September 28, 2010

An old man and his guitar

Today marks the release of Neil Young's highly anticipated solo album Le Noise. 

Produced by fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois, this album features 8 acoustic songs that sound like something completely different. Lanois' studio wizardry takes the acoustic guitar to a whole new level, and he came up with a new sound, as he says in an interview, "50 years at the back end of rock and roll".

Young is known as the "Godfather of Grunge" and his signature sound, deftly enhanced by Lanois, comes through loud and clear on these songs. I am very fond of the opening song, "Walk With Me".

Without an accompanying band, Neil is left unprotected and he wails, fights, and implores the listener to care just as much as he does. The lyrics are accessible yet poetic enough to warrant repeat listens. This is a beautifully crafted yet raw album.  I can think of very few other singer-songwriters who could pull off some serious rock magic with just a mic, a guitar, and their voice.

September 24, 2010

Gimme some transcendence

Thought I would share some songs that are the kind of gems that take me out of myself and put me elsewhere...You know, the songs that take me on a journey when I listen to them. There are fewer of such songs amidst the cacophony of graffiti that passes for music these days. I encourage you to get comfortable, lower the lights and put on your head phones. No, not those ridiculous ear things that come with iPods. I mean real head phones...the kind that make you look like Episode IV Princess Lea. You know what I am talking about. So lay yourself down with those clunky suckers and enjoy some songs to take you out of yourself....

"Vervaceous" by James
I have every James album in my collection. James formed in 1982 in Manchester and you probably know them from "Laid", their 1993 college radio hit. "Vervaceous" is a different beast altogether. This awesome live version really launches around the 3:10 mark. 

"Take it Back" by Pink Floyd.
You have to hand it to Pink Floyd. They owned spectacle rock and put on a show like no one else. With the creative team of Rogers and Gilmour how could a band not create masterpieces? This live cut features the vastly underrated genius Gilmour doing what he does best. The magic starts immediately and hits its peak beginning around 3:10. 

"Half Light II" by Arcade Fire
 I drove to Syracuse recently and played this song over and over again most of the way. It breaks my heart every time I hear it, thanks to its melancholic core of saying goodye to the past and perhaps even to the future. It's a stunning song, bigger than the sum of its parts. 

"The Message" by Coldplay
This is my favourite Coldplay song, and one I think is highly underrated. When the band kicks in at 1:19 the song takes to the sky, and Martin propels the song upward with his choir boy vocals. Gorgeous!

"The Feeling Begins" by Peter Gabriel
This incredible song is from the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. Peter Gabriel gathered an astounding group of Middle Eastern musicians to perform on this stellar album. This song is the opening to the record. When those drums start rolling at at!

"Shanghai" by Free Association/David Holmes
 From the incomparable soundtrack to Code 46 this song always takes me away, back to my hotel room in Shanghai, where I remember turning out the lights and sitting on the window sill and just watching the city...

"Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2
Typically it's The Edge's signature opening to this classic song that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up, but in this stunning live version it's Bono's wailing cries that immediately grab your heart. Bono had buried his father the day before the concert was filmed and he was still very raw. Magnificent!



September 22, 2010

Jackie Burroughs (February 2, 1939 – September 22, 2010)

Legendary Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs has passed away peacefully.

While her film and stage career stretched back over 40 years, Ms. Burroughs is most well known and beloved for her role as "Hetty King" in the TV adaption of Road to Avonlea, which aired from 1990-1996. I adored this show and I particularly adored Ms. Burrough's one-of-a-kind portrayal of the kind but firm spinster school teacher.

Burroughs is survived by Zoe Yanovsky, her daughter with the late Zal Yanovsky.

May she rest in peace.

September 14, 2010

U2 test drives new songs

U2 are currently on tour in Europe, Bono having recovered from emergency back surgery, and they have been delighting fans by throwing in new songs here and there. These songs are believed to be the core of a new album rumoured to be titled Songs of Ascent that should arrive in stores before the end of the year (How's that for noncommittal?). 

Anyway, thought you might like to hear the eagerly-awaiting new material. Keep in mind that most of these are unfinished and still being tinkered with. U2 are essentially test-driving these songs in front of tens of thousand of people. Thanks to fans who put these up on YouTube!!

"Return of the Stingray Guitar"
The tour's new opening song, a great little instrumental gem of riff and drums.

This was the opening song for the tour in 2009. Used to be called "Kingdom of Your Love". Many expect this will be the opening track on the new album but who knows?

"North Star"
This is a lighter ballad. The kind of song we used to flick on our lighters for. Nowadays it's cell phone and smart phones...Reminds me of "Staring at the Sun". 

U2 wrote this song for what was supposed to be their headlining gig at the famed Glastonbury music festival this year. But Bono injured himself and U2 had to cancel. Instead, The Edge showed up and helped Muse deliver a cool cover of Streets  

"Every Breaking Wave"
Of the new songs, I think this is one with the most promise for a certified Stacy favourite.  I have always loved the songs where Bono and The Edge duet.

*Bonus track*

This is the second version of the song, redone and polished by the band for the sountrack to the movie Brothers. For some reason I actually prefer the much rawer original.

September 11, 2010

Canadian banks named world's soundest

For the third year in a row the World Economic Forum has named Canada's banks the soundest in the world.

Hear some commentary on this ranking from Queen's School of Business professor Louis Gagnon on BNN.

September 9, 2010

Let us now praise Canadian women who sing

Canada, for unknown reasons, has produced an astonishing roster of female singers and songwriters. For the past 40 years there has always been a Canadian songstress serving notice on the music charts, and by the 1990s Canadian women were in fact dominating the charts across genres.

I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the amazing women from Canada that have ventured out from the Great White North to delight, inspire, and influence popular music. This list is not exhaustive but features some of the impressive female talents that have surely put Canada on the music map.

Anne Murray (b. June 1945)
The first Canadian female solo artist to have a #1 hit in the USA and the first Canadian to earn a Gold record from RIAA, Anne Murray hails from Springhill, Nova Scotia. I fondly remember watching her on various variety shows in the 70s and 80s on CBC. Ms. Murray has many beloved songs, none more than her 1970 cover of "Snowbird". 

Joni Mitchell (b. November 1943)
There are certainly far more commercially successful female performers from Canada but none will ever have the staggering, wide-ranging influence of Joni Mitchell. Born in Alberta, Ms. Mitchell eventually settled in Saskatchewan. Her vast catalogue of songs have been coveted and covered by many musicians, with her 1969 "Both Sides Now" as a real stand-out.

k.d. lang (b. November 1961)
Born in Alberta, k.d. lang began as a country singer with a passion for the haunting music of Patsy Cline. Picked as a back-up singer for the legendary Roy Orbison, the pair subsequently recorded a duet of "Crying" that earned a Grammy award in 1989. Her first big hit was 1992's "Constant Craving" and in that same year she came out as a lesbian and remains a prominent gay-rights activist. Her vocal abilities are astonishing, highlighted best in this cover of fellow Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". 

Sarah McLachlin (b. January 1968)
If you attended attended a Canadian university in the 1990s odds are you made love to Sarah McLachlin's 1993 album Fumbling Towards Ectasy. Many times. Many, many times. You could not escape this album in any dorm or cafe. For the pansexual crowd McLachlin, Indigo Girls, and Erasure were on constant rotation. the USA McLachlin came to the fore with her 1997 album Surfacing and the inaugural Lilith Fair festival. For my money, McLachlin's two first albums, Touch (1988) and Solace (1991) remain her best. Check out the gorgeous "Ben's Song" from her debut.

Celine Dion (b. March 1968)
Okay, okay, I can already hear the groans. But love her or hate her--and there is no one in the middle--Celine Dion is the juggernaut of Canadian female singers. She is the consumate belter of pop ballads and she has out-sold just about every music act on the planet, with album sales upwards of 200 million units. Already popular in Canada her big US hit was 1993's cover of Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love". When that 1997 movie about the boat arrived on the scene, Dion was everywhere. A long stint in Vegas and a partnership with Cirque du Soleil solifidied her status as an anchor of the pop music industry.

Diana Krall (b. November 1964)
Hailing from British Columbia Diana Krall sold more jazz albums in the 1990s and 2000s than any other female jazz singer. While she does write her own songs she primarly covers the great standards. Although already established it was her 2001 record The Look of Love that brought her to a high level of fame.

Shania Twain (b. August 1965)
From the little northern Ontario town called Timmins Shania Twain conquered the world with her 1997 pop-country crossover record Come on Over. This became the best-selling record by a female solo artist ever, with sales of 39 million units. Wow! Ms. Shain seems to have stepped back to focus on her family, as we have not heard much for her since. I have always loved "You're Still the One". 

Alanis Morissette (b. June 1974)
In the late 1980s/early 1990s Alanis was a bubblegum pop singer from Ottawa (Ontario) in the vein of Debbie Gibson. That all changed dramatically with her 1995 mega-hit album Jagged Little Pill. Fuelled by anger and passion, Alanis whipped up a record that caught on fire and would go on to sell 33 million units. I have always loved her 1998 follow-up single "Thank U".

Nelly Furtado (b. December 1978)
Hailing from British Columbia, Nelly Furtado announced her talent with her 2000 debut Whoa, Nelly! featuring the radio-friendly "I'm Like a Bird". However it was her 2006 record Loose, produced by super producer Timbaland, that propelled her to global fame. The single "Promiscuous" was her first number-one hit in the US, and it was followed by the even bigger global hit "Say it Right". I am very partial to "Powerless" from her 2003 sophomore album, Folklore.  

Avril Lavigne (b. September 1984)
Bursting on the international music scene with her 2002 debut album Let it Go, the eastern Ontario native had her first top hit with "Complicated". A solid singer and songwriter, Lavigne has now sold 30 million records. Most know her tough-girl attitude as her main persona, but Lavigne reveals her vulnerability and vocal ability in her 2004 gem "I'm With You".

September 7, 2010

New York's new establishing shot

The common device in filmed productions to provide an immediate context for viewers is to open a scene with an establishing shot. The establishing shot would show us the Eiffel Tower, for example, to let us know the action is to happen in Paris; or we'll see a fly-by of the Palace of Westminster to indicate that the events are set in London.

For three decades pretty much any movie or tv show set in New York opened with a shot of the World Trade Center, either from the harbour or from midtown. Once in a while there would be a tracking shot from a helicopter just above the twin towers. These establishing shots were ubiquitous to the point of being cliche. These establishing shot images became part of the post-modern cinemegraphic iconography. Indeed, it would be an interesting challenge for a filmmaker to shoot in New York and not once feature the usual cliche images of the WTC, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, etc. 

Someone once made the comment, upon visiting New York City for the first time, that he felt he had already been there because he had seen the city so many times in movies and on television. I think he also stated that because of America's dominance in filmed entertainment, that the country--and by extension its most prominent cities--exists in your subconscious.

As we approach the 9th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, I was thinking about how the rebuilt site will become the new establishing shot for New York, not only in movies but also within the symbology of citizens and visitors alike.  It will be mighty strange at first, for arguably the best of American cinema was shot in New York in the 70s and the WTC in so ingrained in our mental databanks. There will be a disconnect as we see images that do not match what we expect to see.

But I am certain that it won't be too long before we accept as normal the startling, sculptural imagery of the new World Trade Center site.  You can take a look at what you can expect to see in movies and television shows for years in the following short movie.