following. Their c.d.’s might not be monster sellers, but their presence in your town is as safe a bet as any for a stellar live performance.

Tonight, Martin Perna led the band through one longer set rather than the two shorter sets they used to spring on unsuspecting audiences. Despite cutting their playing time, their performances are so good that nobody leaves an Antibalas show frustrated at the end of the night.

As the band’s catalogue has grown, they have dropped the Fela covers in favour of their own songs. These have grown beyond Afrobeat to include the jazzier sounds on their current “Security” c.d. and the Latin jams they now bust into, along with those spacey flourishes from organist Victor Axelrod.

They played songs like “Filibuster XXX” from the new disc, and older Afrobeat jams from the band’s early days after their brief incarnation as The Daktaris. Singer Amayo still sings almost all the songs, filling in with the percussionists during the instrumental passages. Everyone keeps busy on Antibalas’ stage, which is no small feat when dealing with thirteen odd performers, including a full horn section. This time out, band leader Martin Perna stepped further away from the spotlight while some of the other members cut loose and take turns fronting the band. Jordan McLean vamped and played trumpet and flugelhorn for an extend jam, while Amayo was supporting the percussion section.

The audience seems to recognize more of the band’s self-penned tracks, particularly songs with a catchy chorus, such as “Government Magic” from a 2005 release of the same title. The final encore tonight, the irresistible “Che Che Cole” also comes from this release, but the vocals for the live version come from guitarist Marcos J. Garcia.

The Fela influence can never leave a band dedicated to the genre he pioneered, but Antibalas have diversified their sound, especially in the last few years, to go beyond that of Afrobeat revivalists. Stateside, they might be passing that torch to fellow Americans such as the Chicago Afrobeat Project and Ann Arbor’s Nomo. Antibalas consistently put out intense, musical energy through their concerts, and tonight was no exception. The added bonus is the band, while moving in new directions, is not abandoning their cherished Afrobeat sound, but adding to it. If the new “Security” c.d. sounds a little subdued, fear not; Antibalas’ concerts are the same high-energy events they always were.


Pictures are at

Brian Auger & Oblivion Express; C.D. Review; Looking In The Eye Of The World (Fuel 2000)

This latest offering from the English Hammond B3 King finds him on familiar ground. Brian Auger’s current incarnation of Oblivion Express features his daughter Savannah and his son Karma on vocals and drums respectively. There are a few different bass players Brian recruits, for touring, but Dan Lutz is handling bass duties on "Looking In The Eye Of The World". Featuring thirteen tracks and clocking at just over 70 minutes, this is a rather ambitious release.

The disc opens with the short, mood setting “Happy Overture”. The keyboards are funky, while the entire band remains in a subdued groove.

Savannah displays a versatile singing through the disc, from smooth cooing of “Butterfly” to the raspier, sensual approach which she uses effectively on a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”.

Much of the disc veers between jazzy funk and funky jazz, as has been Brian Auger’s style for many years. The tight arrangements sometimes sound reminiscent of the Kudu record label’s seventies output. Brian’s organ playing is still funky, and a lot of the riffs he casually drops over the course of "Looking In The Eye Of The World" would work well as hip hop samples.

“Meet Mr. Eddie” features Brian cutting loose on another keyboard excursion, using various effects while he maintains his steady Hammond B3 groove.

Savannah sings the often covered “Light My Fire” in a sultry, soulful vein which is complemented buy the restrained but still swinging arrangement. “Season of the Witch”, a song Brian covered in the late sixties with the singer Julie Driscoll, features Brian and the band playing the song somewhat differently while his daughter handles the vocals. It is a fine rendition, but it doesn’t render the Julie Driscoll version obsolete.

Bass player Dan Lutz gets to strut, in measured doses, on cuts like “The Night Town” and particularly on a track called simply “Soundcheck”. It has the feel of a live jam, but it certainly doesn’t sound like any mere sound check. The bass playing and drumming are tightly intertwined through much of this disc, which was produced by Brian Auger’s son and drummer Karma.

Despite the strong playing throughout "Looking In The Eye Of The World", it seems to run a little longer than necessary. If the disc was edited down to just under an hour, it would make a livelier c.d. and a fine record as well. Given how many of Brian’s younger fans are actually interested in vinyl records, this market deserves to be considered. Nonetheless, "Looking In The Eye Of The World" is a fine c.d. which works well as low intensity party music, or as something to play for a subdued mood.

Concert Review; Brian Auger & Oblivion Express at Healey's Roadhouse, Wednesday June 6, 2007

For people alive at the time, or those of us who scraped a little deeper into sixties British blues-rock than the Rolling Stones and the Animals, there were a few figures from the dawn of British blues who ran musical training camps for musicians who later rose to the top of the English music scene. John Mayall saw Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor come and go on to join huge acts; Brian Auger is another English band leader who has helped start the careers of singers like Julie Driscoll, and no less than two drummers who ended up joining seventies chart-toppers The Average White Band. In later years, he toured with fellow English soul-man Eric Burdon. They appeared at the enormous German Rockpalast Festival, and recorded a live c.d. about a decade later. So far in this millennium, Brian Auger has been touring and recording with his drummer and son Karma (to whom, along with his wife Ella, the 1975 album “Closer To It” is dedicated) and his daughter Savannah, who sings and sways to the music. They are also on Brian’s new c.d. “Looking In The Eye of The World” (Fuel 2000 label). Both would have a few opportunities to prove themselves on stage tonight, although the sound system had Savannah’s voice turned up too high for this medium sized room.

This rather under-attended show at Healey’s Roadhouse (a more elegant milieu than the former Healey’s at Queen and Bathurst) started early (the first set was finished by about 10:30), but late-comers could at least enjoy the second set. During the break, Brian Auger graciously signed a stream of autographs, and talked to everyone who had gathered around him. There were also c.d.’s and DVD’s for sale, including one of a live performance from 2005, which presented fans with something to have autographed.

The second set kicked off with Brian introducing “Whenever You’re Ready,” the opening cut from the “Closer To It” album, which is presumably one of Brian’s favourites as he regularly plays material from it. This steadily building funk jam allowed Brian to stretch out a little on the keyboards. His classic Hammond B-3 organ sound in full force, it was a treat to hear keyboard improvising that didn’t drown itself in a sea of synthesizers.

Bass player Ernest Tibbs, well regarded in his own right, was also given a chance to let loose during some passages. Drum solos by Karma Auger were kept to a minimum, as the drummer concentrated on providing the rock steady pounding deserved by Tibbs and Auger Sr. The set concluded with a slow burning cover of “Light My Fire”. The Oblivion Express treatment is paced almost like a slower rendition of Jackie Wilson’s version of this oft-covered hit, but Savannah’s sultry vocal delivery gives the song a sense of longing that few cover versions have effectively captured over the years. After a brief good-bye and walk-off, Brian Auger and Oblivion Express returned one more time for an encore of “Compared To What?” (also on the “Closer To It” record) which featured Savannah sending her voice soaring across the room, while she led the bad through the Eugene McDaniels’ soul-protest classic. While the house sound was less than stellar, Savannah’s powerful but still controlled voice was able to work with the poor mix. The concert was well received by the modest sized, older crowd. Toronto’s finicky concert-goers seemed to have stayed at home tonight, which is unfortunate because opportunities to catch live funky music in this city are already too few and far between.

NOTE; This review first appeared in Live Music Report.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Concert Review; Brian Auger & Oblivion Express; Wednesday June 6/07, Healey's Roadhouse, Toronto

For people alive at the time, or those of us who scraped a little deeper into sixties British blues-rock than the Rolling Stones and the Animals, there were a few figures from the dawn of British blues who ran musical training camps for musicians who later rose to the top of the English music scene. John Mayall saw Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor come and go on to join huge acts; Brian Auger is another English band leader who has helped start the careers of singers like Julie Driscoll, and no less than two drummers who ended up joining seventies chart-toppers The Average White Band. In later years, he toured with fellow English soul-man Eric Burdon. They appeared at the enormous German Rockpalast Festival, and recorded a live c.d. about a decade later. So far in this millennium, Brian Auger has been touring and recording with his drummer and son Karma (to whom, along with his wife Ella, the 1975 album “Closer To It” is dedicated) and his daughter Savannah, who sings and sways to the music. They are also on Brian’s new c.d. “Looking In The Eye of The World” (Fuel 2000 label). Both would have a few opportunities to prove themselves on stage tonight, although the sound system had Savannah’s voice turned up too high for this medium sized room.

This rather under-attended show at Healey’s Roadhouse (a more elegant milieu than the former Healey’s at Queen and Bathurst) started early (the first set was finished by about 10:30), but late-comers could at least enjoy the second set. During the break, Brian Auger graciously signed a stream of autographs, and talked to everyone who had gathered around him. There were also c.d.’s and DVD’s for sale, including one of a live performance from 2005, which presented fans with something to have autographed.

The second set kicked off with Brian introducing “Whenever You’re Ready,” the opening cut from the “Closer To It” album, which is presumably one of Brian’s favourites as he regularly plays material from it. This steadily building funk jam allowed Brian to stretch out a little on the keyboards. His classic Hammond B-3 organ sound in full force, it was a treat to hear keyboard improvising that didn’t drown itself in a sea of synthesizers.

Bass player Ernest Tibbs, well regarded in his own right, was also given a chance to cut loose during some passages. Drum solos by Karma Auger were kept to a minimum, as the drummer concentrated on providing the rock steady pounding required by Tibbs and Auger Sr. The set concluded with a slow burning cover of “Light My Fire”. The Oblivion Express treatment is paced almost like a slower rendition of Jackie Wilson’s version of this oft-covered hit, but Savannah’s sultry vocal delivery gives the song a sense of longing that few cover versions have effectively captured over the years. After a brief good-bye and walk-off, Brian Auger and Oblivion Express returned one more time for an encore of “Compared To What?” (also on the “Closer To It” record) which featured Savannah sending her voice soaring across the room, while she led the bad through the Eugene McDaniels’ soul-protest classic. While the house sound was less than stellar, Savannah’s powerful but still controlled voice was able to work with the poor mix. The concert was well received by the modest sized, older crowd. Toronto’s finicky concert-goers seemed to have stayed at home tonight, which is unfortunate because opportunities to catch live funky music in this city are already too few and far between.

Friday, March 23, 2007

C.D. Review; Edip Akbayram - Self-titled compilation (Shadoks)

Little known outside his native Turkey until fairly recently, Edip Akbayram's early recordings are only now being released on c.d. for his growing international audience. The music on this double c.d. is culled from vinyl; old singles, and Edip's first two albums with the Turkish band Dostlar. Since the music is licensed from Edip, there were presumably no old studio master tapes available to use in producing this collection. There is a booklet with pictures and notes about this little known music. After winning a song contest in Turkey in 1972, Edip recorded a few singles and albums with the group Dostlar, who play an intriguing, mix of indigenous sounding Turkish music with western popular music trends, especially psychedelic and progressive rock. Their 1974 debut album was itself a collection of previously released singles, and one can hear the psychedelic influences throughout these songs. The transition from psych to prog-rock seems to have been a more gradual process in Turkey than it was in the west, where psychedelia had all but died out by the time Edip and Dostlar started recording in 1972. The movement apparently had a greater impact in Turkey than previously recognized, as demonstrated by several exciting vintage Turkish psychedelia collections released over the last couple of years.
This collection features sweeping vocals from Edip, and wafting, complex music arrangements. The saz, a Turkish variation of a lute (lest comparing to a Bouzouki be taken as a provocation!), is featured prominently through out this collection. Some songs have a more western sound than others, but the Anatolian sensibility is always present, even on songs that sound like something Led Zeppelin could only have wished to have recorded, instead of their own clumsy attempts to fuse Western and Eastern music. Perhaps it is just as well that Jimmy Page never got to hear "Yakar Inceden Inceden", or it would surely have been recorded by his band, complete with Robert Plant's screeching instead of Akbayram's soaring, but controlled vocals.
Edip Akbayram was apparently known for his socially conscious lyrics, and one of his hits in Turkey is "Kolum Nerden Aldin Zinciri", a powerful, driving song about a prison.
There are smatterings of organ throughout the two discs, used sparingly but to great effect on some songs, in particular "Kas, Larin Karasina".
The murky, brooding sound of "Mehmet Emmi" benefits from a haunted house style organ that complements the other keyboard effects on this track.
"Arabam Kaldi Yolda" starts off on a jazz-funk tip, a la C.T.I. Records, before the vocals come in and remind the listener this music isn't from around here. The C.T.I sound continues with the keyboard playing on "Haberin Varmi", but Edip Akbayram and Dostlar use more strings than keyboards on this double disc. Guitars are as prevalent as the saz or any other sound. The singing is robust, right to the end of the plaintive sounding final cut, "Birak Beni".
This music is so approachable, to open minded fans of rock and other music styles, it is surprising Edip Akbayram stayed under the radar of non-Turkish music fans for so long. Indeed, many of these songs, if sung in English, wouldn't have sounded out of place on some long lost vintage English prog record.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Concert Review: Jay Douglas, Mighty Pope and Others; From Jamaica To Toronto- Second Reunion- Friday March 2/07, Lee's Palace, Toronto

Various Artists; From Jamaica to Toronto Reunion, Friday March 2, Lee’s Palace

Last summer saw the release of a delightful compilation of domestic soul and reggae recorded in Toronto by Jamaican ex-patriots. “From Jamaica To Toronto”, compiled by Vancouver’s D.J. Sipreano was an ambitious labour of love uncovering an all-but-forgotten segment of the early Canadian music scene. The c.d. release was followed by a grand reunion performance of many of the artists featured on the disc backed by many of the original musicians augmented by talented locals such as Jason Wilson and the Ali brothers. The concert was broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 fm and well received by people on and off the air.

The success of this project has inspired an ongoing follow-up, including such hopeful projects as a tour later this year and a documentary about the people involved with the music featured on “From Jamaica To Toronto”.

Tonight’s event was covered widely this week, but the weather seemed like a more powerful force than the local media, and the turn-out wasn’t as large as it surely would have been on a decent night. Regardless, there were many serious fans in the house who weren’t deterred by the snow storm, and the CBC also showed up to document the evening for some unspecified future use.

The backing band was smaller than last summer’s extravaganza, and there were fewer singers as well. Noel Ellis wasn’t around tonight even though Sipreano and the people at the Light In The Attic label reissued his 1983 album on c.d. at the end of last summer.

Bob and Wisdom pulled out just before the event (they were on the bill as of Thursday) and certain musicians were conspicuously absent, including Lloyd Delpratt. The keyboard player’s sublime instrumental “Together” was a highlight on the c.d. and at last summer’s Harbourfront reunion. Bernie Pitters handled the keyboards instead, along with a second keyboard which was shared by other musicians. The first singer ran through a couple of soulful reggae staples including Dennis Brown’s classic “If I Had The World”. Jason Wilson played guitar for a change (he usually plays keyboards), Everton Paul was on drums, and the bass player kept a rather low profile, remaining near the back of the stage near Bernie Pitters.

Glen Ricketts was the next singer up. He wasn’t on the bill originally, but presumably he was brought in to round out the set since Bob and Wisdom would not be in this evening. He ran through a few reggae and soul covers including “If Loving You Is Wrong”. Glen sounded good, but his repertoire was standard opening fare at local roots reggae revue shows. The actual songs on the c.d. being celebrated tonight were all but ignored during this first set. Closing this reggae-heavy first set with Johnnie Osbourne’s instrumental “African Wake” would have worked particularly well.

The second set kick started the soul celebration. Mighty Pope, who was one of the highlights of last summer’s Harbourfront reunion, put on an excellent show. He sang the obscure RAM gem “Love Is The Answer” which he presumably used to sing regularly when he front Wayne McGhie’s RAM project at Wasaga Beach during their 1972 summer residency there. Sadly, Wayne continues to refuse to play in public despite his support for the “Jamaica to Toronto” project.

Jay Douglas, whose new c.d. was for sale at the club tonight, was the final performer of the evening. Jay kicked off leading the band through a wonderful rendition of the Jackie Mittoo single “Soul Bird”. Many in the audience immediately recognized this infectious nugget, which had Jay sustaining the energetic vibe built by Mighty Pope. He then ran through a few James Brown covers, but the highlight of his set was the Temptations cover “I Wish It Would Rain”, featured as a Bob and Wisdom single on the c.d. but performed by Jay Douglas tonight as a duet with one of the Mullings sisters who provided backing vocal through the evening. They are daughters of the late Karl Mullings, and Carrie Mullings was instrumental in connecting c.d. compiler Sipreano with many of the singers and players involved with the performances on the c.d.

Jay Douglas’ energetic set ended the night on a high note, but an encore or two would have been better. Nonetheless, the show was long enough, if perhaps padded with some overplayed covers that are not particularly relevant to the legacy of these artists. Adding “Soul Bird” was an excellent choice, but one James Brown cover is enough.

The performers involved in this reunion should probably tighten up the set list and add a few more vintage soul tracks to their repertoire, especially if they want to take this revue on a non-reggae tour based on the popularity of the c.d. itself, with its emphasis on soul more than reggae. A couple of Wayne McGhie cuts and the riveting Jackie Mittoo track “Grand Funk” from the c.d. would be a great start. Reggae performed by Jamaican ex-pats in Toronto is no secret among reggae fans, but the funk and soul side of these performers’ musical output is what makes the whole “From Jamaica To Toronto” reunions all the more intriguing. The performers involved are all in great form either as singers or players, and they are in a position to present a rare and possibly final glimpse of a long gone exciting local soul and funk music scene. A reunion revue tour is a great idea whose time has come. The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

C.D. Review: The Bongolian - Blueprint

The Bongolian is the alter-ego of Nasser Bouzida, from the English funk outfit Big Boss Man. On his 2003 self-titled solo debut, The Bongolian played and wrote all the music himself. On Blueprint, Nasser the Bongolian has recruited his new touring band to help out. With drummer Reinis Axelssonon and guitarist Jerry Haglund, along with fellow Big Boss Man alumni Trevor Harding on bass, The Bongolian has put together a tight little funk band. Nasser plays keyboards, bongos, and other percussion.
One's first impression of this concept might be of the Incredible Bongo Band who were based in Vancouver in the early seventies, but The Bongolian owes more to French recording artist Jean Jacques Perry than to the Incredible Bongo Band. Many of the instrumentals that make up Blueprint have the Perry-sounding ephemeral keyboard and drum interplay with a sprinkling of bells and chimes.
Occasionally, the music toughens up. There are some fine Dennis Coffey style flourishes on this disc as well, most notably "Del Ray" with its fuzzy guitar and pounding drums. "Psyche Yam" is another pounding number that has a restrained but ongoing bass line that sounds like something John Entwistle might have played at top volume for an instrumental like "The Ox".
The sound-scape motif is never far away on Blueprint though, and the funk is often muffled by the ephemeral keyboard playing. Nasser Bouzida is a decent keyboard player in the spirit of Robert Walter or early Azimuth for that matter, but the keyboard riffs rarely intensify enough to justify their prominence throughout this c.d. At their best, the keyboards recall Booker T Jones on tracks like "Soul Caravan", while other tunes find the keyboard's wafting gets in the way of serious funkiness. Blueprint closes with a track called "Routemaster Ride" which piano leads that sound like Parliament's "P-Funk Chant".
Overall, Blueprint is a funky enough record, but it sounds like one to play on low volume at a cocktail party, rather than a disc to crank for a sweaty dance floor. Nasser and this band sound like a collaboration between Booker T & the M.G.'s and Jean Jacques Perry; for that sort of musical mood, Blueprint fits the bill perfectly.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

C.D. Review; Do The Shing A Ling (Goldmine)

This is another confounding Goldmine compilation. On the one hand, there are plenty of seriously rare, quality soul cuts on here to make the disc worthwhile (even if it is a mere 50 minutes long), but once again, it is a typical no-frills, information-free package.

The collection celebrates the Shing A Ling dance a couple of times, and a few other dances along the way. The Isley Brothers were the first to popularize the Shing A Ling, at least in song-form, but an Ohio garage band called The Human Beinz also had some success with this upbeat dance number. The two versions of the title track featured here are by the Bean Brothers and the Liberty Belles respectively. Apparently the Shing A Ling was a big dance around 1967-68.

The dance party motif is as thematic as any Goldmine compilation ever gets these days, but the dance craze quickly gives way to a random selection of other singles, including some very easily available songs like the Ohio Players’ “Love Slips Through My Fingers” and Rose Batiste’s “I Miss My Baby”, which Goldmine seldom misses a chance to slap on to another Detroit soul compilation.

Then again, the seldom heard tracks that show up on Goldmine releases are what keeps them in business. Honey Townsend’s “The World Again” is one of those quirky tunes that has probably not been heard by many people, and this rather limited release on an obscure soul compilation from a small British label is probably the most exposure this cut has ever had. It would be a typically enjoyable Detroit soul instrumental, presumably recorded as a backing track intended for someone to sing over, but the violin playing is not syrupy, but instead it is more countrified than one would expect to hear on a soul release. Then there is something that sounds like a sitar on Tojo’s “Broken Hearted Lover”, but in such small doses that the song doesn’t lose a drop of its soul to psychedelia. The closer, an instrumental called “Midnight Brew” by Melvin Carter borrows liberally from “Respect”, but it’s changed up enough to create an acceptably ‘new’ track and title. As usual, the paltry running time and the lack of information are the drawbacks associated with Goldmine product, while the obscurity of many of these cuts renders Do The Shing A Ling a worthwhile collection.

C.D. Review; 45 Phobia (Goldmine)

This is another no-frills Goldmine release, but this time the company upped the ante; while Goldmine c.d.’s usually contain mostly rare 7” singles, 45 Phobia consists entirely of outtakes and a few album cuts. The vocal tracks are all competent vintage soul with a few terrific highlights, including Sharon Soul's "Girl Crazy" and Tommy Knight's credible Levi Stubbs style delivery on the lo-fi sounding, but still exciting "Don't Bring Back The Memories". Johnny Sayles' upbeat love song "I'm Satisfied" is another high point on 45 Phobia.

Since this collection comes from surviving studio tapes, there are a few instrumentals on here, like the sublime “Satisfy Me Baby” and the spare “Say It Isn’t So” credited to the Popcorn Orchestra, which presumably refers to whomever producer “Popcorn” Wylie had hired for the recording session.

Another factor that makes this a more interesting soul compilation is the inclusion of a few oddities that have some peculiar element, like the violin on Robert Knight's "Branded" and the high school marching band motif of The Charades' You Better Believe It.

Once again, this disc is lean on running time (50 minutes) but it contains so many rarities that serious soul fans should still keep an eye out for 45 Phobia.

Record Review; Lefties Soul Connection; Hutspot (Melting Pot)

Amsterdam funk band Lefties Soul Connection play mostly spare, driving instrumentals which invoke American funk bands like Mickey and the Soul Generation; a little less polished than the Meters, but still working that restrained-funk angle. Lefties Soul Connection are a tight band, although the singing (only one song on here, a medley of "It's Your Thing" and "Hey Pocky Way") is not as strong as the musicianship. The band's cover of "Organ Donor" stands out with its interplay between the pounding drums and haunted house organ. "Organ Donor" might be the highlight of Hutspot but there are some other contenders. "Bouncing Ball" and "Bam Bam" keep things pretty funky, as well as the title track which closes the album. As is the case with many of today's skilled funk acts, Lefties Soul Connection would surely sound great if they were teamed up with the right singer, but they are still worth checking out as an instrumental outfit.

C.D. Review; The Sisters Love; Give Me Your Love (Soul Jazz)

This is one smoking compilation, and, in a way, the debut album from this L.A. group formed in 1968 by former Raylettes. The founding four singers were Merry Clayton (who soon left to pursue a solo career with Ode Records), Odia Coats, Gwen Berry and Lillie Fort. Clayton and Coats were subsequently replaced by Jeanie Long and lead singer Vermyetta Royster. For some reason, they never got to make an album. They were signed to A&M Records but some singles were issued by Motown, and their entire catalogue was only available on (often rare) 7 inch singles recorded in the 1960's and 70's. After all these years, Soul Jazz has collected most of their output on one terrific compilation.
Apparently the sheer rarity of The Sisters Love's singles relegated them to cult status for many years, popular among serious disco fans after a few influential New York City deejays such as Larry Levan played them. Fans of gospel vocals fronting some intensely funky music will be thrilled to discover The Sisters Love. Fans of Clydie King, Sunday's Child and early Labelle albums are certain to wonder where these ladies have been hiding all these years. While Give Me Your Love doesn't have everything The Sisters Love released, every minute of it is strong, driving soulful funk. Even ballads like the closing track "The Bigger You Love" with its string arrangements packs a slow rolling punch. As irresistibly catchy as these songs are, they haven't been used on many compilations (or any, that I can think of). This is one of the more exciting Soul Jazz projects of 2006, and definitely worth seeking out.

C.D. Review; The Bamboos; Step It Up (Ubiquity)

This is a fine specimen of new funk, and one of few to emerge from Australia. This record was originally released by the small Melbourne label Bamboo Shack before Ubiquity co-ordinated a North American release for the record.
Besides two collaborations with the talented English soul singer Alice Russell, the tracks on Step It Up are instrumentals. Most of it is played in the spirit of the J.B.'s, particularly that busy-but-tight drumming, courtesy of Danny Farrugia. Their take of the soul classic "Tighten Up" lets the band play around as they introduce themselves in this jam. Band leader and guitarist Lance Ferguson lets the horns do their thing, before Hammond organ player Ben Grayson take turns leading the song.
Other elements of funk can be heard, and the final track, "Voodoo Doll" effectively channels The Meters. These instrumentals aren't exactly jaw-droppingly funky, but they are solid, straight-forward honest slices of funk from a promising band. Now if only they could team up with a producer who will have them really cut loose.

C.D. Review;Old School Young Blood Volume 1 (Peckings)

This is a fun concept; recruit some of the current crop of roots reggae singers, and have them sing a mix of old and new lyrics over some classic Duke Reid riddims. The "riddims" are instrumental backing tracks, in this case from the golden years of the legendary Jamaican record label Treasure Isle. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, this is indeed jammed with Jam-Down jams imported by the British for a most effective collection of new-old reggae.
Assembled by the Pecking label in Europe, the singers featured here seem to be better known in Europe than they are on this side of the Atlantic.
The renowned Jamaican sax man Dean Frazer has a couple of instrumental cuts on here, but many songs on this collection come from several surprisingly good British singers. Bitty Mclean steals the show on here, with several excellent cuts. It has been suggested Bitty would be a huge reggae star if he was from Jamaica instead of England, and it's probably true. He holds his own against any Jamaican-based reggae singers touring these days. Peter Hunnigale and Vivian Jones (who left Jamaica at age 10, in 1967) are excellent singers as well. Lady Lex adds her sultry vocals to a few tracks, which retain a vintage rock steady groove on her three songs. After a very strong showing in the late seventies and early eighties, English reggae acts seemed to fade away from these shores for a while. Old School Young Blood suggests it's time to check out the English reggae scene again.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

C.D. Review; Sensacional Soul (Vampi Soul)

After a few years of releasing some of the most exciting Latin music collections from around the world, Madrid's Vampi Soul label have put together a double c.d. of some home grown Spanish grooves.
One of the hallmarks of garage bands is their ability to clumsily merge a couple of monster hits of the era, and turn out an enjoyable romp. It might sound uncannily like the riff from "Foxy Lady" or something equally well known, it won't soar to the top of any chart, but the brazenness is outmatched only by the sheer energy on the best sixties garage tunes. Such is the case on Sensacional Soul. Songs like "Black Cat" by Los Dixies, which borrows liberally from "Going To A Go Go" and the Spencer Davis song "I'm A Man", epitomize much of the spirit of garage rock.
Sensacional Soul lives up to its name though, and the funk flows surprisingly freely over this double disc compilation.
A lot of the music is upbeat, go-go sounding pop with groovy Hammond leads such as the Martes 13 cut "Espejo Roto". Some songs are heavier on the lounge tip than they are soul, but the music is completely enjoyable throughout. A few cuts are translated covers of hits like "Get Ready", "Keep On Running", and "Raise Your Hand", all enthusiastically delivered. The funk jams run the gamut, from restrained instrumentals like "Golden Soul" by Conjunto Nueva Onda to the chunk-a-funk J.B.'s stylings of The Presidents.
The second disc kicks off with "Tabasco" by Los Pekeniques, which sounds like a late sixties Yusuf Lateef style jam. Each disc only runs for about 55 minutes, but at least there is no obvious filler on these discs.
There are a few covers of funk songs on the second disc, including "Kool and the Gang" (from that band's first record) and a version of "Family Affair" that sounds almost like Sly himself singing.
Another track under the influence of Sly and the Family Stone is a driving slice of funk by Las Cuatro Monedas Y Gregory, featuring plaintive vocals backed by singers imitating the background vocals on "Dance To The Music".
Overall, Sensacional Soul is an excellent primer for funk fans and collectors unfamiliar with sixties Spanish soul, even if the running time is on the lean side. There are plenty of 'newly reissued' funk nuggets here which haven't shown up on other compilations, that make this double c.d. an excellent additiion to any funk collection.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

C.D. Review; Soul Food (That's What I Like)

Here is a neat idea from the people at Harmless Records. Soul Food (That's What I Like) mixes eating with soul tunes and the results are appealing if not appetizing. While there are plenty more songs about soul food and soul songs about food in general to leave room for a few sequels, there certainly could have been a little more music thrown on this fifty minute c.d. Interestingly, the song "Soul Food (That's What I Like") by Lonnie Youngblood is not on this collection.
The disc is a healthy mix of well known soul food classics like "Green Onions" and "Pass The Peas" with some rarities including The Vibrations' "Ain't No greens In Harlem" and The Bad Boys' twangy instrumental "Black Olives".
While "Green Onions" is included here, at least Harmless Records was hip enough to use a cover version by Mongo Santamaria, recognizing the likelihood that nobody purchasing Soul Food (That's What I Like) is still missing the Booker T hit in their collection. There are a couple of novelty songs on here as one would expect on a food-themed compilation. Obie Plenty's "Beef Stew" is a lament about the only dish his mother ever serves. The doo-woppy funk of "Pop Your Corn" is another amusing ode to eating. Over all, this is fun listening, but with so many food-themed songs to pick from, the rather lean running time on this c.d. leaves one, ahem, hungry for more.

C.D. Review: Absolute Funk Volume 2 (Body & Soul)

The unoriginal title and the uninspired cover art don't do justice to the overall quality of this series by the Body & Soul label. This is in fact a well researched and compiled dose of serious funk. All the tracks on Absolute Funk Volume 2 are from strong vinyl sides, and in a couple of cases we get the B-side sequel as well. Many of the twenty cuts on here are still fairly rare in the digital age, while some of the better known tracks like the opener "The Sad Chicken" have popped up on other compilations. Cuts like "Iron Horse" by The Marlboro Men and The Showmen chestnut "The Tramp" which are on compilations put out by the likes of Goldmine and Soul Patrol sound cleaner on the Absolute Funk series, even if they are still mastered from seven inch vinyl singles. This series also has more information than a typical Goldmine release, while many other funk reissue labels such as Soul Patrol never have any information accompanying their collections.
Licensing issues aside, Absolute Funk Volume 2 stands in its own right as great, greasy grab bag of obscure gems.
Sundia's two part "Stand Up and Be A Man" is a rare free flowing hit of feminist funk. The male-partner-as-deadbeat topic comes up again on the lighthearted Good Time Charlie song "Rover or Me" (guess who wins).
Kim Tamango's "Not By Bread Alone" is an intense burner of a song, with its pounding, but spare percussion and Llyn Collins style delivery. There are low budget recordings of popular sounds, such as the Stax-flavoured "Can't Nobody Love Me" by The Soul Duo. The main reason these cuts are so rare is they were seldom re-pressed, and many were only distributed in a small geographic area. Of course, that means most of these songs were recorded on a tight budget, in small local studios. A lot of this material is to soul music what 1960's garage bands were to rock stars; less polish, but the boundless energy and sheer quirkiness of a lot of great lost funk treasures rewards the adventurous listener.
Even the flagrantly derivative songs like "The Tramp" (both parts) have a boisterousness that is too infectious to overlook in the pursuit of originality. Harvey Scales and the 7 Sounds' dance song "Get Down" closes Absolute Funk Volume 2 on an upbeat tone. Perhaps somebody should compare the different songs instructing listeners on how to do dances like "The Breakdown" and "The Freeze" and see if they give similar moves. In the mean time, this is a hot funk c.d. for one's listening or partying needs.