Friday, November 26, 2010

Suckerpunch, Dodge Fiasco frontman goes solo
"The Kid" has grown up.

Christopher Dignan was still in high school when he formed Suckerpunch more than 20 years ago. The singer/guitarist was a sexy and swaggering frontman for the Toronto group that played a swampy, punky version of rockabilly that made it a hit in local clubs — even if it didn't receive the widespread recognition I thought it deserved.

The band broke up in 1996 and I can still remember its last show (or at least one of its last shows) in the basement of a friend's house. Suckerpunch was missed, but Dignan soon formed Dodge Fiasco. Like his previous band, it included his older brother Sean on drums. And also like Suckerpunch, it rocked.

Dodge Fiasco is still around, but Dignan is now independently releasing his first solo record: the excellent Let The Sparks Fly. The multi-talented singer, songwriter and musician shows just how far he's come musically on this 14-song, 42-minute disc.

Dignan wrote and mixed all the songs and played all of the instruments on it, with the exception of saxophone and organ on two tracks. Dignan honed his chops on bass with The Kensington Hillbillies and on drums with The Midways, whose ultra-fun and garage-based Pay More And Get A Good Seat was one of my favourite albums of 2003.

The maturing that Dignan has done over the years shines brightly through on Let The Sparks Fly, which showcases more variations in style and substance than the two bands he's most closely associated with.

Opener "Gonna Move" is a rocker that cooks with gas, and it's followed by the more rockabilly-oriented "My Time Will Come." "I'm Feeling Good Now" follows a similar path.

There's a classic '60s pop vibe running through "Too Long Without You," "Certain Kind Of Girl" and "Tap On Your Window," which features pleasant harmonies. "My Back Pocket" could have been a new wave song from 30 years ago.

Dignan shows his guitar prowess on "Move Them Bones" and proves he's no slouch on the skins with the drum rolls on "Hurtful." The organ will prick up your ears on "It's You."

The guest saxophones add a nice touch on the sexy, mid-tempo love song "Say There Beautiful," and there's a rootsy edge to "Black Barn."

The album ends with the title track, which starts slowly but builds in intensity as the song progresses.

As much as I liked Suckerpunch and Dodge Fiasco, Let The Sparks Fly is the crowning achievement of Dignan's career so far.
I can't see Let The Sparks Fly not being on my ballot when I submit it for next year's Polaris Music Prize, which will recognize the top album released in Canada over the last half of 2010 and first half of 2011.

You can hear "Gonna Move," "My Back Pocket" and "It's You" here.

Let The Sparks Fly will officially be launched on Dec. 1 at Toronto's Lula Lounge. This special performance will see Dignan joined by a band featuring Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo), John Borra (The Screwed) and Derrick Brady (Dodge Fiasco, Hawksley Workman).
The Best of Kimberley Rew
I've been a fan of singer, songwriter and guitarist Kimberley Rew for more than 25 years, but I've only just now heard more than a couple of songs from his solo recording career.

I fell in love with The Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight album a few years after hearing it following its 1980 release. YepRoc Records has just issued a 30th anniversary version of the album and if you've ever wanted to hear a record that masterfully mixed pop, rock, punk, psychedelic and folk elements, you should pick it up.

The Soft Boys may not be famous, but they were definitely influential. Just ask R.E.M.

Underwater Moonlight was The Soft Boys' second and last studio album until the band reformed to release Nextdoorland in 2002. I was lucky enough to catch a performance on the group's tour in support of it.

Robyn Hitchcock was the focal point of The Soft Boys, and I've continued to follow him through a productive and eclectic career as a solo artist and with The Egyptians and The Venus 3. He's an off-kilter musical genius who's a joy to behold on stage, as you never know what might come out of his mouth.

When Hitchcock left to pursue a solo career, Rew had a stash of songs begging to be heard. He joined Katrina & The Waves in 1981, but it took four years for the band to release its self-titled major label debut LP featuring 10 re-recorded versions of earlier songs. The album included "Going Down To Liverpool," a Rew composition that had been a hit for The Bangles two years earlier, and what would become the group's biggest hit and signature song: "Walking on Sunshine."

That was the band's commercial peak in North America, although it continued to record and won the Eurovision song contest in 1997 with the Rew-composed "Love Shine A Light," which reached #2 in Britain.

I still prefer Katrina & The Waves' earliest material, before their work was given a major label sheen, and heartily recommend obtaining 2003's The Original Recordings 1983-1984.

Rew released a 1982 solo effort called The Bible of Bop that saw him backed by members of The Soft Boys, Katrina & The Waves and another underrated act, the dB's. That was it until 2000, when Rew issued Tunnel Into Summer. Great Central Revisited followed two years later and Essex Hideaway came out in 2005. I admit to being oblivious to all of them.

The Best of Kimberley Rew was released earlier this month, and it opened my eyes to how good many of his songs I was unaware of are.

One of the earliest tracks, a great power pop number titled "Stomping All Over The World," features guitar interplay between Rew and Hitchcock and you can hear vague strains of perhaps The Soft Boys' best song, "I Wanna Destroy You," in it.

Another early number, "Hey, War Pig!," features backing from Katrina & The Waves. The title is repeated frequently throughout and, had I heard it a few weeks earlier, I definitely would have included it in my Remembrance Day "Songs of peace and remembrance" post for

"A Girl Called String" has a pleasant reggae rhythm, but without the big bottom end usually associated with the genre. Reggae progenitor rock steady similarly infuses "The End Of Our Rainbow," which also features nice female harmonies.

"English Road" is an up-tempo, jangly, power pop number of the sort that's more normally associated with Rew. So is "Simple Pleasures."

"Old Straight Track" is a rootsy pop number with female harmonies and the country-leaning "The Radio Played Good Vibrations" wouldn't have sounded out of place on The Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main St."

There are also some slower songs, a couple with spoken-word vocals ("Jerome K Jerome" and "Your Mother Was Born In That House") and "Screaming Lord Sutch," a melancholy acoustic ballad about the British music artist and Official Monster Raving Loony Party founder who hung himself in 1999.

With the publishing royalties that I hope Rew has earned from "Going Down To Liverpool," "Walking On Sunshine," "Love Shine A Light" and Celine Dion's cover of his "That's Just The Woman In Me," he may be content to live comfortably and play small pubs on weekends in his native Cambridgeshire. But knowing his pedigree, and especially after hearing this new compilation, it would be a shame if Rew didn't share his talents on a larger scale with more recording and touring.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A look at the Evergreen Brick Works
I wrote an article on Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works for, which you can read at
All of the photos I took of the beautiful site couldn't be used with the article, so I've included them below.
The Evergreen Brick Works is definitely worth a visit. Check it out.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

No breakdowns with Slim Cessna's Auto Club
Alternative Tentacles is reissuing Slim Cessna's Auto Club's Jesus Let Me Down on vinyl, but Toronto fans had the band in person on Friday night at Mitzi's Sister.

The Denver, Colo. sextet — which plays an energetic blend of gothic country, punk, gospel and roots music with drums, upright bass, pedal steel, banjos, piano and guitar — crowded on to Mitzi's small stage and let things fly for 70 minutes.

Many of the favourites from Jesus Let Me Down, which was recorded at the August 2004 release show for the band's The Bloudy Tenent Truth Peace album, were brought to life for the enthusiastic fans who pushed their way to the front. Newer tracks from 2008's Cipher and this year's Buried Behind the Barn collection of out-takes, compilation tracks and alternate recordings were also part of the set, which ended with Cessna and Jay Munly going into the audience and climbing on tables.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club knows how to light up a room, and the group will be doing it again at Ottawa's Babylon tonight (Nov. 6) and at Montreal's Le Divan Orange on Nov. 8 before heading back to the U.S. for dates next week in Allston, Mass., New York City, Long Branch, N.J., Baltimore, Md. and Pittsburgh, Pa.

A new studio album is expected in March.