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.

If You’re Late For Dinner… or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Eponymous

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I have no idea what it was like in your house growing up, but in mine being ‘late to the table’ was a sure way to lose out on after dinner goodies. However, this whole ‘vinyl revival’ thing makes it so you can be years late to the table and still enjoy a great dessert.

Such is the case with the fabulous self-titled debut by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It has been 10 years since their initial offering and in celebration the band is re-issuing their out of print eponymous record with an additional recording of songwriter Alec Ounsworth doing a solo acoustic live show.

Just in case you may have forgotten Clap Your Hands Say Yeah popped onto the scene in spectacular fashion garnering rave reviews on both sides of the ocean and beyond. Names like Modest Mouse, Neutral Milk Hotel, Ride, and the Talking Heads have been used to describe them (Ounsworth’s voice does resemble a higher pitched David Byrne) but really they are a really well balanced stew of many influences. You can hear various styles dating from the 80’s to the present, which just means it is pretty hard to them pin down from one song to the next. Listen to it with friends sharing a couple bottles of wine and you could have an interesting conversation about what you hear and how good it is.

Out on June 2nd, the wax re-issue will be pressed on gold translucent vinyl and both the CD and LP versions will include download cards of the original release and live material.

#1 in so many damn ways… Big Star – #1 Record

History is fluid and changes with interpretation and the times that follow. So, something that was once dismissed or missed can be re-examined and pulled into the light in a way that perhaps it wasn’t before. Such was, is and may forever be the story of how Big Star and their debut #1 Record are considered.

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It is one of the planets greatest rock ‘n’ roll records, and still almost no one beyond critics and hipsters has truly given it the time of day. Sure Rolling Stone has it in their 500 Greatest Records of All-Time, but that doesn’t really result in the kind of record sales and recognition that should be afforded this band.

Obviously, the information is out there, in different formats and many stories told; so I’m just going to point out a few in hopes that you see an opportunity to get yourself some great music.

First, if you have access to Netflix than you can catch the Big Star biography Nothing Can Hurt Me. It is a great examination into the history of Big Star, and also offers an awesome soundtrack of alternate takes from Big Star and their principle songwriters Chris Bell and Alex Chilton.

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Next there is a new biography on Alex Chilton named A Man Called Destruction. It is pretty eye opening and well worth the read.

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Finally, the one album I was here to tell you about on this day, #1 Record. While it would be easy for me to sit here heaping praise, it is easier to just point out its influence. Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Lemonheads, Wilco and much of the 90’s alt rock pantheon were influenced by #1 Record.

Some of the songs you may recognize from are:

“In The Street” – It became the theme song to That 70’s Show.

“The Ballad of El Goodo” – Has been covered numerous times by acts such as Evan Dando, Mathew Sweet, Counting Crows, Zeus, Wellspring and Wilco.

“Thirteen” – Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, and I’ll just add, one of the most amazing songs ever.

Anyway, your opportunity is that as vinyl goes, there have been some recently released re-masters that are available. First a little company called 4 Men with Beards was given permission to re-release #1 Record on 180 gram black vinyl. I haven’t found an exact number printed, but it must be at least sizable enough to fill demand.

The second release is a little more exclusive, Newbury Comics with permission of Big Star’s record label Ardent have released 1000 copies of #1 Record on translucent gold vinyl. Trust me when I say, it is awesome!

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In fact, that is kind of my point; #1 Record is one of the greatest albums one can have in their collection. If I printed my version of the top 10 records of all time it would be among them. More importantly, if I was to take off my critic hat and just list my favourite 10 records, again it would sit amongst the top. In fact, it just might be a contender for number one.

Holding history in my hand – The Posies: “I Am The Cosmos”

Back in ’93 I was handed a copy of Big Star’s – Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri. It was my entrance into the world of Big Star. Previous to this I had heard the odd track on my campus radio station as well as seeing numerous references as influences by many of my favorite artists, but I had yet to hear a whole album. One song caught me right away.

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Perhaps the greatest song the rock masses never heard is Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos.” Even for those lucky enough to have heard Big Star back in the 70’s, “Cosmos” was a single that saw only limited release in Memphis in 1978 and certainly never attained (like Big Star itself) national attention. Bell himself would be killed in a car accident later the same year.

Still, like a few other legendary acts (The Velvet Underground, Flying Burrito Brothers) it seems that those that did listen became musicians themselves. By the early 90’s, power-pop was becoming ‘a thing’ and Big Star started showing up as influences for a plethora of alt-rock acts. So as “alternative-mania” was in full 1992 swing Fantasy Records released Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City as a single CD, and Rycodisc released Third/Sister Lovers. In was at this point that the Posies covered “I Am The Cosmos” and “Feel.” Around the same time Rycodisc also released a compilation of Chris Bell solo material entitled I Am The Cosmos.

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Now, what makes this single of the Posies an important part of music history is what happened the following year. Two students at the University of Missouri asked Alex Chilton if he would be interested in performing some Big Star songs for a concert. With Chilton in Jody Stephens (drums, vocals) also agreed but Andy Hummell refused(bass), which left a hole to be filled on bass, and second guitar for this to be pulled off. Names got tossed out like Mike Mills (REM), Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and Paul Westerberg, but nothing really stuck until Ardent Records (where Big Star had recorded) founder John Fry pulled a translucent blue single he had tacked to the wall down and gave it another listen.

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That single led to the Posies being asked to fill in for Andy Hummell and the late Chris Bell. Not only was the concert a huge success, but it was also released as the live album already mentioned. Suddenly there was “new” music to be talked about with the old material, and word was getting out. A new generation were looking for Big Star records and finding them… something that didn’t happen when the band was originally together.

Of course this is total conjecture, but that single in combination with the re-release of Big Star’s three studio records, led us to todays Big Star revival. All three records have been re-released on audiophile vinyl with a great special edition of Third/Sisters Lovers being put out by Omnivore Records. Had Chilton not passed away in 2010 it is likely Big Star would have done an extensive tour.

“Cosmos” itself has been covered live by Big Star, the Posies, Beck, Wilco, This Mortal Coil and The Jayhawks to name but a very few. If only I could get my hands on that original single.

Of course that is one Chris Bell song. As for Alex Chilton and Big Star… well, it’ll take a few more posts to cover that.

Top New Vinyl Releases 2014 – Honourable Mention

Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters

Roswell Records

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http://shop.foofighters.com/collections/sonic-highways/products/sonic-highways-vinyl

The most frickin’ expensive record I paid for last year and I’m not happy about it. The shipping cost was almost the price of the record, than I got nabbed for duty, than UPS thought I didn’t pay and tried to make me pay a second time… arrrrrrr!

Why did I go through the trouble?

Well, there was this cardboard 7” cover of Roky Erickson’s “Two-Headed Dog” that came with the pre-order. You could only get it through the advance order and I’m a sucker for cool collectibles, so a small fortune was paid out. Funny thing is people on e-bay are trying to sell that same 7” now for between $60 and $90.

 

Sukierae by Tweedy

dBpm Records

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http://wilco.kungfustore.com/music-and-books/projects/sukierae-vinyl-lp.html

Another problem record but this time there was an easy and awesome resolution. My initial copy was warped and played like crap. I wrote the distributor and was expecting to jump through a bunch of hoops. Nope. They fired a message right back that a new copy was on the way. So, I only had to wait an extra few days. With the ‘yellow swirl’ vinyl was a copy of the CD (standard with the vinyl purchase) and I was a very happy camper.

 

Commonwealth by Sloan

Yep Roc Records

http://www.amazon.ca/Commonwealth-Vinyl-Sloan/dp/B00M14EPSQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421286086&sr=8-1&keywords=sloan+vinyl

Great record! This double album came in two 180 gram vinyl records with download card and a 12” poster of the band as playing cards.

 

They Want My Soul by Spoon

Republic Records

http://www.amazon.ca/They-Want-My-Soul-Vinyl/dp/B00KTZALGY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421286183&sr=8-1&keywords=spoon+vinyl

Outstanding record musically and came as a copy of 180 gram white vinyl. Beautiful piece of work.

 

Oh yeah I almost forgot to mention this folks…

Real fans BUY their music!

(and great fans buy the music from the band directly because they know the artist will actually see some money from their work.)