Canadian music

MOVIE REVIEW: Five Bucks at the Door – The Story of Crocks N Rolls (2020)

FIVE BUCKS AT THE DOOR – THE STORY OF CROCKS N ROLLS (2020)

Directed by Kirsten Kosloski

When she was a kid, it was director Kirsten Kosloski’s job to spend the weekend taping albums for her thrifty dad, who was always borrowing records from friends.  With a floor full of tapes and cases, Kosloski grew to love music in that intimate way that only true music fanatics can relate to.  She felt like a bit of an outsider in Thunder Bay Ontario, but her love of music helped her bond with some local punks.  The place to be was Crocks N Rolls.  She walked up to the entrance.  Owner Frank Loffredo sat in the booth.  Five bucks at the door.  Kirsten had empty pockets.  Loffredo gestured for her to go in anyway.  A life was changed that night.  She became a music journalist.  The dream job she didn’t know existed until Crocks N Rolls opened up her world.

Five Bucks at the Doors – The Story of Crocks N Rolls is a uniquely Canadian documentary.  You quickly realize that Crocks N Rolls could only be the result of Canadian geography and personalities.  We joke about Thunder Bay being isolated (though it is said that their landfill hosts a treasure trove of 80s cassette tapes), but the truth is far deeper than simple stereotypes.  Yes, Thunder Bay is eight hours’ drive away from the big cities, but it also occupies a unique crossroads on the Canadian roadmap.  Touring bands from Ontario and further east had to go through on their way west.  Western bands also had to pass through the crucible.  The only place to play was Crocks.  Most importantly, it was the right place to play.

Sook Yin Lee (Bob’s Your Uncle) calls it a “wonderful enclave of freaks and weirdos.”  Frank Loffredo was just a music fan.  He’d drive to Toronto to see a show. He dreamed of being in the New York or London scenes and drinking up the rock and roll.  Instead he did something better and he brought that vibe to Thunder Bay for everyone to share.  Bands started coming through.  Great bands, bad bands, mediocre bands.  Even if they didn’t sell tickets, Frank would book them a second time.  It wasn’t always about the bottom line.  He would live and sleep in the bar to make it work.  It was about Canadian rock music.  It was about making life bearable for the kids of Thunder Bay who dreamed of getting out.  To Frank it was like “one long day,” but to the kids it was another home.  There were no fights.  It was a melting pot of acceptance and ideas.

Bad Brains, 13 Engines, Razor, Sacrifice, DOA, Henry Rollins…Rollins on a spoken word tour no less.  Five Bucks at the Door is loaded with stories and the best has to be about Henry Rollins and being short changed $10 by Frank Loffredo.  Hank didn’t notice, but Frank had to make it right. He asked a friend to repay the $10 that Frank accidentally owed him.  He also insisted on photographic evidence of the transaction, and that evidence is part of this smorgasbord of punk rock history.

Dave Bidini (The Rheostatics), Bob Wiseman (Blue Rodeo), and many more Canadian artists have acres of stories to tell.  A bunch of tree planters and a canoe?  From Frank’s mom’s home-made spaghetti dinners for the tired band members, to the name of the place.  It looked like an Italian restaurant and the logo looked like it had a bowl and a spoon.  “It was a dumb name,” says Frank.  But the important thing was that “the audience was as much of the show as the band.”  That’s clear by the testimonials and amazing black and white photos.  Scratched and unretouched.

Crocks closed in 1996.  It was no longer sustainable, and then as if adding insult to injury the original place burned down.  But in 2007, Loffredo gave it another go.  Naming it Crocks N Rolls flat out indicated this was to be a continuation of the original.  As before, it’s all still in the family, with a new generation now working with Frank in keeping the rock rolling in Thunder Bay.

Five Bucks at the Door is a refreshing reminder that there are some crucial things we need in life.  Connection, belonging, and music.  Frank brought all three to the teenagers of Thunder Bay that longed for it.  It’s a story that needs to be told, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.  It’s available for streaming for free until September 20, 2020.

5/5 stars

Epic All-Canadian Live Stream featuring Mr. Books and Agent Dekes

History was made Friday night!

For the first time ever, Deke and I have shared the screen with Mr. Books himself, Aaron from the KMA.  The subject this week:  Top 11 Canadian albums of all time.  An absolutely epic discussion unfolded with so many different genres being touched upon.  As remarkable as the lists were (five in total), it’s also quite astounding when we talked about all the albums we left out!

Lists submitted by:

  • Deke
  • Mr. Books
  • LeBrain
  • Darr
  • Dr. Kathryn Ladano

With Deke coming in from Lake Superior, Aaron from Georgian Bay, and myself on the shore of Lake Huron, we had three massive bodies of water covered.  What should we call ourselves?  The Great Lakes Consortium?

For a look at the shape of streams to come, check out the end of the video.  We brought in Uncle Meat, Rob Daniels from Visions in Sound, and Kevin/Buried On Mars.  While six at a time is a lot, it sure was fun to see everybody together for the first time!

I can’t help but take a little bit of pride in all this.  My very first live stream was March 20, the week lockdown began. Eager to make connections with others in isolation, I hit that “live” button on my Facebook app just to see what would happen. It ended up being a lot of fun and it so happened that others liked it too. A few weeks later, we figured out how to get Uncle Meat to co-host and he came up with the now infamous “Nigel Tufnel Top Ten” format.

But there were limitations, because we had to use a Facebook phone app if I wanted to have a co-host.  This reduced the scope of awesome people available to share the screen with me.  Finally Kevin directed me to Streamyard which solved numerous problems.  After months of trying to figure out how to stream to Facebook (where my audience is) without having to use Facebook, Streamyard worked.  For the first time after many months of trying, Aaron has finally co-hosted a show.  A milestone!  So yeah, I’m proud of myself and proud of the awesome friends who have co-hosted along the way.  We made something here that is catching on with people.  I owe Meat a huge debt for being the first co-host and coming up with the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten concept.

Look at the first stream below, and look where we are now.  We’ve come a long way.

O Canada! Friday Live Streamin’ returns with “Maple” flavoured lists!

The list format returns!  It’s another “Nigel Tufnel Top Ten”, and this time it’s a doozy.  How do you narrow down the top albums from an entire country, and arrange them on a list?  I dunno, but there are some of us that are going to try.  Wish us luck.

How you get in on the mayhem?  It’s easy.  Just go to Facebook: MikeLeBrain on Friday August 14 at 7:00 pm E.S.T.  There you can participate in the fun with your commentary, as we count down…

THE TOP 11 CANADIAN ALBUMS OF ALL TIME

No greatest hits; all genres permitted.  A monster of a task indeed.  Four lists have been submitted.  Cohosts have been booked.  If all goes according to plan (which it should due to an hour-long test stream last week) we will have two of the most knowledgeable Canadian music fans on board for what promises to be an epic discussion.

Join me tonight at 7:00 pm E.S.T., eh?

REVIEW: Gordon Lightfoot – Complete Greatest Hits (2002)

GORDON LIGHTFOOT – Complete Greatest Hits (2002 Rhino)

You just have to laugh when you see something called “CompleteGreatest Hits.  Complete?  Says who?

I don’t see “Ribbon of Darkness” on Complete Greatest Hits, and where is “Bobby McGee”?  I do see 20 terrific songs that you shouldn’t live your life without.  Gord’s Gold is the benchmark, but because it’s missing Gordon Lightfoot’s best known song — “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — it isn’t enough.  (Gord’s Gold also featured two sides of re-recordings because Lightfoot supposedly couldn’t listen to his early work.)  The best way to get “Edmund Fitzgerald” and Lightfoot’s other best known songs in one purchase is to go for Rhino’s Complete CD.

The experience starts with “Early Morning Rain” from Gord’s first LP Lightfoot! (1966).  Gord’s calling cards are two:  his baritone voice, and his songwriting.  “Early Morning Rain” shows of the perfection of both.  You’ll get chills.  “In the early morning raaaaaaain…”  Undoubtedly, Gordon Lightfoot is one of Canada’s greatest songwriters of all time, and “Early Morning Rain” is all the evidence you need.  If that’s not enough, there are fortunately 19 more incredible tracks.

“For Loving Me” from the same LP boasts some intricate acoustic picking and more of that voice.  The vibrato, the control, the expression…nobody could touch Gordon Lightfoot.  In recent years his voice has been reduced to a powerful whisper, but nothing on this CD dates past 1986.  His voice is double-tracked on “Go Go Girl”, another unforgettable song from 1967’s The Way I Feel.  His storytelling lyrics always make you wonder who and what inspired the songs.  “Only a go-go girl, in love with someone who didn’t care.  Only 21, she was a young girl, just in from somewhere.”  There’s so much there between the lines, while the acoustics pluck away in dense patterns.

After three succinct beauties, here comes Gordon’s epic:  “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”.  The Canadian Pacific Railway was built on hardship and dreams, and Gord captures that and more in a multi-textured composition.   “An iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea.”  Not only is this song his greatest lyric, but the diverse vocal parts could be his strongest work.  Hard to imagine that that he was only on his second album.

1968 brought the brooding ballad “Pussywillows, Cat-tails”.  Backed by strings, the dream-like song paints a picture rather than spelling out a story.  “Naked limbs and wheat bins, hazy afternoons.”  Then “Bitter Green” is brighter, though with similar countryside imagery and a story about lost love with a twist ending.  Moving on to 1970, “If You Could Read My Mind” is one of Lightfoot’s most renowned songs.  It went to #1 in Canada, and in 1997 it hit the dance charts in a cover version by Stars On 54.  Gord’s version is one of the most passionate laid to tape.  Written about a divorce, the feelings were raw.

1971 brought the bright “Cotton Jenny” and the uplifting “Summer Side of Life” from the album of the same name.  The latter features subtle organ and rich backing vocals, broadening the palette.  “Beautiful”, a soft and romantic ballad, came from 1972’s Don Quixote, and hit the Billboard Hot 100.  This CD then skips past the #1 album Old Dan’s Records (Complete Greatest Hits, huh?) and goes straight to “Sundown” from the album of the same name.  I always loved the front cover of Sundown, with Gord in sandals smoking a cigarette in a barn.  For the first time, there’s an electric guitar solo, but the song is most notable for the strong chorus.  “Carefree Highway”, also from Sundown, has lush strings and another chorus that is impossible to forget.  I highly recommend playing this one while driving down country roads on a Sunday afternoon.  “Rainy Day People” from 1975 (the same year he did the Gord’s Gold re-recordings) features more backing instrumentation than earlier material.  The lush, countrified music didn’t do him any harm when the track went Top 10 in Canada (and #1 on the adult contemporary charts).

All this leads to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, probably the greatest songs about a sea tragedy ever written.  With a big electric guitar as the main hook, the song is completely unlike all the Lightfoot hits that came before.  There is even a soft synthesizer part.  It went to #1 on every applicable chart in Canada, and #2 in the US.  Though simpler in structure, “Edmund Fitzgerald” is the only song to rival “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” as his greatest epic.  It’s also one of Gordon’s most chill-inducing lyrics, with a vocal part to match.

Everything after this can only seem anticlimactic.  “Race Among the Ruins” is the strongest track post-“Edmund”, as Gordon included country slide guitars and other accoutrements.  The final five (“Daylight Katy”, “The Circle is Small”, “Baby Step Back”, “Stay Loose” and “Restless”) are not slouches, but simply not as striking as the earlier songs.  Though the recordings are more sophisticated, it’s hard to top your earliest hits.

The liner notes to this CD point out that your first exposure to Gordon Lightfoot was probably via a cover.  Perhaps Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, or the Tragically Hip.  I suggest making “Edmund Fitzgerald” your first Gordon Lightfoot if you haven’t heard one of his classics already.  This CD is the best way to get it.

5/5 stars

 

* Deke, have you ever listened to the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald while sitting on the shore of lake gichi-gami?  That’s on my bucket list.  

#638: BNL

GETTING MORE TALE #638: BNL

First year of university involved “frosh week”.  All the new students would have events and basically just party for a week.  I wasn’t into that and I only attended the first night.  It concluded with an Australian comedy band playing some amusing novelty songs.  Wish I could remember their name.

My friend Andy, who was accepted at  the University of Waterloo, had different entertainment for frosh week.  “We had this shitty band called Barenaked Ladies,” he told me.  Barenaked Ladies?  The fuck was that?

Barenaked Ladies were an acoustic group from Scarborough Ontario who specialised in quirky and often humorous original songs.  Little did I know that their Yellow Tape demo was making waves.  I was focused on what was happening in Canadian metal.  It didn’t take long after that Waterloo gig for the band to gain national awareness.  Their excellent cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” got a nation wide release on a tribute album called Kick at the Darkness. The quintessentially Canadian music video was in constant rotation.

And for comparison:

The Cockburn cover was impressive.  It showed off the central vocal harmonies of Steven Page and Ed Robertson, and it was obvious the band were schooled on their instruments.  Barenaked Ladies didn’t focus on mainstream instruments, preferring double bass and congas.

My sister became a fan quickly, and when their first official album Gordon was released in ’92, she dove right in.  Before long she had a vast collection of Barenaked rarities, including a bootleg tape she recorded herself at a Kitchener show.  Some of the bands’ most popular songs with fans were not on Gordon, such as “McDonalds Girl” and the Public Enemy cover “Fight the Power”.

I casually followed the band along with her, appreciating their lyrical cleverness and occasional emotional depth.  I helped her collect rarities at record shows.  She sent pianist/percussionist Andy Creeggan a vintage 1977 Darth Vader sticker to put on his congas.  And he did.  And it can be seen in some video footage if you look hard enough.

I went to see them with her on their 1996 Born on a Pirate Ship tour.  I was impressed with a lot of their new songs, especially the intense “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank”, a track about an Anne Murray stalker. They played it live at that show (which featured Mike Smith aka “Bubbles” in opening band Sandbox).

As soon as Steven Page hit the stage, he seemed to be simmering.  He was dressed in his goofy shorts as usual, but he seemed…angry?  Intense.  It really came out in “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” which boiled over.  I gained a real appreciation for the band that night, and also for Steven Page as an artist.  Whatever was bothering him that day (if that was indeed the case), he poured it into the show.  It was an incredible night.

Unfortunately for us, Barenaked Ladies evolved into the mainstream over the years.  Both of us lost interest as they changed.  Andy Creeggan left the band after their second album Maybe You Should Drive, which meant the congas were gone.  Jim Creeggan traded his big stand up bass for an electric more often.  The emotion seemed to drain from their albums as time went on.

I wasn’t very surprised when Steven Page left the band in 2009.  As their music became more campy and often aimed at kids, Page was less comfortable.  His drug bust in New York was the real shock, since he was caught doing cocaine.  That certainly clashed with the band’s family friendly image.

The band carried on and Page went solo, but there’s a new twist.  On March 25 2018, Barenaked Ladies will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  It’ll be done during the Juno Awards broadcast, and Steven Page will be returning to perform with them.  “I hope it’s fun,” said Page.  “I honestly haven’t been in the same room as the other guys – all the other guys at once – since I left the band. It’ll be good to see them all, but it’s going to be odd. It’s not like we’re getting back together.”

Odd indeed, but stranger things have happened.  Will you be checking out the big reunion on March 25?

 

REVIEW: Paul MacLeod – Close and Play (2006)

PAUL MacLEOD – Close and Play (2006 Busted Flat)

This CD was given to me by Uncle Meat for the purpose of reviewing.  Unfortunately I was too slow and Paul didn’t live to read it.  For that I’m sorry.

With Hawksley Workman in the production chair, one expects great sonics and perhaps just a touch of “weird”.  The opening track “Ghosts” has a familiar piano-based “bop” that is reminiscent of Workman.  This delightful little track is upbeat with just a slight sense of melancholy.  Moving on to “Cruelty”, the song has a strange aura that sounds as if you’re playing it on vinyl.  This electric song really showcases how versatile MacLeod’s voice was.  “Cruelty” does not easily escape from the memory.

Sadness and loneliness are two prevailing feelings on “Schopenhauer’s”, a beautiful acoustic tune.  “Gloat” adds a base of electric guitar for a rock solid foundation.  On top of this, Paul sings his soul out.  “All I could ever do was, was be but a crutch to you.”  The mood flows into the next tune “Pools of Blue” which speaks of regret.  This changes to anger on “Broken Wing”.  “She’s feeding the bullshit, a mouthful at a time.”  A tense little guitar lick goes on until the brilliant chorus releases it.  “Broken Wing” is an easy contender for best track on the album.

After the emotional peak of “Broken Wing”, it’s nice to go back to mellow on “Listen Mary”.  Its love acoustic guitar solo is a definite highlight.  “Giants”, another upbeat catchy number, would also be a peak point.

Closing the CD is “Stanley Steamer”, initially a shock as it begins with uncharacteristic electronic sound effects.  This soon turns into a humourous look back to an era long gone.  Paul’s song sounds as if it could have been born in that past decade.  One thing Paul had a talent for was tapping into the musical feelings of the past, like a human time machine.

Check out this fantastic CD by Paul MacLeod the Musical Tardis.

4/5 stars

 

#534: Klassic Kwote – “b4-4”

GETTING MORE TALE #534: Klassic Kwote – “b4-4”

Unfortunate Canadians will recall boy band b4-4 (also known as Before Four). They were a trio, had two brothers in the group, made two albums and faded away quietly.

Courtesy of former store owner (now road manager for Steve Earle) Mike Lukacs, here’s a classic quote that shoulda been in Record Store Tales:

“Back in the record store days, some people came in the store looking for these guys’ CD. One of the dudes that worked for me asked them why they wanted such garbage. ‘They are our sons’ replied the people…”

Whoops!

b44

REVIEW: Brian Byrne – Tuesdays, Thursdays, and if it Rains… (2006)

Scan_20160505 (2)BRIAN BYRNE – Tuesdays, Thursdays, and if it Rains… (2006 Kindling Music)

Strangely, I first heard Brian Byrne’s solo single debut, “Far From Good”, on a local lite-rock radio station that I usually try to avoid.  The song caught my ear for its upbeat, country-rock sound, with bouncy violin and piano on top.  A neat mix.  When they said it was by Brian Byrne, I stopped myself.  Couldn’t be the I Mother Earth singer getting played on a lite-rock station, could it?  But it was.  I promptly ordered the CD from the Record Store at which I formerly worked.  The disc arrived in a few days, great condition, except for the promo-cut jewel case.  They normally should have replaced the case before the CD shipped, but somebody missed it.  I didn’t want to ask for a new case, because I just left the place six months before and I didn’t want to become “that” customer!

But enough about me, what about Byrne?  Here he worked with near-legendary Canadian producer Tim Thorney, as well as former Killer Dwarfs guitarist Gerry Finn.  (Byrne and Finn both hail from Newfoundland.)  I Mother Earth were deactivated, and Byrne honed Tuesdays, Thursdays and if it Rains… into a pleasing acoustic rock album, very “singer-songwriter” in sound.

“Far From Good” is the highlight, being the most immediate and lively.  The album is diverse.  The opening track “Days Go On” has elements of country, funk, classic rock and soul.  The juicy organ parts really suck you in.  “Jen’s Song” is one of many ballads, this one reminding me of 80’s Phil Collins for some reason.  Byrne gets to let his voice speak more than he does in the louder I Mother Earth.  Then there’s a big chorus on “Sweet Love”, a better light country rock tune than Bon Jovi’s ever written.  This is like country-Jovi, but with integrity and feelings, and not a lot of flash.  “Nova Dashboard” is a lovely, bluesy country ballad along the lines of Blue Rodeo’s dusky favourites.  The guitars (by Thorney) get right under your skin.

I could go on and on, but all the songs have a quiet, smouldering power to them.  The light and shade of the album sounds quintessentially Canadian to me, and the calibre of the musicianship is above reproach.  Expect an album of diverse music crossing several genres, but do not expect I Mother Earth.  Byrne almost went as far in another direction as you could imagine.  And that is really cool, because he does it so well.

3.5/5 stars

Scan_20160505 (3)

#483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

GETTING MORE TALE #483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down,
Of the big lake they call gichi-gumi.
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead,
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more,
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed.
When the gales of November came early.

Living in Southern Ontario, we have easy access to three of the five Great Lakes. Many children spent time holidaying on Huron, Erie or Ontario. In school we learned to memorize the names of the Great Lakes with the acronym “HOMES”: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The Ojibwe called Superior “gichi-gami” meaning “big sea”. When I was a kid we spent our summers at the cottage in Kincardine. Kincardine is located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, or as my dad used to call it when I was a toddler, “big water”. Some things are universal.

We are surrounded by nautical activity, from the great locks at Welland canal, to the legendary shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.   Just a few kilometers south of Kincardine is Boiler Beach, so named because a few meters from the shore sits the boiler from an old steamer that exploded in 1883.  The Erie Belle was a tug boat sent to rescue another ship that had blown aground after missing Kincardine harbour and attempting to turn around.  It could not budge the freighter, and the Erie Belle’s boiler exploded when the engine overheated and seized.   The piece of history is still sitting there partly due to the cold fresh waters of Huron.  You can see it clearly even from the road.  If that kind of sight doesn’t instil in a kid an interest in nautical Great Lakes history, nothing will.  And then there are glass-bottom boats that do tours, and in clear waters to view shipwrecks.

We also weathered quite a few storms that rolled in off the lake, taking down hydro poles and trees.  All you can do is sit tight and wait it out.  We always kept several oil lamps at the cottage, ready to go, and we had to use them annually.  It was easy to see how a even a huge ship could come to harm in such a storm.

Today, thanks to Gordon Lightfoot’s musical immortalization, the wreck of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald is the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck of all time.

EDMUND

The huge freighter was hauling iron from Duluth, Minnesota to steel mills in Detroit, Michigan.  Its final destination of the season was the port of Cleveland. It was late in the year 1975, and the big ship had to traverse the entire length of Superior, the deepest and most northerly lake.  From there, to the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and then south down the entire length of Huron.  The Edmund Fitzgerald was a sturdy ship, launched in 1958 as the largest on the lakes.  She broke speed records, and then broke her own records.  She was a favourite to crowds because of the charismatic “DJ Captain”, Captain Peter Pulcer.  He enjoyed piping music in the loudspeakers, and entertaining crowds on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers with tales of the big ship.  But it was Captain Ernest M. McSorley who was command that fateful night in November.

There was a storm on the radar, but the weather service predicted it would proceed harmlessly south of Lake Superior.  The Edmund Fitzgerald departed on November 9, but by 7 pm that night, the weather reports suddenly changed.  The storm was crossing the lake, and they sounded the warning for gale-force winds.  Pounded by 60 mph winds and 10 foot waves, the Edmund Fitzgerald headed north for shelter.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck,
Saying, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.”
At seven PM it grew dark, it was then,
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya.”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in,
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when her lights went out of sight,
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Gordon Lightfoot was fascinated by the story and wrote the famous song around the disaster. His storytelling ability made it legendary, never to be forgotten.  It went to #1 on every relevant chart in Canada, and has been covered by artists as diverse as the Dandy Warhols and the Rhoestatics.  And in honour of the 29 men who died on that ship, he has revised his old lyrics. Formerly the words went, “At seven PM a main hatchway caved in.” However this implies the hatchway was not secured properly, and investigations showed that there was no crew error in the disaster. With respect to history, Lightfoot changed the line to “At seven PM it grew dark, it was then…”

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings,
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below, Lake Ontario,
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her.
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know,
With the gales of November remembered.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies at the bottom today, 15 miles from the aptly named  Deadman’s Cove, Ontario.  It is now a protected site, but there are no conclusive answers to what happened in her final moments.  The way Lightfoot worded it was appropriately vague: “And later that night when her lights went out of sight, Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  What is more important today, rather than the cause of the wreck, is the fact that the 29 people lost at sea are now immortal.  Gordon Lightfoot ensured that.

In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral,
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times,
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Just Like a Vacation / “Joker’s Wild” bonus track (1999)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Mike and Aaron will be doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

BLUE RODEO – Just Like a Vacation / “Joker’s Wild” bonus track from Stardust Picnic  (1999 Warner)

I spent a lot of days in the summer of 1999 working in the Record Store in Cambridge. That was T-Rev’s store, normally, but he was out of town. He was Ajax, I think, helping build our next franchise. T-Rev is handy so his role was, in theory, supposed to transition to building new stores full time. That never fully happened, which in a way was a good thing, because they never had a plan for filling T-Rev’s time slot as store manager in Cambridge! In the interim, they sent me there and I was responsible for managing two stores. Not the first time and certainly not the last time.

’99 was a great summer for double live albums. There were two in particular I played daily: Sloan’s 4 Nights at the Palais Royale, and Blue Rodeo’s Just Like a Vacation.  Despite the added stress and mileage on the car, these two double live albums helped ensure that summer was hot and fresh with great music.  Blue Rodeo are one of the greatest live bands I’ve seen and I had long been awaiting a full-on double CD set of the live concert experience.

Just Like a Vacation is the absolutely perfect document of the Blue Rodeo experience circa 1999.  Hard edged and jamming, Blue Rodeo were at this time a mixture of country crooning and long noisy Neil Young jams.  The set is taken from a variety of shows and assembled into a coherent running order.  Perhaps the first track, the upbeat country of “Til I am Myself Again” was recorded in Stratford; Jim warns the crowd they may be snowed in that night, a common threat at the Stratford festival during their annual show there!

The first seven Blue Rodeo albums, from Outskirts (1987) to Tremolo (1997) are all essential listening.  This live set is loaded heavy with some of the best songs from that era, from the tender Jim Cuddy ballads (“Try”, “After the Rain”, “Bad Timing”) to the more epic Greg Keelor blasts of power:  “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, “Diamond Mine”, “Girl in Green”.  There’s country jazz (“Piranha Pool”), songs for singalongs (“Cynthia”) and even comedic stories of heartbreak (“Florida”).  Jaw-dropping musicianship ensures there is never a dull moment.  Even the slow dance hit ballad “After the Rain” boasts a long, noisy guitar jam at the end.  Blue Rodeo are fearless on stage and this album delivers that.

Some fans noticed that earlier tracks from Outskirts such as “Rebel” and “Joker’s Wild” were seldom played as Blue Rodeo amassed more and more studio albums.  Thanks to HMV, one bonus track is available to add to this live collection:  “Joker’s Wild”, from their promotional Stardust Picnic Sampler CD.  The back cover of the Stardust CD claims there was no room left for “Joker’s Wild” on Just Like a Vacation, but that’s not true.  The first disc is under an hour, and the second is 1:07.  Lots of room on either disc for a four minute bonus track!  Regardless, here is “Joker’s Wild”, a rarity to be sure since it was never available for purchase.  “Joker’s Wild” is done acoustically, very different from the original version.  It transforms from a spy movie theme to a swampy jam with slide and fiddle.

Sure, you could go and buy a Blue Rodeo Greatest Hits CD with your hard-earned dollars.  That’ll get you 14 songs; this’ll get you 22.  Blue Rodeo songs are just as great live as they were in the studio, just different.  You won’t have to suffer through a too-loud audience track, so get Just Like a Vacation instead and experience Blue Rodeo in the venue they were intended for — the stage.  There are even liner notes with a story or two about every song.  It’s a package to be enjoyed for a long period of time, and years later you will still smile.

5/5 stars