sons of freedom

REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Radio Hitz and More… (2012)

LEE AARON – Radio Hitz and More… (2012)

Respect to Lee Aaron!  She’s persisted through the decades with a multi-faceted career, including her early metal roots.  What she really needed was some kind of compilation CD that captured it all.  1992’s Powerline is a good compilation but some of Lee’s most interesting work came after.  Radio Hitz and More… fills in some of the blanks from the past 20 years.  You can only get it via Lee’s website as a promotional item.  I bought a T-shirt and got the CD with it, signed and personalized.*

Even if it haunted her career at times, “Metal Queen” is a damn fine song.  Period, end of sentence.  Today we can see that “Metal Queen” had it all:  killer quintessential riff, howling vocals and a searing solo.  Few metal singers could touch Lee Aaron’s ability.  While the fans knew she could do more than metal, she absolutely owned it on “Metal Queen”.  Hail to the queen.

Lee eventually shifted into a hard rock mold.  “Whatcha Do to My Body” was a big hit, and it’s next in radio edit form.  It delivered big hooks and didn’t require any song doctors.  Lee Aaron and her longtime guitarist John Albini wrote it and were rewarded with loads of MuchMusic video play.  However the two did collaborate with an outside writer on “Powerline” (1987) and that outside writer was surprisingly former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner.  “Powerline” is a bit light and heavily reliant on keyboards, sounding a little like Heart.

The songs included from Lee’s “rock” period are all pretty much hits in Canada.  “Hands On” followed “Watcha Do to My Body” in regular video rotation.  “Sweet Talk” and “Sex With Love” were singles from another big Lee Aaron album, Some Girls Do (1991).  The title track “Some Girls Do” is here and very Van Halen.  Two of Lee’s most stunning ballads are included too.  “Barely Holdin’ On” could be her best song, period.  “Only Human” was from the 1987 pop rock era, but is a strong ballad regardless.  Only a few notable singles are missing.  The always likeable Disco-dis “Shake it Up” is too hard to find out there in the wild.  Another big ballad, “Peace on Earth” is missing in action.  However the space does not go to waste.

In 1996 Lee Aaron resurfaced with a new band called 2preciious.  The lineup included Lee and the three Dons from Sons of Freedom!  A strange combo to be sure, and the alternative-flavoured album they came out with didn’t make waves, though it got decent reviews.  “Mascara” is edgy acoustic rock, completely unlike Lee’s previous work.  There’s even a rare European-only track called “Concrete and Ice” which is a bass-heavy 90s groove rocker.  Great stuff; it’s unfortunate it didn’t gain traction,  because with Alanis Morissette being so big at the same time, perhaps Lee could have tagged along.

The next stage of Lee Aaron’s career was her entry into the jazz world.  2000 saw the release of her album Slick Chick, and in 2004 there was Beautiful Things.  Tracks from both are here, including the instantly likeable “I’d Love To”.  It’s a little jarring to hear “Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi” in the middle of a bunch of rock tracks, though.

This compilation is great for gathering together a bunch of Lee Aaron’s diverse hits, but that’s not all.  Track 18 is a little bonus for collectors.  From Sweden Rock, it’s killer track “Baby Go Round” originally from Emotional Rain.  This live version is available nowhere else, which is like catnip for collectors.

77 minutes of music, for free?  How do you spell N-O-B-R-A-I-N-E-R?

4/5 stars

*If ordering, check before assuming they still offer signed CDs.





REVIEW: Sons of Freedom – Sons of Freedom (1988)


SONS OF FREEDOM – Sons of Freedom (1988 Slash records)


“Never retract, never retreat, never apologise…get the thing done and let them howl.”Nellie McClung 1873-1951


Once considered the saviours of Canadian rock, Vancouver’s Sons of Freedom powered their way onto the national scene in 1988 with “The Criminal”, one of the straight-up rockingest tracks to ever emerge from the tundra.  They maintained momentum long enough to beat Nirvana in the college radio charts in 1991 (#1 debut vs a #2 for Nirvana), but Sons of Freedom didn’t fit into a nice “grunge” pigeonhole.  They were too different, too weird, too Canadian.  By 1995 and a mere three albums, they called it a day, but were not forgotten.

What a track “The Criminal” was, certainly sounding very little like 1988.  The bleak music video didn’t look much like the competition.  Crammed into a tiny rehearsal space, the three clean-shaven, short-haired musicians (all named Don for real!) and one long-hair with a British accent (named Jim Newton at first, but he changed his name on every single album!) didn’t look like other bands on the rock scene.  They hooked up with Slash Records, and Faith No More’s producer Matt Wallace, and made a starkly heavy record.  They may have appealed to the same audience as The Cult, a superficial comparison, but Ian Astbury was considered an “honorary Canadian” by many rock fans (he lived in the Great White North for six years in the 1970’s and Cult bassist Jamie Stewart later made his home on the Toronto scene).  But in 1988, the Cult had never recorded anything as relentless as “The Criminal”.

We got love, we got love, we got justice from above.

If any band in Canadian rock history defined the phrase “ahead of their time”, it had to be Sons of Freedom.  “The Criminal”, with its emphasis on that singular groove and strangely hypnotic vocals, could have lead the charge in the 1990’s.  There are solos, but they are clang-and-bang, not shred.  They even had a quote by a Canadian female rights activist on the cover!  Why didn’t they catch?  Maybe it was the fact that they didn’t stand still and repeat themselves.  Maybe it was the singer changing his name to James Jerome Kingston.  Whatever it was, Sons of Freedom didn’t make the impact they rightfully could have.  They even had a song called “Fuck the System”!

The three Dons (Binns, Short and Harrison) lay down massive and strange bass-heavy grooves all over this debut album.  They sound more like industrial machinery than musicians on some tracks.   “Super Cool Wagon” has the concrete foundation needed to flatten all comers, but also boasted a weird “Ah-ooh-ah-ooh-ah-ay” vocal with no words!  That’s the album opener — nearly four solid minutes of heavy rock with nothing but ah’s and ooh’s for lyrics!  Amazing tracks like “Mona Lisa”, “This is Tao” and “Shoot Shoot” are based on the same template.  Smashing monolithic grooves, expertly recorded by Wallace, are topped by the unusual and melodic vocals of James Newton.  The vocals allow you to grasp onto the song, while the undercurrent of the groove carries you away.  I blame Don Binns for the sheer inertia of the grooves, since his bass work sounds to be the driving force of them.

Other tracks explore different directions.  “Dead Dog on the Highway” slows it down but adds a strangely funky Don Harrison guitar lick on top.  “The Holy Rollers” drones on slower than slow, the Smiths on Quaaludes, but again you are dragged along with it.  Pay attention to what is going on beneath the groove, as dischord rules with a balanced fist.  “Judy Come Home” is almost radio-friendly, but “Is It Love” has a stuttery groove that could have been hit material in the right climate.  “Fuck the System” is hard-hitting good-time punk and one of the only songs to have a rocky riff.  The final track “Alice Henderson” is the Sons’ version of an epic as it chugs without rest, leaving nothing but wreckage and waste behind.

Ultimately, I suppose nothing bonds bandmates like a good first name.  The three Dons emerged a few years after Sons of Freedom split, backing Lee Aaron (then simply “Karen”) in a new band called 2preciious and a later industrial project called Jakalope!

3.5/5 stars

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Part 10: What’s it like, working in a record store?

Yours Truly

Everybody always wanted to know how awesome it was to work in a record store.  They all had this Empire Records idea of it when the truth is much closer to High Fidelity.  I kind of considered myself a combination of the John Cusack and Jack Black characters.  I ran the place like Cusack, but I was a Jack Black-like smartass.  Black played a character named Barry.  You know that scene where the guy in the suit is looking for the song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You”?

Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.
Barry: Yeah, we have it.
Customer: Great great… Well, can I have it?
Barry: No, you can’t.
Customer: Why not?!
Barry: Because it’s sentimental tacky crap that’s why! Do we look like a store that sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Go to the mall!
Customer: What’s your problem?!
Barry: Do you even know your daughter? There’s no way she likes that song! Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?
Customer: Oh, okay buddy. I didn’t know it was Pick on the Middle-Aged Square Guy Day. My apologies. I’ll be on my way.
Barry: Buh-bye!
Customer: Fuck you!

I never quite went that far, but I was always fond of the subtle insults.  I was also known for being stubbornly obtuse.  Like for example, the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Triumph”.  I knew very well what band he was looking for, but he kept saying, “Tramp”.  He didn’t know how to spell it either.  Just the very idea that he couldn’t spell nor pronounce the word “triumph”…how could I not have fun with that guy?  I eventually sold him The Sport of Kings, when I felt like he’d earned it. 

Spelling was an issue in this part of town.  We had a lookup terminal where you could search for inventory on your own.  The best question I ever got at that terminal was, “Mike, how do you spell ‘metal’?  I don’t spell so good.”

In short, stuff grinds your gears just like it does at anybody’s job.  There are times when you saw a number on call display and just did not want to answer.  Just like any job.  Annoying callers, annoying customers, lazy customers who made you do absolutely everything for them, including pick what they want to buy!

You had sales quotas just like any day job.  You had responsibilities to get done.  If they weren’t done, you can’t just say “we were really busy” if your sales numbers weren’t big.   And you had to do things accurately.  In any environment where you buy and sell used goods, you had to be sure of what you were buying and what you were paying for it.  This is made just as difficult in a music store as anywhere else, due to the multiple versions, reissues, special editions, and imports of a CD that determine just what it’s worth.  You could go from offering $2 to $20 for a single album, the exact same title, just a different version thereof.

Same album different versions, and none of these are even the standard version. How would you price them?

And customers really hated being told their discs were “too scratched to re-sell.”  They really hated that one.

You got to listen to tunes all day, that was true.  That is something that I thankfully still do today, thanks to the radio.  I actually prefer the radio to choosing store play discs.  You were so tightly constrained by various rules, which narrowed the scope.  I actually loathed picking store play discs.  If I was working to someone else, I often just said, “You pick, I’ll pick something later.”

Lo and behold, I still have a copy of the store play rules!  I’m a packrat.  I keep everything.

  • Forbidden bands list:  Kiss, Rush, Frank Zappa, Spinal Tap, Dio, Judas Priest
  • Nothing heavier than Metallica’s “black” album
  • No musicals, no classical, no instrumental
  • Must play one new release in every shift
  • Must play 5 discs in shuffle mode, must never play album all the way through except in specific promotional cases
  • Each of the 5 discs must be a different genre
  • No songs with swearing
  • No rap
  • No comedy
  • Could only play discs that were in stock for sale instore

Jazz, soul, indy, and oldies were encouraged.  Hard rock was especially discouraged. 

Of course we broke the rules. If I knew there was no chance of getting caught, I’d bring in my own discs from home all the time.  The best shift I ever had, I played all 5 discs of the Kiss box set, in a row!  I played lots of shit with swearing, all the time.  It wasn’t intentional of course, it’s just that sometimes a great album has swearing on it, and I like to listen to great albums.  Sinatra at the Sands, for example.

We sold Sinatra at the Sands in minutes, by the way…by playing it instore.

I played Dio all the time when I could get away with it, even though he was strictly off limits. 

I remember Tom walking in, during Holy Diver

“Wow.  That’s ballsy man,” he said.

I played Spinal Tap once, but one of my buddies got written up for doing the same thing.  Seriously.  That time I was playing Spinal Tap, there was this guy seriously rocking out to it.  He didn’t look like a fan though.  He walked up to me and said, “Sounds like you got some Sons of Freedom going on here!”  Oops!

And I played heavy stuff too.  I know I played Maiden in the store, any night I could.  (Astute readers will recall that Maiden is where we started.  Go back to Part 1 if you haven’t.)  I remember two little kids laughing at Bruce Dickinson’s shrieking during a live take of “Fear of the Dark”.  But, I also remember lots of cool kids in Kiss shirts, buying their first rock albums, and it was cool corrupting those kids.

So what did I have to complain about?  Well, I only played those albums when I could get away with it.  Which wasn’t often.  There was usually someone  in there store who could give you shit for it.

So you’d have to put up with the following:  Much Dance xx, Big Shiny Tunes, TLC, Christmas music all day while seasonal, Dave Matthews band, Linkin Park, plenty of new country, and whatever was the flavour of the month at the time.  There’s a reason I know entire albums inside and out by shitty band like The Dandy fucking Warhols.  I could tell you every fucking song on the first two Coldplay CDs.  I had the unfortunate fate of having to listen to the self titled album by Blur every fucking day for a month.  There are bands that I legitimately like, such as Oasis and Kula Shaker, that I rarely play at home anymore because I have heard them so many Goddamn times.  It sucks when you can’t stand music you actually like.

The record store will do that if you spend too many years there, and I spent too many years there.  Gratefully, I love music again.

The worst thing about the record store though were the cliques, and from what I’ve heard, many record store were like this.  You either fit in or you didn’t, and I definitely did not fit in.   They were all into the latest indy rock bands, and all wore sunglasses.   I’ve never been a sunglasses kind of guy.  Indoors, I think they’re just pretentious.  I tried, oh but I did try.  I went to their shitty bars and drank and pretended to have a good time, but I just couldn’t pretend that I liked the Dandy fucking Warhols.

But, if I didn’t experience all that, I guess I wouldn’t be LeBrain!