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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Tragically Hip

While everybody (rightfully) talks about Nashville, New Orleans, New York, London, Memphis and Detroit as hotbeds of music, a lot of good stuff has been spawned right here in the Great White North. I'm going to bid farewell to 2010 with a nod to the group I consider Canada's best over the last 25 years. Oh, I hear the grumbling from you Rush fans. Tough tamales. Start your own blog. (Without actually checking, I bet there's a few already dedicated to Geddy, Neil and Alex.)

But my vote for the maplest of leaves goes to The Tragically Hip. Fronted by the brilliant, if a tad erratic, Gord Downie, The Hip's music is every bit about the land as Gordon Lightfoot's. The light weave of their melodies is shot through with threads of black. This is, after all, Canada -- a country of stark beauty, some of which is shrouded in darkness for months at a time.

The Hip are always interesting musically. The band is tight. And Downie's passionate and poetic vocals reflect both the delicate beauty and harsh reality that epitomizes our country.

I'm going to open with a young Hip and their very first single. The video is just about as puzzling as the lyrics. But Blow At High Dough still kicks ass.

Bobcaygeon is another favourite, only partly because the town isn't far from me and I've been there many times. Mostly it's because it's just a good song. Here, we find a considerably more mature Gord Downie starring in another bit of a head-scratching video (albeit with a brilliant ending). But again, the song's the thing. And it's a beauty.

My absolute favourite song of theirs is the hauntingly melodic Ahead By A Century. By now, none of you will be suprised to find another enigmatic tune and video. I admit it. Many of the songs I like best have an element of the obscure. Few things bring me greater joy than hearing a song for the 1000th time and finding something new. The Hip's songs have that sort of layering.

At midnight we're going ahead by a year, but for now, let's skip ahead with The Hip by a century.

Thanks for keeping me company. I wish you all a healthy and fulfilling 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Not Really Christmas

until Darlene Love takes to the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater on the Dave Letterman show and sings Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

She did so last night for the 17th (or maybe 18th) consecutive year. Unfortunately, as of this posting, I could only find two videos of last night's performance and each is less than stellar. So, I delved a little further into the stacks and found last year's.

The year doesn't really matter. Darlene's the thing. Turn up those speakers boys and girls. (The darkness fades in a few seconds.)


Merry Christmas folks.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Damaged Genius

In the 1980s, unless you lived in the British Isles or Canada's east coast, you probably never heard anybody that sounded remotely like The Pogues. Fronted by lead singer and chief songwriter Shane MacGowan, they originally became known in their home country of Ireland as traditional Celtic musicians. They never lost touch with those roots but they expanded on them.

Their 1988 album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, was a shining beacon of joy in that dreary musical decade. It gave me a whole new genre to love.

Let's start with the title track for a 2 1/2 minute dose of typical Pogues fare. (As always, please turn up your speakers and make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened.)

Now, the sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that Shane has some orthodontic issues. Well, truth be told, he has other issues as well, particularly with alcohol. He's an erratic performer with a devilish problem but, by many accounts, the possessor of an angelic soul.

All I know is he writes and performs some wonderful, wonderful tunes. This next one is one of my all-time favourites, a lovely duet pairing the pure, sweet soprano of the beauteous Sinead O'Connor with the growly, slurred vocals of the Adonis-challenged Shane MacGowan.

Somehow, musical magic happened (after the boring 15-second intro).

That magic didn't surprise anybody familiar with Shane's earlier, classic duet with the late, much-lamented Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale of New York. It's a song about two people whom society would likely dub "losers." Despite the sordid conditions of a New York City jail and a bitterness spawned of despair, two fallen angels find love.

It's my favourite Christmas song but make no mistake - it is very much not a carol. There's lots of versions out there but I'm going with the audio from the original release accompanied by subtitled lyrics. Normally, I wouldn't consider the lyrics thing because it's distracting - but in this case, I think it might be helpful for first-time listeners.

It was 10 years ago this week that Kirsty MacColl was tragically killed while on vacation. She was swimming with her two sons when she was struck by a passing motorboat. She was 41.

Since you've stuck around this long (and now that you know the words) here's a live version of Fairytale featuring the lovely and talented Kirsty MacColl (and an enthusiastic and helpful crowd).

Merry Christmas.

Thanks to antmusique, zttrecords, boobiieezmum and niceandeasy for posting the videos.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Maybe "The" Guitar God

As one of the world's worst two or three guitarists (Fumble Fingers is my nickname) I have an abiding appreciation for pretty much every other guitarist on the planet. Some, however, elevate themselves as high above the pack as I rank below it.

We all know their names, even their first ones will do in most instances: Jimi, Eric, Jeff, Stevie Ray, (insert your fave here) ________ .

But there's this guy...this blues guitarist named Joe Bonamassa, who just might be the best of the best. If you love brilliant guitar work (and darned impressive vocals) sit back, turn up your speakers and treat your ears to 9 minutes of wondrous artistry.

Told ya'. Didn't I?

I have one more folks, and this is a nice treat. Joe is joined on the Royal Albert Hall stage by Eric Clapton. Check out the near non-stop grin from Clapton as they start trading riffs around the 4 minute mark. He's enjoying himself hugely and why not? Those two make beautiful music together. Look. Listen. Enjoy.

Thanks to AlruneRod2811 and lukebest88 for posting the vids on YouTube.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best Male Rock Voice + The Perfect Song

If you've been listening to rock n' roll for 50 years like a certain old fart, there can be little dispute as to who has the best rock voice. (Although I'd be tickled if you'd beg to differ.) The guy who can best whisper, growl, croon and howl is another gift from the great state of Michigan: Mr. Bob Seger. (Eddie Vedder is 2nd. I'll get around to him one of these days)

But Seger is not just a pretty set of pipes. He's a terrific storyteller and has written, recorded, and charted more classic tunes than most artists could dream of. There are so many songs to choose from to illustrate my not-so humble opinion but I'm going to limit myself to (and beg your indulgence for) three. Sadly, I couldn't find any clips of live performances that satisfied my ears' quality criteria.

First up is a tune that didn't get the airplay that many of his did and still rarely appears on the playlists of oldies stations. But it's a gem.

As always, please turn up your speakers and enjoy Fire Inside.

If Nat "King" Cole's voice was buttery caramel, Seger's is whiskey and a fine cigar. The richness and maturity of tone is evident in Like A Rock. (And there's a sweet slide guitar for some aural dessert.)

You folks know me. I don't toss around terms like "perfect" lightly. For about 20 years, my all-time favourite (and also perfect) song was Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. Somewhere around 1990, this next tune came on the radio. It was probably the 200th time I'd heard it -- but for some reason it felt like the first. I cranked up the car radio during the guitar intro and knew Good Vibrations had just slipped to 2nd place - where it remains.

Seger wrote and recorded a tune that touched my soul and probably that of millions of people who were teens in the 60s. It's about youth and dreams and immortality - sung from the standpoint of weary, yet defiant resignation.

And it's perfect.

Thanks to metalboombox, jonny1214 and shutterbugger24 for posting the videos.