Monday, May 28, 2012

Pull Me Through

Blue Rodeo remains one of Canada's best kept musical secrets, despite having put out numerous albums since the mid-1980s, and winning a handful of Juno Awards (Canada's equivalent of the Grammies). It’s easy to see why the roots-rockers do not enjoy the same sort of acclaim as more illustrious Canuck rockers like Neil Young or The Band: they specialise in putting out songs about chronic heartaches, hard economic times, desolate country towns and other less-than-cheery subjects, all set to some of the most understated and bare-bones music ever committed to record. The secret weapon in Blue Rodeo's armoury is undoubtedly songwriter and lead singer Jim Cuddy, who can imbue the most pedestrian of sentiments with just the right amounts of empathy and sympathy. Check out the heart-rending, weeping-willow ballad 'Pull Me Through', taken from Cuddy's 2006 solo album, 'The Light that Guides You Home'.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

By This River

To say that musical egghead Brian Eno is a musical polymath would be a bit of an understatement. Throughout the course of more than four decades in the business, the former Roxy Music mastermind has explored genres as disparate as upfront glam-rock, abstract ambient, inventive worldbeat and studied electronica, and proved himself to be an unparalleled authority in every chosen field. In addition to his own singular works, Eno has also established his credentials as a producer par excellence, lending his unique and inimitable sense of musical sonics to landmark recordings like Devo's 'Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!', Talking Heads' 'Remain in Light', U2's 'The Joshua Tree' and 'Achtung Baby', and James's 'Laid'. Check out an example of Eno's expert musicianship and atmospheric production chops, the mood-evoking, pastoral-natured 'By This River', taken from Eno's acclaimed 1977 album 'Before and After Science'.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Third World Man

While the dynamic duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker may not be as celebrated as other personages of the American classic-rock scene, they are undoubtedly the monarchs of cool, sardonic rock: their words are heavy with scathing observations, cryptic pop-culture references, and wickedly shrewd asides. Their songs are all disciplined, structured within some of the most sophisticated, classy melodies; intensely tricky time signatures; fiendishly intricate harmonies; and brilliantly informed by decidedly non-traditional rock forms like post-bop jazz, Brill Building pop, Stax-Volt soul, Delta blues, and even big-band swing and arch art-rock. All this makes for a distinctive, technically perfect and enduringly excellent sound that has made Steely Dan one of the most respected and venerated institutions, right through to the present day. Check out a typically masterful live rendition of the underrated 'Third World Man', recorded during one of their comeback tours in 1993.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kiko and the Lavender Moon

In an otherwise synthetic 1980s music landscape, Los Angeles outfit Los Lobos stood out with their distinctive brand of organic, earthy Tex-Mex rock, which was dosed liberally with other disparate musical elements. This resulted in a seamless, virtuosic make of roots-rock that had a commercial zenith in the massive hit title track to the 1987 Richie Valens biopic 'La Bamba'. Unfortunately, this became a bit of an albatross around their collective necks, since the five-man group eventually became known as a one-hit wonder by virtue of that song, even though they did go on to make more stylistically adventurous records. One of these experimental tracks is the shuffling, atmospheric nugget 'Kiko and the Lavender Moon’, which makes use of an odd time signature, sweeping, weeping strings and processed percussion clicks to tell its film-noir yarn. Check out its equally bold video clip, which seems to have taken inspiration from an LSD-induced dreamscape populated by all manner of bizarre, mythical creatures.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Living legend Van Morrison has made his name with a mind-boggling, thoroughly masterful and wholly accessible musical mixture of classic R&B grooves, post-bop jazz, mystical Celtic folk and no-holds-barred rock and roll through the course of nearly five decades in the business. It is no understatement to say that it would take a lengthy doctoral treatise to discuss at length the extent of the influence of Morrison's works on subsequent generations of musicians. Suffice to say, his stature is so elevated that he should long ago have had his own system of belief, with millions of faithful worshippers. There are two enduring Morrison trademarks present in each and every one of these releases: his unmatched, literate poetic grace and inventive musical vision, blessing all of his songs with a certain unique benediction. Both of these qualities are present in the effervescent, poised mid-tempo ballad 'Angeliou', from 1979's 'Into the Music', presented here in an absolutely devastating live performance, displaying Van the Man and his stellar band in full flight at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Heart's Filthy Lesson

By and large, the David Bowie albums of the 1990s have been grossly misunderstood. The ever fickle music press predictably accused Bowie of jumping on the bandwagon that was carrying whatever musical genre was in vogue at the moment, and it was 1995’s 'Outside' that netted the most vehement censure. In retrospect, most of the criticism seemed unwarranted and certainly unjustified. 'Outside' was actually nearly faultless, even by Bowie's exacting standards, and was in fact a bit of a throwback to the Berlin trilogy days of the splendid creative triumvirate of 'Low', 'Heroes' and 'Lodger'. The admittedly avant-garde 'Outside' was envisioned as a “non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle”, and recounted the adventures of one Nathan Adler, a private eye investigating a series of so-called art crimes over the course of three decades. Musically, 'Outside' is built upon a framework that is largely industrial in nature, borrowing liberally from acts like Cabaret Voltaire, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. While this may make for a slightly inaccessible body of work, the dizzying level of creativity and sheer vision at work here more than make up for any perceived artistic insularity. Check out 'The Heart's Filthy Lesson', an industrial-rock nugget bound within the rigid strictures of routine white noise, given additional character by an on-and-off sampled-guitar riff and some modern-jazz piano noodling. Its video was a gleeful but considered visual exploration of the ritual body art scene, featuring an unsettling tableau of artistic bodily mutilations and disturbing objets d'art.