A Parenting Lesson & the Vic Chesnutt reissues…

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It can be difficult to explain pain to people. Words wrapped in metaphors trying to communicate the signals of nerve endings setting your brain alight. Both physical and mental anguish causing a torment that it often seems no one can relate with. I’ve visited these worlds from time to time; laid in a hospital bed and stared at the ceiling with a morphine high; taken pain killers to merely dull the excruciating; ingested medications to keep you from being overwhelmed by the thoughts manufactured by the prescriptions given for the original injury. I was a fan of Vic Chesnutt before I really understood these things, but I found a whole new appreciation once a calcified disc had pierced my sciatic nerve.

Recovering, I spent a great deal of time with Chesnutt’s early catalogue. Hearing it as if for the first time. It had become a part of the soundtrack of that time in my life. Songs that could be depended upon to show up right when I needed a good cry or laugh. His songs had given my own screwed up existence a voice I could recognize.

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Driving through the east coast of Canada over a three-week trip, Drunk, West of Rome, and Is The Actor Happy were in constant rotation. At one point, I had to stop the car in Fundy National Park as a porcupine had decided to point its quilled ass in my direction. Just as Chesnutt sang those ever so visual lyrics from “Dodge” … “I showed my behind so frequently, my dear old mother wouldn’t recognise me” the damn beast pulled its ‘pedestrian right of way’ bullshit, giving me its own version of the middle finger salute. A few seconds up the road a moose gives us a completely ambivalent look as if telling us that this particular occurrence happens everyday. A kind of “get over it” gaze of communication. Fuckin’ nature! Get over yourself!

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Fast forward seventeen years and my first born says “you’ve had this band on a lot, who is it?”

“Artist. Vic Chesnutt.”

“You going to see him in concert?”

“No. That really isn’t possible anymore. He died around the same time as Grandma and Grumpa.”

“From cancer like them…”

Now, I’ll be honest with ya… I kinda suck at this whole parenting thing. My thirteen-year-old son is the most empathetic child I have ever met. Having worked with and around kids since I was one myself, I can say this without the interference of parental pride. He is a soul that feels things deeply, and this conversation can’t end well. So basically, I’m stuck. He’s thirteen. Old enough to find out about things on his own. Dilemma, do I use this as a teachable moment, or just let it pass. As I said, I do suck at this.

“No.”

“A disease?”

“Are you sure you want to keep asking?”

“Why?”

Sigh. “This conversation could go to places you don’t like.”

“Was it a disease.”

How exactly do you answer this? I’m not a therapist. My own father wasn’t exactly the model of ‘after school special/ Dad of the year/ or ‘Dawson’s Creek’ perfectly scripted answers.

“Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“Then what?”

Not sure how long I stared at my toes before I replied. It felt like enough time to have studied and gotten a psychology degree, but as I looked up my son was still standing in front of me with polar bear pajamas and a determined look.

“He overdosed on prescribed medications. Most people believe he committed suicide.”

“But…”

He teared up. I teared up. My nine-year-old walked down the stairs, looked at us, scoffed, went back up the stairs and started building his next Lego battle.

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I began speaking. Or maybe it was stammering. Perhaps pleading. Somewhere in the mix of trying to find words I talked about depression, physical pain, Canadian vs US health care, debt and back to depression. You know what… not a bit of it sufficed.

“Isn’t it wrong to do that, you know, kill yourself?”

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“I understand that. But it would suck to need or ask for help. That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

He thought on it for a while.

“Doesn’t his music make you sad now?”

“Some of it always did. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me cringe, sometimes he can make me laugh and cry in the same song. But I’m not really answering your question, right.”

“Yep.”

“Since grade one, you’ve had friends that have moved away.”

“Yeah.”

“When you think of them do you only think of the fact that they’re gone, or do you think of the fun you had when they were here?”

“The fun.”

“A person shouldn’t be defined by how they died, but by how they lived. Vic Chesnutt was an artist who I really appreciated. His music means a lot to me. Look, I’m not great at talking about this. It sucks that he died, especially how he died. But I still love the music he gave us to enjoy. I don’t hear his death, I hear his voice.”

That thought gets left hanging, and it just doesn’t feel like it should end on this note.

“You know, when I play my battered up old 12 string.”

“The one you bought from a weird old guy, and is difficult to tune because the neck was broken.”

“Yeah. I think of Chesnutt every time I play it.”

He catches me on this and calls me out. “You said the same thing about that guy in The Lemons and Wilco, and that lady Victoria.”

“Yeah. And it’s all true. I think about all those people. It’s just that they all have a unique voice. Not singing style. It is an overall, way of phrasing ideas that connects with me. I love that old piece of crap guitar because it doesn’t sound like any other guitar I’ve heard from anyone. Sometimes when I play it, I feel a whole range of emotions. All of them, coming from different places and all moments I wish I could bottle and stay in a little longer than is actually possible. The music ends, and even when I try to play it again, it just isn’t the same. The music that I keep playing, and paying for, it does that too. Those artists… Vic Chesnutt… they help me find moments that connect to … I don’t know… connect to living. To not being alone. Sometimes you can find moments like that on your own, but other times, it’s great artists that pull out those moments and share them.”

“You’re sounding all weird Dad.”

“I suppose I am.”

Anyway. The Vic Chesnutt reissues have caused a bit of a stir in the house. So far, the three that have arrived sound absolutely perfect. My complaint, has nothing to do with the quality, but rather the shipping costs. Despite much lower priced options available, most companies still choose methods that can nearly double the transaction price. For some of my favorite records I went and purchased the coloured vinyl. However, others will have to wait until they become available at my local record store before I can purchase them. Essentially, shipping is pricing me out of the market. Seeing the chat rooms, I’m not the only one.

P.S. West Of Rome will be out on Record Store Day 2017… next week folks.

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City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You: A Transformative Work

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Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.

Signs of this transformation began on the last album The Hurry And The Harm, with a more conventional, harder edge brought in with the addition of electric guitars and organs. If I Should Go Before You not only expands on this addition, but takes on some new influences.

Opening the record is a nine minute blues epic “Woman” which mixes Muddy Waters with Pink Floyd and throws in a 60’s San Francisco twist. The result is a ‘listen with headphones’ dreamscape that shows his bands’ ability to improvise around their material. “Northern Blues” has subtle R&B underpinnings keeping a sonic improvisation steady as Green’s falsetto soars above.

Musically, this ‘Memphis soul base’ is played out on what would seem to be perfect for the two sides of a vinyl record. “If I Should Go Before You”, “Killing Time”, and the frickin’ amazing single “Wasted Love” finish off the R&B influenced ‘Side A.’ Even the sudden stop of “Wasted Love” on the songs’ conclusion gives definition to a change in direction. In a manner of speaking, it is the point when you flip the record.

‘Side B’ takes on tones that have their foundation in roots-rock, starting with “Runaway”, a song that recalls Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” with its majestic pedal steel guitar. From there, you move onto “Lover Come Back” with its blend of piano and organ which creates an atmosphere reminiscent of The Band.

The most appealing thing about If I Should Go Before You is that all the influences are merely reference points. Like most great, or even classic records, the listener finds a connection that resonates with a familiar sound, and then the music branches off into new and exciting places.

If I Should Go Before You isn’t just another City and Colour record… it’s a transformative work; the album when all potential and expectations are realized and then exceeded.

 

If I Should Go Before You hits stores on Oct 9.

Beautiful Wreckage of Human Fallacy or Rhett Miller – The Traveller

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If the characters in the Old 97’s albums like to party than the characters in a Rhett Miller record wake up to regret it. The line “there’s happiness and then there’s this, whatever it’s supposed to be” from “Jules” is pretty indicative of the confessional rides being taken. Apologies, regret, forgiveness and the need for redemption play out to a background of foot stomping and sorrowful alt-country/Americana.  Of course, it helps that the music is being provided by the alt-country genius of Black Prairie, who have been setting that genre ablaze for a few years now.

Rather strange it seems is the instant dynamic that falls into place between Miller and his new cohorts. After all, Black Prairie is four members of The Decemberists and a couple musical friends who are exploring a different musical style rather than people who live fulltime making music in Nashville.  They do it so well you forget they are in another band at all.

Soft acoustic guitar, a light violin and an accordion permeate over a ghostly atmospheric vocal as played out on “Dream vs. Waking Life” underscoring the hearts desolation at a relationships end. Then later you get the playful banter of a piano carrying a storyteller until the violin starts to do the call and answer thing on “Reasons To Live.” In every case the music is central in creating an atmosphere for Miller’s various levels of turmoil.

The Traveller may not be a concept album in the traditional sense but it runs the gambit of emotional expressions felt when a relationship implodes by reason of human fallacy. No one quite describes self-wreckage the way Miller does, and Black Prairie makes it sound that much more poignant.

The Traveller is available at all the finer music stores and you can pick it up on vinyl here.

Two Glasses Of Wine, One For You and One for the Voice coming from your Stereo or Josh Rouse – The Embers Of Time

 

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There was a point in the early 2000’s that looked like Josh Rouse would become more of a household name. He had released three albums in a row that showed the promise of a great songwriter who was gaining a larger audience and critical praise with each subsequent record. Under Cold Blue Stars, 1972 and Nashville had built a foundation for a promising and what looked like a long career. Then… well, it’s difficult to say. His Brill Building observational song writing just seemed to start blending and newer material started to quickly find a home in the CD collection marked “I’ll listen later.” You know, the albums that eventually find their way into the used bins at the local record store. As a fan, I just couldn’t follow him in his newer direction and I stopped paying attention.

So, a month ago Rouse releases The Embers Of Time and it wasn’t until this week that I finally decided to give it a spin.

WOW!

There it is!

Everything that made me listen before is back plus other influences popping out that I hadn’t seen before. This time, not only has his brand of folksy Americana brought in reminiscences of Carol King and James Taylor, but now you get Paul Simon and Stray Gator era Neil Young added to the mix. Simple observations of a trip to the bar or losing sleep become a musical conversation about how things are going with an old friend. It gets to the point where you pour two glasses of wine, one for yourself and another for the voice coming from your stereo. Sometimes reconnecting leaves you wondering why you ever parted ways in the first place.

The Embers of Time can be found on all the usual music formats including vinyl.

Better Late Than Expensive! or Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

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One of my disappointments from Record Store Day 2015 was the absence of the promised Neko Case and her incredible Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. No one seemed to have it and if ever there was a record that was meant to be put on vinyl – this is it. I mean cripes, her backing musicians on this record include members of The Band, Giant Sand, Calexico and The Sadies. So imagine my feeling when I see a tweet from one of my favorite record stores stating it just arrived, days after RSD15. Well a quick phone call and a drive later, this beautiful piece of red vinyl spins on the turntable. Originally released in 2006, I have no idea how many vinyl copies were pressed, but it couldn’t have been many as the current surge in vinyl sales had yet to happen. It was re-released two years later in the U.S. with a gatefold cover in blue vinyl. I couldn’t find official information on how many were produced (although I saw a number of only 500 on a resale site) with a current asking price of over $200.00.

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In 2009, a Canadian release of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood came out. It seems that 25 test pressings hit the streets as well as an undetermined amount on red vinyl. It is likely that it was another 500, but again, I couldn’t find any official figure. In fact I couldn’t even find any for sale, although record sites and chat rooms sure had a lot of people hunting for it.

Anyway, it’s been six years and there were more than a few people waiting to get this record. It is once again in red vinyl, includes a download card and a special RSD turntable slipmat.

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Well – RUN PEOPLE!!!! Call your local record store and see if they have it. The e-bay users are already asking more than $70.00 and you shouldn’t pay that. Pick it up from a local retailer for one third that price.

In a land built on “Bullets & Rocks” or Calexico – Edge Of The Sun

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Some of the most beautiful music has drifted from the desert into my imagination and consciousness. Even without the understanding of specific lyrics a visual can be created of open sky, run down saloons, dusty boots and people who are thirsty, broken and are in search of escape. Such is the landscape that Calexico creates in its musical atmosphere. It isn’t enough for them to write a bunch of singular songs that are placed together to create an album. They carefully craft a soundtrack that puts together music for an emotional response. Their blend of Mariachi-Americana brings up a south-west location, but the camera then pans towards the setting sun and you’re hooked.

They may be rooted in a folk tradition, but they never stay wrapped in it long enough to be indebted. Instead they surround themselves with players that can pull sounds and influences from the world over and use them create grand landscapes of music.

Now I know what you’re thinking, this is old hat for Calexico, this sounds like what they’ve been doing for years.

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This time however is the masterpiece. While their records have always been rather beautiful and stunning, Edge of the Sun opens and closes as a complete story that leaves you wondering what the hell you can play next. “Falling From The Sky” opens in familiar territory with a guitar armed protagonist in search of lost ‘meaning.’ Quickly this is followed by action as we learn that the future is built on “Bullets and Rocks.”

Like the two opening numbers each song comes out with a story that rolls the images and music along creating both desolation and hope in their own time. By the time that “Follow The River” sends out its final notes your left with the impression that life has no simple resolution. Yes our hero has been successful in their search, but while this chapter closes, the story itself continues long afterward.

Released only a couple weeks back, you can find three different vinyl versions of Edge Of The Sun.

Regular black vinyl

180 gram black vinyl

Limited (2500) two coloured vinyl discs in blue and turquoise… but good luck on this, numerous on sale in Europe, but here it’s already got an asking price over $75.00

(P.S. – If interested, you might try ordering through Rough Trade. They may have a couple copies left.)

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The Nature of Withdrawal or April 26/15 Playlist

“Beneath The City Of Dreams” – Calexico

I missed out on their advance release when I wasn’t paying attention. Still, a great record I’ll probably talk about soon. Maybe even in the next few hours. They just create such great imagery.

“Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes

Reviewed this on Tuesday and it’s just so damn hard to listen to anything else. It is such an awesome piece of work I’m going to need copies for all my relevant locations.

“Bobby Jean” – Bruce Springsteen

Looked back at this earlier in the week, than I got word that a childhood friend had died; suddenly this song started making me cry. Just the idea that we never really say goodbye before people leave us, and we never have a clue what they meant until that door is forever closed.

“Just Like Anyone” – Aimee Mann

Another song about loss, except this one… well it speaks for itself.

“Don’t Look Back In Anger” – Oasis

Not sure what it is about this song, how it works as both depressing and up lifting at the same time. It pulled me out of a darker mood.

“The Rescue Blues (Live)” – Ryan Adams

Officially the most freakin’ expensive vinyl I own after shipping and duty charges. I wish someone would tell me how much duty I’d have to pay before I finish my order, as good as this record is I had to pay an extra frickin’ charge when UPS showed up at my door!

“I Don’t Want Control Of You” – The New Mendicants

Joe Pernice and Norman Blake were playing in town yesterday, unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, so I drowned my sorrows in their music.

“It Don’t Come Easy” – Ringo Starr

Back in university a friend and I wrote a movie script that featured this song in a very prominent position. It would have been hilarious…

“I Don’t Mind” – Sebadoh

Sebadoh just announced a show and the release of a new single… a cover of a famous Canadian single just because they love us. You can order here.

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“Real Wild Child” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

The first song off her RSD 15 offering Flashback… which rocks in case you were wondering.

“The Witch” – The Sonics

I’ll cover this song and album soon, but wow, I wish I had known about them when I was a teen.

“Ong Ong” – Blur

Off the new Blur album, I’ll have a review for ya by Tuesday.

“Blue Orchid” – The White Stripes

Posted about this album… holy cash grab, and I’m not talking about the record company or artist. Just look for Get Behind Me Satan on e-bay and you’ll understand.

“Limelight” – Rush

The original song before the Sebadoh cover arrives in May.

“Gold” – John Stewart

Sad storytelling at its AM radio best! Took me a while to find as all I had remembered was a couple lines and that Stevie Nicks was doing background vocals.

“Raspberry Beret” – Hindu Love Gods

You’ll understand why they’re included when I put the Blur review out. Besides, it’s a great cover of a great song.

“Spectacular” – Graham Coxon

Graham Coxon takes a most rockin’ riff and turns it into a sing along anthem.

“Black Nite Crash” – Ride

Think I’ll write about this album next week, so it gave me an excuse to add this song.

“Sophisticated Gentleman” – Gabby Glaser

My son used to ‘rock out’ in the backseat as we drove around and this song was playing. I actually sent a quick message to her about it and she wrote back thanking me. Seems odd getting thanks from the person who provided my son and I with the soundtrack to happy memories! Oh yeah Luscious Jackson got back together and have a kids record out, you should check it out here.

“Happy Kid” – Nada Surf

Just a damn good song by a damn good band! After the past week I needed something that would make me smile?