Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Joel Plaskett does the Ashtray Rock

Currently tearing up my music player of choice is Joel Plaskett's new disc Ashtray Rock. Released last week via Maple music, the new long-player finds Joel back again with The Emergency (Dave Marsh and Chris Pennell) after a short hiatus on 2005's La De Da.
And it is good to have the band back. While Joel is sill the principle songwriter if you look at Joel's post-Thrush Hermit work you'll find that his more boisterous and rocking side is linked intricately with the appearance of the Emergency band.

Such is the case of Ashtray Rock. The album, a rock musical of sorts, is a 13-song story about a young group of friends. Nameless and earnest in their teen-aged glory. Pretty Girl finds herself at the top of the love triangle between two members of the band. Though she doesn't seek it, their affections drive a rift between each other and eventually breaks up the band. She moves away and the boys are left miserable and alone.

Not many artists nearing in their late twenties could pull this one off convincingly. Joel's an obvious exception. From the early days when Joel, skinny and barely pubescent, started Thrush Hermit to now, Joel's boyish charm has always gone a long way to understating his actual age. In person he can give off a slight Eddie Haskel vibe which is appropriate considering his, at times, sugary brand of songwriting is the kind of anthemic stuff the kids really go for. This big kid too.

On first listen I was struck by how different the album initially sounded from previous Joel efforts. This probably has something to do with Gordie Johnson (ex-Big Sugar) enjoying producer credit. He also plays lap steel on the record, as well as adding some strings and synth. Not all change is good, but in this case it really works.

Drunk Teenagers is one of those glorious anthems that instantly grabs you. It's about, surprise, surprise, drunk teenagers, as fitting in with the story. Enjoy the shout-outs to Halifax and some of its less notable landmarks. It's bit tongue in cheek as well, if not a bit mischievous.

I heard Joel do Fashionable People back around Christmas time. I wasn't too impressed with the track. It was irritating then but now less than irritable on record. Much to my surprise I really enjoy it.

Joel is doing a cross Canada tour starting in May. Head to his website for all the dates and for a few more tracks from the album stream.

The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Drunk Teenagers mp3
The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Fashionable People mp3

Purchase the album

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jack White

The new White Stripes record is getting me all kinds of excited. The frequent posts would hint to that. Yesterday news leaked out that The Stripes will be playing a slot at the Ottawa Bluesfest in July. It has been a while since I visited my nation's capital, long overdue indeed, and surely this stands as a viable reason to both rock and tour the Parliament (good times I lie not).

As I've exhausted all five Stripes long-players this past month I've recently taken to other Jack White projects for these ears. The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers("but the porridge is just too cold, even if it has two songwriters"), The Hentchmen, The Go, and Goober and the Peas ("this porridge is alright but kinda bland"), and finally Loretta Lynn and T-Bone collabs ("this porridge is hot as shit and just the way I like it")

Much was made of Jackie White's part in re-invigorating Lady Lynn's career with Van Lear Rose. As producer, Jackie played Rick Rubin to the Coal Miner Daughter's Johnny Cash. Album standout had to be this duet between Loretta and Jack. As the story goes "If that ain't love than tell me what is"

A couple years prior Jack got his actor on with a small part in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain Oscar bait. Jackie played a minstrel type and also added five tracks to the T Bone Burnett soundtrack. Sound of the Appalachians, streams and spring thaws.

The Doctor over at the 115th Dream did a nice job of compiling some White Stripes b-sides and odds and ends a while back. So if you're chomping at the bit for the new record and need something old yet new to satisfy the urge this would be the place to head. The boys over at Born By The River also compiled some of the same ilk. Ditto.

Loretta Lynn & Jack White - Portland, Oregon

Jack White - Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over mp3
Jack White- Wayfaring Stranger mp3
Jack White - Sittin' On Top Of The World mp3
Jack White - Never Far Away mp3

Purchase Van Lear Rose and the Cold Mountain soundtrack

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Orchestra For The Moon

I talked about Jenn Grant back in December and told you all I'd keep you updated about her first full length. Today, I follow through on that promise. Orchestra For The Moon is out May 15th in Canada and June 15th below the 49th for the 50 United. The release is the first out on Paris 1919 Records, a new label from Jason MacIsaac of the Heavy Blinkers. They'll also be re-issuing the first Blinks album Hooray For Everything, and presumably the band's new double LP Health.

I like the label already, if simply because it shares the name of one of my favourite books. A necessary read for everyone along the lines of the old chalkboard adage. The tracklisting for Orchestra For The Moon is:

1- Morning Break
2- Dreamer
3- Dancin' in the Wind
4- Unique New York
5- Make It Home Tonight
6- In A Brown House
7- Don't Worry Baby
8- Britt n' Kip
9- At The Finish Line
10-Sound of Success
11-Rainy Day
12-White Horses
13-Blue Skies

Jenn has the new track, Make It Home Tonight, streaming on her myspace. It certainly won't dampen your enthusiasm for the new album (mine either, I'm really enjoying it). Certainly pop by for a listen or two.

For those on the East coast, Jenn is doing a few record release shows at the end of April and early May. On a selfish note I hope she comes through Ontario promptly.

Jenn Grant - Dreamer (mp3)

Friday, April 13, 2007

friday musings and a picture in the rain of a smile on the cusp

I wanted to post about my favourite television show, Friday Night Lights, which wrapped up its season Wednesday Night. However, I had too many muddled thoughts to get out without a clear head to do so. We'll save that post for a later date.

Instead lets talk about my week. My friend Miranda is getting married at the end of the month. Early on she asked me to be the emcee and I was more than delighted and honoured to do so. Soon after she followed that up with a request for me to DJ the reception also. I was even more delighted and agreed, despite the fact I've never done so and am completely unfamiliar with the equipment I'll be running things off of. Since then I've been mentally cataloguing song after song and as the wedding nears trying to organize my music, come up with some playlists, and generally fretting that no one is going to like my music selections. It is a wedding after all and it gives me no great pleasure acknowledging that YMCA is probably a necessary evil and will delight the party infinitely more than any Deadly Snakes song I would want playing at my wedding. It's been a battle of toning down some of my tastes, knowing my audience, and finding appropriate music that I won't cringe at when playing. Luckily I've been on a big soul and R&B kick this past year so I've been going old school in preparation. Otis Redding can inspire even the toughest of dance holdouts to pick up a rhythm.

My musical week was concentrated on two artists: One a long-time favourite, the other a person whose work I was initially cold to but have warmed to considerably in the past year. Both were reflected in this week's posts. As mentioned Tuesday, the White Stripes have a new album in the can and will be sharing it in the near future (June 19th to be precise). This news inspired an epic Tuesday where I sat down and listened to their five albums end to end as i heartily made a dent in the beer fridge. By the last note of I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) I was googling photo's of Jack White during his pervy mustache phase.
Wednesday was dedicated to all things Paul Westerberg as I ran through Let It Be atleast twice (and as I write as it stands) then chased this with a couple more Replacements album and the 1oooth or so playing of Waiting For Somebody in the past 72 hours.

And that leads us to a few tracks. Both happen to be album enders and I've always appreciated a good closer.

The Stripes' I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) off Get Behind Me Satan and Answering Machine off The Replacement's Let It Be both deal with loneliness at their core and how distance plays a part in estranging people and fueling this loneliness. They are both beautiful in their own right (I'm Lonely's aching piano, Westerberg's ravaged vocals on Answering Machine), not as dour as my description would have you believe, and find both artists at songwriting peaks.

The White Stripes - I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)
The Replacements - Answering Machine mp3

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"A-ha-ha Come and take my hand"

I watched Cameron Crowe's Singles last night and forgot how much I loved the Paul Westerberg material on the soundtrack. Westerberg contributed the tracks Dyslexic Heart and Waiting For Somebody, the latter used prominently throughout the movie, including the opening sequence.

The two tracks are Paul's first official post-Replacements compositions. Un-officially The 'Mats last album, 1990's All Shook Down is pretty much all Westerberg and sessions players and seen as such by many.

Also released as a b-side to the World Class Fad single, Waiting For Somebody is a doozy by my books. So much to love here. It's a tale of longing for love and companionship with a tinge of sadness, as well as a positive confirmation that Paul (and us too!) are going to be okay. Who doesn't get all affected by those almost hymnal "A-ha-ha's."

The last two lines of the second verse really get me: "I know damn well i'm tired of all this crying/On my feet as far as I can tell." The sentiment of it and how it fits into the entire scope of the song just bowls me over.

Paul Westerberg - Dyslexic Heart
Paul Westerberg - Waiting For Somebody mp3

Man Without Ties - A Great Westerberg fansite (photo credit above Bob Hyland)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

White Stripes do the Icky Thump

The White Stripes have finally set a date for the release of their sixth studio album. Mark those calendars for June 19th. As reported by many, the new album is entitled Icky Thump and is promised to be a 48 minute long player heavier than ever. Heavy.

Tracklisting be:
1-Icky Thump
2-You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)
3-300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues
5-Bone Broke
6-Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn
7-St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air)
8-Little Cream Soda
9-Rag and Bone
10-I'm Slowly Turning Into You
11-A Martyr For My Love For You
12-Catch Hell Blues
13-Effect And Cause

Here is the Album's cover: Yikes and Egads. Discuss.

In other semi-breaking news Jack and Meg White are not brother and sister as purported, but simply a once married, now amicably divorced, largely succesful rock and roll band. Spread the word.

The Stripes have a series of festival shows in early June in Europe, with their live return to US soil occurring at Bonnaroo on June 17th. Athough dates have not been announced, the Stripes promise to visit "all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada, as well as the remaining 16 states of the United States the band have yet to play." Nunavut thanks you Meg and Jack.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Love that David Ruffin. Rocking the high top long before Kid (or was it Play) ushered in the House Party.

The Temptations 1968 record The Temptations Wish It Would Rain marked the end of the "Classic Five" Temptations era. In the ensuing year after its release, lead singer David Ruffin's increasingly star behaviour would cause the rest of the band to give him his walking papers. As the album's title suggests, there's a melancholy tinge to this album. No doubt this was inspired by Roger Penzabene, a Motown label writer who penned the first two singles from the album.

Roger Penzabene worked closely with Norman Whitfield who had taken over Temps production duties from Smokey Robinson. Penzabene tackled the lyrics with Whitfield composing. Around the time of this album Penzabene found out his wife was cheating on him. It threw him into a fit of depression that would ultimately cause him to take his own life New Year's eve 1967, just a week after the first single's release.

The last song he penned was second single and album lead off I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You). Pleading and begging, the first four lines get you real tight.

"Girl I can't believe my ears/Are you really telling me goodbye/See you're taking away/My reason for living."

In many ways it is a continuation of previous Whitfield composed Temptations hit Ain't Too Proud To Beg.

The real masterpiece of Penzabene's was first single and album namesake/centerpiece I Wish It Would Rain. In the song a reserved piano intro leads into Ruffin's pained soulful voice as he/Penzabene hurt for the girl now gone, calling out for mother nature to provide rain "Cause raindrops will hide my teardrops." We could focus on the melancholy here, but the sadness is so real I can't help but smile, the song so beautiful I get tears of joy.

Find this one at your record shop.

The Temptations - I Wish It Would Rain mp3
The Temptations - I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You) mp3

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Born Ruffians w/ We're Marching On, Rock Plaza Central, Oh! The Pretty Things

I Went down to Call The Office this Thursday past for one of the better potential shows in recent memory. By that I mean the bill included some bands catching their fair share of buzz around the music universe, although I wasn't intimately familiar with most of their material. Thus, the show had the potential to be quite excellent, at least based on other people's endorsements.

With the late addition of Rock Plaza Central to the show, tipping the bill to four bands, made for a long night of rocking and rolling. I got there early to catch Oh! The Pretty Things to see if the tail end of the set I caught last time they were in town was a fluke or a snapshot of the band. O!TPT lived up to my own expectations and rocked a surprisingly energized crowd, despite several technical difficulties. The band seemed to enjoy their time on stage as much as myself and promised to return promptly. More about them in the coming days.

Quick sidenote: Say what you will about all ages shows and audiences but for the past several shows down at CTO there has been a group of barely legal types who get right up their at the front and dance their little asses off. At first is was almost irritating as they seemed to be more concerned with their quirky moves and one-upping each other than the bands. After coming across them multiple times now, I have grown appreciative to their complete enthusiasm. They rock the front lines the way those front lines should be rocked. I enjoy their joy.

Next up was Rock Plaza Central. Since the release of last year's Are We Not Horses, the band have been steadily gaining momentum. Chalk it up to a few things: Lyricist and frontman Chris Eaton's caterwaul garners comparisons to Jeff Mangum and Will Oldham. In a world starved for new Neutral Milk Hotel don't underestimate the power of siding with the next best thing. Pitchfork's 8.4 scoring for the album certainly opened a few eyes, as does the album's incredibly unique concept.

Rock Plaza's set was intense and grandeur. They have the same slightly weird and out of place look as Arcade Fire, although if Arcade looks like your high school music geeks, Rock Plaza looks like the ones who volunteered their lunch hours at the library. Just goes to show that you don't have to spend any time on image if your music is beyond cool anyways. The band played a loose set that grew more and more intense as they progressed. Aided by mandolin, violin, and the accordion among others (Eaton: "I want to thank you guys. That is probably the first time in rock and roll history that a crowd has asked for more accordion"), the band brought to life a variety of tracks from their latest, with a track or two from their previous records adding posterity. Their performance had a Broken Social Scene quality to it. Huge sounds and songs that seem destined to implode at points but never quite did. The best set of the night.
Update: Pitchfork added some photos and words from Rock Plaza Central's gig a few nights later in Chicago. Check them out here.

Next up was We're Marching On. Unfortunately for the band their sound is a slice of that NME approved, Arctic Monkeys type, spastic ADD rock. I say unfortunately because I talked to the guys for the latter half of the Born Ruffians set and they are incredibly sweet . There was nothing breathtaking (or redeeming) about their music. But the world can always use nice people, so that's something positive.

Last up on this long night were the Born Ruffians. With opening slots for Hot Chip, Peter, Bjorn and John, as well as a gig at last year's Toronto leg of the V Festival, the Ruffians should have been the big draw. And while there was still a sizable crowd, their 1AM start time on a Thursday wasn't exactly helping the cause. The Ruffians share elements with We're Marching On (management too). Off kilter vocals, too many yelps crossed with pogo pop for those no longer taking their Ritalin. Considering I went in with almost no expectations I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was. You can't be a fan of everything I realize, but as The Dandy Warhols once said "It doesn't take a genius to figure out/ I'm not as bright as I think I am"

Rock Plaza central and Oh! The Pretty Things mp3's below. Rock Plaza's music can be purchased here. O!TPT just put out their first EP. Get in contact with the band to get yourself a copy.

Oh! The Pretty Things - Seventeen
Oh! The Pretty Things - Jet Plane mp3
Rock Plaza Central - I am an Excellent Steel Horse mp3
Rock Plaza Central - 8/14/03 mp3