GORDON LIGHTFOOT – Summertime Dream (1976 Reprise)
Immediately after Gord’s Gold provided Lightfoot fans with a collection of old and re-recorded hits, Gord made another one: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“. This mighty song dominated the radiowaves for years over all over the Great White North, arguably granting Lightfoot his most memorable song in his history. His earlier material from Gord’s Gold and before might be considered the pinnacle of his album-making career, but Summertime Dream isn’t too shabby.
Opening with the musically upbeat “Race Among the Ruins”, but lyrically there is warning here. “If you plan to face tomorrow, do it soon.” Don’t let time pass you by.
The nautical disaster song “Edmund Fitzgerald” is second, a mostly historically accurate accounting (within reason) of a great lakes shipwreck. The great lakes shipwreck. The stinging guitar lick repeats while the harrowing lyrics induce chills. Guitarist Terry Clements performed that unmistakable, haunting guitar part, the one that little Canadian kids were dying to learn how to play in their youths. Did they have any idea they were recording such a timeless song when they were laying down the tracks? Every feeling, every emotion, every creak of steel and wood can be absorbed through the grooves. The way Lightfoot paints a picture with words, you feel as if were there. Gene Martynec, who played synth on Lou Reed’s Berlin album, provided light keyboard accents here. You’d miss them if they were gone.
A tender ballad, “I’m Not Supposed to Care”, gently caresses the soul with its light backdrop of pedal steel guitar. Then, edgier electric guitars back up “I’d Do It Again”, a laid back groove with a country foundation and a rock veneer. “Never Too Close” also shines with shimmery guitar melodies and a stunning chorus. Then the somber “Protocol” is a war ballad ranging from days past to the Vietnam War. “The House You Live In” showcases more pedal steel tones with a warm tune and laid back tempo. The single “Summertime Dream” is upbeat and bright, recalling hot happy youthful days. “Spanish Moss” is another lovely song, painting pictures of landscapes we’d like to see. Finally, “Too Many Clues In This Room” closes the album on a dark note, with lyrics aluding to both space and sea exploration.
Not Gordon’s most captivating album, but one without any skips, and one absolute monster of a song.
GORDON LIGHTFOOT – Complete Greatest Hits (2002 Rhino)
You just have to laugh when you see something called “Complete” Greatest 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.
* 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.
Looking for something to watch on Netflix this weekend? Look no further.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012 Sony)
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul
Like the rest of the world outside of South Africa (and Australia), I had never heard of the American singer Sixto Rodriguez.
If I had, I could all but guarantee I would have been a fan. With a rare songwriting ability often compared to Bob Dylan, the artist known only as Rodriguez released two albums in the early 70’s. He sounded something like Dylan hanging out with Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash, with the sadness of Nick Drake. His voice, like those of Dylan and Cash, communicated volumes of emotion. After he was dropped by his label, he disappeared completely. What he did not realise is that change was coming to South Africa that he would one day be a part of.
They think his music first arrived in Apartheid-era South Africa via a bootleg tape that made the rounds. Cold Fact (1970) and its followup Coming From Reality (1971) were of a remarkable quality, but with socially conscious lyrics that struck a chord. Rodriguez became immensely popular among the people, who were tired of racism and felt Rodriguez’ music was valid to their country. Some songs were banned completely. The government didn’t like it, and scratched the songs out of the records so they could not be played. But no government lasts forever.
Nobody in South Africa even knew who Rodriguez was. Even his full name wasn’t obvious. His albums had credits with names such as “Jesus Rodriguez” and “Sixth Prince”, but nothing confirming the artist’s identity. The story was he killed himself in a spectacular fashion, on stage. The tale wasn’t consistent. In one version, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. In another, she shot himself on stage. These stories helped propel his popularity in South Africa to a level beyond even Elvis or the Beatles. And he had no idea any of this was happening.
Hard core fans and musical detectives were determined to find out what happened to Rodriguez. They followed the money, but nobody was paying the artist for South African CD reissues. They poured through his lyrics for clues as to his whereabouts. References to Amsterdam were misleading, and clues scarce. “How did Rodriguez die?” was the only question on the searchers’ list. Imagine their surprise when Rodriguez’ daughter in Detroit Michigan discovered the searchers online, and contacted them to tell that Rodriguez was alive and well and living modestly in the city! Many South Africans thought this impossible, and fully expected it to be a hoax. Only when he arrived and played a series of concerts in the country did they realise this was no impostor. It was akin to Elvis returning for a comback today.
Searching For Sugar Man maintains the mystery. That seems to be the way Rodriguez wants it. Now that his fame in South Africa has finally caught up with him, he gives most of his newfound wealth away to family and friends. The voice is intact, and so is the mystique. The movie has given him a second chance in music, and he has returned to the stage for the first time since a brief tour in Australia in 1979, where he maintained a small pocket of fandom. Rodriguez will be playing the Centre in the Square in Kitchener Ontario, on Sept 10.
A rare of example of bass clarinet in popular music.
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.
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.
Hey folks!It’s The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2! Just like last time,Mike andAaron 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!
RACHEL FULLER presents: In The Attic with Pete Townsend & friends (2009 Eel Pie 2 CD/1 DVD set)
A long time ago, Aaron found this triple disc set at Giant Tiger, for the ridiculously low price of $1.00! Not being a foolish man, Aaron bought three of them. One for me, one for the Heavy Metal OverloRd, and one for himself!
Pete Townsend and Rachel Fuller are life partners and musical collaborators. She hosted a web show called In the Attic that featured performers from all over the musical spectrum. The Pete Townsend & Friends installment was gifted to me by buddy Aaron! What he did not know is this: I’m only a casual Townsend fan (not a collector), but by buying me this, he added some more Tenacious D to my collection of that band!
The DVD contains most (but not all) of the same material as CD, but also a lot more. For example Tenacious D’s “Tribute” is only on the DVD. Jack Black was suffering from strep throat that night, and they had to lower the song an octave. For a guy with a sore throat, he still sings pretty great…and even more demonic and evil! Their “Tommy Medley” is damn impressive, but it’s really too bad that Jack wasn’t in full voice. Kyle Gass apologized to Pete for this jokey, uber-fast medley, but I don’t think the apology was necessary, since Pete yelled for an encore!
Joe Purdy was unfamiliar to me before, a folk musician with a large discography. When he invites his dad Dad onstage, and Pete Townsend fixes his mic stand, there is a brief “we’re not worthy” moment that must have been mind-blowing. The pair does an original song called “Daisy” (great bluegrass) before Joe performs a couple more: “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Talk About Suffering”, both with Pete. “Let My Love Open the Door” is the familiar Townsend classic, and delightful in its tender acoustic guise.
Rachel Fuller then performs her original song “Sir Walter Raleigh”, an f-bomb laden piano ballad! A song is cut here from the DVD, another Fuller original called “I Can Fly”, on CD 1. This pretty song is a nice contrast. British solo artist Alexi Murdoch is next with two songs, both originals: “Dream About Flying” and “Orange Sky”. His impressive bluesy picking creates a dark folk sound on these songs. “Orange Sky” is performed with Pete and Rachel which I would imagine reduces most people to jelly. Imagine having Pete Townsend and his significant other playing on a song YOU wrote….
Most folks should be familiar with Ben Harper who takes the stage next with cellos and violins! “Please Bleed” is incredible. With Pete, he does his hit “Diamonds on the Inside”, still great today. Finally, and still with Pete, they do “I’m One” from Quadrophenia together. I imagine this is something you would stroke off a bucket list. “I want this to last a really long time!” says Ben mid-song.
The final guest of the evening is Pete himself, with four acoustic songs. “The Real Me” takes on a funky vibe, but brilliant as always. “Acid Queen”, “Drowned” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” complete this Who set. Even just solo on an acoustic guitar, this set is incredible. Townsend’s presence and expertise soak through every note.
That’s the end of that night’s show, but not the end of the DVD. The release is split in two sections – “The Hotel Cafe” and “Joe’s Pub”. The “Joe’s Pub” section has plenty more big name stars. This came from a traveling version of Fuller’s show, shadowing the Who at their festival gigs. In New York, they did a show at Joe’s Pub, and the first guest was a starstruck Amos Lee. His two songs are “What’s Been Going On” and “Freedom” (CD only), with special accompaniment by Pete himself. “What’s Been Going On” is an incredible moment of folk power and feeling. “Freedom” celebrates with a big soulful chorus. These are great songs.
Rachel Fuller played two songs at Joe’s Pub: “Jigsaw” (CD only) and “Cigarettes and Housework” (what, you mean you and Pete can’t afford a maid to do the housework?). “Jigsaw” is bright and pretty with lyrical references to some certain Who songs! Fuller’s remarkable voice is the main feature on the sparse “Cigarettes and Housework”.
Of all people, Jimmy Fallon is next. “Carwash for Peace” reveals that he actually has a pretty good singing voice. It’s a silly but fun sing-along. “Let’s have a car wash for peace, there’s trouble in the Middle East,” he sings. If we do this, there’ll be no more wars, or dirty cars! It’s hard to argue with that logic. “President’s Day” is a folksy send-up on the subject of getting totally wasted on President’s Day, because hey, it’s a day off. “Beer and a shot with my man Dick Cheney!” Hey, it was 2007, still the Bush years.
Rachael Yamagata takes the stage with Pete Townsend and Kevin Salem for “Paper Doll”, a sultry original acoustic number with some amazing soulful singing. There’s a nice moment on the DVD when Rachael smiles, looking at Pete playing her song, a real “pinch me” experience I’m sure. Her other song, “Be Be My Love” (CD only) has a similar chord progression as Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You”. This is her first song on her first album and I’m sure any similarity is coincidental. Then it’s Townsend’s turn to go it alone, with “Acid Queen” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (both CD only).
The final guest on this set is Mr. Lou Reed. “White Light/White Heat” with Pete is a moment so gravitous* that news reports suggest a new black hole formed over New York that night! “Pale Blue Eyes”, with accompaniment by Pete on the chorus, is delicate and weighty at once.
For a mere buck, I would postulate that In the Attic with Pete Townsend & friends has to have the most bang-per-dollar value of any purchase made for my collection. This is great stuff for music fans of all tastes.
STEVE EARLE – “Dominick Street” and “The Galway Girl”
My old friend Mike Lukas has shot and edited this cool video with his new GoPro camera. I gotta get me one of these! He edited the video on his Mac and voila — “The Galway Girl” live on stage with Steve Earle. This is my favourite song from Transcendental Blues.
Mike tells me that John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin is visible at the beginning of the video. See if you can spot him.
A MIGHTY WIND – The Album (2003 Sony Music Soundtrax)
It’s way too easy to dismiss this album as a novelty. After all, movie stars singing songs in a comedy movie rarely amounts to anything substantial. However, the Oscar nomination for “A Kiss At The End of The Rainbow” lends this album credibility. Not to mention, most of these people have been singing for years. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara frequently had musical numbers on SCTV. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest perform here as The Folksmen, but they are probably best knows as their alter egos, Spinal Tap.
I can’t say that every song is a winner. I’m not a huge fan of the stylings of The New Main Street Singers (Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, et. al. in a “neuftet”). It”s just not to my taste. As Harry Shearer says in the movie itself, “Would you rather hear a toothpaste commercial, or some music?” The New Main Street Singers are the toothpaste commercial. It works in the context of the movie. On the album, well, I could live without!
The estranged couple Mitch & Mickey (Levy and O’Hara) sing a beautiful song called “When You’re Next To Me” on track 3. It’s pretty stock until the second verse, when O’Hara comes in with her harmonies, and at that point I can believe that this is a real, serious folk duo. After all, they’ve been working together in various incarnations almost as long as their movie counterparts. Great song, and a great performance.
Finally, The Folksmen pull out their greatest hit(!), “Old Joe’s Place”, a fun novelty track that’s instantly catchy and memorable. You won’t be able to stop singing, if you can keep up with the rapid fire lyrics. Even better is “Never Did No Wanderin'”, on which the three singers meld perfectly. Not to mention these guys can really play their instruments, don’t underestimate them.
Lyrically, the jokes (when present) are sometimes a little subtle. For example, “Blood On The Coals”. Since there were so many folk songs about train accidents, and just as many folk songs about coal mine disasters, why not combine the two? So it’s a song about a train that crashes into a coal mine. Elsewhere, the jokes are more obvious. The Folksmen end their cover of “Start Me Up” faithfully to the Stones’ original, which sounds absurd. I like the absurd.
Although I cannot pick a favourite song, I think “A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow” is as beautiful and perfect as music gets.
Lastly, the CD is enhanced with a bonus video: “When You’re Next to Me” by Mitch & Mickey live, which was deleted from the movie. This feature is only advertised inside the CD booklet. In the days of Youtube, this really isn’t much of a feature anymore, but I remember being quite excited to discover it back in 2003.
Don’t let the “comedy” tag scare you off. These are just great songs. It should hardly be a surprise — The Folksmen used to open for their alter egos Spinal Tap decades ago! These guys are all pros.
One of the biggest thrills during the record store days was the last vacation I ever took from that place! I’ve always wanted to go to Eastern Canada, and see the ocean. I have always been drawn to the sea. I think this is because of my Italian side, it must be in my blood and DNA. We came to Canada in 1904 from Porto Empedocle, Sicily. It is a fishing village on the coast, and my great-grandfather Luigi owned a shop there around the turn of the century. My great-great grandfather Salvatore was from Amalfi, near Naples. If you ever see pictures of Amalfi, you might understand why I have always loved the sight of water.
In May 2002, I finally visited the beautiful province of Prince Edward Island. I got to see the ocean, the harbors and the lobster boats. We checked out a lot of cool sideroad shops, walked a lot of trails, and played with the vibrant red sand. We met some of the friendliest people we’d ever encountered. But there was no way I was leaving Prince Edward Island without doing three important things:
1. Eating lobster in some form every single day.
2. Visiting the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium, one of only two in Canada.
Obviously, I had to pay my respects to the boyhood home of one of the greatest Canadians (# 13) and folk musicians of all time, Stompin’ Tom Connors. In the end, I accomplished all three of my goals. Of the five days I spent on the island, I had lobster on every one of them, even having the bizarre McLobster on one of those days. As an added bonus, I found an interesting piece of guitar-shaped folk art, made by a fellow named Keirras Jeffery, that I had to buy. It looks awesome on the wall.
Photos of Stompin’ Tom’s eponymous road are difficult to find online, so I proudly present to you a selection of my holiday snaps, May 2002.
Although by this time, 2004, I had become a jaded prick in the relationship game, I decided to give dating another shot. I met this girl from Cambridge named Amanda, nice girl, nothing wrong with her. It was quickly obvious however that it wasn’t working out. She liked Trailer Park Boys and had her own car which was a bonus. She just didn’t get my passion for the rock.
Back at that time I was already working on the Record Store Tales. In the original sequence of events, I was actually writing what was then supposed to be Part 13: Perspective. Most of the original Record Store Tales were excised, but the original Part 13 would have fit in between what became today’s Part 4 and Part 5. As I was home writing Part 13, Amanda was on MSN, wanting to chat. Even though my record store bosses regularly accused me of abusing MSN Messenger at work, I have never like it. I’m an email guy. I always found it annoying.
I told Amanda I was deep in a creative mode and I wanted to finish writing this chapter. She waited about 10 or 15 minutes before pestering. She was bored, but I was in the midst of what seemed like a multitude of musical and personal revelations. It was just one sign that she didn’t really get what I was about.
That weekend it snowed. I was working the Saturday, and after work she picked me up to go and get something to eat. I had just read an article about Yusef Islam, the former Cat Stevens, and how he was on a no-fly list in a world of post-911 paranoia. Two subjects I’m passionate about are music and politics. While I leave politics aside for LeBrain’s Blog, I do like to discuss issues in private. Making conversation, I asked her if she’d heard this story about Cat Stevens. She was irritable about having to drive in the snow, and didn’t answer. I quietly asked again, trying to thaw the personal ice a bit.
“Did you hear that story, about Cat Stevens?” I prodded.
“Actually, I don’t care,” she answered.
We went out to eat, but those words just ate away at me. She didn’t care. And music is the most important thing in my life. Who was I trying to fool? This wasn’t going to work out.
The next time we spoke, we agreed to part ways. She was pretty upset.
Looking back, the funny thing to me is the day when I was all wrapped up in the writing of the original Part 13. For all my bluster about being a “writer” and “an artist” working on “my story”, and pouring all my soul into it, Part 13 didn’t even make the cut in the end! Crappy writing is crappy writing and some would say I haven’t improved much since!
BLUE RODEO – Palace of Gold (2002 Rounder version with 3 bonus tracks)
After the disappointing (to me) The Days In Between, Blue Rodeo did the long-awaitedGreatest Hits dealio. Then they did something unexpected, and added horns to the mix on a couple new tracks. That carried over to the Greatest Hits tour, where they added that same horn section to old classics like “Diamond Mine”. I remember the trumpet player executed a killer solo during that song when I saw them live in Stratford Ontario. They do an annual winter show there, in the round, at the Festival.
Palace of Gold is the album that followed this experimentation. Horns and strings are added to a good number of songs. The end result was a rejuvenated Blue Rodeo, more happy-go-lucky in general this time out, sounding excited to be playing again.
The opening track “Palace of Gold” is a Greg rocker with some floaty catchy keys from James Gray. Glenn Milchem’s drums propel the song forward excitedly. This is followed by a cool mid-tempo song called “Holding On” that reminds me of the flavour Jim’s first solo album. “Holding On” is not only catchy, traditional Blue Rodeo, but also contains some of Jim’s trademark heartfelt lyrics.
Some tasty mandolin work introduces Greg’s “Homeward Bound Angel”, another uptempo track. Horns are introduced here for the first time on Palace of Gold. By my reckoning, this is now three oustanding songs in a row. This is just a preface to “Bulletproof”, aka “the album’s big hit”. It’s a torchy ballad as Jim is loved for. It’s not as immediate as previous ballads like “Try” or “After the Rain”, but after a few listens, it’s sunk in. The arrangement is backed by lush strings.
A taste of reverb intruduces “Comet”, the first song that I find below the high standard already set. It is a trippy psychedelic Greg tune, with what sounds like therimin and strings. I’m just not keen on this one. I find it less exciting than other similar concepts from Greg, such as “Girl In Green”.
Swift punky chords are soon followed by deep fat horns. This is Jim’s “Walk Like You Don’t Mind”, another highlight, only bettered by Bazil Donovan’s bouncy basslines. It’s a Blue Rodeo rave-up. This is the kind of sound I love from them, especially live.
“Love Never Lies” is highlighted more strings, but this Jim ballad sounds melodically similar to the previous”New Year’s Day” from his solo album. One of my favourite songs is track 8, “Stage Door”. Greg’s lyric always inspires hoots and hollars from the crowd:
Ain’t no mystery, what I need,
is understanding and your sweet sympathy,
A steel string guitar and a little weed,
N’ someone to keep me company.
The arrangement contains both strings and horns, and of all the songs on this album, “Stage Door” amalgamates these instruments most successfully. (Live, I’ve heard Bazil Donovan take the lead vocal on this song — he was once arrested for possession. The charges were dropped.)
It’s hard to follow a song like that. I’m not in love with the next song, Jim’s “Cause for Sympathy”. The verses are dull to me, although it does boast a very nice chorus where both Jim and Greg sing together. Likewise, I usually snooze through the following track, the 60’s-sounding “What A Surprise”, sung by Greg.
“Clearer View”, a Jim Cuddy contribution, returns the album to high standards of outstanding songcraft. It’s a much needed shot in the arm, a driving song with the perfect horn section. Glenn Milchem’s drumming is rock solid but also propels the song forward like rocket fuel, especially during the chorus
The album slides back again into sleepy-land on Greg’s “Glad to be Alive”. This dreamy song ise a slide guitar-laden lullaby. Jim’s “Find a Way to Say Goodbye” is a ballad but has some punchy horns during the chorus, that are quite tasty. The final song is yet another snoozer from Greg Keelor called “Tell Me Baby”. I think unfortunately that Palace of Gold slides a bit at the end, and contains so many slow songs right at the finish line.
Fortunately there is a US edition of this album on Rounder Records that contains an additional three songs. These kick the album back up a notch at the end. They are are live tunes, and only one is a ballad! “The Railroad”, a Lee Hazelwood cover, is a blast. “Bad Timing” is of course one of Jim’s most classic ballads of all time, so we’ll let that one slide. The final track is another rock n’ roller, “You’re Everywhere” (from the Casino album). They close the album in style.
If you can get the 17 track version as opposed to the 14 track, I think you are in for a much better listening experience.