Songs of the Week
July-December 2005

November 7, 2005
Captain Kidd
Great Big Sea
From the October 2005 Zoe album "The Hard and the Easy"
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The Rock's favourite kitchen party band takes a boozy grab for the big time, recording a mostly acoustic album of traditional songs, most of them of Newfoundland origin. Although they start to wander uncomfortably close to Irish Rovers' territory a few times, they always pull back in time, and the best songs here are amongthe best they've ever recorded, passionate and muscular and full-tilt, rivaling -- dare I say it? -- the McGowan-era Pogues themselves. One of the strongest by far (and the first single) is their romping stomping, pub-ready take on Captain Kidd, a mostly unrepentant and bloody boast by the infamous and murderous Scottish pirate as he turns his back on God and country, transforming it into nothing so much as 18th century punk rock. "My repentance lasted not... Oh damnation is my lot" vocalist Alan Hoyle sings, and he makes it sound like a good deal. Get out the Screech -- the kitchen party starts here...

October 31, 2005
Run For Your Life
Cowboy Junkies
From the October 2005 Razor & Tie album "This Bird Has Flown
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A few months ago I chose "December Skies," one of only two originals on the Junkies' "Early 21st Century Blues" as my pick to click, so it's delicious irony to now list their cover off the just-released 40th anniversary indie-rock "tribute" to The Beatles' "Rubber Soul." Alas, most of the songs, while eminently listenable (Hey -- great tunes are great tunes!) offer no real wit or passion or any sort of true originality -- all the things that made the original album the landmark it was. A fortunate exception is the Junkies' powerful, eye-opening take on one of the lamest -- but most disturbing -- songs in the entire Fab Four catalogue. Maybe nobody noticed how misogynist and downright nasty the lyrics actually were amidst all those screaming teenyboppers of 1965, some nonsense about killing an unfaithful lover, but the Junkies -- no strangers to darkness themselves -- recognize the song's potential and turn the menace up to eleven, transforming the by-the-numbers bouncy Merseybeat vibe into a slowed down, appropriately menacing grungy dirge, full of dissonant guitar noises and chain-gang bellows, unearthing the twisted murder blues at its core, forcing the listener to -- for once -- really notice the words. Margo Timmins switches genders and lays it on the line for her wayward love, and the effect is as far from the original as you can go. When she sings in her sexy murmer "I'd rather see you dead, little boy, than to see you with another woman" she means it, man. Chilling.

October 24, 2005
When Love Comes to Town
Herbie Hancock, featuring Johnny Lang and Joss Stone
From the Atlantic/WEA album "Possibilities"
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Starbuck's plans for world-wide caffeine AND musical domination continue with an eclectic album featuring jazz piano/keyboard legend Herbie Hancock and a ton of "very special" guest vocalists and musicians. The songs are often quite familiar and Hancock rarely gets to really strut his stuff, but that doesn't mean there isn't some pretty good music to be heard, including this bluesy, raunchy stab at the B.B. King/U2 chestnut from U2's 1988 Rattle and Hum album. The real surprise here is Lang's falsetto yelp and how effective it is slapped against Stone's by-now-trademark steamroller mama bellow. The kids tear it up, and then Hancock slips in and gooses it all up with some spunky funky keyboard work and then some horns hork up some big city swagger, pushing the tune to almost nine minutes, but it works like a mutha. Catch that train.

October 17, 2005
You're Beautiful
James Blunt
From the Atlantic/WEA album "Back to Bedlam"
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Yeah, yeah, yeah, Blunt was a Brit peacekeeper in Kosovo and a bodyguard to the Royals, but the fact is that his cirriculum vitae has sweet zip all to do with the appeal of this soaring and almost embarrassingly earnest tribute to love at first sight and its unrequited aftermath --sure to appeal to romantics (and failed cynics like myself) everywhere. With his achingly passionate delivery, Pretty Boy Blunt at times recalls such fellow high-cheekboned and oh-so-sensitive warblers like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice, but he never quite tries for those heights, instead settling for a little earth-bound David Gray accessability, while (just) narrowly avoiding sinking into Leo Sayer or Chris DeBurgh territory. Like "You Light Up My Life," "Feelings," and "Lady in Red," this one will be playing at weddings for years to come, but right now it sure sounds fresh and sincere and open-hearted as hell. Listen to it now before it gets overplayed to death, or starts showing up in cosmetics ads.

October 10, 2005
I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
Bettye LaVette
From the September 2005 Anti- album "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise"
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Long lost Southern soul sister returns Stateside from U.K. stardom (or at least cult status) to serve notice and demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T, recording an album of songs penned by women, including Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, Rosanne Cash, Sharon Robinson, Aimee Man and Dolly Parton, among others. Joe Henry produced and he gets kudos for standing back, because it's LaVette's great froggy voice, all sex and sweat and innuendo and experience and defiance, that steals the show. This week's pick-to-click opens the album, like LaVette's own Declaration of Independence, breathing hushed fire and brimstone into Sinead O'Connor's once- signature song. You can hear a world of hurt and pain and pride in Lavette's hushed but muscular a cappella delivery, and the effect is like tapping directly into a force of nature. That skinny little Irish chick with the bean shave ain't getting her song back for a good long while...

October 3, 2005
Prairie Wind
Neil Young
From the September 2005 Reprise/WEA album "Prairie Wind"
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As pervasive and relentless as the titular winds "that blow long and hard," Young hits exactly the right notes of regret and pain in this elegant, emotional tribute to his late father, Canadian sportswriter/novelist Scott Young, with whom he had a sometimes-troubled relationship ("What is it about Canadians and their fathers?" Peter Ustinov once quipped). Clocking in at over seven and a half minutes, it's all muted melody pushed along by some slow, almost dirge-like acoustic strumming and some sad, sad harmonica blowing. But it works. The sense of loss -- over the final trip together back to a fondly remembered childhood home on the Canadian prairies that they never never quite got around to taking -- is almost palpable. On an album obsessed with themes of mortality and maturity and the importance of family, this one stands out. "Tryin' to remember what daddy said/Before too much time took away his head." Heart-breaking but oddly life-affirming.

September 26, 2005
The Hardest Part
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
From the September 2005 Lost Highway album "Jacksonville City Nights"
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This punchy simple, throwaway cut, the first single off Adams' latest (his first release in almost four months), easily trumps almost anything on Cold Roses, his pleasing but non-essential two-disc ode to early seventies country rock singer-songwriters. While there's no denying Adams is one helluva writer, he's alway seemed strongest to me when yelps a little and rocks out, and that's case with this uptempo chugger, full of pedal steel torch and honky tonk twang. Nothing new here -- booze and babes remain Adams' preoccupations, but this Haggardesque workin' man's ode to true love and how easy it can all slip away is such a toe tapper that it makes Adams sound almost as good as he thinks he is.

September 19, 2005
Barbara Allen
Bob Dylan
From the September 2005 Hear Music album "Live at the Gaslight 1962"
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Pumped up to almost holy status by Dave Marsh in the kick-off chapter of the The Rose and the Briar by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus (which also takes its title from the song) I have to confess I wasn't really all that familiar with this song, supposedly a cornerstone of American folk balladry. And upon hearing the highly touted version by Jean Ritchie I still didn't completely buy it. But when I heard Dylan singing it on this just-released 1962 live recording (available at Starbucks, of all places!) -- I became a believer. This song's got it all -- love, lust, betrayal, death and cosmic justice of a horticultural sort from beyond -- or in this case, out of -- the grave. And the young Zimmerman's performance? His take, all yowling old-before-his-time solemnity and dead-on acoustic solo guitar accompaniment makes every word glow like burning coal. A downright timeless performance. Whatever happened to this kid?

September 12, 2005
Can't Help Wondering Why
Blue Rodeo
From the
May 2005 WEA International album "Are You Ready
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Such are the vagaries of distribution that this primo pierce of head-bobbing summer pop from Canada's long-time favourite country rock road warriors is only now getting released in the States. They pull plenty of stuff out of their considerable bag of pop tricks: a hook or three to die for, a crowd-ready singalong chorus, chiming Byrds-like guitars, some Beach Boys harmonies, a Stonesy fuzzy guitar solo, a thumping, bouncing beat and echoes of everyone from E.L.O. and Blood, Sweat and Tears to (!) Petula Clark and The Band, all this toe-tapping cheeriness belying yet another of Blue Rodeo's darkly lyrical middle-age middle-of-the-night crises. Despair you can bop to...

Inspirational verse: "I've no regrets, no, I couldn't think of one."

September 5, 2005
Sweet Neo Con
The Rolling Stones
From the album "A Bigger Bang"
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Not the best song on the much-ballyhooed (but ultimately so-so) "comeback" album, but this crunchy, stripped-down thunker of harmonica-goaded vitriol is definitely the one making the biggest bang right now, thanks to Dubya's continuing downward slide in popularity and his administration's inept handling of everything from Katrina and the war in Iraq to their on-going failures of their economic and social policies. Of course, Bush is never mentioned by name (What fun would that be?), but the hypocrisies of the religious right so deliciously, if rather simplistically, skewered here couldn't have come at a better time. And what can a poor boy do, anyway?

August 29, 2005
Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)
Tori Amos
From the album "Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL, 4/15/05"
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I'm not the world's biggest Tori Amos fan, but she really nails the old Jim Croce hit in this version recorded at an April 15th, 2005 concert at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre during her "Original Sinsuality Tour". Accompanying herself on piano (what else?) , Amos breathes hot and heavy and chews a not insubstantial amount of scenery but manages to squeeze every last drop of hurt out of it, making this poignant blue collar tale of betrayal and heartbreak sound like the end of the world -- which, of course, it is for the jilted narrator, whose attempts at being a good sport about it all go above and beyond the call of duty and begs the question: tragedy, or jus tthe world's biggest sucker? Then again, when it comes to heartbreak isn't that the way they say it goes?

August 22, 2005
The Obscenity Prayer (Give It to Me)
Rodney Crowell
From the August 2005 Columbia album "The Outsider"
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It hits the ground running, sounding like a shitkicker's take on Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," and then the Houston Kid really starts to kick the shit up, with an angry, finger-pointing screed against greed and hypocrisy (with guitars!) that sounds like a shotgun wedding between Steve Earle at his angriest and Randy Newman at his most cynical, jacked up to eleven, taking pointed swipes at unquestioning consumer culture, slack-jawed celebrity posturing, shallow hedonism and anything else that catches his withering gaze -- all sung from the point of view of his self-satisfied targets. Country music's Anti-Toby's obviously pissed off, but I'm betting he's a smart enough (and honest enough) writer to know he's not being let off the hook either, even as the bubblegummy "gimme, gimme" chants in the background just underscore his fury.

Inspirational verse: "The Dixie Chicks can kiss my ass/I still want that backstage pass."

August 15, 2005

December Skies
Cowboy Junkies
From the August 2005 Rounder Records album "Early 21st Century Blues"
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One of only two originals on an album of some of this Toronto band's favourite tunes about "war, violence, fear, greed, ignorance, loss….," the Michael Timmins-penned "December Skies" more than holds it own alongside cuts by Dylan, Springsteen, Lennon et al. Inspired by the late Canadian novelist Timothy Findley's classic novel "The Wars," the song both taps into the theme of the album, and acknowledges the bitter irony of such songs being passed off as "entertainment: "Let's all kill our children... and sing about it." Unnerving, and a welcome return to the trademark "sleepy, narcotic haze," as the AMG puts it, of their best music.

August 8, 2005

I'll Stand By You
Patti Labelle
From the June 2005 Def Jam album "Classic Moments"
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Patti Labelle rips a page from the Joe Cocker playbook here, taking a sorta-remembered ballad we already have a vague soft spot for, and turning it into a big, rafter-rattling soul showpiece. But unlike Coolhand Joe in recent years, she really sweats, pulling out all the stops and just flat sings the shit out of it. The exhibit in question is the old Chrissie Hynde workhorse, "I'll Stand By You," originally on the Pretenders' 1994 release Last of the Independents, and Patti's approach, a delicate, sensitive, almost formal beginning that slowly builds up to a two-fisted, all-Hell-breaks-loose finale, shows this gal's still got game.

August 1, 2005
To come...
July 25, 2005
To come...
July 18, 2005
To come...
July 11, 2005
To come...
July 4, 2005
World on Fire (remix)
Sarah McLachlan featuring Robbie Robertson
From the June 2005 Dreamworks/TNT album "Into the West"
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Perfect. Who would think a cut from a TV soundtrack from a TNT/Spielberg mini-series about the taming (or is it the breaking?) of the American West would afford the perfect meeting place for McLachlan's barely-touch-the-earth vocals and Daniel Lanois' (or is it Lanois co-hort Pierre Marchand's?) otherworldly production sleight-of-hand, and that Robbie Robertson's train-wreck voice from the depths would sound so right, jammed against McLachlan's etheral warbling, adding gravitas to everything? The song was originally on McLachlan's 2003 release, Afterglow , but this poignant duet becomes an even more powerful anthem to giving and the oneness of us all; perfect for a television show that -- for all its faults -- at least acknowledges that the settlement of the West wasn't such good news for everyone. Like the song says, "The more we take the less we become."


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Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
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