Friday, March 27, 2015

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

Richard Branson and Nik Powell opened a mail order record store in London specializing in Krautrock music. As the record store grew into a success, they decided to branch out into new interests and started their own record label in 1972. They called it Virgin as they were all new (virgins) to business. Their first release was Mike Oldfield's progressive rock album Tubular Bells, which stayed on the British charts for over 5 years, topping at number 1. A pretty good feat for a label and musician’s debut. 


Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells when he was only 19 years old, playing most of the instruments himself, which was uncommon in the early 70's. While the writing and performance is amazing, what really helped this album become huge was using the opening riff of the title track as the theme for the movie The Exorcist. This launched Oldfield's music to a very broad audience. 


This 49 minute instrumental album went on to win a Grammy for instrumental composition in 1972. Globally it has sold 16 million copies to date and was a major player in making Virgin Records one of the most important record labels in history. Not bad for a 19 year old Mike Oldfield.  


Tubular Bells launched a long and respectful career for Oldfield and he is still releasing new material. To date he has 25 studio albums released with three of them landing at number one on the UK charts. Tubular Bells was actually not his first number one. Oldfield released his second LP, Hergest Ridge, in August 1974 and this album debuted at number one. With the new publicity, Tubular Bells again gained popularity and climbed the charts (where it had never left, just dropped) beating out his second album for the top spot.


It seems that Oldfield and his labels were always trying to recapture the magic of Tubular Bells: releasing Tubular Bells 2 & 3 and even rerecording the original album in 2003. While this other material is good, it pales in comparison to the original. Besides, it would be hard for them match the publicity originally from being the theme to The Exorcist.







Sunday, March 1, 2015

Miles Davis - Green Haze

Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois in May, 1926. His parents encouraged him in music at a young age, giving him a trumpet and starting him in lessons (his father gave him the trumpet while his mother encouraged the piano). Davis moved fast and started playing professionally locally at only 16 years of age while still in High School. After graduating, he moved to New York City where he began music studies at the Juilliard School of Music. While in New York he began playing regularly at jam sessions in some Harlem nightclubs. Eventually, Davis dropped out of school to concentrate on performing, bouncing between many jazz bands including a stint with Charlie Parker Quintet where he also contributed on their recordings. After Miles and Charlie Parker separated ties (band friction caused by drugs and money issues), Miles began working mainly as a freelancer. Fast forward several years of playing with some of the most influential jazz musicians and battling a heroin addiction, Miles signed a contract with Prestige records in 1951 where he began his solo career.

Green Haze was released in 1976 and is a rerelease of Miles’ first two albums with Prestige Records: The Musings of Miles; and Miles – The New Miles Davis Quintet.

The Musings of Miles features Red Garland on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and, of course, Miles on trumpet. This is the first 12" LP released by Miles, however he had released some budget 10" LP's with Prestige prior. It was recorded June 7th, 1955 at Rudy Ban Gelder's home studio (Gelder was a fames Jazz recording engineer). This is a great introduction to Miles, an easy listen with 4 traditional jazz songs and 2 originals. Wait until you hear the sound quality they achieved in the 50’s... if only all albums were mixed this good.

Following the release of The Musings of Miles, Davis’ band made a few switches. Paul Chambers replaced Oscar Pettiford on bass, and John Coltrane was added to the lineup on tenor saxophone, forming The New Miles Davis Quintet. The Miles album was his second full length LP but there were actually recordings made between this album and The Musings of Miles. After Musings was released, Miles played at the Newport Jazz Festival where he was noticed by Columbia Records executive George Avakian, who offered them a contract. They reached an agreement where they could start recording, however, the material could not be released until after Miles fulfilled his contract with Prestige. So, while the album Round About Midnight was recorded in November 1955, the previous month, they could only release it when they were released from Prestige (this album was eventually released in March 1957, their first from Columbia).

This album has a mix of Jazz standards and pop with “The Theme” being the only song composed by Miles Davis. While I really like both of these albums, I’d have to pick The New Miles Davis Quintet as my favorite. Of course, the obvious introduction of John Coltrane to the lineup sways my choice, but also Paul Chambers' addition on bass also plays a major role. Chambers' bass playing is very modern sounding for the time period, almost sounding like he could handle all of the rhythm alone with his fast scale runs and tight timing. It’s pretty impressive considering that the liner notes insists he was completely wasted drunk during these sessions. He proved to be very influential to the genre.

I really like these early Prestige recordings of Miles, now begins the quest to track down all those early 10” releases. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

John Coltrane - Live at Birdland

As I find myself busy with family, work, and reading, jazz music is the perfect soundtrack to give me a relaxing atmosphere. It’s like a form of meditation, completely allowing me to get lost in the music, noticing a new note or drum fill buried deep in the song, always taking away just a little bit more after every listen.

The very first jazz album I bought was John Coltrane – Live at Birdland, which I found on CD at a thrift store about 10 years ago. It was a hard listen the first time, I’ll admit. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t seem to understand. To be honest I still don’t think I understand, but I’m really enjoying trying to figure it out. For ten years I’ve been looking for this on vinyl at a decent price.

Older jazz records tend to be hard to find cheap, at least in my area. It’s likely most people who bought these albums knew what they were seeking and tended to hang onto them. Also, to stereotype a bit, jazz tended to be the music of choice of higher income people, as if it represented their success like an expensive suit, Cadillac or jewelry. These fans are less likely to sell used items as the small financial gain wouldn’t be as important to them. While these albums do exist and can be bought, it is usually at a premium. At least, for the most part, jazz albums tended to be cared for by most collectors. 

Last weekend I beat the odds and found a great deal on a small jazz collection. This collection had a nice mint copy of Live at Birdland. The stereo recording on this vinyl record is so well done and crisp, it’s like rediscovering this album for the first time.

Live at Birdland contains 3 tracks that were recorded live at New York City’s Birdland Club on October 8, 1963, as well as two studio tracks recorded the following month. My favorite track is probably the studio number Alabama which was written after a white Supremacist bombing that killed four children at 16th Baptist Church in September 1963. It is so easy to tell Coltrane was expressing something traumatic even without saying a single word. It is such a sad beautiful song.

Musicians are: McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums and John Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxes.

John Coltrane had a relatively short solo recording career which spanned from 1957 until his death in 1967. Prior to that he was a sideman in many bands, most notably with Miles Davis until being fired due to his heroin addiction. Being fired led him to begin his solo career which coincided with him also playing with other bands including The Thelonious Monk Quartet (also more on/off again performances with Miles Davis). During this solo period his music changed dramatically from contemporary to modal jazz (modal jazz is based around musical notes, while contemporary is based more around chord progressions), so he is an artist where you may only like select albums, depending on your taste. Live at Birdland was recorded just before his modal jazz masterpiece, A Love Supreme.  During this period, he is still in transition, let’s say 25% contemporary and 75% modal, which makes this is a perfect record to introduce you to the latter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top 5's of 2014 - Mike Bravener

I know it's now 2015, but I had one late comer with a top 5 list and definitely want to share. Mike Bravener always throws recommendations my way for new music and most of the time I agree with his taste. I always look forward to find out his years favorites.
Here is Mike in his own words:


1- Paolo Nutini - Sunny Side Up 

Sunny Side up was released in 2009, so it’s a few years old and I don’t know why it took me so long to find it. It was by chance that I discovered it. When I worked at Chapters I heard this song 10 out of 10 playing in the background and I swore I was listening to a Bob Marley track. I shazam’d the track and found out that it was Paolo. He’s a Scottish born Italian with a vocal style that is soulful, reggae, mellow and fun!! This CD has 12 tracks and I couldn’t stop listening to it for almost 4 months. My favourite track is one called “Pencil Full Of Lead” and has a big band sound and is pure fun.

The Cd was followed up in 2014 by Paolo’s 3rd full release called “Caustic Love” which has an old Motown, RnB sound.

Sunny Side up was a “Heather’s Choice” at Indigo which means if you bought it and didn’t like it,
you could return it. It’s now a Mike’s Choice. Most played CD of the year for me

2- Queen - Live at The Rainbow’ 74 - 4 LP vinyl Box set

I love Queen and Freddie so getting a chance to hear Freddie and the band when they were just starting out live is a treat! He could still hit all of the high notes and he was starting to build his stage banter and repertoire. The musicianship is incredible and what you hear is Rock n Roll. Songs are from their 1st three LP’s so for anybody who only knows Queen from Bohemian Rhapsody onward and fell in love with them. GET This 4 LP collection or double CD. Also they released full concert DVD or blue ray, remixed and remastered. 

Stands up to and beats, in my opinion, any Queen live concert footage from the 80’s. Complete with liner notes and mp3 download card, I now have Freddie singing me to sleep through my iPod most nights. Stone Cold Crazy originally from the LP Sheer Heart Attack, and here live at the Rainbow.

3- Queen - Forever 2 cd deluxe edition

OK People complained that the queen marketing machine took mostly songs that have been released, which is true, added 3 new unreleased Freddie tracks and voila an easy $15.00. The 3 unreleased tracks are great. One unreleased track includes Freddie singing with Michael Jackson “There Must Be More To Life Than This” What’s interesting Michael Jackson’s vocal was weak and leads me to believe his portion was a demo. I dunno for sure. The other 2 unreleased tracks are strong and have that classic Queen sound. I’m hoping they got more because it’s great hearing new tracks from my favorite vocalist of all time. Let Me in Your Heart Again is on repeat when I drive, Great and haunting tune. It’s like Freddie is asking us to open up to Old Queen again.

 And that’s what this collection does. It takes some familiar Queen tunes like “Love Of My Life” or “Somebody To Love” and puts them alongside incredible tracks like “Nevermore” You’re probably saying “Never heard that tune. It’s on their 2nd LP Queen 2. So you listen to that song and wonder hmmm what’s the rest of the LP Like? I think it could be right up alongside A Day At The Races and A Night at The Opera. Some of their best material is on Queen 2

4- Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes

Well what can you say about the BOSS. Some really neat tunes on here, Almost like they were left over from Wrecking Ball. Two cuts stand out and play regularly on my iPod. First “Frankie Fell In Love” Catchy fun tune about what love is and how it doesn’t make sense. The 2nd track that stands out is a track called “This Is Your Sword. I love hope and this song screams hope, never give up and that’s why I love this LP. the title track High Hopes should have been on the radio somewhere. I know this will get me in trouble with a lot of people but I believe that the modern King Of Rock N Roll is Bruce Springsteen. Sorry Elvis!

5- Dolly Parton - Both Sides of

Now this is a surprise to me, but I’m hooked on to Dolly Parton, and this LP has a collection of some of her greatest hits. Pure fun, pure story telling, and the more you listen to Dolly’s voice you get hooked. Did you know she’s outselling Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and others in Europe? Yessiree. Now I’ve know about her, liked her songs but the more I dug into her discography I discovered that there is some great Americana.

And here is something interesting… Try and find a Dolly LP on vinyl in great shape in any record store. You Can’t. When Dolly joins that great bluegrass combo in the sky her LP’s will be worth their mint in gold. Her first single, Puppy Love, was listed on eBay recently for $5000.00

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cory Paul Hill - Where We Live

Where We Live is the debut album from Fredericton’s own Cory Paul Hill. According to his bio on his website, Cory considers himself a songwriter first and instrumentalist second. This album proves he has what it takes to succeed at both. He is a strong multi-instrumentalist and an even stronger lyricist. This album features twelve songs of heartache, loss, love and death.

The music falls close to the folk-rock genre, but I hear lots of country influence in his vocals as well. During slow numbers like The Right Time, it reminds me of a Garth Brooks ballad with slow acoustic picking and strong vocals (I can swear I also hear a pedal steel far away in the background). These slow ballads like The Right Time and I Do is where I think Cory excels the most as a songwriter.

But all songs are not this slow and folky: the opening track, Where We Live, has some distorted guitars and drums sounding steering it farther away from folk and closer to rock.

Cory did all the recording himself and did a decent job. The mix is not consistent and I found myself adjusting the volume on my stereo often between tracks. Some songs have his vocals a bit too loud, but others have it damn near perfect. I don’t see any of this as negative, he did a hell of a job doing this by himself, but perhaps with a little bit of guidance he could make this even better.

The only real flaw I found on this album is that he seems to be trying to make some songs catchy using gimmicks. There are a few too many “la de da’s” and “do dee do’s.” My favorite track on the album is I Do, but I personally think it doesn't need those added fillers in the background. Cory has enough talent and skill as a songwriter that the “catchiness” is not required, these songs can hold their own ground.

Where We Live is available for as a CD or digital download at It’s a great first effort from some young local talent. With the right guidance and loads of persistence, I can see Cory going far with his music.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 5's of 2014 - Bete Smith

Next up on our Top 5's of 2014 we have another good pal Bete Smith. It's always exciting for me to get Bete's list as he mainly listens to Hip-Hop. I love this genre but am usually lost on what to try. Luckily Bete gives me a few picks throughout the year to help keep me in the loop on the genre. 

Here is Bete in his own words:

My picks for 2014 (with a few short comments) are below:

Top 5 (in no particular order)

Flying Lotus - You're Dead: Growth

D'Angelo - Black Messiah: Worth the wait

Diamond District - March on Washington / M.o.W. Redux: The best hip hop album of the year, followed by the year's best remix collection. Well done.

Budos Band - Burnt Offering: Sinister. In the groove.

The Bug - Angels and Devils: Badman.

(honourable mention)

Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty

Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Taylor McFerrin - Early Riser

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 5's of 2014: Shawn Williston

Next up on the Top 5's of 2014 we have my pal Shawn Williston. A fellow blogger and music nut, I always look forward to Shawn's list and still miss the old days when he would bring a mixed tape of his favorites to the New Years party. 

Here is Shawn in his own word:

I won't go crazy with big write ups this year, as the blog moved into more of a reviews site this year and I feel like I already said most of what there is to say. And instead of ranking them like I usually do, this year I boiled it down to five nominees with the winner being announced later. So these are in alphabetical order:

AGAINST ME!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Though it may be an album explicitly about gender transformation, Against Me's sixth album ends up being implicitly more about accepting one's true nature without fear or judgment. That it also happens to be packed with some of the band's sharpest, most personal tunes makes it an unflinching, unforgettable record that begs to be played and played again.
Check out: Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ, FUCKMYLIFE666, Black Me Out

Best known for pioneering vanguard groups At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are beginning to build a reputation for burning it all down and starting over whenever they see fit. There weren't many places to go from the gonzo stylings of The Mars Volta, so Antemasque finds them reaching back even further than At The Drive-In, dabbling in '80s post punk and new wave with typically thrilling results from a duo whose forte is thrilling results.
Check out: 4AM, In the Lurch, 50,000 Kilowatts

HE IS LEGEND: Heavy Fruit
One of the most under-the-radar hard rock bands of the '00s wake from a half-decade slumber with another major progression in sound. Their bag of tricks threatens to overflow by times, but this monstrous record proves they're not just trying on hats; they're making them all look good.
Check out: This Will Never Work, No Visitors, Time to Stain

Seeking to reestablish guitars as the driving force behind their divine racket, Cope finds Manchester Orchestra squeezing every last drop of blood and sweat from all six strings. Their trademark vulnerable beauty still resides underneath, but this time out it's drowning under a thick blanket of churning, guttural noise.
Check out: Top Notch, The Ocean, Cope

SWANS: To Be Kind
If 2012's The Seer was an out-of-nowhere late career highlight 30 years in the making, To Be Kind is a simultaneous refinement and unraveling of that record. Challenging in the best possible way, this is a record that straps you down demands attention for the entirety of its two hour runtime. It's provocative but stunning, exhaustive but majestic. A complete and total triumph.
Check out: A Little God in My Hands, Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture, Oxygen