Monday, December 31, 2012

Steve McLean's favourite music of 2012


The top 10

1. Gentleman Jesse - Leaving Atlanta
2. Young Fresh Fellows - Tiempo De Lujo
3. Green Day - Uno!
4. Green Day - Dos!
5. Amy Gore & Her Valentines - In Love
6. Waco Brothers & Paul Burch - Great Chicago Fire
7. Archie Powell & The Exports - Great Ideas In Action
8. Redd Kross - Researching The Blues
9. The Stanfields - Death and Taxes
10. Sugar and the Hi Lows - Sugar and the Hi Lows

The next 10

The Royal Crowns - Volume Three
Little Barrie - King of the Waves
Chuck Prophet - Temple Beautiful
The Millwinders - Ladies and Gentlemen, The Millwinders
The Woolly Bushmen - The Woolly Bushmen
The Strumbellas - My Father and the Hunter
Bob Mould - Silver Age
Hacienda - Shakedown
Carolyn Mark - The Queen of Vancouver Island
Corb Lund - Cabin Fever

Honourable mention

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana
Peter Buck - Peter Buck
Joel Plaskett Emergency - Scrappy Happiness
Boxer The Horse - French Residency
Jim Fidler - Up That River
Hospitality - Hospitality



Reissues, compilations, tributes, soundtracks, live albums and box sets (alphabetical order)

Blue Rodeo - Blue Rodeo: 1987-1993
Johnny Cash - Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth
Donovan - The Essential Donovan
The English Beat - The Complete Beat
Firehose - "lowFLOWs" The Columbia Anthology ('91-'93)
Great Big Sea - XX
JD McPherson - Signs & Signifiers
Searching for Sugarman soundtrack
Various artists - A Tribute to The Monks Bad Habits
The Who - Live at Hull 1970


Michael Rault - Whirlpool
Stella Ella Ola - Stella Ella Ola EP
Stella Ella Ola - Stella Ella Ola 2






Concerts (chronological order)

Little Barrie, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires - Feb. 11, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Hacienda, Heartless Bastards - Feb. 20, Horseshoe, Toronto
Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles - Feb. 23, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Les Sexareenos - Feb. 24, Horseshoe, Toronto
South by Southwest Music Festival - March 13-18, various venues, Austin

Canadian Music Fest - March 22-25, various venues, Toronto
Frank Turner, Joel Plaskett Emergency - May 18-19, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto
The Royal Crowns - May 26, Dakota Tavern, Toronto
Jon Langford with Burlington Welsh Male Chorus, Skull Orchard and The Sadies - June 2, Horseshoe, Toronto
North by Northeast Music Festival - June 13-16, various venues, Toronto
Joe Pernice and Norman Blake, Catl - June 22, Dakota Tavern, Toronto
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (with Dallas Good) - July 14, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Monks Bad Habits tribute - July 26, Horseshoe, Toronto
Bloodshot Bill - Sept. 8, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Raveonettes - Oct. 2, Phoenix, Toronto
JD McPherson - Oct. 9, Horseshoe, Toronto
Stella Ella Ola, Michael Rault - Oct. 19, Horseshoe, Toronto
Various artists for Jeff Cohen 50th birthday party - Oct. 20, Horseshoe, Toronto
Yellow Dubmarine - Oct. 24, Horseshoe, Toronto

Blue Rodeo and friends - Oct. 29, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto
Julie Doiron, The Grapes of Wrath - Oct. 30, Mod Club, Toronto
Men Without Hats - Nov. 7, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Tom Fun Orchestra - Nov. 8, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Rezillos - Nov. 22, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Lydia Loveless - Nov. 26, Drake Underground, Toronto
Joel Plaskett Emergency - Dec. 14, Horseshoe, Toronto
Unknown band in unknown bar - Dec. 20, Oaxaca, Mexico
The Sadies - Dec. 31, Horseshoe, Toronto

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tasting what's brewing at Toronto's Indie Ale House

Indie Ale House opened earlier this fall in the formerly dry Junction neighbourhood, and the microbrewery/restaurant should become a destination for Toronto beer lovers.

I arrived at 6 p.m. on Saturday to meet seven other friends and, although the restaurant doesn't take reservations, we secured a table before more people started pouring through the door a short time later.

I split an order of three tasty samosas and then moved on to my main course, the Three Little Pigs Pizza ($15). The name comes from the thin crust pie's main toppings: house-smoked pork, wild boar sausage and Berkshire pork belly. It's one of the best pizzas I've had in a while and it should fill a hungry person pretty easily.

But the main reason I wanted to spend a night here was the beer. It had 10 on tap and I tried them all in two separate flights of five four-ounce glasses. Here's what's brewing at the moment:

Instigator India Pale Ale
This auburn-coloured IPA has a citrus aroma and a robust flavour that's decently hopped and carries a hint of grapefruit. This was the first one I tried and was probably my favourite, so I ordered a full pint afterward.
$6.50 for 20 ounces, 6.5% alcohol content

Great Lakes Karma Citra
This gold-coloured beer was from the guest tap, this time featuring one of Great Lakes Brewing's small-batch brews. This IPA also had a citrus bouquet and grapefruit elements from the citra hop it uses, but I wasn't as impressed with it.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 6%

Barnyard Rye Pale Ale
This light amber-coloured ale definitely had a vague barnyard aroma and tasted a little grassy. It was okay, but I've never been a big fan of rye ales so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 6%

St. Crispin's Mild
This dark brown ale had little aroma and a malty biscuit flavour. It's made for session drinking, but I wasn't impressed and my sample was all that I wanted. It was also available from the cask, which I didn't try but perhaps should have.
$6.50 for 20 ounces, 3.5%

Broken Hipster Wit
This Belgian wit is straw gold and had little bouquet. It had a pleasant herbal flavour, but wasn't exceptional.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 5%

Dark Wheat Rises
The first beer in my second flight was also my favourite of that batch, prompting me to order a full glass later in the evening. It had a lovely combination of being faintly hoppy and fruity, primarily blueberry.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 7%

Breakfast Porter
This had a nice chocolate aspect from the dark roasted malt and was quite solid.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 7.2%

Cock Puncher India Pale Ale
This dark orange ale had a decently hoppy aroma and was full-bodied and flavourful. It was certainly hoppy, but not overpowering. My cock didn't feel punched after drinking it, but my head might have if I'd kept ordering it. The high alcohol content didn't detract from its pleasantness to the palate.
$5.50 for 10 ounces, 11%

Spadina Monkey Belgian Sour
This pumpkin orange-coloured beer had a fruit bouquet and a lemon and grapefruit-based flavour that wasn't intensely sour.
$5.50 for 9 ounces, 5%

Jump The Shark
This American strong ale was brewed in collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery. It's black, tasty and worth jumping on.
$5.50 for 10 ounces, 9.5%

If you like anything well enough to take home with you, beers are also sold in 500-millilitre and 750-millilitre bottles and two-litre growlers. Kegs are available on special order. T-shirts, glasses and other souvenirs can also be purchased.

Indie Ale House is at 2876 Dundas St. W.

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo product recap

The annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo made its way to the Metro Convention Centre again this month and provided me with two days of enjoyable exploration -- even more than my inaugural visit last year.

I pretty much leave the food to the foodies at these events and focus on beers, liquors and primarily white and sparkling wines that I haven't tried before.

Much to my delight, there were a lot more beers at this year's expo than there was last year. Here's an overview:

Mill Street Doppel Pils
With a seven-per cent alcohol content, this is the strongest Czech-style pilsner in the Canadian market. It's gold in colour, reasonably crisp in taste and is quite decent.

Mill Street Paradise IPA
This one is even stronger at 7.2 per cent and has a floral aroma and a medium hoppiness that makes it quite drinkable.

Nickel Brook Le Paysan Saison
This has a nice bouquet and offers a hint of orange and pineapple mid-taste, a bit of spiciness afterward and a nice finish. It's 5.7 per cent and is a very good, almost elegant, brew made with Amarillo hops that add just the right amount of bite.

Nickel Brook Pumpkin Ale
This is a dark orange/amber-coloured beer, as you'd expect, but doesn't provide much pumpkin bouquet or flavour. The 5.7-per cent brew doesn't have any spiciness or cinnamon either and I found it lacking.

Nickel Brook Bertwell AT Shilling
I don't normally drink a lot of Scotch ales, but enjoyed this wet-hopped version that was made as a single batch experiment. There's a slight citrus element to it and a subtle sweetness that would make the dark amber, five-per cent brew a nice dessert beer. It's made from hops only available in Ontario, so it's recommended for locavores.

Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout
This black, 8.5-per cent, 65-IBU stout is aged in bourbon and pinot noir barrels and the roasted malt bears traces of chocolate and coffee flavours. I'd recommend this as a good bedtime beer.

Beau's And Boom Gose The Dynamite
This excellent unfiltered beer is brewed with sea salt and coriander that gives it an interesting sweet and sour appeal. There's a strong citrus bouquet and grapefruit taste in this straw-coloured, 4.6-per cent beer.

Beau's Dark Helmut
This 7.3-per cent German black lager has the definite roasted coffee and chocolate elements of a stout along with the crispness of a lager. It's a combination that works well.

Spearhead Moroccan Brown Ale
This has a mildly fruity bouquet and is brewed with dates, figs, raisins and cinnamon. It's unfiltered and offers a nice blend of hops and fruit. I'm usually not a big brown ale guy, but this six-per cent brew is really good.

Spearhead Belgian Stout
This unfiltered, six-per cent stout is brewed with Demerara sugar, orange curacao peel, coriander and Trappist ale yeast, and its flavour offers a mix of coffee and fruit.

Creemore Mad and Noisy
This is dark copper in colour and pours with a nice head. It's solidly hoppy and I like it.

Granville Island Hefeweizen
There's coriander in the ingredients and the flavour profile is banana and cloves. It has five-per cent alcohol and is one of my favourite Granville Island beers.

Granville Island Winter Ale
This dark amber, 5.5-per cent beer has a vanilla aroma and chocolate and vanilla flavours that complement each other well. It's very good.

Lake of Bays Crosswind Pale Ale
There's a bit of hoppiness in this ale, which has mild pear and apple elements. This five-per cent beer is solid but not exceptional.

Rickard's Oakhouse Winter Lager
This 5.5-per cent, oak-aged beer came out this month and will be available until the spring. The oak comes through and adds a hint of smokiness and vanilla, but I wasn't particularly impressed.

Railway City Black Coal Stout
This six-per cent offering pours black with a nice head and is on the bitter side of stouts, but is okay.

Railway City Honey Elixir
This St. Thomas, Ont. brewery (which is moving into a larger space) makes this 5.5-per cent lager with local honey, but it's not too sweet like I find some honey beers.

Wine was in the title of this show, so of course I had to enjoy my share. This isn't all of them, but a cross-section:

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2011
You can't drink a fresher white wine, as the process used to make it ensures that oxygen only gets into it once you uncap it. This extra dry white will appeal to Soave fans, and the well-bodied 12.7-per cent alcohol wine offers a vague pineapple bouquet. It sells for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Amalya Torrontes-Riesling
This extra dry, pale-coloured Argentinian riesling has peach and pear aromas, and the pear also comes through in the flavour of this nice 13.5-per cent product that retails for $10.95 at the LCBO.

Santa Margherita Prosecco
This sparkling wine is dry and not too sweet. It has 11.5 per cent alcohol and sells for $17.95 at the LCBO. It's okay, but nothing exceptional.

Cave Spring Riesling Dry
There's a slight sweetness to the finish of this very good VQA wine. It's pale yellow with hints of grapefruit and pineapple on the nose. It has 11.5-per cent alcohol and retails for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Open Sociable Sparkling VQA
There are apple and citrus aromas and a touch of sweetness to the flavour, which bears traces of apple and pear. It's refreshingly off-dry and has 12.7-per cent alcohol. This Ontario wine sells for $13.95 at the LCBO.

Muscedere 2011 Riesling
This is only available for $16 at the winery, near the southern tip of Canada just west of Leamington, Ont. It's a light-bodied, semi-dry white that wasn't particularly exciting.

Muscedere 2011 Rose
This light-bodied, off-dry wine is slightly sweeter than the Riesling and sells for $14 at the winery.

Dreissigacker Riesling
This 11.5-per cent wine comes from a Rheinhessen, Germany winery that doesn't have its products available in Canada yet, which is a shame because it has a full body and a citrus flavour with a nice finish.

Dreissigacker Bechtheimer Riesling
This is supposed to be a step up from the previous wine, and while it has 0.5-per cent more alcohol and a mellower character, I prefer the entry level version.

Yalumba Y Series Riesling
This pale straw-coloured, extra dry wine comes from Australia's oldest family-owned vineyard and is light-bodied with a grapefruit bouquet and flavour. It has a higher acidity and 11 per cent alcohol. It retails for $15.10 at the LCBO.

Hinterbrook Riesling
This medium-sweet product from an 18-month-old Niagara on the Lake, Ont. winery has a lemon aroma and a flavour that bears notes of apple, which adds a crispness to its finish. It sells for $18 at the winery.

Henry of Pelham Sauvignon Blanc VQA
This Niagara region winery makes my favourite Ontario riesling, which I prefer over this light, crisp and extra dry wine that has 12.5 per cent alcohol and retails for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Trumpour's Mill 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling
The name describes an aspect of this wine, which has a combination floral and citrus bouquet and some peach in its flavour before a clean finish. The LCBO sells it for $14.95.

Pelee Island Moscato
This fruity, medium dry Ontario wine is pale pink and medium-bodied with notes of melon and citrus. It has 12 per cent alcohol and retails for $9.95 at the LCBO.

Muskoka Lakes Georgian Bay Rose QC
This seasonal Ontario wine is made with apples and cranberries and is quite refeshing. It has 12.5 per cent alcohol and sells for $16.95 at the LCBO.

Muskoka Lakes Cranberry Blueberry Wine
This is a very good, 11-per cent alcohol, off-dry table wine that's nicely balanced with the two titular fruits. It also goes for $16.95 at the LCBO.

Aveleda Fonte Vinho Verde
This light and crisp wine is pale yellow with pear, apple and citrus aromas and flavours. It's easy on your head and your wallet with 8.5 per cent alcohol and an $8.95 price tag.

I also tried several liquors and liqueurs, including:

Tequila Tromba
This tequila has been in Canada for seven months and is made with 100-per cent agave that comes from the highest elevation of any tequila in the world. It's sweet and slightly citrus and is an easy-drinking, 36-per cent tequila that sells for $49.95 at the LCBO.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This bourbon is made from corn, rye and barley malt and is aged eight years in oak barrels. There's vanilla in the nose and it has a complex but pleasing flavour that includes vanilla and toffee.

Crazy Uncle Blood Orange Rosemary Maple Punch

This is new to the LCBO, where you can purchase a litre-sized jug for $17.95. It's all natural, 14-per cent alcohol and reminds me of a mulled wine.

Mathilde Pear Liqueur
I was told that this is a big favourite of Kim Kardashian. It has 18 per cent alcohol content, but smells stronger than that. Luckily, the taste is milder and on the sweet side. It's made from French pears with no additives or preservatives.

Xante Pear & Cognac Liqueur

There's a subtle hint of vanilla and oak in this more rich offering, which is 17 per cent alcohol and has a bright harvest yellow colour.

Tequila Rose
This is an interesting combination of strawberry cream liqueur and tequila that's sweet and tasty and would make a nice addition to desserts or sipped on its own over ice.

Tag No. 5 Vodka
This 40-per cent alcohol, gluten-free vodka is made with corn in Oakville, Ont. It's distilled four times and filtered five times to produce a smooth flavour that I enjoyed both on its own and mixed with pineapple juice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lydia Loveless deserves more Toronto love

photos by Jeff Ross

Bloodshot Records sent me Lydia Loveless' Indestructible Machine in the summer of 2011, but it wasn't until I heard online friends talking about it towards the end of the year that I got around to listening to it. I'm glad I did, as it was narrowly edged out of my top 10 list.

I caught a snippet of the this young whippersnapper on stage during the Bloodshot party at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March, but wanted to hear more. That chance came on Monday night when the singer, songwriter and guitarist brought her rock-solid three-piece band (which includes husband and stand-up bassist Ben Lamb) to Toronto's Drake Underground.

These Columbus, Ohio cats play gritty, rocking country music with hooks. They respect the genre's roots, but add their own punky flair to songs about drinking ("Back on the Bottle"), drinking ("Wine Lips"), "creepy old men" ("Steve Earle"), sex dreams ("Head") and more drinking ("Do Right").

Loveless is tiny but has a powerful voice and comes across like Neko Case's spunkier little sister -- and Neko can be pretty damn spunky.

Want evidence?

"I haven't got my period on this tour yet," Loveless told the audience of just 25 people, almost all of whom were sitting on benches that shouldn't have been placed in front of the stage.

The band had almost no energy to feed off from the crowd and, while the musicianship was sharp and the songs held your attention, I couldn't help but feel that more enthusiastic reactions to each number could have spurred the quartet on to a higher level.

The 50-minute set also included "More Like Them," "Chris Isaak," "Jesus Was a Wino," "Learn to Say No," "Crazy" and "Can't Change Me." I was essentially there to hear Indestructible Machine, but it was good to get a few other songs, too. A couple of choice covers might have been nice to stretch things to an hour. But all in all, it was a satisfying show.

Loveless has a bright future, but she'll have to be patient in building her following. Landing a well-placed opening slot on tour with a like-minded but more popular act would be a good step to enabling her to expand a Canadian audience that I'm sure will appreciate her once they get to know her.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rezillos weren't quite revved up in Toronto

Can't Stand The Rezillos was one of my most listened to albums at the dawn of the '80s when I was in my mid-teens, after the Scottish outfit had transformed into The Revillos and shortly before it disbanded.

I never thought I'd see The Rezillos, but it reformed in 2001 and I was lucky enough to catch it at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in 2005. My youthful enthusiasm for the group's exuberant mix of punk, new wave and '60s pop hadn't diminished and witnessing it for the first time was truly something special.

The Rezillos are still touring and finally made it to Toronto on Nov. 22, and it was a show I was really anticipating. But the band came on a bit late, was using the opening act's equipment and didn't seem at the top of its game. Most of the people in the decent-sized crowd -- composed largely of old punks (this was one of the rare shows when I was probably in the younger percentile) -- likely hadn't seen the group before but seemed to realize that, while entertaining, The Rezillos weren't meeting expectations.

Founding members and co-vocalists Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds still tried to look the part of their youth, with Fife wearing a latex-like green mini-skirt and Reynolds decked all in black -- including a leather jacket and sunglasses. Fife still go-go danced and shimmied and Reynolds occasionally picked up the guitar to augment the latest lineup, which also includes original drummer Angel Patterson, bassist Chris Agnew and guitarist Jim Brady, who was decked out in a Capt. Kirk Star Trek shirt.

The Rezillos opened with the solid new single "Out Of This World" before giving the crowd what it really wanted when it started cranking out old singles and Can't Stand The Rezillos gems, including "Flying Saucer Attack," "Getting Me Down" and "Cold Wars" before slipping in another more recent track, "Sorry About Tomorrow."

"Mystery Action" and "You're So Deep" took the 45-minute set to the halfway point before it continued with "It Gets Me," "Yesterday's Tormentor" and "Desination Venus." Momentum was gained down the home stretch when "Top of the Pops" deservedly got the biggest crowd response of the night to that point and "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures" effectively followed it. A cover of "River Deep, Mountain High" and then "I Can't Stand My Baby" finished things off.

The set was so brief that an encore was almost certain, and The Rezillos quickly returned with old nuggets "Bad Guy Reaction" and the evening's biggest crowd-pleaser, "Somebody's Gonng Get Their Heads Kicked In Tonight."

The show ended on a definite high note, but the concert would have been even better had it been stretched out slightly to include "No," "2000 A.D." and The Rezillos' outstanding covers of "Glad All Over" and "I Like It" -- and perhaps even a couple of Revillos cuts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Amy Gore and Her Valentines - In Love

I enjoyed singer/guitarist/songwriter Amy Gore's work with the Gore Gore Girls and was intrigued when I heard about her latest project, Amy Gore and Her Valentines.

After she played a one-off show backed by guitarist Jackson Smith (Patti Smith, Electric Six), bassist Leann Banks (The Von Bondies) and drummer Joe Leone, the Detroit musicians felt they had something special together and set about making an album. They worked with producer/engineer Al Sutton (Kid Rock, The Detroit Cobras) at Rustbelt Studios and invited guests including funk guitarist Dennis Coffey to assist in creating In Love, which was released last month through Space Lion Records.

Gore's garage rock roots are still very evident, but more power pop elements have been introduced -- particularly on "Diana" but pretty much throughout In Love's 12 tracks. There are 10 originals and covers of Shocking Blue's "Send Me a Postcard" and R. Wayne Davies' "You Won't Lead Me On."

"Drivin' Around" opens the album, was the first single and sets a rocking but melodic tone for what's to come. There's more emphasis on guitars on second single "Fine Without You," "Static" and "Baby In Your Arms." "I'm Addicted" features jangle and a big chorus, while the organ on "Static" and "Remember Me" adds more diversity.

Gore's sound comes across a little cleaner and safer than it did with Gore Gore Girls and may not reach quite as many high points as that band, but In Love is probably her most consistently high quality release yet.

Get caught in this Crossfire Hurricane

Rolling Stones 50th anniversary hoopla is in full swing, and director Brett Morgen's new Crossfire Hurricane documentary stands a good chance of being the most interesting part of it.

The band members agreed to be interviewed, but no cameras were allowed in the room, so Morgen and his team brilliantly used their words along with rare archival concert and behind-the-scenes footage as well as old interviews and news clips to piece together a film that chronicles many of the trials and tribulations of the Stones' first 20 years.

None of the group members were particularly erudite interview subjects, especially in the early days, but Jagger definitely comes across as the most charismatic of the bunch. 

We hear how they would take bets on how long early shows would last while watching scenes of fans storming the stage and mobbing the band or causing riots down in front.

Jagger and Richards talk about the afternoon acid trip they were on before returning to Richards' Redlands country mansion and being arrested for drug possession.

Things turn darker when the lads talk about guitarist Brian Jones' growing lack of involvement with the band because of his heavy drug use, which ended with his drowning death. That's followed by them recounting how fearful they were at the tragic Dec. 6, 1969 Altamont concert over harrowing images of whacked-out Hells Angels who provided brutish security and killed an audience member.

The film deals with guitarist Mick Taylor's entry into and departure from the Stones, which seemed to catch his bandmates off guard, but he explains that his growing involvement with drugs when the band was at its most hedonistic point in the early '70s scared him away. Not everyone has the constitution of Richards, who talks about his infamous Toronto heroin bust and quips, "I never had a problem with drugs, I had a problem with cops."

And guitarist Ron Wood was more than happy to take on the party boy mantle as Richards' musical and social foil.

Crossfire Hurricane ends in the early '80s, which was perfect for me because that's essentially when my interest in most of the Stones' music ended, but more recent performance footage is shown during the closing credits.

Crossfire Hurricane exceeded my expectations and provided an insightful and entertaining couple of hours. Americans with HBO can watch it at 9 p.m. on Nov. 15, while BBC Two will show it in the United Kingdom in two parts on Nov. 17 and 24. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the spring.

You can watch the trailer here.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath still make sweet music

I saw The Grapes of Wrath for the first time in more than 20 years when the reunited Kevin Kane and Tom Hooper played in front of a smallish audience at Toronto's El Mocambo as part of the pre-Juno Awards festivities in March 2011.

There was a considerably larger crowd on hand at Toronto's Mod Club on Tuesday night, when Kane and Hooper (with original drummer Chris Hooper back in the fold this time, along with another guitarist and keyboard player) took the stage on the 20th anniversary of the band's original break-up after a show at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom.

Julie Doiron got folks warmed up with an enjoyable 45-minute opening set, and CBC Radio 2 host Rich Terfry announced that the concert was being recorded for a later broadcast before he brought the Grapes to the stage.

The set began with "O Lucky Man" and guitarist Kane and bassist Hooper showed that the harmonies that helped make the Grapes so popular in the '80s haven't gone anywhere in the succeeding years. It was followed by "Stay," and then it was time for the first of the guests who'd been lined up to perform with the group.

I'd seen Ron Sexsmith do the same thing the night before with Blue Rodeo, but this evening he also brought Doiron on stage to help the Grapes with "Backward Town."

"Good to See You," one of two new songs on the Grapes' just-released Singles collection that's also the first single from a new studio album scheduled for a February release through Aporia Records, sounded as good as anything from the catalogue.

The Grapes had never performed with a banjo player until Great Lake Swimmers' Erik Arnesen and Tony Dekker joined them for "The Most." "A Fishing Tale" brought the rock, "A Dream (About You)" kept the momentum going and the band kept on a roll through "Misunderstanding" and "I Am Here."

The other band members left Kane and Hooper alone on stage with acoustic guitars for another new song, "Take On The Day."

Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who had also played with Blue Rodeo the night before, kept the gentle vibe alive when they joined the other Grapes members who'd returned to the stage for "All The Things I Wasn't." Hayden was up next for "What Was Going Through My Head" and helped it excel, while the Grapes handled "Do You Want to Tell Me" just fine on their own.

Sam Roberts was the final guest of the night and took a co-starring role with the organ on an excellent "You May Be Right." The 65-minute set ended with a butt-kicking "Peace of Mind" that left the crowd wanting more.

The Grapes returned for a very solid "A Very Special Day" before ending the night with a well-executed cover of The Beatles' "If I Needed Someone."

The Grapes of Wrath probably wouldn't have become the next Beatles even if the group had stayed together, but it produced some of the best and most commercially viable jangly pop-rock songs to come out of Canada in its prime. And judging by "Good to See You," it could do it again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blue Rodeo welcomes musical friends on special night

Faced with a choice of watching CNN reporters valiantly clutching railings while talking about gusting winds and torrential rains or braving the less hazardous elements of a wet and blustery Toronto night to go to the Glenn Gould Studio to see a private silver anniversary concert by Blue Rodeo and friends, it was an easy choice. Piers Morgan and his colleagues could wait until I got home at midnight to turn on the television.

Blue Rodeo is marking the 25th anniversary of the release of its Outskirts debut album with the release earlier this month of its expansive Blue Rodeo: 1987-1993 box set, which includes remastered versions of the band's first five studio albums, unreleased music, studio outtakes and a new version of Outskirts remixed by singer/guitarist Greg Keelor. A tour of Spain follows in November, and a cross-Canada jaunt will take up the first six weeks of 2013.

But Monday was an extra special night, as members of Blue Rodeo's extended musical family joined them on stage during an intimate two-hour show.

Molly Johnson hosted part of the evening and she talked about the early days of Blue Rodeo when they were regulars at her stomping grounds, The Cameron House. She then introduced Cuff The Duke, which played "Five Days in May" with Blue Rodeo member Bob Egan on steel guitar.

Jim Cuddy

The other members of the guests of honour then took the stage and essentially acted as the house band for much of the rest of the night as their friends trotted out to cover their songs. Oh Susanna got things rolling with "Bad Timing" and Jim Cuddy's son Devon followed with "Rain Down On Me." The band members then pulled the old switcheroo, with Keelor sitting behind the drum kit, Glenn Milchem moving from drums to guitar and Cuddy making himself at home behind the piano to back Justin Rutledge's version of "Falling Down Blue."

You might not expect Ron Sexsmith to be the guy to get a show rocking, but he did just that with "Love and Understanding." Things mellowed out again when Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland reprised Blue Rodeo and Sarah McLachlan's "Dark Angel."

Great Big Sea presented the first big highlight when it joined Blue Rodeo for "Rose Coloured Glasses." The Sadies were given the stage to themselves for "Palace of Gold," a staple of their own sets over the years that never ceases to please me.

The uber-pleasant Andy Maize and his Skydiggers bandmate Josh Finlayson shone with the Blue Rodeo boys on "Hasn't Hit Me Yet" and Great Big Sea returned to get the relatively reserved audience to clap along to "What Am I Doing Here."

Blue Rodeo performed "Try" on its own and the crowd loved it. Devon Cuddy came back to play piano with his dad and his musical pals on an excellent "Til I Am Myself Again."

Dallas Good and Greg Keelor

Several of my friends cited the next song, an extended "Diamond Mine," as their favourite of the night. I'd have a hard time disagreeing. The Sadies added their signature twangy reverb and Travis Good (who was looking a bit like soon-to-be tourmate Neil Young) brought some serious feedback while Michael Boguski let loose on the organ during an extended jam.

All of the musicians crowded on the stage to take part in a major sing-along during the chorus of "Lost Together," which ended the show on a high note and added to the fuel for conversation at a casually engaging champagne reception in the venue lobby put on by the hard-working folks at Blue Rodeo's management company, Starfish Entertainment.

It was a memorable evening for the few hundred people in attendance, but CBC will share the wealth while broadcasting the concert over the next week or so on radio and online.
Try to catch it if you can.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

JD McPherson is the real deal

JD McPherson first came on my radar when a couple of friends started talking him up in February, and I planned on seeing him at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March.

I missed McPherson's handful of gigs at SXSW, unfortunately, but I finally got to see the former middle school art teacher turned rock 'n' roll revivalist on Oct. 9 at Toronto's pleasantly packed Horseshoe Tavern. He was suffering from a bad cold but, along with upright bassist/producer Jimmy Sutton and the other members of a very talented band, still put on a solidly entertaining show.

I finally listened to McPherson's Signs & Signifiers debut album (which was issued by Rounder Records in April after originally being released independently two years earlier) a few times this week, and it's a shoo-in for my year-end best-of list. McPherson and friends can cut it in the studio as well as on stage.

The record opens with the first song I heard from McPherson online earlier this year, "North Side Gal." It has all the makings of a rockabilly classic and the YouTube attention attained by its self-directed video (shot in Sutton's all-analogue Hi-Style studio in Chicago) was the first step in McPherson landing his deal with Rounder.

"Country Boy," one of the 12-song album's two covers, delves further into blues territory. "Fire Bug," appropriately enough, is smokin' hot and will force the shyest wallflowers to move to the groove at least a little bit. McPherson slows down on the title track, which is rich with his tremolo guitar.

"Scratching Circles" is a great jump blues tune with piano and saxophone. "A Gentle Awakening" is a slow and sinister song featuring violin and cello, but the fun factor returns on "Dimes for Nickels."

"B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R." is short for "big gold mine of sweet rock 'n' roll," which is an apt description of Signs & Signifiers. That point is driven home down the stretch with another jump blues number called "I Can't Complain" and a saxophone-infused cover of Joey Simone's "Your Love (All That I'm Missing)," which proved that it being one of the highlights of the Horseshoe show was no fluke.

"Scandalous," a honky-tonk rocker that would do Little Richard proud, ends the album on almost as high a note as it began.

The songs on Signs & Signifiers average less than three minutes each, which makes the album short enough that you'll want to hear it again as soon as it's over.

McPherson has the songs and the backing musicians that help bring them to life. Now I just want to see the Oklahoma native perform them at full strength so I can fully appreciate just how good he can be.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Revisited: Back to school songs

Since has removed all of the blogs I wrote for it three times a week from August 2009 to August 2011, I've decided to repost some that I feel may still have some relevance on Steve Says. 
I'll be adding these Revisited columns on a semi-regular basis, so please drop by if you're interested.
Here we go:
From Sept. 10, 2009
Back to school songs
Joel Plaskett

To mark the end of summer break this week, I was going to write about school songs to give students some homework that's more interesting than algebra. Then I was about to scrap the idea after seeing that just posted a reader's list (unfortunately the link no longer works) of their 15 favourite school songs. But I realized there was lots of good stuff that didn't make the grade, including some prime Canadian cuts, so here's a look at some other school songs worth studying:

Barenaked Ladies — "Grade 9"
The Scarborough, Ont. band shot to Canadian fame with 1992's million-selling Gordon on the strength of its melodic and humorous songs, including this one about the pitfalls encountered by those entering their first year of high school.
Favourite line: "I went out for the football team to prove that I'm a man, I guess I shouldn't tell them that I like Duran Duran"

Beastie Boys — "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)"

This 1986 hit made the Beastie Boys stars and was named one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But the group wasn't crazy about it and apparently haven't performed the song in 22 years.
Favourite line: "You missed two classes and no homework, But your teacher preaches class like you're some kind of jerk"

Chuck Berry — "School Days"

One of this rock and roll pioneer's biggest hits was released in 1957 and follows the teenage good time theme of "Sweet Little Sixteen."
Favourite line: "Ring ring goes the bell, The cook in the lunch room's ready to sell, You're lucky if you can find a seat, You're fortunate if you have time to eat"

The Clash — "Stay Free"
The most moving song from 1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope sophomore album helped show that The Clash was more versatile than the other British punk bands of the era.
Favourite line: "The teacher says we're dumb, We're only having fun, We piss on everyone, In the classroom"

The Coasters — "Charlie Brown"

This Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller-written song hit #2 on the U.S. singles chart in 1959. It isn't about the Peanuts comic strip character, but a craps-rolling, graffiti-writing, spit ball-throwing class clown.
Favourite line: "Who walks in the classroom cool and slow? Who calls the English teacher 'Daddy-O?'"

Joel Plaskett Emergency — "Come On Teacher"

One of the many highlights from Plaskett's excellent 2003 album, Truthfully Truthfully, "Come On Teacher" is about a less than enthusiastic student who still wants to attend class because he has the hots for his teacher.
Favourite line: "If I just don't understand it, I should just be reprimanded"

John Lennon — "Working Class Hero"
This sparse song from Lennon's first post-Beatles solo album, 1970's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, cuts deep with its criticism of Britain's class system.
Favourite line: "They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool"

Lulu — "To Sir, With Love"
The beautiful theme song from the 1967 British film topped the U.S. chart for five weeks and was the #1 song of the year. The movie starred Sidney Poitier as an idealistic teacher and tackled social and racial issues in an inner-city London school. This poignant number plays a key role towards the end.
Favourite line: "How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume? It isn't easy, but I'll try"

Madness — "Baggy Trousers"
This single from the British ska-pop group's sophomore album, Absolutely, reached #3 on the U.K. chart and takes a look back at band member Suggs' school days.
Favourite line: "Naughty boys in nasty schools, Headmasters breaking all the rules, Having fun and playing fools, Smashing up the woodwork tools"

The Police — "Don't Stand So Close To Me"
Sting looked back to his days as a teacher named Gordon Sumner for this 1980 hit about inappropriate feelings and actions between teachers and students. It topped the chart in the U.K., hit #10 in the U.S. and re-introduced Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita to popular culture.
Favourite line: "Her friends are so jealous, You know how bad girls get, Sometimes it's not so easy to be the teacher's pet"

Rockpile — "Teacher Teacher"
Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams released just one album under the Rockpile name, but 1980's Seconds Of Pleasure blends power pop and vintage rock and roll sounds better than pretty much any record ever made. "Teacher Teacher" was its single and a minor U.K. hit.
Favourite line: "Teacher, teacher, teach me love, I can't learn it fast enough, Teacher, teacher, teach me more, I've got to learn to love for sure"

Rough Trade — "High School Confidential"
The Toronto band's 1980 breakthrough hit and best known song refers to hanky-panky between the principal and a student and name-checks sex symbols of the past (Anita Ekberg, Mamie Van Doren, Dagmar). Many radio stations bleeped out a type of dairy product in the line "She makes me cream my jeans when she comes my way" when the single was first released.
Favourite line: "When she flashes me a look, I wanna burn my book, Give up high school"

Bobby Rydell — "Swingin' School"
I always enjoy introducing this 1960 #5 U.S. hit from the man who also scored big with "Wild One" and "Volare" to people. Squares wanting to be hip were immediately drawn to the "Chicks, kicks, cats, cool ... ah, school" introduction.
Favourite line: "My little chick is my heart's desire, Well the way we kiss
it puts the school on fire"

The Yardbirds — "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"

This song about a schoolyard crush was written by blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937, but the Yardbirds' 1964 cover remains my favourite version.
Favourite line: "Won't you let me take you to the hop, Have a party at the soda shop"

—Steve McLean

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crossing Canada by train: Part 3

We passed the continental divide and entered British Columbia about 25 kilometres west of Jasper at Yellowhead Lake. We saw Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and two black bears as we followed along the path of the North Thompson River. The train slowed to allow us a longer look at the high and beautiful Pyramid Falls. A lot of the trees surrounding the tracks, both coniferous and deciduous, are tall but don't have wide trunks.
Pyramid Falls

People talk about gaining weight on cruise ships, but I think the chances of doing so are better on the Canadian since you're fed so well and there are fewer opportunities to exercise. And the food for breakfast, lunch and dinner isn't just plentiful, it's delicious. Dinner tonight consisted of tomato florentine soup, salad, duck breast, mashed potatoes and broccoli, with chocolate torte and cheesecake for dessert.

We passed a few small towns and lumber mills and had a half-hour stop in Kamloops to refuel and change engineers at 11:30 p.m. I got up at 6:45 a.m., but missed some apparently spectacular scenery going through deep gorges, tunnels and over trestle bridges. VIA used to go through this area during daylight because it can be so breathtaking, but a company representative told me it stopped about 15 years ago because some passengers were nervous and frightened while crossing some of the bridges. It's a shame.

We followed along the Fraser River and then crossed it in Surrey via the Patella Bridge into New Westminster and then on through Coquitlam and Burnaby to Vancouver. We had the transcontinental breakfast (eggs, toast, potato pancakes, fruit and choice of ham, bacon or sausage) with coffee before we backed into Vancouver's Pacific Central Station at 9:15 a.m. -- a half-hour ahead of schedule.

A city bus ride and short walk took us to the $145 a night Quality Hotel Downtown, where we dropped off our luggage and took two city buses to expansive Stanley Park. We'd visited it in 2003, but didn't go to its aquarium, so that was today's destination. It cost $27 for adults and $21 for seniors. We started with the beluga whale show and also saw otters, harbour seals, sea lions and African penguins outside before moving to the inside exhibits. The Strait of Georgia featured giant sturgeons and other fish; B.C. Coast had wolf eels and more; Tropic Zone was highlighted by small sharks and other coral and reef creatures; and Amazon Rainforest included caiman, exotic birds and butterflies.

We returned outside for the dolphin show and our last stop was the 4D Theatre, where we were given glasses to watch a 3D film that was augmented by sensory effects, including wind, mist, scents and a poke in the back. We  walked back through the park and took the same buses on the return trip to the hotel, where my mother decided she'd had enough after grabbing a tuna submarine at Subway.

I headed to The Railway Club, one of the city's hot spots for live music and microbrews, to meet a friend. We drank pints of Tree Cutthroat Pale Ale, Driftwood Fat Tug IPA, Phillips Hop Circle IPA and Howe Sound King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen. We eventually moved on to the Cambie Pub, where the selection wasn't nearly as good but the prices were cheap, for two pints. We went to a classier pub, which I don't remember the name of since I guess some of the high-octane brews from The Railway Club caught up with me, for nightcaps before I made my way back to the hotel.

We had enjoyed Granville Island on our previous visit and our hotel was just a short walk and mini ferry ride across False Creek, so we returned to walk around the market, shops, boutiques and park areas before settling in on the patio of the Dockside Restaurant, which offered a lovely view of False Creek and the eastern part of Vancouver. I ordered a flight of six six-ounce glasses of beer and mom got a pint of Jamaican Lager. None of the brew pub's Marina Light Lager, Johnston Street Pilsner, Railspur IPA, Cartwright Pale Ale, Old Bridge Dark Lager, Pelican Bay Brown Ale or Jamaican Lager were particularly good, but the beautiful weather and surroundings made it a nice way to spend an hour.

We caught the ferry back, grabbed our luggage at the hotel and walked eight blocks to the Yaletown Roundhouse Station to catch the Skytrain to the airport. It cost $3.75 and $2.50 for seniors and is one of the major positive spinoffs of the Vancouver Olympics.

The flight back to Toronto wasn't nearly as interesting as the train ride that got us to Vancouver, but the entire journey fulfilled my mother's dream and provided an enjoyable nine-day respite from my job.

Crossing Canada by train: Part 2

We caught the next westward bound Canadian train just before noon and passed numerous green and yellow fields and the odd small town -- including Portage La Prairie, where an old water tower is painted like the world's biggest Coke can. The picturesque Qu'Appelle River Valley made western Manitoba more visually appealing than I thought it would be.
Portage La Prairie's giant Coke can

Potash drives Saskatchewan's economy and we passed two huge mines and plants shortly after we crossed into the province. We made a 20-minute stop in Melville, and my first step down from the train there meant that I've now been in all 10 Canadian provinces (and the Yukon). There wasn't much to see, so I was happy to reboard and keep heading west past more grain elevators and a herd of bison before darkness came down and we made a 30-minute, post-dinner stop in Saskatoon at 11:30 p.m.

The train rolled into Edmonton around 7 a.m. and we stayed there for about 75 minutes, but there was nothing to do or see around the station, so we returned to the train for breakfast and continued the journey -- particularly enjoying the view as we passed Wabamun Lake, one of the most heavily used recreational lakes in Alberta.

It was July 1, and a Canada Day cake was served at 12:40 p.m. The Rockies came into view less than 30 minutes later as the tracks followed the course of the Athabasca River, but the mountains lived up to their name in what was probably the most spectacular and breathtaking section of the train ride. The snow-capped peaks confirmed that I'd made the right choice in deciding to get off the train and stay in Jasper for two days.

We arrived at 2 p.m., walked to the end of town to the Tonquin Inn to drop off our bags and then returned to browse through the numerous souvenir shops that abound in the tourist-oriented town of 4,000. After booking a wildlife bus trip for the next day, we had a casual dinner of bison burgers at Olive Bistro & Lounge.

Centennial Park was hosting Jasper's Canada Day celebrations, so I walked down to hear a nifty bluegrass combo called Fiddle River Band and make proper use of the beer garden before deciding I needed better beer and went to the Jasper Brewing Co. brew pub for a sampler tray of six of their products, the best of which were the Rockhopper India pale ale and the blueberry and vanilla-infused seasonal beer. It was nearing fireworks time, so I returned to the park to witness an impressive 10-minute display of pyrotechnics. After a nightcap at Whistle Stop, it was time to walk home.

The next morning began with a walk to the outskirts of Jasper to the Red Squirrel Trail, which went through a forest, past a small lake and then crossed a bridge over the Athabasca River to begin the Old Fort Point Loop. This trail began in a forested area and gradually began sloping upward alongside occasional patches of moss that were a brilliant green. There were gentle slopes and then a steep climb to an area that provided a great view to the north of the mountains, Lac Beauvert, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and its golf course. I continued on the trail through more forested areas before arriving at a clearing that provided outstanding views of the mountains to the east and south. I had the trails pretty much to myself up to this point, but there were large animal droppings along the way and an adjoining trail was closed because of recent bear sightings, so I rattled my metal cooler bottle to make creatures aware that I was in the vicinity.

I arrived at Old Fort Point, where there never was an old fort. A lot of people just climbed up here from the nearby parking lot and didn't hike the trail. It provided a good vista of Jasper and the surrounding area.

I climbed back down to ground level. It was just past noon and I was feeling energetic, so I decided to take on a longer trail that went along the east side of the Athabasca, which has a steady current flowing north. Two white-tailed deer scampered past about 15 metres from me. The trail alternated between open and forested sections until I came to a short trail that branched east to Lac Beauvert. I walked around the beautiful Jasper Park Lodge, where I'd love to stay if I return and have lots of money.

I returned to the trail along the Athabasca and, while I again spotted lots of recently deposited poop, I didn't see any animals. After reaching where Lodge and Maligne roads meet, I crossed a bridge to the west side of the Athabasca and got on the Bighorn Trail that goes above the highway and railway tracks and heads back south into Jasper. It was more open than forested and was the least interesting part of the hike. I got back into town after hiking more than 17 kilometres in five hours, picked up a ham, egg and cheese sandwich for $3.50 from the Bear Paw Bakery and returned to the Tonquin for a soak in the indoor hot tub.

My mom and I had signed up for an evening wildlife tour through Sundog Transportation and Tours, which cost $65 per person. The driver/guide of the small bus was a wildlife and nature expert who shared lots of her knowledge with us as she drove or stopped to let us observe some of the animals we spotted.

Part of the journey went along the Maligne River, which is at its highest in 20 years and has turned into rapids in many areas while flooding others, including some of the shoreline around beautiful Maligne Lake.

We got within six metres of a large bull elk and three black bears, which was a big treat. We also saw four female elk and four white-tailed deer from a farther distance. Unfortunately we didn't spot any big horn sheep, moose, caribou, wolves, coyote or mountain goats, but it was an educational and enjoyable way to spend three hours.

We arrived back at the hotel just after 9 p.m. and elected to dine at the adjoining Tonquin Prime Rib Village, which served excellent 10-ounce sirloins along with freshly baked bread, baked potatoes and steamed vegetables for $29.

The plan the next morning was to catch a shuttle to the Jasper Tramway outside of town, the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada, which would whisk us almost a kilometre up Whistlers Mountain for great views of the surrounding area. But it was pouring rain, overcast and foggy, which would have made the trip useless. So we stayed at the hotel until the 11 a.m. check-out time, getting the most out of the $245 a night we paid for our room, and took a seven-dollar taxi ride to the train station to drop off our bags.

We walked to the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives, which cost $10 for the two of us. It's small, but features a lot of information and is well put together and was a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Brunch at Smitty's Family Restaurant provided me with the Texas skillet (a combination of taco ground beef, three scrambled eggs, hash browns, diced tomatoes and green onions) for $12.99, and my mom with her typical bacon and eggs. We returned to the train station, which was late in arriving, but we finally pulled out at 4:20 p.m. Our two-bed berth was somehow double-booked, so we received an upgrade to a private cabin which has its own toilet and sink.

Crossing Canada by train: Part 1

Travelling across Canada by train. To some, it may sound romantic. To others, thinking of how vast the country is, it could seem daunting.

I didn't have any preconceptions before VIA Rail's Canadian pulled out of Toronto's Union Station at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night earlier this summer en route to Vancouver's Pacific Central Station. I just knew I was fulfilling my mother's dream to make the journey.

And VIA's half-price sale made it much more affordable. My mother's lower sleeping berth cost $1,084 while my upper berth went for $922.

From the moment we entered Union Station's recently renovated Panorama Lounge before boarding, to meeting our porter Ron who oversaw our Sleeper Plus class berths, to our host Vern who served free champagne to passengers in the skyline car as we departed, it was already a more civilized experience than flying.

The immensity of Northern Ontario came into clear focus the next morning at breakfast -- where I enjoyed pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon syrup, thick slices of ham and melon -- and realized we wouldn't cross into Manitoba until 5 a.m. the next day. There wasn't a lot to see from the skyline car where we spent almost all of our time when we weren't sleeping, being very well-fed in the dining car or playing Bingo or sampling free wines in the activity car.

Throughout the day we passed freight trains going in the opposite direction and were surrounded on both sides by forest, with the occasional rock outcropping, river or small lake intermittently coming into view. There were no animals, very few birds and just the occasional sign of potential human habitation via run-down hunting and fishing cabins before we made a 40-minute afternoon stop in the small town of Hornepayne, where we could get out and stretch our legs, smokers could get their fix and I could pay a quick visit to the liquor store for supplies.

We elected to get off for two days in Winnipeg before the next Canadian came to continue our journey, and we made the most of our time in the Manitoba capital. The Marlborough Hotel was built in 1914 and was once one of the city's classiest hotels. It still looks that way from the outside and in the lobby and dining room, but the guest rooms are a bit run-down and in need of refurbishment. But it's centrally located, reasonably priced at $95 a night (including tax) and comes with free wireless Internet and hot breakfast and features an indoor pool with a relatively large waterslide.

Museum of Human Rights

The Museum of Human Rights was supposed to open this summer but is over budget and behind schedule and now isn't expected to open until 2014. But what's completed looks striking. We walked across the Red River via the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge to the French-speaking neighbourhood of St. Boniface, where we admired its city hall, fire hall and main cathedral, where controversial Manitoba founder Louis Riel is buried outside in a small cemetery.

We returned to walk around The Forks -- a park, historic and retail/entertainment site where we embarked on a 30-minute, $10 narrated boat ride on the Red and Assiniboine rivers via Splash Dash Guided River Tours that extended from the legislative building to Fort Gibraltar. After a beer on the fifth floor rooftop Tavern United across from the MTS Centre, we dined on ribs and steak on the patio at Moxie's Classic Grill and I later ventured out for a pint of locally brewed Half Pints Little Scrapper IPA at the King's Head Pub.

Two city bus rides the next morning got us to expansive Assiniboine Park, where we spent two hours wandering around the zoo observing a variety of birds, bison, deer, monkeys, lynx, musk ox, kangaroos, camels, zebras, Siberian tigers, stone sheep, takin and more. We continued on through the park's picturesque Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and the English Gardens, past the duck pond and Lyric Theatre and over a foot bridge that returned us to Portage Avenue, where we caught a bus back downtown.

After a pint of Half Pints Stir Stick Stout at the King's Head patio, we wandered around the historic Exchange District, which features numerous well-preserved examples of late 19th and early 20th century Chicago-style architecture. The impressive Manitoba Museum featured a wide breadth of informative and interestingly designed exhibits on the geography and history of the province, and included a beautifully crafted replica of the 17th century ship, Nonsuch.

We stopped at the Winnipeg Free Press Cafe patio for a bottle of Half Pints Bulldog Amber Ale and then browsed in Toad Hall, a large but quaint store with toys, hobby and magic items from 50 countries. A local friend invited us for dinner at his house and we ended the evening with a nightcap at the Marlborough's Regal Beagle pub. Unfortunately, there were no Jack Tripper, Chrissy Snow or Larry Dallas sightings.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Michael Rault - Whirlpool

Michael Rault's Ma-Me-O debut album sat unlistened to in a pile of CDs on my bedroom floor in 2010 before I got around to it because I'd never heard of him before and no-one I knew was talking about him. But I fell in love once I got around to it and it ended up being one of my favourite records of the year.

I saw Rault perform for the first two times during Canadian Music Fest and the North By Northeast Music Festival earlier this year and enjoyed a few songs that weren't on Ma-Me-O. They've just been released on Rault's seven-song Whirlpool EP, which includes two versions of the simple but catchy lead single, "I Want To Love You."

Rault handled most of the instrumentation himself, produced four of the songs and looked to the past to create a timeless sound.

"He Don't Care About You" totally evokes the '60s with a guitar that sounds nasty, but in a good way. "Everyone Must Cry Sometimes" is a ballad that you can dance to. "Fall in Love With Every Girl I See" offers dirty-sounding instrumentation but a melodic tune. "Suckcess" could have been recorded in a garage 45 years ago, and you'll be clapping along with Rault as you listen to it.

In addition to the original numbers, Rault also covers the Staples Singers' "Two Wings" and adds a bluesy twist to the soulful gospel song.

I'd like Whirlpool to be longer, but I'm certainly satisfied with what's been presented and it looks like Rault will be making another appearance on my year-end favourites list in 2012. You can decide for yourself by downloading Whirlpool for free from Rault's Facebook page.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Revisited: Rock star motorcycle accidents

Bob Dylan
Since has removed all of the blogs I wrote for it three times a week from August 2009 to August 2011, I've decided to repost some that I feel may still have some relevance on Steve Says. 
I'll be adding these Revisited columns on a semi-regular basis, so please drop by if you're interested.
Here we go:
From Sept. 5, 2009
Rock star motorcycle accidents
Echo And The Bunnymen keyboardist Jake Brockman died in a motorcycle accident on the Isle Of Man on Tuesday evening, about a month before the sometimes brilliant British band's Fountains album hits stores.

Ironically, original Echo drummer Pete De Freitas died in a motorcycle accident while on his way from Liverpool to London 20 years ago.

This got me thinking about the other rockers who were killed or injured in motorcycle accidents and, since there will be a ton of two- and four-wheeled vehicles on the highway for the always busy Labour Day weekend, I present the following examples to you as cautionary tales to drive carefully:

Duane Allman and Berry Oakley
If it's strange that two Echo And The Bunnymen members perished in motorcycle crashes 20 years apart, it's downright eerie that the only two other rock musicians I could think of who met a similar fate were also in the same group. Allman Brothers Band co-founder and guitarist Duane Allman (ranked as the #2 guitarist of all time behind Jimi Hendrix by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003) was killed in Macon, Ga. when he lost control of his Harley-Davidson while trying to avoid a truck. Bassist Berry Oakley died 13 months later just three blocks away from the site of Allman's accident when he collided with a city bus. A bridge in Macon was named in Oakley's honour in 1998.

Bob Dylan
Mystery still surround's Dylan's July 29, 1966 motorcycle accident while coming over a hill on a highway near his home in Woodstock, N.Y. There are reports that it almost killed him, while others say it was staged to give him time off from a hectic recording and touring schedule and to help him kick a drug habit. Either way, he had a long convalescence period that he used part of to record with members of The Hawks (who soon afterward became The Band) at his home and in the basement of their nearby house known as Big Pink. These demo recordings were released as The Basement Tapes in 1975. Dylan's first studio album after his crash was the sparse, Nashville-recorded John Wesley Harding, which was released in December 1967. It often sounds like Dylan is wearing a motorcycle helmet when you try to make out what he's singing in concert these days.

Billy Idol
I'm not sure if this pop-punk progenitor was wearing one of those fingerless gloves he flaunted in the early '80s or let out a rebel yell when he went through a stop sign and was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle home from a Los Angeles studio in February 1990. The accident nearly cost him his leg, but not his ability to sneer, and prevented him from playing the T-1000 character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day because of his long bedridden recovery.

Steven Tyler
The Aerosmith singer was riding his motorcycle to pick up his daughter Mia from a babysitter on Jan. 24, 1981 when he hit a tree and tore open his heel. The injury took almost a year to heal. You'd think he would have used that time to come up with better songs than those that appeared on 1982's Rock In A Hard Place.

Mark Knopfler
Dire Straits' main man was in dire straits when his Honda collided with a Fiat in mid-morning London, England traffic on St. Patrick's Day in 2003. He broke his collarbone and several ribs and took months recuperating before he could write songs or return to the studio. Most people would have been happier if he returned to Dire Straits.

The soulful singer was in a motorcycle accident as a child, but it was his lupus that caused his facial scarring and hair loss. Those setbacks haven't prevented him from selling millions of records, dating Tyra Banks and marrying Heidi Klum. Life could be worse.

I still get all warm and tingly when I think of Ann-Margret writhing around in baked beans in the 1975 film version of The Who's Tommy, but the actress, dancer, singer and Elvis Presley ex-girlfriend was probably feeling anything but when she was thrown from a motorcycle in Brainerd, Minn. in 2000. She broke her arm and some ribs. Mmm ... baked beans.

Keanu Reeves
The Speed freak and master of gravity-defying acrobatics in The Matrix ruptured his spleen and broke some ribs in a 1988 motorcycle accident and was on crutches for several weeks after breaking his ankle during a 1997 crash. Reeves is on this list because he played bass in the '90s grunge band, Dogstar. I'd probably like to forget about that group as much as Reeves would like to erase his memory of motorcycle injuries.

Gary Busey
You probably think of Busey first as an actor and then as a bit of a whack-job, but he began his entertainment career as a drummer with The Rubber Duck Band, played in a group called Carp which released an album in 1969 through Epic Records, was featured on several Leon Russell recordings, sang "Stay All Night" on both Saturday Night Live and Late Show With David Letterman, continues to write music and was a dead ringer for Buddy Holly when he was nominated for an Academy Award for his incredible portrayal of the legend in 1978's The Buddy Holly Story. Busey wasn't wearing a helmet when he was severely injured in a Dec. 4, 1988 motorcycle accident that fractured his skull and had doctors fearing he suffered permanent brain damage. He was once very outspoken against motorcycle helmets, but is now an advocate of them. Hey, Busey isn't totally crazy after all.

David Hasselhoff
You probably think of Hasselhoff first as an actor and then as a guy who gets drunk, takes off his shirt and lies on a hotel room floor while trying to eat a cheeseburger — unless you live in Germany. The Hoff topped the German pop chart with "Looking For Freedom" in 1989 and had other hits there from the more than a dozen albums he's released. Hasselhoff and ex-wife Pamela Bach sustained minor injuries when he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a pole in Los Angeles in 2003.

I'll leave you with the best of both worlds. Here's a clip of Hasselhoff showing off both his dulcet voice and motorcycle riding skills.