Thursday, December 31, 2009

Quickie Winnipeg round-up: 2009

photo by Kieran 2009

2009 produced the usual batch of excellent sounds from Winnipeg artists. I got some suggestions for some kind of best of list, but there's enough of those out there already. Nevertheless, I don't mind briefly running down notable local artists, some of whom I've touched on before and some I haven't. For some strange reason, the upper half of the alphabet has been ruling the roost lately as far as beginning letters for band names, at least as far as the ones Scruffy's been digging. As a matter of fact, what's with all the brilliant bands begining with the letter P?

Paper Moon gets my vote as the band most likely to be ridiculously successful beyond Manitoba borders. Consistently good songwriting, sweet vocals, and exceptional production choices make PM one to watch.

On the much heavier and much more political end of the spectrum, Propagandhi ended up on top of Exclaim! magazine's best o' the year heap and rocked the magazine cover. The band's album, Supporting Caste, was named punk rock album of the year. Propagandhi's blend of punk rock ideology and metallic instrumentation put 'em on the rails to...even greater popularity? Critical acclaim? (Gasp!) Financial success?!? An anti-corporate band in every way, they've still managed to sell tons of cds in corporate record stores and make fans of those who aren't neither punk devotees, metal experts, or politically brilliant, and may have actually worked in one of those evil villain chain record stores (like me).

The Perms kept up their record of launching modern rock missiles on an unsuspecting world with Keeps You Up When You're Down. The guys and director Jeff Bromley manage to get in shots of the back of the Zoo, the front of the Albert, prudent Wpg fashion, inexplicable sucking-on-a-Slurpee-in-winter behaviour, and goofy band behaviour in this vid.

Enough with the "P" bands. my favourite release of the year was The Rowdymen's Gas, Liquor, and Fireworks. The band have been digging deep into the roots of rock 'n' roll for a long time (hey, Eddie Cochrane!), but this time they dug deeper into the country artists that were badasses before Sid Vicious was a t-shirt, Cobain was a martyr, and Marilyn Manson was a tired attempt at controversy. If you thought The Rowdymen was "just" a rockabilly band, you haven't listened to Jason Allen's songs that took the group out into dustbowl territory like a drunk astronaut with a serious roots music jones. Hint: who was given the nickname "Possum"?

The Rowdymen - Ode to Possum

The Rowdymen - Rode Hard

The Western States bucked the whole Autotune trend and trekked down to Texas just to record live to tape, no digital effects or computer tomfoolery allowed. If rock and roll never happened, Neil Young and Gram Parsons were on all the cool teen clothing shops' badges, t-shirts and patches, and subtlety and restraint were commended in our plastic world, the Western States would be sittin' pretty. The following tune starts as bare bones as can be, but grows into a different animal altogether - listen closely to that sparking guitar near the end, it sends me to the moon.

The Western States - The Road is Dark as the Night

Sights & Sounds is a band that pulls in so many different flavours they're hard to describe. Total hardcore assault, fragile piano bits and intimate in-your-ear-vocals, some ambient sounds, beautiful layered harmonies - they don't fit a genre. Post-hardcore?

Grand Analog I've mentioned before, but again, this is a band that doesn't readily fit any genre. The band has had one song used on TV show 90210, and there are so many points of reference in the tunes on Metropolis is Burning, I wouldn't be surprised to see more popping up all over the place.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sons of York

A few weeks back, when Winnipeg was experiencing a wonderful-yet-uncommonly warm November, Sons of York released their debut full-length, Black and White Summer. Coincidence? I think not. The brash energy of the band held back the normal onset of frosty eyebrows and toque-hair. I hear the power of early Police, the cheeky fun of The Undertones, maybe the well-crafted tunemanship (is that a word?) of The Payolas. Influences listed on the band's myspace site include The Hollies, Blue Shadows, and Jenny Lewis, which is a nice change from the usual. Dunno where the disco-funk-pop of the title track comes from, but it works somehow.

Black and White Summer (live)

Sons of York - Runnin' Home to River Heights (taken fom Black and White Summer)

Sons of York - Grass Don't Grow (taken fom Black and White Summer)

Sons of York - If Ya Can' Get a Girl (download mp3 here)(taken from 2008's Chicks, Dudes, Bad Attitudes ep)

Doesn't this video look like 1985, after the band members fell in love with The Outsiders? Sodapop, Ponyboy, and Darry?

Three-part harmonies, clean-cut greasers, ultra-catchy songs, obscure Winnipeg references...what more could you ask for? And if the circus-like atmosphere of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has got you down, at least former Bomber Trevor Kennerd produced these guys - did I mention they're all brothers (Luke, Jake and Cody Kennerd)?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stroke for Chris Knox

I make no secret of my love for artists from New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand-based musician Chris Knox (solo artist as well being of the utmost importance to Tall Dwarfs, Toy Love and Chris Knox and the Nothing) suffered a stroke June 11, and now there's a tribute album of his friends and fans playing his songs. Knox can no longer sing or even speak - can you imagine what that's like for a person who's made their living vocalizing? Merge Records now has digital downloads available for the whole album, with the physical version out Febuary 23. You can listen to samples here or here. A digital double album would make a nice Christmas present (for someone like me!), wouldn't it? My favourites so far are the tunes from former Mutton Bird Don McGlashan, AC Newman, The Chills, The Verlaines, and The Finn Family, who are called the Pyjama Party on the listening sample(featuring Neil Finn and his immediate family, including Liam). Hipsters may be interested to know that Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) has contributed a song for the American version (it wasn't ready in time for the New Zealand album); I believe it's his first recorded output since 1998. Check out the Stroke site for some interesting videos, including a good one where Knox is singing on the street to passersby and a Knox documentary.

Post-script - NZ friend Dyan informs me that Knox actually CAN sing - just not using words.

Track listing:

1 – Pull Down The Shades – Jay Reatard
2 – Rebel – The Checks
3 - Ain’t It Nice – The Bleeding Allstars
4 – Don’t Catch Fire – Peter Gutteridge
5 – Luck Or Loveliness – The Chills
6 – Nothing’s Going to Happen – David Kilgour
7 – All My Hollowness To You – The Crying Wolfs
8 – Beauty – Stephin Merritt
9 - Nostalgia’s No Excuse – Portastatic
10 – Crush – The Mint Chicks
11 – I’ve Left Memories Behind – Jay & Sam Clarkson
12 – Burning Blue – Sky Green Leopards
13 – The Slide – Shayne Carter
14 - Grand Mal – Pumice
15 – Knoxed Out - Hamish Kilgour


1 – Not Given Lightly – Boh Runga
2 – Bodies – Red&Zeke featuring Bill Doss and Neil Cleary.
3 – Lapse – Bill Callahan
4 – Growth Spurt – Genghis Smith
5 – Coloured – Yo La Tengo
6 – Dunno Much about Life But I know How To Breathe – AC Newman
7 – Glide – Alec Bathgate
8 – Inside Story – Don McGlashan
9 – The Outer Skin – Sean Donnelly
10 – What Goes Up – Lambchop
11- Brave – The Mountain Goats
12 – Round These Walls – The Tokey Tones (and friends)
13 – Just Do It – The Bats
14 – My Only Friend – Will Oldham
15 – It’s Love – The Finn Family
16 – Becoming Something Other – Jordan Luck
17- Driftwood – The Verlaines
18 - Song of the Tall Poppy – Lou Barlow
19– Napping In Lapland – The Nothing
20 – Sunday Song – Tall Dwarfs

Monday, December 7, 2009

Alt Country, Schmalt Country and Killbeat Music

In a book by John Connolly I was reading recently I found this little tidbit. One character asks what kind of music is playing over the car stereo, and the car owner answers, "Alternative country."
"That's when your truck starts, your wife comes back and your dog gets resurrected," he snickered.
"Willie Nelson heard you talking like that, he'd whip your ass."

I can't actually remember which artist was playing - Lambchop? Iron & Wine? At any rate, soon after that, I had a request for some "alt country" recommendations. I'm not really sure what alt country is or isn't. I used to think it was the holy trinity of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco. But both Wilco and Son Volt have veered off into some music that has nothing to do with country and sometimes has little to do with rock. And it can't be just the marriage of country and rock, either, because the Eagles don't fit into it either, at least from my perspective. What about those who came before, Jason & the Scorchers, Jr. Gone Wild, Long Ryders,or Rank and File? Do they retroactively get shoved under alt. country? What about Steve Earle? Dwight Yoakam? Gram Parsons? (An aside: I just looked up Alt country on wikipedia and there's a big golden exclamation mark beside a warning that the article contains weasel words - that sounds hilarious, I am now going to make sure my posts contain weasel words, okay?)Parsons always said he was making cosmic American music, didn't he?

When I was a kid, I couldn't get into country, but Johnny Cash seemed to have something. But I remember when The Jayhawks came out with Hollywood Town Hall, a guy I worked with who loved a lot of generic rock music fell for it big-time. So did I. I think it might have been around that time I first heard the term "alternative country". Is that what I was listening to when I watched Jr. Gone Wild at the Spectrum, rolling out jangly rock with country overtones? Is that the thing I tried to imitate when my basement band wrecked Jason and the Scorchers' brilliant Hank Williams-goes-punk paean White Lies? When Steve Earle covered Son Volt's Windfall at the Walker Theatre, was the old alt-country winking to the new alt-country?

I wasn't sure then, and I'm even less sure now. Does Neil Young fit into this category? Calexico? Fleet Foxes? Blitzen Trapper? Where do folk or other rootsy sub-genres fit in this slippery puzzle? I don't know. Here's some songs I like, call 'em what you want. And oh yeah, you know what's cool? They're all Canadian artists. Not only that, but they're all promoted/pushed/publicised by the sweet-as-honey Killbeat Music, where you can swiftly download all of these tracks (as well as many others) gratis. Not just roots, country or alt-country stuff either, check out Orchid Highway, Cory Woodward, Two Hours Traffic, The Parties, The Paperbacks, The Parkas, Parlour Steps, Paper Moon...hey, that's a lot of "P" bands.

Winnipeg's own The Western States have put out two albums of fine music, and the last one, Bye and Bye, upped the ante with a live-to-tape all-analog organic vibe. Every one of their songs gets room to breathe, even though there's layers to delve into - a trumpet here, some fine honky-tonk piano there, and wistful vocals aplenty. My favourite is still The Road is Dark as the Night, starting with guitar and voice and building up to a mini-epic, with tasteful guitar supplied by master Chris Carmichael. Here's a melancholy bit of sonic beauty.

The Western States - Time To Lose (download mp3 here)

Sudbury-based Ox combine a laid-back, spare sensibility with a rising, rousing chorus of harmony and joy. Even when the words are not joyful.

Ox - Burnout (download mp3 here)

Vancouver's Dan Mangan has won the listener-awarded XM Verge Artist of the Year award, which netted him a $25,000 prize. He's garnering lots of college radio play, as well as touring almost anywhere - for example, he just played in Dubai, after which he's hitting a truckload of European dates. Check out At Constant Speed for a full review.

Dan Mangan - Road Regrets (download mp3 here)

Vancouverite Dustin Bentall weaves rustic tales of beauty and pain, hitting a much more twangy (and indie) road than dad Barney did in the early '90s.

Dustin Bentall - Railroad (download mp3 here)

Ridley Bent is also from B.C., but he hoes a more straightforward country row. However, he also drops Husker Du, Nine Pound Hammer (cow-punk!?!), and yep, you guessed it, Nine Inch Nails into his lyrics. Does that qualify him for alt country membership? Well, the song was actually co-written with Dustin Bentall, and it won Country Song Of The Year at the Independent Music Awards of North America. He's currently opening for Corb Lund, who is pretty darn country but comes out of a strong punk/indie background.

Ridley Bent - Nine Inch Nails (download mp3 here)

Deep Dark Woods hail from Saskatoon, and the band's prairie harmonies and laid-back shuffles may have helped them land a tune on CBC Radio 2's Great Canadian Song Quest. The band's developed a sound that seems timeless, sometimes giving off faint echoes of Neil Young in his prime, and sometimes reflecting a precious, fragile beauty like that of the much-hyped Fleet Foxes.

Deep Dark Woods - All the Money I Had is Gone (download mp3 here)

Twilight Hotel is an Austin-by-way-of-Winnipeg duo that has been Juno-nominated. Their blend of folk-blues-roots sometimes gives hints of menace a la PJ Harvey, but choruses often feature rich, layered vocals and stronger-than-death lyrics. Listen for the performers on this song at the end of the tune as they offnhandedly talk about how much fun it was to record...

Twilight Hotel - Viva la Vinyl (download mp3 here)

Edmontonian Corb Lund describes his music as "scruffy country", among other things, so you shouldn't be surprised to see him here. He's been the Canadian Country Music Association's Roots Artist of the Year and picked up one Juno so far for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year. I was in a junior high school recently and a kid was listening to Lund's The Truck Got Stuck, so this ain't just old man country. At times, Lund sounds like a modern Stompin' Tom Connors or a twangier Blue Rodeo, and he's going to have a long career like those fellas (he already had a pretty successful turn in indie-rock band The Smalls, so he's on his way).

Corb Lund - Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier (download mp3 here)

Winnipegger Romi Mayes took home the 2009 Western Canadian Music Award trophy for Songwriter and Roots Album of the Year. Her sweet country blues is always richly produced by Gurf Morlix, and she plays non-stop - she's currently touring in Europe with Danny Michel and has shows booked for next September already. A lot of people refer to her serious work ethic, and Mayes is a tireless promoter - I know, I get her e-mails all the time.

Romi Mayes - Achin' In Yer Bones (download mp3 here)

Lee Harvey Osmond is "Tom Wilson, some of the Cowboy Junkies, a few Skydiggers, Ray Farrugia from Junkhouse, Brent Titcomb and a lot of groove", according to their myspace page. Tom Wilson was in Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. So tis no surprise that LHO occasioanlly sounds a tad like those outfits, but there's a lot of atmospherics and subtlety here. I've seen the band described as acid folk, and we do get elements of beatnik jazz here...but I think there's some gentle alt-country nods here, especially when Margo Timmins shows up.

Lee Harvey Osmond - The Love of One (download mp3 here)

Kim Barlow is from the Yukon as far as I can tell, and I'm sure many listeners are going to say this tune is simply folk, and maybe it is. I just like it.

Kim Barlow - Great White Nothing (download mp3 here)

Nathan Lawr has played in Royal City and on albums by Cuff the Duke, Jim Guthrie, Gentlement Reg, and The Hylozoists, and many more. I think this tune is a warm blend of pop sensibilities and organic-sounding hopefulness, like The Band were just starting out now and employed lyrics about a freshwater shark.

Nathan Lawr & the Minotaurs - Righteous Heart (download mp3 here)

T. Nile hails from Vancouver, and she's got her own take on folk/roots, sounding like Gillian Welch one moment, Norah Jones the next, and Lisa Loeb later. Nile has already been named Best New/Emerging Folk Artist at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Check out her live version of The Postal Service's Such Great Heights on her myspace page, her spare rendition frames the melancholy melody perfectly.

T. Nile - Cabin Song (download mp3 here)

Lastly, sometime Winnipegger Matt Epp's bio calls him "folk-soul", but tunes like Cover Me nod more to Ryan Adams than any folkie. They Won't Find the Bodies' synth sounds take it somewhere else, as do the softly sung perilous lyrics - and the video, for that matter.

MATT EPP music video for THEY WON'T FIND THE BODIES from Matt Epp on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Rowdymen Roar Back

The Rowdymen are finally releasing their third album with a release party this Saturday, December 5th at Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. I've been waiting for this one for years, but it's worth the wait. The band's delivered straightahead rockin' in Johnny Rumble, the Elvis-meets-the-Honeydrippers Too Little Too Late, the soulful, alt-country brilliance of Ode to Possum, and the infectious shit-kickin' country lament Rode Hard. Head Rowdyguy J. Allen's songwriting has grown in leaps and bounds, original finger-picker Robert L. Pachol is back in the fold, and the amazing Joanne Rodriguez lends a hand on some backing vocals. I'm jumpin' up and down right now.

You can stream the whole album and pick up the free mp3 for Johnny Rumble here or download here.