Wednesday, August 12, 2015

X-Y-Z is for Neil Young

     Neil Young has been producing great music for more than the entire 51 years of my life.

     His career began way back in the early 1960s with a band Called Buffalo Springfield.  This band had a big hit with the Vietnam protest song called, For What It's Worth.  Buffalo Springfield was a supergroup of sorts, with other members such as Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash), Richie Furay and Jim Messina (Poco, for both and Loggins and Messina, for Jim Messina) all finding personal and collaborative success in the wake of Buffalo Springfield's demise after a few short years.  But, the door was not entirely closed on Buffalo Springfield because, in 1997, it was elected to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
     Eventually, as the 1960s drew to a close, Stills called upon Neil Young to join his new group that he had formed with David Crosby and Graham Nash so, they formed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. CSNY enjoyed hits such as Teach Your ChildrenOhio and Helpless. This group was at the forefront of the 1960s "Flower power" movement and helped cement Young's reputation as a political singer who was unafraid to state his opinions, through his songs, on a wide range of issues.

     After CSNY broke up, Neil Young went on to forge one of the most consistently successful careers in all of music. Regardless of whether he was playing in styles such as folk, country or rock, Young created iconic hit songs such as Old Man, After the Gold Rush, Needle and the Damage Done, Cinnamon Girl, Harvest Moon, Southern Man, Rockin' in the Free World, Hey, Hey, My, My, HurricaneLong May You Run and Only Love Can Break Your Heart, all of which are acknowledged as being classics of the Rock n' Roll era.

    Politically and personally, Neil Young has devoted a lot of his energy and his fame toward various causes which struck close to his heart such as the Farm Aid concerts. He helped to found The Bridge School, for children with severe physical and/or developmental difficulties and helped to organize the highly successful benefit concerts that are held yearly to aid the school. He has, also, spoken out against corporate sponsorship of rock music and those who cause damage to our environment.  Consequently, Neil Young has always appeared a little "rough around the edges" from a music industry perspective.  He is a non-conformist with regard to the powers-that-be but a populist performer with his fans and admirers.

     Neil Young has earned many awards over the course of his legendary career including, being elected to the Rock n' Roll hall of Fame TWICE!! (Once, as a member of Buffalo Springfield and once for his work as a solo performer.)  He has been elected to The Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. Young has been nominated for 28(!) Juno Awards, winning seven. He is a member of The Order of Manitoba and an Officer of The Order of Canada.
He has been deemed, along with Bob Dylan, as being the greatest living songwriter of all time.  And, all I really can say about all of this is that Neil Young was writing hit songs when I was a toddler, learning my letters and numbers......and, he is still as relevant today, as he was back then, an entire lifetime ago.  What an amazing performer!  What an amazing career!

     A big tip of the hat to our final group of performers...those whose names begin with an "X", a "Y" or a "Z":

     Singer, Alfie Zappacosta, Olympic songbird, Nikki Yanovsky, Guitarist, Zal Yanovsky (of The Lovin' Spoonful), Country star, Lori Yates, Mr. Joel Zimmerman aka, Deadmau5, Alt-rock band, Yukon Blonde, Juno Award-winning folk singers, Zubot and Dawson, Indie rock band, The Zolas,  Montreal alternative band, Young Galaxy, Indie band, Young Empires, Alt-rock band, Zeus and, finally, one of the founding fathers of Canadian punk rock, Young Canadians aka, the K-tels!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

W is for Walk Off The Earth, Patrick Watson and the Weakerthans

     A few years ago, on a rainy, indoor recess school day, I found myself on supervisory duty.  As I entered the computer lab, one of the older kids beckoned me over and said, "Hey!  Mr. M.!  Check this Out!  Five people playing one guitar!"
     I walked over, expecting to see some sort of novelty act but, instead, I stood, transfixed, watching some very talented performers expertly playing one guitar and singing the most amazing song called Somebody I Used To Know.

     "Who Is this?" I asked.

     "They're called Walk Off The Earth."

     At the time, I had no idea that this was not their own song and was, in fact, a cover of the original song by Australian singer, Goyte.  All that I know was that this video was really well done and that the group seemed refreshing and original and that I liked them.  While still on duty, I called in the music teacher to watch the video and then, the Principal, too.  We were all floored!  Apparently, we were not alone.  At the time of the writing of this post, Walk Off The Earth's version of Somebody I Used To Know has been viewed over 2 million times!   Many people, myself included, far prefer the WOTE version of this song and that is where controversy took root.  Walk Off The Earth's version was being requested on iTunes and on local radio stations but, technically, Goyte's version was the legally-released song and, as such, it was almost impossible to hear WOTE's version through mainstream sources.  There was a lot of back-and-forth on comment boards between fans demanding that WOTE's version be more readily accessible, with just as many criticizing the band and accusing it of ripping Goyte off.

     In the end, both bands declared mutual respect for the other and, in retrospect, it is easy see how the publicity helped both performers gain attention and record sales as a result.  However, at the time, Walk Off The Earth became one of the most talked-about groups in the world.......and, they never even had a record contract!   Like The Weeknd, Walk off The Earth circumvented the traditional music industry route when it came to having their music heard by the masses.  They pioneered the use of YouTube and social media like Facebook and Twitter, to connect directly with their fan base.  Since that first video, Walk Off The Earth has released all of their songs on video first. In most cases, they released the videos straight from their own website onto Facebook and into the homes of millions of their "friends" and "followers".

     Walk Off The Earth has had a string of hits with other cover songs such as, Little Boxes, Some Nights and I Knew You Were Trouble. But, they have started releasing their own, original tunes, as well and have been achieving an increasingly higher amount of record sales and/or air play on mainstream media. Songs such as Summer Vibe, Gang of Rhythm, Red Hands and Rule the World have all become hits and have earned their fair share of airplay at my house via our various personal iTunes playlists and all across the country, too.

     This band, from Burlington, Ontario, just seems to be getting stronger and stronger. Their inventiveness and creativity can clearly be seen in the really cool videos they produce.  They appear to be having a lot of fun doing what they are doing and seem very relaxed and comfortable with the vision they have for their career and how best to interact with their fans.  It wouldn't surprise me at all if, on future rainy, indoor recess kind of day, that some other student doesn't call me over to say, "Hey!  Mr. M.!  Check out this really cool video!"   I know I'll be as impressed then as I was that first time, when I first watched "five people playing one guitar"
     *Just as an fyi, the video for Gang of Rhythm was filmed on the pier by the beach in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario so, if you want to get a sense of where I am when I write these posts then, check out Gang of Rhythm.   

     When I first began creating these posts, it was with the goal of, hopefully, bringing some new and deserving artists to light.  With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to Patrick Watson.

     Patrick Watson is a very interesting performer because he appears as Patrick Watson, solo artist, as well as, Patrick Watson, the band.  Whether alone or accompanied, Patrick Watson has been wowing the music critics and his fellow performers for years.

     Born in the U.S. but, raised in and around, Montreal, Patrick Watson, has performed with many of the performers who make up the Montreal music scene such as The Dears, The Stills and so on.  Watson's first album, Closer To Paradise, won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 and was nominated for a Juno Award. His second album, Wooden Arms,  was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize in 2009.  His songs have appeared on famous television shows such as Grey's Anatomy and The Walking Dead. 
   Patrick Watson has developed a devoted following who admire the inventiveness of the instrumentation and poetry of the lyrics used in such songs as The Great Escape, Noisy Sunday, Big Bird in a Small Cage and Lighthouse.  Currently, Patrick Watson has a hit song entitled, Love Songs for Robots. Moody. Atmospheric. Ethereal. Delicate and Intricate. Perfect. Patrick Watson.

     I will leave you with Winnipeg's The Weakerthans.  The Weakerthans were formed in the late 90s by members of two hard rock bands, Propaghandi and Red Fisher.  The goal was to create a more melodic type of sound than was possible within the constraints of their former bands.  The band name was chosen after a line, "What force on Earth can be weaker than the feeble strength of one."

     The Weakerthans have achieved both, critical and commercial success. Their second album, Left and Leaving was named one of the Top Ten albums of all-time in Canada in the very same reader's poll from Chart Magazine than had named Sloan as having the top album of all-time.  Obviously, readers of Chart Magazine enjoy their Alt-rock music written and played well.  The Weakerthans have been nominated for Juno Awards and have been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. They have won multiple West Coast Music Awards, as well as, being named Artist of the Year at the Verge Awards on XM Satellite Radio (other winners have included, Hey Rosetta!  Alexisonfire and Dan Mangan).
     The Weakerthans have produced several hit songs including, Civil TwilightTournament of Hearts, Sun in an Empty Room, One Great City, Left and Leaving and Aside.  This particular song, One Great City, is a great example of what The Weakerthans are all about; it is Canadian to its' core, unpretentious and down to earth, a sing-along song about Winnipeg...who knew?  Well, apparently, all of the folks singing along in the crowd did.  What a great Canadian band, The Weakerthans!!!

     Finally, a big tip of the hat to the following artists whose name happens to start with a "W":

Indie Rockers, Women, Singer/songwriter/producer, Hawksley Workman, Superb musical siblings, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Lead singer of Sum 41, Deryck Whibley, Satirist, Nancy White, Rocker, David Wilcox,  Lead singer of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings/Junkhouse, Tom Wilson, Singer/songwriter/composer, Bob Wiseman, Singer, Karl Wolf, Country star, Michelle Wright, Singer/songwriter, Royal Wood, Bluesman, Jackie Washington, Alt-folk band, Woodpigeon, Alternative darlings from Montreal, Wolf Parade, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir founder, Andrew Whitman, The Lumberjack Singer, Hal Willis, Alternative band, Wake Owl, Bluegrass stars, The Wailin' Jennys, Alt-rock band, Whitehorse, Indie rockers, The Waltons, Rockers, Wide Mouth Mason, Weeping Tile and The Watchmen, Blues rockers, Wild T and the Spirit, Trenton, Ontario's own, The Wilkinsons and, finally, Indie rockers from Halifax, Wintersleep.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

W is for The Weeknd and The Power of Celebrity

     In the not so very distant past, a lady named Oprah Winfrey had her own television talk show in the United States.  Besides being an excellent host, Oprah was, also, an actress, a philanthropist and a social activist but, above all else, Oprah Winfrey was a Kingmaker.  Oprah was a powerful woman; especially in the Arts community. With a single sticker from her "Book Club" placed on the cover of a new book, Oprah could take, even the most obscure author, and bestow upon them instant credibility and direct toward them, legions of faithful followers who would dutifully ratchet up the sales totals, driving the book quickly up the the New York Times Best-seller charts.  Oprah's Book Club is just example of the power of "the celebrity endorsement".

     In Canada, we have seen the rise of a new celebrity power-broker. The rapper, Drake, has assumed the position of arbitrator of "cool" in this country.  His base of power is the city of Toronto.  Drake reigns over his dominion as a benevolent dictator.
He has rebranded the city as "The 6" and Torontonians love it; especially the athletes, singers and artists, the ones in the public eye.  They took to referring to Toronto as "The 6" immediately, as if it had never been any other name, ever.  He helped to unveil the Toronto Raptors new uniforms during one of his concerts, and the crowds and the city loved it.  Drake is an a-list rapper who hangs with the likes of Jay-Z and Eminem. His cache enables him to effortlessly attract other "cool" figures into his realm such as NBA star, Lebron James and singers such as Pharrell.  Drake has acquired the same devoted following in Canada and, in particular, in Toronto, as Oprah ever had in the United States. He has power to affect change, on his terms and, he is gaining more confidence when it comes to using it. Drake is, single-handedly, helping the city put a strut back in its' stride. As fans, the relationship with Drake in symbiotic in that the more he leads, the more they want him to lead. They are his source of energy. They are his gang, as it were and he is their leader.  They are emboldened by his attitude and they welcome and support, unreservedly, anyone who he deems worthy of his blessing. Such is the case with, arguably, the hottest, fastest rising music star in the country these days, rapper and soul singer, The Weeknd.

     The Weeknd is the stage name of Toronto-area rapper, Abel Tesfaye.  He began his career only a few years ago in 2010. Initially, he bypassed the usual music industry requirements of having an agent, signing a record deal, etc. and, simply recorded three songs and released them on YouTube.  He only gave his name as The Weeknd and provided no other information; letting his music speak for him.  The quality of his rapping was so stellar that people took notice and talk of his music spread by word-of-mouth, ending with Drake taking notice and deciding to involve himself by placing the songs on his own website.  Such a personal and public endorsement catapulted The Weeknd into the spotlight in a hurry.  Only one year into his career, The Weeknd was shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize and found himself performing at Drake's own OVOfest concert.

     The Weeknd has displayed a tendency to use social media as his way to connect with his fans and to market his product.  Initially, he released three separate "mixed tapes" on his own website, available for free download.  Even when performing live on a stage, The Weeknd would never want to grant interviews. Instead, he would respond directly to his fans via Twitter, for example.  In doing so, The Weeknd created an air of mystery about himself while, at the same time, developing an intimate relationship with each fan who became a member of "his crew".

     Eventually, The Weeknd signed a record deal and released an album that combined the three previously released mixed tapes.  This album, Trilogy, went into the Top Ten on BillBoard's Music Charts, in the categories of Rap and Soul.  Ever since then, The Weekend has had a steady stream of hit songs such as The Hills, Earned ItLive For, Often, The Morning and Kiss Land and has raised his profile considerably by appearing on such well-known soundtracks as The Fifty Shades of Grey.  The Weeknd is well on his way to enjoying a career marked by tremendous commercial and critical success. He has achieved what he has to date by maintaining strict control over how he releases new songs, as well as, in how he interacts with his fans.  He has always kept the music "industry" at arms length which, when you have friends like Drake in your corner, you are able to get away with doing.

***Note:  Part II of "W" will appear tomorrow, along with the "Hats off" list, too.   Thanks for taking the time to read my work. As always, your comments are gratefully appreciated.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

V is for Jon Vickers

     Jon Vickers was one of the most renown operatic tenors in the world.  In fact, he was more than merely a tenor, Jon Vickers was a heldentenor, which means to have a heroic presence on stage.  In my opinion, if you have the vocal ability to sing opera the way it is meant to be sung, you may as well go all the way and be heroic in the process.  Jon Vickers was every bit that hero.

     Jon studied opera at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in the 1950s and, upon graduation, joined The Covent Garden Company of London's Royal Opera House in 1957 and then, in 1960, joined the company at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  Possessing a strong, powerful voice, Vickers was able to easily handle the rigours of Opera's founding languages; French, Italian and German.  He was noted for his acting abilities, as much as his vocal prowess and, as such, was a sought-after performer in virtually all major operas of note.  His favourite composer was Wagner but, Vickers was more than comfortable handling the work of any composer.  He was awarded the Companion to the Order of Canada and The Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

     Just this past month, Jon Vickers passed away at his home in Ontario.  He had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease at the time of his death.  In order to forestall the onset of Alzheimers as long as possible, family members and hospital staff filled his home and then, eventually, his room, with the rich, full, glorious sounds of his operas.  Bizet (Carmen), Handel (Samson), Berlioz (Les Troyens), Verdi (Otello), Beethoven (Fidelio), Wagner (Die Walker, "Winterstrume"); the words, music and passion of a life lived grandly, filled his final hours, leaving such a rich tapestry of success for all of us to admire.
     Jon Vickers was Canada's greatest Heldentenor.  A hero to all who truly care about great music.

     A big tip of the hat is extended toward the following performers whose name begins with the letter, "V":

     Alternative singer, Chad VanGaalen, Quebec metal bands, Voivod and Vulgaires Machins, Folk singer, Valdy, Hit songwriter (especially for Bryan Adams), Jim Vallance, Prince protogee, Vanity, My pal, Gloria's lifelong boy crush, Singer Roch Voisine, Montreal Singer and 80s heart throb, Gino Vanelli, Lead singer of rock band, Helix, Brian Vollmer, Quebec singer, Vincent Vallieres, Electronic/Sound sampler, Venetian Snares and, finally, one of the godfathers of the Punk Music scene in Canada, The Viletones.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

U is for Usher

     David Usher gained fame in the 90s for being the lead singer of a band called, Moist.  Moist  had a string of several hits such as Push, Silver, Believe Me, Leave It Alone, BreatheResurrection, Gasoline and Tangerine.   Usher was born in England; his mother being a Thai Bhuddist artist and his father, a professor of Economics from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.   Moist formed in Vancouver and has won two Juno Awards, several Much Music Video Awards and several Canadian Music Association Awards for Best Rock Album, Video, Band and Singer.

     For many young musicians, the attainment of critical and mainstream success would be the end goal to a productive and prestigious life. However, David Usher, like Raine Maida (from Our Lady Peace), never did see his musical career as being the centre of his life.  Because of his upbringing, Usher has experienced a life that brought with it a blending of cultures, beliefs and attitudes. As a result, David Usher has a vision for his life that extends well beyond the spotlight and into the realm of compassion and creativity on a global scale.

     In addition to singing with Moist, Usher is involved in several creative and/or charitable ventures;

- He serves on the Board of Directors of an organization called Amnesty International's Artists for Amnesty (which focusses on helping people who are oppressed and/or imprisoned in their home countries). Many artists have donated songs to this cause which you can download for free or else, purchase through the normal sources and have a portion of the purchase price go to help fund Amnesty International's work on social and political justice throughout the world.
- He has travelled with an organization called WarChild (which deals with children in war zones).  By clicking on the link and then, clicking on "Our History" you will see David's name and activities for this organization, as well as, Raine Maida, his wife, Chantel Kreviazuk and other big time Canadian performers such as The Tragically Hip, Sum 41 and others.
- He sits on the Board of McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas.
- David runs a company called, Clouded Creativity Labs (which works to bring together the worlds of Art and Technology in interesting and creative ways)
- Finally, David Usher is an author and motivational speaker.  His book, Let the Elephants Run is all about how we, as ordinary citizens, can harness the creativity that exists within us but which, for one reason or another, is suppressed.   In addition to his book, Usher writes about the impact of "exponentially and the coming of the second machine age on business and society"  on a website called Human Metrics.

     When David Usher and Moist first burst on to the Canadian music scene, his exotic good looks held sway and there was a great attempt made to turn him into a poster boy and teen idol. But, as is evident from the words above, judging this book by its' cover would cause you to miss out on a deep-thinking, compassionate soul who is living a fully, self-actualized life and who is leaving a better world in his wake.  What a great Canadian success story David Usher has turned out to be.

     Hard to follow that so, instead, let's go straight to the tipping of the hat toward those performers whose name begins with a "U":

    Indie-pop performers, Unicorns, Singer/songwriter, Shari Ulrich, 80s rockers, Universal Honey, Avant-garde Metal Band, UnexpecT, and finally, Multi-Award winning Jazz fusion group from Montreal, Uzeb

Monday, August 3, 2015

T is for The Tragically Hip, Shania Twain, Tegan and Sara

     Like Sloan (in yesterday's post) and Rush, a few posts before that, The Tragically Hip have enjoyed a decades-long run of success, employing a lineup that has remained completely intact, right from the beginning.  Formed in Kingston, Ontario, lead singer Gord Downie, guitarists, Rob Baker,  Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and drummer, Johnny Fay, have served to create one of Canada's all-time most successful bands.  They have produced nine #1 albums, they have won 14 Juno Awards and they are already enshrined in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, even though they are still actively producing new material and successfully touring the country.

     The Tragically Hip are a rock band and produce straight-ahead rock songs.  What separates The Hip, as they are known, from other rock bands in Canada (such as Nickelback) is the poetry of their lyrics and their commitment to writing about Canada and all things Canadian.  Being able to hear songs about ourselves is a precious thing in this country and no one does it like The Tragically Hip.  They write about real people and real events in a way that elevates the importance of their stories and helps create a mythology that doesn't often happen in Canada.   For example, 50 Mission Gap is about Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player, Bill Barilko, who died mysteriously in a plane crash after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for The Leafs. Wheat Kings is a lovely song about David Milgaard, who was falsely accused of murder and imprisoned for many years.  Nautical Disaster is about the sinking of the British battleship Hood by the German battleship, Bismarck in World War II.  Bobcaygeon alludes to Toronto-area Nazi sympathizer, Ernst Zundel.  Three Pistols is about famous Canadian painter, Tom Thomson. And, on and on, it goes.   Even though many of these songs reference real life, they are nothing at all like nostalgic folk tunes.  They are powerful arena rock songs, delivered by Canada's most flamboyant and enigmatic showman, Gord Downie, and his friends, the Hip.  

     Whether seeing The Hip live or else, blasting their tunes with the top down, cruising down the highway, The Tragically Hip are Canada's national band.  Their music is the story of our lives in Canada. Their musical catalogue stretches into the hundreds of songs. Some of my favourites include, Ahead By A Century, Locked in the Trunk of a CarCourage (for Hugh MacLennan), Looking for a Place to Happen, Poets, At The Hundredth Meridian and 38 Years Old.   There are many, many more excellent Hip tunes but, for now, I will leave you with The Tragically Hip when they came to my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario.  I was in the crowd that night, along with my Father-in-Law, in a sea of lumberjack shirts and hockey jerseys, bottled blondes with skinny jeans and knee-high boots; all of  us, fists a-pumping, hearts a-pounding, shouting out our anthems.  As always, The Hip put on an awesome show.  In this year of 2015, they are the reigning and undisputed champions of Canadian music.

     Eilleen Regina Edwards was born in 1965 and was raised in a poor household, in an Ojibwe community near Timmins, Ontario.  Her father died when she was very young and her mother re-married, causing Eilleen to change her last name to Twain.  Twain witnessed many acts of domestic violence between her step-father and her mother. Not surprisingly, music became a refuge and an escape.  In order to help earn money, Eilleen Twain began performing on stage in local bars before she even had entered her teenage years.   Years later, when her music career had taken off and people called her, Shania, Twain recalled those early days of performing in bars or hunting lodges as being her form of a "School of the Performing Arts."   Twain claims that, in many ways, her hard-knock upbringing paid positive dividends because it helped her to develop a strong work ethic, a personal drive to succeed and survive, as well as, providing her with many opportunities to hone her skills as a musician while developing her craft as a songwriter.

    Eventually, Shania Twain came to the attention of local music producers who introduced her to producers further along the musical food chain, eventually culminating in a meeting with legendary music producer, Mutt Lange, in Nashville.  The two formed a musical, as well as, personal partnership that lasted all through Shania Twain's most successful period as a performer.   Always a combination of soulful songwriter, engaging live performer and very beautiful woman, Shania Twain was a huge star on many levels, with many different demographic groups.  She was equally as popular with men and as with women. Twain had her feet firmly planted in both, the world of Country Music and the world of Pop.  And, finally, Twain was just as proudly Canadian, as she was an international star.

   Shania Twain has sold more Country Music albums than anyone in history.  She has sold over 85 million records overall, making her one of the best-selling performers of all time, in any genre.  She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has her own star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, as well as, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California.  She has won multiple Juno, Grammy and Country Music Awards over the course of her career and is the only artist, ever, to have earned three consecutive "diamond" status records by the R.I.A.A. in the U.S.    Shania Twain has many, many hit songs such as Man! I Feel Like a Woman, That Don't Impress Me Much, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, Any Man of MineFrom This Moment On, I'm Gonna Getcha Good, Up and Forever and For Always.  

     Shania Twain has known the highest of the high points in her career; a career built upon a foundation of hard work and experience and personal struggle.  So, not surprisingly, when her marriage to Lange fell apart and she developed lesions on her vocal cords and had to retire from the limelight, Twain was able to survive with her dignity intact. Shania Twain is respected by fans, peers and critics alike for the quality of the person she is.  Consequently, now that she is taking the first, tentative steps back toward resuming her singing career, hopes are held high that she will succeed.


    As is quite often the case whenever a band achieves "overnight" success, the road travelled to that moment is often quite long.   In 2014, Tegan and Sara exploded onto the world musical scene with an album called Heartthrob and a hit song called, Closer.   Because of that album and that particular song, Tegan and Sara won three Juno Awards, as well as, several Western Canada Music Awards, too.  They were, also, shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize.

     They have had several other hit songs emerge from that album, and, in earlier years, such as I Was a Fool, Goodbye Goodbye, I'm Not Your Hero, Call it Off and Back in Your Head.   But, none have reached the dizzy heights of Closer which has found its' way onto both of my daughter's iTunes playlists!   Whenever we hear the song on the radio, both girls sing it, word for word.  I am happy that they are old enough to appreciate a catchy pop song but, young enough to not fully understand what it means by lines such as, "I want you underneath me." :)

     In any case, twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been performing in their hometown of Calgary for almost half of their lives.  In 1997, while in high school, they won a Calgary-based competition for unsigned bands called Bandwarz. The prize of time in a professional recording studio allowed them to properly record a demo of some of their original, early songs.  This demo. helped pave the way for their first album called Under Feet Like Ours.   This album earned them the YTV Award for Best Band Achievement.  The notoriety that arose from this album earned them opportunities to sing at festivals and/or with other bands on tours and at concerts.  It, also, allowed them to become involved in recording songs for the soundtracks of television shows and for movies.   Gradually, ever so slowly, Tegan and Sara gained enough experience as performers that they were able to marshall the maturity needed to create a crticially-acclaimed album such as Heartthrob. 
     Tegan and Sara are definitely not an overnight success. But, they are poised to have a big year in 2015.

     A big tip of the hat goes out to the following performers whose names begin with a "T":

Modern rockers, Tokyo Police Club and Timber Timbre, legendary country/folk singers, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, rockers Three Doors Down, Punk pioneers, Teenage Head, Singer/songwriter, Ian Thomas, Singer, David Clayton Thomas (of Blood, Sweat and Tears), 2014 Polaris Music Prize Winner and Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, Soul act, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, Singer, Ian Thornley (of Big Wreck), Singer Margo Timmins (of The Cowboy Junkies) who, one night in Toronto, was able to walk across the street because I stopped my car to allow her to cross. She mouthed a "thank you" to me which makes us BFFs now, right?!  Carrying on...., Singer, Ken Tobias, Rapper, Tre Mission, Singer, Domenic Troiano, Rocker, Pat Travers, Pop star, Kreesha Turner, Rockers, Tupelo Honey, Metal band, Three Inches of Blood,  Alt-rockers, The Tea Party, Folk band, Tanglefoot, HipHop band, TBTBT (Too Bad To Be True), Psychedelic rockers, Tetrix, Rockers, Theory of a Deadman, Joel Plaskett's first band, Thrush Hermit, 80s rock band, Toronto, New wavers, Trans-X, 90s Alt-rock band, Treble Charger, rock band, The Trews, 70s supergroups, Triumph and Trooper, Electronic band, Tear Garden and, finally, a group that has been ripping it up through the Aboriginal music industry in Canada for a while now and who are now breaking through to the mainstream, Electronic/Techno stars, A Tribe Called Red

Sunday, August 2, 2015

S is for Sloan, Ron Sexsmith and Jane Siberry

     Sloan has been together for almost 25 years now and has maintained the same line-up since the release of their first album, Smeared.  Smeared  contained the smash hit Underwhelmed.  The members of Sloan are Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott, Patrick Peatland and Jay Ferguson.  One of the very cool things about Sloan is that each member of the band takes the lead in writing songs for their albums. In turn, they, also, switch instruments accordingly depending upon whose song is being performed at any given time on stage. Possessing such strong, multi-instrumental skills has allowed each band member to be able to approach the writing of songs from a myriad of perspectives and, as a result, Sloan has produced a steady stream of Indie/Alternative/Rock and Pop sounding songs over the years such as Coax MeMoney City Maniacs, If It Feels Good Do It and The Good In Everyone
     Sloan has won a Juno Award, as well as, several East Coast Music Awards. However, Sloan is best known for the integrity with which they have conducted their affairs over the years.  They are known as principled band; one that refuses to comprise its' ideals in pursuit of larger commercial gain.  Consequently, Sloan remain one of the most highly-respected bands among other bands in Canada.  They are routinely voted as being at, or near the top, of annual rankings of rock bands in Canada.  In fact, their second album, Twice Removed was voted as the Top Canadian Album of all time in a reader poll in Chart Magazine in 1995. It was ranked third in the same poll in 2000 and, back to #1 in this very poll in 2005.
     Halifax, Nova Scotia serves as home base for Sloan.  As stated in interviews, the band prefers to operate out of Halifax because of the city's vibrant music scene but, more importantly, because the people of the Maritimes help keep them grounded and able to maintain their perspective on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, even for as prodigious a rock and roll band as Canada has ever produced.  Sloan does, indeed, rock!  

    *The video below is from the Choir! Choir! Choir! Sessions.  It is pretty cool in its own buttoned-down way.  The regular rock version is in the link above. :)

   There is the classic Ron Sexsmith story that is told concerning the time Sexsmith found himself at a local coffee shop and a tune of his began to play in the store. The young lady serving him remarked that she loved the song and thought  (fellow Canadian singer) Rufus Wainwright was really talented.  When Sexsmith corrected her and claimed that he was, in fact, the singer of the song she was listening to, she replied, "And, who are you?"

     Who Ron Sexsmith is, is one of Canada's most respected songwriters.  Sexsmith has written songs for Leslie Feist, Sir Elton John, Chris Martin (of Coldplay), Elvis Costello and for Steve Earle, just to mention a few.  All of these industry heavyweights sing Sexsmith's praises.  They all laud him for his ability to create such delicate tapestries with his words. It is claimed that Sexsmith can infuse his characters with a sense of fragility or loneliness or confusion or loss, on a scale unmatched by his peers.  Yet, Sexsmith has never enjoyed a top 40 hit of his own.

     I was born two days before Ron Sexsmith was.  I feel a kinship with him because, on a much smaller scale, I have been told many praiseworthy things about myself, too. I have been told that I should publish my work. I have been called The Wizard of Words by an admirer. I have witnessed others become intimidated, at times, by the power of what I have to say.  I have seen and heard it all before and yet, I never truly feel worthy of the praise.  I always am plagued by feelings of inadequacy.  I never really believe that I am deserving of success. I am not a good advocate for my own work.  Yet, I find it pleasing when my work is well-received.   Ron Sexsmith desires recognition, too.
     On a much larger stage, Sexsmith has been fawned over by critics, fans and by peers but, he has rarely broken into the Top 100 charts, let alone the Top 40 record charts.  He is a Juno Award winner, as well as, being shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize but, there seems to be no place in mainstream radio for such intricately-crafted musical gems such as Gold in Them Hills, Just My Heart Talkin', Fallen, Brandy Alexander and Whatever it Takes.....unless covered by others such as, Feist (with Brandy Alexander) or K.D. Lang (with Fallen).  Whether this is a sign the times or else, a sign of the songwriter, it is hard to say.  All that I know is that anonymity can be a defence mechanism employed to avoid having to deal with the world beyond our own thoughts.  While I enjoy the occasional public pat on the back or kind-hearted comment, I, also, enjoy a sense of relative freedom that comes from being unknown. Consequently, I know exactly how it feels to just be, like Ron Sexsmith, simply the next guy in line for my coffee.


     Finally, I give you one of our country's most beautiful and delicate voices, Jane Siberry.  Often compared to the legendary Kate Bush, Siberry has released many songs which were well-received by critics and the public such as Mimi on the Beach, I Muse AloudOne More Colour, Bound by the Beauty and, with K.D. Lang, Calling All Angels.  

    After experiencing popularity and notoriety, Siberry began releasing albums that contained more complex and lengthy songs. So much so that she began to find her music didn't fit mainstream radio formats any longer. Her on-stage performances stopped being concerts in the traditional sense and became a collection of songs, spoken word poetry, experimental dance; all of which made some of her shows difficult to interpret. As a result, Jane Siberry fell out of favour with audiences and, for awhile, she stopped performing altogether.

    Jane Siberry always believed in her music being on her terms.  As a child, she taught herself to play guitar by practising in her room to Leonard Cohen records. As a songwriter, Siberry believed in the vision she possessed of the poetry in her own words.  Even during the height of her fame in the early 80s, when music videos were just gaining in popularity, Siberry's videos for her hit songs are all very unique and original.  She was never comfortable wearing the uniform provided for her by the Music Industry. So, when Siberry put her career on hold because of the increasingly negative reaction to her work, she claims it was a turning point for her but, in a positive way.

     A comparable story to Siberry's can be found in the recent best-selling book, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.  Palmer is a social media sensation. She once sang lead vocals for a successful local band in the Boston area called The Dresden Dolls.   In her book, Palmer described the tension that would develop between the band and the record label when it came to how she was to interact with her audience.  Palmer always maintained that she desired as direct a connection as possible, even if it meant staying late to sign as many autographs as were needed and selling and merchandising their CDs and t-shirts themselves.  Eventually, the major label dropped the band and Palmer reacted by using social media to connect directly with her audience in a new way. She marketed her songs and albums directly to her fans, asking them to pay whatever they felt the songs were worth.   It was her experience that, given the freedom to choose what to pay that, in many cases, fans will over pay.
     Jane Siberry has approached the second half of her career in exactly the same manner.  Remaining true to her artistic vision, Siberry has established a self-pay system for all of her songs and merchandise. Like Palmer, Siberry has found success raising capital on her terms by removing herself from the restrictive conditions required to play the Industry game.  Jane Siberry is as unique and original a talent as Canada has produced and has enjoyed a successful career on whose terms it matters most to her; her fans and herself.

     A big tip of the hat to the following list of performers whose names begin with the letter, "S":

     Modern day rockers, The Sheepdogs and The Strumbellas, singer/songwriter, Sarah Slean, the legendary singer, Buffy St. Marie, Alt-folksters, The Skydiggers, New Wave stars, The Spoons, Singer/songwriter, Skye Sweetnam, Rockers, Sons of Freedom, Singer, Amy Sky, East coast star, Gordie Sampson, Pop-rockers, Stereos, Montreal's Stars, 70s Supergroup, The Stampeders, Former teen heart throb, Rene Simard, Glam rockers, Sweeney Todd, Jazz star, Chase Sanborn, Rapper Saukrates, Pop star/activist, Lorranie Segato, Singer Jay Semko (of The Northern Pikes), HipHop star, Radio host, Shad, Leader of The World's Most Dangerous Band, Paul Shaffer, Soul singer, Remy Shand, Composer, Howard Shore, Ojibwa singer/songwriter, Shingoose, Soulful lady, Liberty Silver,  Rapper, Snow, Country legend, Hank Snow, Singer/songwriter, Kurt Swinghammer, Pop-rocker, Kim Stockwood, Alt-rockers, The Sadies, Rockers from Quebec, See Spot Run, 70s rockers, Saga, Rockers, Serial Joe, Alt-rockers, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Children's performers, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Jazz/funk stars, The Shuffle Demons, Pop-Rockers, Simple Plan, Rockers, Skinny Puppy, Alt-rockers, The Stills, 80s One-hit wonder, Strange Advance, Hip Hop stars, Swollen Members, Rockers, Sum 41 and Svengali and, finally, the band whose song of drunken excess served as my wedding song for our first dance, Spirit of the West.