Sunday, March 30, 2014

Surprise Kevin Drew show for Earth Hour

I usually try to do my part to honour Earth Hour, where people are asked to turn off non-essential lights and electronics for 60 minutes from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., and did so again on Saturday night.

Instead of sitting at home in the dark, I decided to take advantage of Mill Street Brewery's "Lights Out" promotion. At 60 bars across Toronto, the brewery was donating 50 cents for each pint of its beer sold to Earth Day Canada. And each of these bars was supposed to feature a candle-lit, acoustic music set. Using a formula based on proximity and artist recognition/enjoyment, I decided to see By Divine Right at the Drake Underground.

I did my part by ordering a pint of Tankhouse upon arrival right around 8:30, and then proceeded to wait. I walked to the stage and saw a lot of plugged-in instruments, including two keyboards, which I've never seen at a By Divine Right show before. I also saw Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin, Andy Kim, Kevin Hearn and a few media folks and other social scenesters I might not have expected to see at this show.

Time went on and no-one took the stage until just before 9 p.m., when Drew came on with his new band that's supporting his newly released Darlings solo debut album. I guess the By Divine Right acoustic set got blown out, but a lot of people who care and must have been in the know more than me turned out for Drew's warm-up show before his first tour, where he'll be opening in support of Feist.

Drew and his bandmates, which included Spearin on bass and sometime Broken Social Scene member Ohad Benchetrit on guitar, played their first gig in front of an audience and played songs from Darlings. Drew brought lyric sheets with him and didn't seem totally at ease, but he was good-natured and the crowd was appreciative.

The songs weren't doing a lot for me and Earth Hour had finished, so I left before Drew and company finished and went home to watch an NCAA basketball "Elite Eight" game between Arizona and Wisconsin and crack open large bottles of Bellwoods Lambda and Beau's Tom Green Beer. The game was good, but I found the the two beers -- like Drew's music -- to be no more than average.

So, while my house went dark, I really didn't get much of an Earth Hour experience this year. Can someone tell me what happened to By Divine Right?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Random Order - Black Lipstick Kiss

I'm not sure how Random Order has flown under my radar for so long.

It's a local Toronto band that's been around for almost 25 years and has drawn previous comparisons to The Au Pairs, The Slits and The Clash -- and I like all of them. So my interest was piqued when I read about the release of the group's third album, Black Lipstick Kiss, a little earlier this year.

The 11-song, 39-minute LP opens with a bang and a sextet of strong songs before (to my taste at least) tapering off a bit until a big finish.

You can tango to the percussive "The Morning After Kill," provided your footwork is nimble enough when the song speeds up as it goes along. The title track has a video but, if you just listen to it, you can envision Amy Winehouse interpreting it. That's not to say that Random Order singer/guitarist Lynn Phillips doesn't have a good voice. She definitely does, and its blend of sultriness, soul and power fits her repertoire well.

Phillips' main musical foil is John Jowett, whose trombone (and occasional trumpet) are key to the success of "Black Lipstick Kiss," surf rock instrumental "Do It In Quattro" and the ska/pop "Living On A Deadline."

Veteran singer, songwriter, musician, producer and jack of all trades Bob Wiseman arranged "10 Things," which effectively mixes reggae and rock. But it's on "Spoiled" where his arranging expertise is perhaps most appreciated. It begins as a relatively low-key, ska-based song that significantly picks up in intensity near the end and features nice female harmonies in the chorus.

"Excess Or Rise" is more of a rocker, but adds a Latin twist. The ska/reggae mix pops up again, and succeeds, on "Subway Girl." The album ends on a high note with "Pink Cloud," which was originally released as a single in 2007. The track's combination of ska and spy movie theme music may not rival The Selecter's "James Bond" or The Specials' "Sock It to 'Em JB," but it's definitely worth hearing.

Black Lipstick Kiss is available through Random Order's website.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nudie - Remember This

Just say the name Nudie and you think country music -- or perhaps grainy porn flicks from the '50s and '60s.

But this Nudie -- who adopted his name from cowboy couturier Nudie Cohn, who outfitted the likes of Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Elvis Presley and Gram Parsons -- is all about the former. And the former frontman of Nudie and the Turks, which released two albums and toured extensively before dissolving two years ago, has released his first solo album.

The 12-song, 36-minute effort often harkens back to the earlier days of country, when western was often appended to it, even though Nudie was born in Ontario and now resides in Prince Edward Island. The west meets east model shines through on opener "If A Heart Could Tell," which features guest vocals from Molly Rankin -- the youngest member of the prolifically talented and Maritime-proud Rankin Family.

I'm listening to songs from 1960's Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams as I type this and, while I can't put Nudie in the class of those two gentlemen, his music fits in that niche.

The title song, a mid-tempo ballad given added depth via organ, is being highlighted as the focus track. It's nice, as is the entire independently released album, but there are other songs I'd personally push.

The roots-rocking "Sex Kisses," the Bakersfield country-influenced "You Try To Be Right," the vintage-sounding "Walking The Streets" and the gently chugging "Why Do We Keep Hanging On?" all get the thumbs up.

Maybe it's just me, but I hear bits of Van Morrison and Them's "Gloria" at points throughout "My Sweet Ache." That's a good thing.

Want to hear a hurtin' country ballad? Try "Fiona."

Like a range of tempos? "The Pain In You" features some impressive picking and is the fastest song on album. Right up next is "I'm Tired of Living With No Fun," an old-time country tune that plods along at just the right pace.

"I Miss The Love (But I Never Miss You)" closes the album on a high note and leaves you with a smile on your face.

Nudie isn't doing anything new, but he knows what he's doing and does it well.

You can purchase Remember This from Nudie's website.