Saturday, February 20, 2010

O Canada / If: Transitional Songs

There's always more on the list of possibilities than we have time to post. And I generally avoid the end-of-theme omnibus approach if I can. But since there's a few songs on my playlist which fit both incoming and outgoing themes, it seemed generally beneficial to tout who I could while I had the chance.

Jann Arden: If It Be Your Will

First, one Canadian singer-songwriter covering another - convenient, as Susan posted the Webb Sisters' version of this just last month, and you've surely heard the Leonard Cohen original. "Pop vocalist" Jann Arden can get syrupy, but I think the slow ballad americana she adopts on otherwise mediocre popstar Cohen tribute Tower of Song makes for a surprisingly effective twist of sentiment in comparison to the other versions we've heard.

The Spinney Brothers: If I Were Your Brother

Second, a bluegrass band I saw just last weekend, whose titular core members are still going strong after being together since infancy. Yes, they have bluegrass in Canada. And the Spinney Brothers are among the best the north has to offer.

Bruce Cockburn: If I Had A Rocket Launcher
[unpurchaseable; original here]

Third, a solo acoustic version of Bruce Cockburn's pro-Contra anthem, recorded in 1990 for an in-studio radio thing. I wrote about the song way back in May 2008, as part of our 1984 theme, so I won't bother going over the lyrical anger again, but the song bears repeating, and not just because the links on the original post are long gone.

Barenaked Ladies: If I Had $1,000,000

And finally, the silliest Barenaked Ladies anthem around - the debut album original version, because I'm a purist, though the live version on Rock Spectacle is worth owning, too. Complete with Canadian references to something called Kraft Dinner, which us States-ians know as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

O Canada: Rheostatics Edition

Rheostatics: Legal Age Life at Variety Store


This song comes from the Whale Music album, which I've expressed my love for already. This is perhaps the most catchy number on the album. I dare you to listen to it and not sing along!

Rheostatics: Saskatchewan


A sailor paralyzed by battle can only think of his Saskatchewan home as his ship splits apart around him. Is this a post-mortem message or the reminiscings of a convelescing survivor? The song doesn't say.

Originally released on their 1991 album Melville, this version is from their cleverly titled double live album, Double Live from 1997.

Rheostatics/Bourbon Tabernacle Choir: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere


There have been several Neil Young tributes released over the years. In 1994, Sony Music Canada released a two-CD set of covers by Canadian artists called Borrowed Tunes. One of my favorite tracks on the set is this collaboration between Rheoststics and the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. It's fresh, unique, and it rocks.

Rheostatics: O Canada

[commercially unavailable]

On October 26, 1992, Rheostatics sang the Canadian National Anthem before a hockey game at Maple Leaf Gardens. I can't think of a more Canadian way of ending my last post of the week.

This track comes from a mammoth 197-song labor of love called Static Journey, posted in nine parts at the blog Northern Wish a few years ago. Full of unreleased live tracks, radio broadcasts, demo, and more, it is a Rheostatics fan's dream come true.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

O Canada: Raindrops in My Coffee

Sexsmith & Kerr: Raindrops in My Coffee


Canadian Ron Sexsmith is one of those singers I could listen to singing the proverbial phone book. Fortunately, I don't have to, because he also writes gorgeous songs. For Destination Unknown, he upped the ante with the harmony vocals of longtime drummer, cellist (and former Rheostatic) Don Kerr for an album of simply arranged, hearbreaking duets. Their voices are a natural fit, like a modern-day Everly Brothers, and there's no better example than "Raindrops in My Coffee." It sounds like the timeless classic it deserves to be.

O Canada: Coward

Holly McNarland: Coward


One of my favorite songs of all time (or at least within the top 20 or so, which I think is darn good) is by a Canadian, Ms. Holly McNarland, a native of Manitoba. The song, "Coward", is from her full-length 1997 debut "Stuff" which earned her a Juno award for best new solo act the following year.

The song, an introspective look at insecurities, is powerful to me because it's about something that generally makes one feel vulnerable, and yet it is sung in such a powerful voice that you have a hard time feeling ashamed or bad about it. You're hanging your dirty laundry out there and you're saying "yeah so? Let's see yours if you're so tough", and I love it for that. Indeed, Holly herself is able to teeter along at times with a fragile haunting voice, and then come back with a voice that threatens to break windows, and that's why she's always intrigued me.

O Canada: Au Sud A Moi

Weeping Tile: Au Sud A Moi

[purchase in English]

It's the law: on paper, at least, Canada practices Official Bilingualism, giving two languages - in this case, French and English - special legal status, and relegating all other languages except a few local aboriginal tongues to "other". The statutory preference leads to some interesting road sign laws, ensures service and education availability in both tongues, and remains at the heart of my Montreal-born father-in-law's lingering ability to speak fluent French after four decades on American soil.

Weeping Tile, a short-lived nineties band named after the porous pipes that are buried alongside most homes to draw groundwater away from the foundation, was from Ontario, which is generally considered the most "British" of provinces. But despite the Ontarian legal preference for de facto French in all cases, in practice, Canadian music which is going to have much of a chance in an international market is performed and recorded in English first, and Weeping Tile's output was no exception: this 1997 B-side remake of South of Me, the lead-off track from their second and final full-length Valentino, seems to be the only French song they ever recorded.

It still rocks, though. For a good look at what the members of Weeping Tile have been doing for the last decade, I highly recommend checking out both popfolk fave singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer - who formed the songwriting core of the group - and Luther Wright, who with his new band The Wrongs is perhaps best known for his country/bluegrass remake of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

O Canada: Both Sides Now

Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now


I had every intention of watching the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics... but somehow blipped and became immersed in other activities - imagine my disappointment when I read the next day on her discussion list that Joni's 2000 version of Both Sides Now was used as the aural backdrop for a stunning display of an acrobatic aerial ballet, "flying" over simulated Canadian prairies...

I continue to be amazed that Joni wrote this song when she was only 21 - the lyrics speak of acceptance and courage and wisdom (very Serenity Prayer-ish), as she comes to the conclusion that admitting the not-knowing is when true knowledge takes place...

On a side note, I love the scene in the movie Love Actually when Emma Thompson's character is wrapping presents with the strains of River in the background, and she and her husband (played by Alan Rickman) have the following exchange:

Alan: What is this we're listening to?

Emma: Joni Mitchell.

Alan: I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.

Emma: I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni

Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English

wife how to feel.

A follow-up Olympic FYI, posted on the Joni-list yesterday:

Circa 1966-67, Joni wrote a song called "Who Has Seen The Wind" that was inspired by Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell's book of the same name. The opening poetry that was recited before they started playing Both Sides Now at the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies were from that book which reminded me of Joni's song. Here are the lyrics:

Who has seen the wind scalloping the sea
Or gliding like a swallow over villages and trees?
"I have," said the willow, "And I begged him please to stay,
but he went
He went on his own one day." And I sing
"One love have I," and he sings, "Now it's goodbye,"
And I sing "Part of me dies until I see you again."

Who has seen the sun through a parasol of leaves,
Through scattered ruby cloud fires, through the silver
wings of bees?

"I have," said the waters, "and I held his face to mine,
But he left in time, he went in his own good time."
And I sing "One love have I," and he sings,
"Now it's goodbye," and I sing
"Part of me dies until I see you again."

Who has seen the stranger in a coat of simple brown,
With his face of many faces, with his eyes turned out of town?
I have and I kissed him and I begged him please to stay,
But he went away, with the sun and the wind away.
And I sing "One love have I," and he sings,
"Now it's goodbye," and I sing
"Part of me dies until i see you again"

O Canada: 5 Years

Kathleen Edwards: 5 Years

Most of us, myself included, came to Kathleen Edwards' music through her 2003 debut album, Failer. Few people, though, are aware of her true debut effort.

Building 55 was self released in 1999 and limited to a quantity of only 500 pressings. The EP is the work of an artist who is clearly still finding her way as a songwriter and performer and probably would not be considered essential for casual Kathleen Edwards fans. What it does show, however, are glimpses of the artist Kathleen would become.

I'm sharing here a track called "5 Years" that is easily the hardest rocking song on the disc and the one that dishes out a heavy dose of anger with its crunchy guitars. As far as I know, this EP is not currently commercially available. The "purchase" link above points to Kathleen's Amazon Artist page.

PS: I don't normally link to my own site on my posts here... but there's a good opportunity for some blog synergy here. This week is "Canadiana Week" at A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz, and I'm featuring several Canadian Americana acts. Check it out for a look at some newer Canadian acts that may not get mentioned here this week.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

O Canada: Red Rubber Ball

When I interviewed Bob Mould in the early nineties, the former Hüsker Dü guitarist alerted me to almost forgotten Canadian punk band the Diodes. According to Mould, their untitled first album was even better than the Ramones´ debut, as, and I quote: "a guitar solo came by every now and then".

Which made me seek out that ´77 slab of vinyl pronto of course, and I soon found that Mould surely had been waxing nostalgic a bit. The Diodes didn´t come close to the genius of Da Brudders, although they certainly had their moments. Here´s their inspired Paul Simon cover Red Rubber Ball (indeed featuring a guitar solo, and a fine one at that) for proof. Legend has it they picked this song because Simon had been slagging off punk in the media.

And as a bonus I just couldn´t resist given this week´s theme, here´s another early Canadian punk band for you. The Subhumans sounded much rawer than the Diodes and weren´t to happy with their ´white wasteland´ apparently... "Oh Canaduh, what’s wrong with you, you better wake up, now what you gonna do..."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

O Canada: Green Eggs and Ham

green eggs and canadian bacon

Moxy Fruvous: Green Eggs and Ham

[purchase other Fruvous classics]

I came late to the Fruhead table, but like many fans, once I fell for their irreverent, geeky lyrics, lightly instrumented four part harmonies, theatrical performance, and political savvy, I was in for the duration. We've posted crowd favorite King of Spain before, as part of our Aristocrats theme; head back in time if you want to hear my favorite Moxy Fruvous track, or to learn more about the band in its heyday.

Today, in an attempt to match the irreverence introduced by David's McKenzie Brothers post earlier in the week, we turn to what is perhaps the most requested cover ever to have been posted on Cover Lay Down: Moxy Fruvous' nerd rap remake of Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham, which came from their eponymous 1992 six-song demo tape. I converted the track from cassette myself; to this day, the song, like the demo it came from, remains a complete rarity.

Sadly, Moxy Fruvous broke up in the early Naughties after a decade on the road. But all four band members remain quintessentially Canadian: Murray Foster performs and tours with Great Big Sea; Dave Matheson produces other Canadian singer-songwriters and is an active member of the Guild of Canadian Film & TV Composers; thanks to a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, Mike Ford tours schools with a repertoire of historical songs about Canadian history. And after a failed attempt at a solo musical career, Jian Ghomeshi hosts an arts and cultural program on CBC, where he made the blogs last year for an awkward moment with Billy Bob Thornton in which the popular actor-turned-rockabilly singer made several inappropriate comments about Canadian audiences, calling them "mashed potatoes without the gravy."

Monday, February 15, 2010

O Canada: Four Strong Winds

Neil Young: Four Strong Winds


Although "Four Strong Winds" has been covered by dozens of artists, I'm most familiar with this version, recorded by Candaian-born Neil Young for his 1978 Comes a Time album. The song was written by Canadian folkie Ian Tyson (of the folk due Ian & Sylvia), and the song prominantly mentions the province of Alberta. Could it get any more Canadian?

Ian & Sylvia's version was a Canadian hit in 1963/64, and one can imagine it resonated with the young Young as he travelled around Canada shedding band members and girlfriends in pursuit of his musical dreams.

But I've often wondered if, when Neil recorded it in the late '70s, he was also thinking about himself and his erstwhile musical partners, Crosby, Stills, & Nash as those Four Strong Winds. Neil's on-again/off-again relationship with CSN neatly matches the narrator's ambivelance towards reuniting with his long-distance lover.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

O Canada: Take Off

Bob & Doug McKenzie feat. Geddy Lee - Take Off


On the sketch comedy show SCTV, in the motion picture Strange Brew and across two albums, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (as brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie respectively) lovingly exploited every single Canadian stereotype you can think of. With great success too - the McKenzies became a big hit, proving that Canadians have a great sense of humor about themselves.

Take Off (which is barely even a song, just the brothers bickering and Geddy Lee from Rush popping up every now and then to sing the chorus) became a hit in 1982 and made it to #16 on the Billboard chart.


O Canada: Iggy & Angus

Sloan: Iggy & Angus


I met one of my now best friends back in 2001, about six months after meeting he makes me the best/most favorite mix I've ever received. I'm a fan of making mixes, so I hold this as a pretty big honor. As I can remember, almost everything on it was new to me, and yet I was smiling and enjoying every minute of it. One of the songs included on that mix was this one, Sloan's "Iggy & Angus" (from their 1998 album Navy Blues), and it was my first time ever hearing the band. Since then I've found other songs I like better, but this one holds a place in my heart for being on that mix and being the first.

Sloan got it's start in the mid-90s after meeting in art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is now based in Toronto. Many Canadian publications have named some of the albums among the best out of the country, and indeed they do seem to put out consistently good work.