Joe Hardy

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Aural Fixations (1992)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

SARNIA.

scan_20170128KIM MITCHELL – Aural Fixations (1992 Alert)

Over the course of his solo career, Kim Mitchell kept on givin’ ‘er even though some albums are cloudy in the collective memory today.  Aural Fixations made less of a hullabaloo than Rockland, and many of its tracks are forgotten by the Canuck masses.  Public amnesia does happen to deserving songs sometimes, and there are a few on Aural Fixations that merit dusting off.

Kim really made a niche of good time summer party songs:  “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Lager and Ale”.  “World’s Such a Wonder” assumed that duty on Aural Fixations.  His picking is impeccable, but fans in the know noticed something was “off”.  The quirky poetry of Pye Dubois was gone; he and Kim had a falling out during Rockland.  Others such as Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness – review at Boppin’s Blog) and Andy Curran (Coney Hatch – review at Stick It In Your Ear) filled the lyrical void instead.  This meant that one of the qualities that made Kim special, Pye’s unique wording, was gone.  Also departed was bassist/singer Peter Fredette.  Peter still provided backing vocals for this album.  That said, most in the Great White North probably did not notice or care.

“Big Smoke” is a bluesy grind, good stuff for guitar enthusiasts.  A couple upbeat tracks got radio play, such as “Hullabaloo” and “Find the Will”.  Both sound like what we had come to expect from Kim Mitchell:  rock and roll guitars, big hooks, and choruses built for shoutin’ along to.  The most outstanding one of the bunch is “Hullabaloo”, a real Canadian good time summer song.

“There’s a lot weekend doin’ on this hullabaloo,
Honey’s on the beaches, Monday back in old ‘T.O.’,
Showin’ off her sunburn.”

The song is perfect from the ground up. Verses, bridges and choruses all line up for one quintessential Kim Mitchell classic. “Take a walk on that wild guitar, it’s such a wild guitar…”

Aural Fixation also shifted towards lighter sounds, perhaps a bit too far.  “Pure as Gold” is the best of the softies, a quiet, slow smouldering bluesy ballad.  “Some Folks” steers right into the pasture, a keyboardy country ballad that could have been left in the barn.  The twangy “America” isn’t as bad.  It carved out another hit video, following in the footsteps “Easy to Tame” (1986).  Other tracks just simmer without ever really cooking:  “There’s a Story”, “Flames”, “Dreamer”.  The musicianship is above reproach, but the songs don’t all meet expectations.  “Dog and a Bone” has the rock, but the chorus lacks impact.

One of the most interesting tracks is the final one, an instrumental called “Honey Forget Those Blues”. A total of six guitar players are credited on it, creating a massive guitar harmony part. It sounds like a guitar orchestra playing the blues and it’s brilliant. Its cheeky creativity hearkens back to the glory days of Max Webster. It is in fact Kim’s first instrumental song as a solo artist.

Aural Fixations has those sparks of brilliance that makes you wish it consistent throughout.  “Hullabaloo”, “World’s Such a Wonder”, “Find the Will” and “Honey Forget Those Blues” could all be on a hypothetical Kim Mitchell “box set”.  Is that enough to add this album to your collection?

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Barstool Prophets – Last of the Big Game Hunters (1997)

STRAT

Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160223 (3)

 

Scan_20160223BARSTOOL PROPHETS – Last of the Big Game Hunters (1997 Mercury)

This album, the third and final by the Barstool Prophets, was the one that got me into the band.  You can blame T-Rev for that.  Unfortunately this album was also the last for the Prophets.  They never really hit the big time, even though it was certainly deserved.  Their biggest claim to fame is that they had to change their name from their original, The Wallflowers.  Some guy named Jakob Dylan owned that one.  Therefore, their first album was called Deflowered!

Barstool Prophets is a better name anyway.  It’s more descriptive of this band.  Picture solid Canadian bar rock, with the poetic lyrics to rival the Tragically Hip.  Both bands are similar, and fans of one should definitely check out the other.  For this CD, they got Joe Hardy (ZZ Top) to produce, and the result is a stellar collection of great sounding, upbeat yet rocking tunes.

I have a promo CD of this with a white cover.  I also have the correct cover art for the retail version.  The reason for this is, when I was living with T-Rev in our shitty apartment, some assholes stole his CD changer out of his Jeep, including his copy of this CD.  The cover art was safely inside the apartment, but without a CD to go with it, it was a kind of useless thing.  He gave the cover to me to augment my fairly plain promo CD.

Scan_20160223 (2)

 

The brief title track sets the stage perfectly.  Witty words, guitars panned hard to the right and left, and an understated groove.  That’s all you need, baby.  According to the liner notes, “Barstool Prophets wrote the songs, Graham Greer wrote the words, and they slapped them all together.”  The album and songs sound much more cohesive than that implies.  “Last of the Big Game Hunters” is hooky, radio ready, tough and smart.    It’s also short and to the point, as is the following song “Upside Down”.  From experience, I can tell you that these songs work great on the road.  I have done many, many cottage road trips with this CD in the deck.  The first half of the disc is mostly rockin’ with some mellowness creeping in on the second.  It all seems to work brilliantly.

My favourite song has always been the bulletproof “Vigilante”.  This is about as intense as the Prophets get both musically and lyrically.  Edgy but low-key spoken verses give way to the blistering chorus.  Most people will have to research Bernard Goetz (I did),  who is named in the incendiary bridge:

“I am prepared to carry out, without hesitation,
A cold and calculated act of intense dedication.
I am the store clerk forced once too often to his knees,
I am the few disgruntled Postal Service employees,
I am the widowed wife, left alone to carry on,
The grieving father, I, whose one and only child is gone.
I am the hand of Justice, with finger poised to test,
I am a bigger badder better bane than Bernard Goetz.”

It’s a powerful song.

Graham Greer shares one specific interest with me, which is UFOlogy. There are two songs on the album referencing them. The first is “Weird and Wonderful”, which musically is as fast as metal. The reference is vaguely to Betty and Barney Hill, one of the first documented UFO abduction cases:

“A family driving on a lonely stretch of highway,
Returning sadly from a very pleasant holiday.
Just then the starry night is filled with blinding light,
They’d later testify they’d never seen a greater sight.”

The gist of the song is that some things are just weird and wonderful; futile to explain. I prefer searching for the answers, but perhaps the Barstool Prophets have it right.

“Running Out” mellows things down a bit, with a melodic mid-tempo groove.  It’s the radio hit “Friend of Mine” that you might remember though.  What a great song.  Shall we call it a ballad?  I guess?  Whatever — it doesn’t matter.  It’s a blunt song anyone can relate to, about what true friendship means.  “My views and dreams and favourite songs will shift and turn with the passing of time, but one thing for certain is you’d always be a friend of mine.”  Even on the ballad (?), their knack for rhythm shines through.  This is a great band — just the rhythm section players alone are interesting to isolate and listen to.  The also goes for “Tangled Up”, an acoustic song that follows.  Weaving words and rhythms seems to be this band’s forté.  And they do it with an uncanny ability to write melodies too.  Just astounding.  How did these guys not become the biggest thing ever?  Maybe it’s because it’s just too easy to compare them to The Tragically Hip.  I daresay, Barstool Prophets wrote songs that were just as edgy and just as smart, but twice as catchy in the melody department.

About the only lull in the proceedings is “Five Wheel Highway”, a low-key slow grind on the pavement.  It’s also the second longest song.  It’s loaded with a harmonica hook, but it’s not enough to keep me interested.  “More” brings us back to center, with a solid album quality track.  It’s upbeat and it has those guitar jangles that I dig.  “Hungry Joe” is amusing, a man who “lived in a dream, where he was a ladies man supreme.”  Joe seems to get what he deserves, but the song is just another catchy one that probably sounded great live.  “Get Along” then is a stomping body slam.  It’s interesting lyrically and dramatic musically.  Good mixture for cerebral rock and roll.

Back to UFOs one last time for “Thrusters”.  Slow picking leads to quavering vocals:  “I have spent many nights, staring at the sky…”  It’s an unorthodox song, with no real chorus.  “I know they’re coming back for me, but how much longer will they be?”  I think it’s a haunting song, and it builds beautifully.

Last of the Big Game Hunters is still a fine album indeed.  I’d put it on my top records of 1997 easily.  Thanks T-Rev for getting me into it!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Itch (1994)

This review is for Thunder Bay’s hardest rocker, Deke from Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond! Once a loyal reader, now a blogger himself, Deke has been laying waste to the internet lately with his hilarious stories and classic Canadian reviews. This is an official LeBrain endorsement!

ITCH_0001KIM MITCHELL – Itch (1994 Alert)

I used to get so excited back in the Record Store days, checking the purchase logs from the day before. Many times, people logged KIM MITCHELL – ST (self-titled) in the books, immediately catching my attention. The self titled Kim Mitchell EP, after all, was and remains a true rarity. CD copies go today for up to $120.  When I would check the purchase logs against the physical CDs, I was always disappointed that the Kim Mitchell EP didn’t come in; rather his 1994 album Itch did.  The graphics are laid out in such a way that a part-time employee who didn’t know better couldn’t see that the album was called Itch, within the name Kim Mitchell.  Truth be told, I couldn’t figure out what it was called when I first started at the store in ’94 either!  I was working the week it came out.  “I didn’t know Kim Mitchell had a new album out!”  Staring at the cover…”What’s it called?”  I bought it on cassette initially.

The mid-90’s were a confusing time to be a Kim Mitchell fan. His 1992 record, Aural Fixations, was pretty straightforward and for the first time lacked lyrics written by Pye Dubois. When 1994 kicked off, the new Kim single “Acrimony” featured Kim rapping. Yes, rapping. Inappropriate comparisons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers were bandied about in the press.  I did not like “Acrimony”.  Some people do; in fact some people think Itch is Kim’s best CD.  I am not one of those people.

So how good is Itch? Well, it’s OK. It’s not great, not like Kim’s past work with the near-legendary Max Webster, though it does return Kim to some mild musical experimentations. There are standard Kim rockers like “Wonder Where & Why” and some great grooves like “Lick Yer Finger”. “Stand” is one of those classic Kim anthems that are perfect for the car in the summer time.  There are also just just plain weird moments that just don’t work. “Acrimony” is one of them, and “Lemon Wedge” is another. “Lemon Wedge” is a cool funk tune with horns, but is ruined by some guy (possibly Peter Fredette?) screaming out the chorus in a weird falsetto. Strangely though, those two songs made onto Kim’s first solo Greatest Hits CD, so maybe I’m the one who’s just not getting it.

In general Itch is a more somber album from Kim than the good time rock he produced in the 80’s.  It was also bluesier (“U.S. of Ache” for example) and harder edged, but I don’t think it had the songs to back it up.  Kim’s playing is fantastic of course, but you can say that about any of his albums.  Kim can play circles around most rock and blues players in his sleep.  He also has a crack band, featuring Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve on bass who did time in a couple legendary Canadian bands such as Loverboy and Tom Cochrane & Red Rider. Notably, Pye Dubois returned to pen the lyrics, the last time he would do so.  I think the main problem with Itch comes down to the songs.

The best tune on this CD is the last one, “Cheer Us On”, a great campfire song that should have been a single. However, it wasn’t, so it’ll just have to remain one of those little-known album songs with a few diehard fans.  I wouldn’t hesitate to put it on a greatest hits CD, even though it has never been used on a greatest hits CD.

As it stands, Itch was a commercial flop.  It has its staunch defenders, and maybe you are one of them.  Who’s right?

2.5/5 stars

Footnote: Eagle-eyed readers will recall seeing Itch in Record Store Tales Part 187; a video called “A Day in the Life at a Record Store”. Yes, a customer really did bring this album to the counter and inform me that someone had ruined the cover art with crayon. I had to tell them that it WAS the cover art!