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Carolyn Mark – The Queen Of Vancouver Island

Damn the torpedos.

I have been sitting on this piece for almost two weeks. I have written and discarded several drafts. It’s been in my head since the CD arrived here. I have played the CD front to back many times. But I’ve realized that the only way to do this, since I am not a professional reviewer, is to go with my gut.

OH PURE HAPPINESS!

Our good friends over at Mint Records have sent us an advance copy of the brand new Carolyn Mark record, The Queen Of Vancouver Island!! We here at the KMA are SO appreciative. You have to understand. Around here, a new Carolyn record is An Event. We love Carolyn and all of her merry band of friends.

For the record (pun intended), I own and have memorized every other Carolyn Mark release, and this one immediately proves its worth as an addition to her excellent discography. It might even surpass some of her previous work. There, I said it. It pains me to say it, as I love all her records and one should never play favourites, like with your own children. But honestly. This is perfect chemistry of sound, lyrics, musicianship, voice… I am absolutely crazy for this album.

This is one for the ages. This is a True Classic.

* SPOILER ALERT: I am writing about an advance copy. There are still weeks before release. If you want to wait for the record and not have your first impression of it coloured by my ramblings, and I wouldn’t blame you for it, stop reading right here. Suffice it to say that I KNOW you will love it too, when you get to it.

Alright, who’s still with me? OK, now the songs:

Poor Farmers‘ intro sounds like it’s being shouted down a long tunnel which, having heard the entire record several times now, seems apt. I mean, here comes Carolyn from her previous level of excellence, now arriving at her truly earned, greater heights with this album. Perfect. The song resolves into a strummy and yummy acoustic tune. “There will be no apologies for this performance.” Oh really, Carolyn, you needn’t worry. Most importantly, the call for all drivers to return to their vehicles tells us this intro track is on the ferry (the now retired Queen Of Vancouver, perhaps?) to the island. It’s an arrival of every sort. It would go well in a mix next to the intercom-intro to Don’t Come Over, Baby off her (excellent) album Party Girl.

The title track is a happy, poppy song, complete with restless piano and a great shuffling beat. And harmonica! And awesome “sha-la-la-la, ooo!” singing! I love her take on the lyrical content of the verses. There’s so much going on in this great track. The stops have definitely been pulled and it totally works. This song is huge.

Baby Goats is all about a trip to a petting zoo. Or is it? Knowing Carolyn as we do, it’s something else entirely, a sad something else. She needs a hug! The song has a great propulsive beat that pulls you along and I totally feel like I want to help her find those broad shoulders. And a trumpet! The promo sheet from Mint hints that there may be a video for this song, at some point in the future. Watch for it.

Not Talk keeps the pace high. The lyrics here are fabulous. She has such a clear-eyed look at certain types of relationships, she really just nails it. How can you not just fall in love with her and her wonderful songs?

Best Friend clearly calls to mind another great Mint band, the incomparable (but sadly defunct) Immaculate Machine. It totally wouldn’t be out of place on Ones And Zeroes, by which is meant a huge compliment! And I know who she’s talking about with the Whiskey Rabbi! You should too. This is a very agile song.

Flaming Star is also a quick one! And yes, it’s a cover of the old Elvis song. The western film soundtrack feel is preserved, here – to my mind, it’s the song that would come right after the splashy, plot-setting prologue, just as the hero(ine) is being introduced. It’s the song that says “Hey! Here’s the character you’re supposed to love!” In this case, of course, it’s Carolyn. And love her, we do. So great. And trumpets again! And great guitar work. Damn. Have I mentioned yet how happy I am that Tolan McNeil is here? He’s awesome.

Nobody(‘s Perfect) finally gives Ms. Mark and the band a bit of a break with its solo acoustic, clearly-sung beauty. The lyrics are typically clever and witty, but once again it’s so sad! I mean, it kind of sounds happy, until you hear what she’s talking about. I just want to give her great big hugs all throughout this song.

Mellie’s Book brings the band back, mid-tempo this time… “Dangerously close to normal,” says Carolyn, in the press sheet… Hardly! Perfect, wonderful piano solo leading into guitar loveliness. Great!

Not Like The Movies builds into a rocker with big, fat and comfy guitar tones. It’s all so tightly played. Truly an excellent band with her on this record.

The Cereal Is The Prize is jazzy with a twang! The lyrics here had me laughing. There’s heart and soul running in this one’s veins, and genuine fun, too. It’s a keeper.

Old Whores is a slow burner, another sad song, this time about past glories. With characteristic Carolyn charm, though, she saves the whole thing from being maudlin by using her voice to make such musings incredibly warm, never losing the sound of the nudge and a wink we all know so well from her.

Album-closer You’re Not A Whore (If No One’s Paying) is a great cabaret track, hilarious to the core. It’s in the tradition of those old torch songs you see in the old movies, the sassy leading lady doing high kicks and strutting around. There’s even a muted trumpet and old-time whiskey joint piano. And I’m so glad she has immortalized her gargle-solo talent on record – she did this when we saw her live a few years ago. And for the breakdown… are those children shouting an alarmingly close approximation of the song’s lyrics? Yes, yes they are. Oh goodness and dearie-me. One day they’ll get a laugh, when they’re grown up.

And there we have it.

Wow.

This record is born of brilliance, innovation, and tradition too. Here we find loving homages to the traditions of Wanda Jackson, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, and even Loretta Lynn (people often overlook her wry humour). Mix in Mae West’s sassy and brassy chutzpah, and Carolyn’s own inimitable charms and trademark sound, and you get this record. This is vintage western films, vaudeville and your Grandma’s old country records, all updated for the 21st century. I love it completely.

Finally, I have to put this out there: It’s only August, but this is fair notice to all other records I’ll hear between now and Christmas: I may have just heard my Album Of The Year for 2012. It’s THAT good.

Effusive enough for you? Well, I’ll wear that one proudly. A huge thank you to Carolyn and her cohorts for releasing this gem of a surely award-winning record into the wild on SEPTEMBER 18 – MARK YOUR CALENDAR! And thanks once again to our good friends at Mint, for giving us this advance glimpse of the genius that is The Queen Of Vancouver Island.

Watch for this record, folks. It’s going places. It’s gonna be a STAR!

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Carolyn & NQ, Arrogant Worms, It Might Get Loud and SLOOOOAAN!

Another long while between blasts. It’s about bloody time I got at least something up here…

Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle – Let’s Just Stay Here

I’ve loved this disc from the get-go. And I was writing initial reviews of it in my head right after I got it. Obviously, I never got around to the actual writing part. But now I realize that this negligence has actually been a blessing in disguise. Sure, I’d have raved about this record at the time. It’s a solid, engaging and excellent effort that definitely has its own feel, creates its own space to breathe and be all the awesome that it is and then goes for it full-on. But the added advantage I have in waiting until now to post this is in getting to tell you just how much of a good friend this record has become with repeated listens. Damn, man. This rules. The trademark humour, the harmonies, the excellent music from the band. It sounds equally great in my iPod, my stereo, and in my rumbly old truck. Yeah baby, this is the real deal.

Arrogant Worms – Three Worms And An Orchestra

A fun DVD, exactly as you’d expect: the group’s goofy songs with full arrangements from the Edmonton SO. They underhand-pitch most of their schtick between songs, and fair enough. Good family fun. The song ‘Celine Dion’ still makes me howl.

It Might Get Loud

A mostly cool meeting of three generations of guitar biggies; Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page. They play, talk, reminisce…

It was nice to see the elder-statesman Page still so enthralled with the music, and he seemed a good sport about this gig. He gets paid the least attention, though, which is odd given his legacy.

It’s hard to take somebody who calls himself The Edge seriously, especially since he’s been playing essentially the same damn riff for twenty years. All his effects and knob-twiddlings fail to interest me.

White came out best in this, to my mind. The brash impatience and energy, the studied acknowledgement of the dark corners of the blues, the wavering between respect and arrogance. We laughed when he said, on the way to this historic meeting, that he expected a fistfight. Haha. Yeah, if the future remains in his hands we’ll be alright.

Recommended viewing, even if they do totally butcher ‘The Weight’ during the end credits.

Sloan – Hit & Run EP

Sloan has a new EP and a B-Sides collection available for cheap on their web site. You should go buy them right now. http://www.sloanmusic.com/

This EP is a thoughtful collection of new material in that inimitable Sloan style. Strong writing, gorgeous song construction and instrumentations, incredibly catchy hooks, and the sense that while these songs are great on the EP, they’ll be even better live. Yeah baby! SLOOOOAANN!!!

I’ll get to writing about the b-sides collection after I give it another full spin.

Finally! Some new shit!

Yes, it’s been a pathetically long time since my last appearance here. But remember, it’s like John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” and man, I have been busy making plans to post here for WAY too long. So here’s some of the shit I’ve been listening to. More to come, ‘cos I’ve filled my iPod with all kinds of stuffs. Wahoo!

Terrible Hostess, Volume 2

Hooray for our friends at Mint Records! As you all know, Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle have just released a tasty new disc of excellent music called Let’s Just Stay Here. Talk about making our year! So, in honour of this release, our great friends at Mint sent us some really sweet swag… buttons and stickers (love the airline ‘Fragile’ stickers with Air Carolyn on them!), a Carolyn and NQ luggage tag, and a blood red dish towel to go with a beautiful copy of Carolyn’s Terrible Hostess: Recipes For Disaster, Volume 2 cookbook! Some of the recipes look downright tasty and I can’t wait to try them (with recommended music playing and recommended drink in hand).

Slayer – World Painted Blood

Business-as-usual chaos as only Slayer can muster it. Play this as loud as your player can go. SLAYER!

Slipknot – Slipknot 10th Anniversary Edition

The CD’s the real draw in this set, with all the brutal honesty and aggression intact… and bonus tracks! Sweet.

Hawksley Workman – We’ll Make Time (Even When There Ain’t No Time)

New Hawksley is coming! Get ready! James found this radio broadcast world premiere. It’s a one-idea slow build with enough lyrics to make anyone run out of breath, crashing full-on into rock-out bliss. Ah, Hawksley.

Guided By Sloan

Just noticed that in the liner notes for Sloan’s Navy Blues, Guided By Voices is listed as having shared the stage. Imagine THAT show! I think I’d pass out with bliss…

Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love

Spent the whole time listening to this recognizing all of the influences that have given them their sound (U2, Oasis, Coldplay and tiresomely beyond). Shame they haven’t found their own sound out of the list.

Cage The Elephant – Cage The Elephant

This would sound great live. Kind of reminds me of the Trews although, if they meant what they said in the first track, they don’t give a shit what comparisons I can make. Just a great, fun rawk record.

Wild Beasts – Limbo, Panto

Oddly compelling, with weird party music and falsetto vocals. Could almost be the soundtrack to a 60’s stage show musical. Are we sure this isn’t a Darkness side project?

Yim Yames – A Tribute To

My Morning Jacket dude’s tribute to George Harrison. Stripped-down renditions show the strength of the originals and let the covers shine too.

Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

New country meets the moxy of the classic country ladies of days gone by, with a few dud tracks thrown in. This lady can sing, that’s for sure. One foot in a bold new direction, the other stuck in the same old schtick.

Iggy Pop – Preliminaires

Man, Iggy rules. Only this particular wild man could foist such a collection of jazzy. bluesy, rock-ish and Parisian-sounding stuff on our ears and get away with it. And without ridicule, too. Strangely compulsive, and not just because it’s Iggy (and therefore we must love it). A welcome diversion, so long as it’s not an admission that he’s finally slowing down for good.

Harry Connick, Jr. – Blue Light, Red Light

This takes me back to high school .Yes, I was THAT guy back then. Still am now, I’ll have you know. Great swing, astounding arrangements in the best of this style’s traditions. Could be the soundtrack to a grainy-colour 60’s musical, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Flight Of The Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky

We all love these guys by now, with their quirky humour that’s laugh-out-loud funny. Even if you set aside the images from the TV show in your mind, this is still an hilariously danceable record. These guys are really onto something.

Carolyn Mark and Tolan McNeil RULE THE WORLD!!

It all starts with me making a bit of a pain in the ass of myself, bothering whomever I could think of who might be able to help me get my hands on a copy of the new CM & TM tour-only record, called The Sound of the Tone-Echoes from the Past. All of this because I had to miss her recent show close-ish to my house because of work (gah!), yet I dearly wanted to support these two fine artists. And then yesterday, guess what arrived in the mail! With an Air Carolyn sticker on it, and a hand-written (wine-stained) note from Carolyn herself! Oh yes!

You know, I like to think I know my way around the English language fairly well. But standing there in my porch, words failed me. Completely. The joy, it… damn. This is SO SWEET!!!

And the record itself? So awesome. A window into theis pair’s genuine, funny and bright world. Trademark gigantic songs, with Carolyn’s stunning vocals and Tolan’s stellar guitar and so much more, intercut with hilarious answering machine excerpts. Oh yes. Any one of these songs is better than anything you’ve heard lately. Seriously.

My SINCERE thanks to everyone involved (you know who you are), and especially to you Carolyn (if you ever read this). You rock!

Pollard, Pier, Paul, Oasis, Flatt, Mark, Hotness, iPod, Tributes, Cross and K’NAAN

So yah, it’s been a while. Good to see you.

Robert Pollard – Elephant Jokes

You’d think we’d get tired of this guy’s constant output. After all, how much can one person create and not have it all sound the same? If you said ‘not much,’ then you’ve never really listened to Robert Pollard. This is intelligent jangly weirdo power pop that always hits the sweet spot. It’s varied and creative and fun. This is reason to celebrate! I hope he makes a million more. He probably will.

Ford Pier – Adventurism

Perfect freak-out session of musical insouciance from Mr. Pier. Subtitled “Torture Is The New Anal,” this record offers up so much time signature-twisting awesomeness that first listen doesn’t come close to giving it all to you. Even the cover is upside down (or is it just my copy?). Along for the ride this time are Jason Tait, Michael Philip Wojewoda and Ryan Granville-Martin. And I’d really like to know why Martin Tielli is the man to see about schedules… Well, whatever. Folks, this record is another slice of unabashed, unapologetic brilliance. A snapshot of a rare talent, indeed. Loved it.

Les Paul

R.I.P. Les Paul.

Oasis

Yeah well, down the hatch. Good riddance.

Busted Flatt

First heard Rascal Flatt’s atrocious cover of Tom Cochrane’s ‘Life Is A Highway’ on country radio on my neighbour’s crappy stereo in his garage. I couldn’t believe my ears. So, of course, I went home and looked it up on YouTube. I was blown away by the absolute horror of this version. The life has been sucked right out of it. The vocals are slow, and the twangy good-ol’-boy schtick does not work at all. The backing track is perfunctory New Country to the point of making it faceless and unrecognizable from any of a million other songs on CMT. Holy shit, that was BAD. Bad bad bad bad bad!

Trivia! Carolyn Mark ‘Slithers’

Bet you didn’t know that Carolyn Mark and The New Best Friends are on the soundtrack for the movie Slither. Yep, there they are, doing ‘2 Days Smug And Sober’ from the brilliant Pros And Cons Of Collaboration record. Neat!

Still gotta try making a Bourbon Decay one of these days…

The New Hotness

Part of what’s been keeping me busy around here arrived the other day, in the form of a 40″ television and a surround sound system to go with it. The TV’s alright (as far as TVs go, I’m no expert), but the promise of a big sub with surround speakers sets my skin to tingling. Haven’t got it hooked up yet, but just imagining Metallica cranked in there makes me really happy indeed. Oh baby.

Apple and iPod

So I announced a month ago that I’d awesomely got an iPod for my birthday. To this day, I still don’t have any music on it! I know! The issue seems to be that iTunes only wants me to pull things from my laptop’s hd, when all of my music is stored on my wireless external hd. So it means another step to move it all back to the lappy’s hd and, frankly, there’s not much room there, so it’d require several moves/deletions to get it all on the iPod… and even then that’s only if I can figure out a way to be allowed to add things in chunks. Also, iTunes keeps wanting me to make libraries and playlists and all this other proprietary horseshit I care nothing about – man, I just want to drag folders onto the iPod and be done with it.

James has been a big help, but not having a Mac he’s a bit out of depth in getting workarounds on that OS figured out. I’m thisclose to calling Mac themselves and having them hold my hand through the process. I’m also considering downloading some external freeware that seems to promise it’ll let me do what I want. As it stands right now, iTunes is nothing but a humungous pain in the ass.

Tributes To The Vines and Godsmack

I got these at the dollar store, so you know they’re high quality. And not really remembering any of the actual songs by either band will surely hinder these reviews completely. Released on Tributized Records (haha, that’s classy), both records are fine, I suppose. Glowing, right? Right!

The Vines Tribute has eight cover tunes by bands you’ll surely never hear again and, while they’re passable, well, whatever. The disc improves when you get to Iggy Pop (live), Flamin’ Groovies and Johnny Thunders tracks as the ‘roots of the Vines,’ and then the dude from Cinderella’s new band’s bonus original track. Yes, they went all out on this collection. At least it was only a buck.

As for the Godsmack disc, the Pagan Rock Allstars (oh baby) give us the “essence of Godsmack,” which amounts to an exercise in nu-metal imitation. A couple of other bands whose names you’ll never utter chip in too before we get the ‘roots of Godsmack,’ one track of which kinda rules. It’s a cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’ by Eric A.K. (of Flotsam and Jetsam, which was Jason Newstead’s band before joining Metallica), Robert Trujillo (haha he plays with them now), Dave Lombardo (SLAYER!!!) and Mike Clark (the producer?). Truly shows you how much that track needs Hetfield’s vocals but the song is so awesome that your Grandma could rock it. Now there’s an image. Anyway, There’s also Venom and Paul Di’Anno and yet another track from the Cinderella dude’s new band yada yada yada. Once through this thing was enough.

Hilarious, and not bad for two bucks. Will I play them again? Probably not.

Black Cross – Art Offensive

I also got this one at the dollar store, and actually it’s pretty awesome. It’s like old school punk, only better produced. Lots of aggression, searing guitars and a driving bottom end. Of course, like all good hardcore-sounding albums – by the end you’re sure you’ve heard the same song 12 times in a row but who the hell cares? At high enough volume, even a couple of these tracks in a row can get your blood pumping and make you indignant as hell without knowing why. Fun.

K’NAAN – Troubadour

I bought this ‘cos it was cheap, and I’d heard good things about it somewhere once, I think. Also, somehow I connected K-OS and K’NAAN in my brain. Maybe it was all the upper case letters. And if ever there was a good reason to buy a record, upper case letters is definitely it. Well, it has a duet with Kirk Hammett on it so I’d want to hear that, at any rate. And Mos Def and Damien Marley too, so why not?

And the disc? The music has great moments, with lots of world and soul influences and cool beats. The vocals, however, leave a lot to be desired. He’s got flow at times but, seriously, he only every raps on one note. Fine, but after two or three tracks it’s incredibly boring. Add to that an Eminem-sounding nasal sarcasm tone in places and it’s, well, derivative. When he hits the more melodic tracks and sings, it’s soft-pedalled and lovey-dovey. Not nearly as vocally interesting as K-OS. Should I even be comparing these two? Um, I dunno. This record has a whole lotta songs that’d make great mix-tape tracks. Don’t think I could listen to the whole thing all the way through again, though. Chacun son gout.

Carolyn Mark and Tolan McNeil – Live Bootleg 2005-08-26 Main Hall, Montreal

It is completely awesome and fitting that my first actual review of 2009 is of the lovely and exceedingly talented Carolyn Mark, together with the brilliant Tolan McNeil. Hooray!

Thanks to our friends at the Vinyl Diner in Saskatoon (Hi Stu!), we have a real gem in our happy little hands. This is a home-made bootleg on CD-R, probably done by Carolyn and friends during some late-night packaging project. It’s blue-stitched cardboard stamped with a record player on the cover and a bird on the back (presumably a bird on a wire?). Surely this was a tour-only, limited edition thing, and I am entirely honoured to give this beautiful artifact a good home here in our collection.

The sound quality is superb, and (as you can imagine) the song selection is totally excellent. Just like when we saw her perform in St. Catherines that time (see review), this set illustrates to us yet again that Carolyn Mark has a genuine charm and humour, a welcoming warmth and a huge, pure talent that is undeniable. You really should own all of her records.

It should also be shouted from mountaintops and into crowded rooms that Tolan McNeil is one of Canada’s greatest and most underrated guitar players. Damn, man, we mere mortals are in total awe of your prowess! One day you will be huge.*

Now, put the two of these artists together? Pure bliss.

You may never hear this bootleg, since I imagine that copies are few and far between out there, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to find it!

Oh, to have been in the Main Hall that evening.

Track Listing:
01 Introductions
02 Two Days Smug And Sober
03 Inevitable
04 Fuzzy Slippers
05 Chantal & Leroy
06 The Business End
07 Don’t Come Over Baby
08 Point O’ View
09 Get Along
10 Fireworks
11 It’s All Just A Matter Of (Where You Draw Line)
12 Catscan
13 North Country Fair
14 You Belong To Me
15 Bigger Bed
16 Both Ways
17 Edmonton
18 Unlisted

* Check out Tolan’s album There Will Always Be A Salesman for a blast of greatness. And if you have a copy of his other record, Give ‘Er that you’d be willing to part with, I am still hoping to find one for myself, so let me know. Thanks!

Carolyn Mark & Geoff Berner with Diona Davies (September 23, 2007)

Have you ever had high hopes about an anticipated event, dreamed impossible things that could only happen under the most amazing circumstances, and had the practical part of your brain tell you that they were highly unlikely? Well, last Sunday night we lived the dream, baby! Wahooo! It’s taken me a long time to write this review, longer than any other posting so far in my history of writing for the KMA, simply because making the words fit the awesomeness has been very very difficult. I’m still not certain I succeeded. 

And so it begins…

We were thrilled to learn that Carolyn Mark and Geoff Berner’s Eastern Philosophy tour would bring them as near to our house as a usual tour could bring them. Where we live, we’re at least 2 hours’ drive from anything. As if that would stop us! We were going to the show, end of story.

Looking for tickets, I checked Ticketbastard and Copps Coliseum, emailed the amazing Shena at Mint and called the venue, Strega in St. Catharines. I finally learned that there weren’t going to be tickets. It would be laid-back, first-come first-served and, while there may be a cover charge of a few bucks at the door, that was it. Days early, I suggested leaving for St. Catharines immediately and pitching a tent on the sidewalk in front of the venue until the day of the show, thus ensuring that we’d get in. My lovely wife finally talked me down from that idea… Shena at Mint also said she’d ask Carolyn if she’d put us on the Guest List, so we’d be sure to get in. Amazing!! Thanks, folks!!

My lovely wife and I both wrangled Monday off from work, because St. Catharines is a solid three and a half hour (or more) drive from our house and we didn’t relish the idea of driving all the way back after the show and then having to go straight in to work the next morning. Besides, this made for a nice way to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary – a road trip and an amazing show. Right on!

The trip down was uneventful until we got to Hamilton, that industrial brown pollution smudge of poorly-marked-until-it’s-too-late roads. Fuck you, Hamilton. You wasted an hour of our lives just trying to navigate your labyrinth of hellish urban disarray, unconnected major highways and strip mall degredation.

But we eventually prevailed, found the hotel, waited around awhile and then caught a cab to the show. When we arrived, we were just about the only ones there. Can you imagine? Where were the lineups, the throngs? What is wrong with the people of St. Catharines? At its peak in the evening, the crowd was probably only about 30 people, and one girl to our right was sitting reading a magazine (!) while these artists played! What the hell?!?! These artists deserve to be playing for much larger and far more appreciative crowds in much larger venues. Seriously. Have anyone ask me. I’ll tell ‘em.

The venue, Strega, was incredibly cozy, with 10 or so tables, but there were still plenty of seats left for more fans. Of course, we chose the table as close to where the performers would be as possible, which was quite literally arm’s length away. We ordered wine (red only, in honour of Ms. Mark!) and food, and while we waited Carolyn Mark arrived, heading out to the patio for a smoke because Ontario is still so completely anal about people smoking anywhere even remotely near anything.

The food arrived and it was delicious (Strega makes really good food, you should try it). As we ate, I was telling the guy setting up the mikes that he better watch his levels because Carolyn has a very powerful voice (like Neko’s!) and, in a room that small, she could really set people back when she leaned in and let ‘er rip. He just shrugged and grinned, leaving me to look warily at the large speaker hovering about four feet from my head.

And now the story gets awesome. You see, I’ve met musicians I admire before, like the time I met Harry Connick Jr. in Toronto. But he was trapped behind a table signing autographs in the Bay on Queen (in the lingerie section, no less, because his wife models the stuff), forced to meet everyone in the line so that wasn’t so difficult. And then there was the time in Saskatoon that James and I chatted with Chris Murphy of Sloan after the show we saw there. That was really cool. I love Sloan whole bunches. But initiating such encounters off the cuff, so to speak, is harder for me as a general rule.

My point being, I’d noticed Geoff Berner standing over by the door, and took one of the greatest leaps of social confidence I’ve ever made by simply walking over and introducing myself. I say this took courage because, as noted, I’m not usually in the habit of actually meeting the people whose work I admire and truly enjoy. I just don’t get out that much, I guess. Anyway, I’m totally a fan of the talented Mr. Berner (we have all his records and love each one), so it isn’t quite my first instinct to just stride up and be so bold. Yeah, call me nervous. But Geoff turned out to be a warm, welcoming (and sharply dressed) man who considers his words and speaks quietly. He radiates a calm and care that I found refreshing in this brash and rude culture we call home. He said he was pleased we’d driven so far to see them play, asked some questions about where we live, and encouragingly gave the green light for me to take some pictures (sans flash, at my suggestion, of course).

To further test my social confidence, at that point Carolyn Mark walked up, she of the brilliant songwriting ability, boundless energy, quick wit and, as it turns out, equally genuine wonderfulness. She proved to be just as welcoming as Geoff, thrilled that we’d made it out to the show. Our name was even in her new tour notebook, as a reminder from Shena about the Guest List. Cool! So, despite my initial trepidation, there I was, talking to two of my favourite musicians. I felt like pinching myself. It was one of those moments of amazement – was this really happening? Yes! Oh yes, indeed!

A little later, without much preamble, Geoff simply walked up to the microphone and started playing. And play he did! His set started out as gentle as he is, slowly building through his tales of history, humanity and humour. What doesn’t seem to fit the man I met is the power of his singing voice when he’s performing, but there it was in all its glory, at times soaring, at times raspy and almost searching, quizzical. Among the many tunes he graced us with were Volcano God, Can’t Stay Dry, Weep Bride Weep (which included our singing along), Widow Bride, Would It Kill You, Clown & Bard, Maginot Line (with all of us yelling ‘Stupid! Stupid!’ in the appropriate places), the hilarious and frighteningly true The Rich Are Going To Move To The High Ground, a cover of the New Pornographers’ Letter From An Occupant and, much later as he screamed his way to the ecstatic finale, I’m A Lucky Goddamn Jew.

Between songs, and sometimes right in the middle of them too, he told us stories about how the songs were written, or what he means when he says certain things (which is often quite funny, told in a deadpan manner). He also commented on the effects the songs have on some people (for example, apparently the Norwegian Nazis don’t like his record – imagine that).

Geoff Berner is a treasure. His approach to music is honest and informed, blending an awareness of the present with his own unique interpretation of the past. But as his shiny black and silver Estella accordion wails, he’s hopeful, too. He’s looking out at our shared future and believing that everything’s ultimately going to be alright. Geoff Berner is proof that there is elegance in simplicity, brilliance around every corner and honesty in a world that’s learning to forget it. I’d go see him play anytime, anywhere. So should you.

Joining him on violin for most of the tracks was the lovely and incredibly talented Diona Davies (all of Po’ Girl, Geoff’s last two records, Carolyn’s latest record, etc etc). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fiddle player with so much skill play so nonchalantly. You’ve got to watch her hands because her face and her body language isn’t betraying much effort at all. Awesome! And, of course, her accompaniment was perfect. Each note fit just as it should, never overpowering or being overpowered either. Beautiful.

Sadly, about half way through Geoff’s set, my camera’s batteries died. And the four spares that I’d brought were dead too! It was like one of those bad dreams, you know, where you show up unprepared and everybody laughs. Well, at least on this night nobody laughed, but I sure did curse myself for not checking the batteries before we left. I make a pretty bad journalist, eh?

We blissfuly watched until the end of Geoff’s set (not wanting to miss a note), and then I went to the bar to ask but they didn’t have any batteries. They suggested a convenience store 2 blocks up the street, which would be closing in 15 minutes. Since Carolyn was just tuning up, I had time. Diona Davies happened to be standing at the bar getting a refill of the red wine she called the Magic Music Juice and, after telling me they’d been up until 5:30 am that morning just playing music, offered to tell Carolyn to wait ‘til I got back before starting her set. See? These people are so sweet! So I ran up the street to find that the shop was already closed (despite their posted hours)! I could see the guy in there, too, but he totally ignored me. Rrrrg! Fuck you, St. Catharines Convenience Store Man for closing early! Wait, I know! He must’ve moved to St. Catharines from Hamilton. That must be it.

Resigned, I ran back to the venue so as not to keep anyone waiting, and prepared to mentally capture it all so I could at least attempt to use my meager words in this space to describe the show. Carolyn asked if I got what I needed, saying she had some batteries in her car… back home… out west… Hm. Never mind. I just told her that if a picture is worth a thousand words, I’d simply have to write several thousand words. And I seem to be well on my way by now, as it is…

And then this little trifling problem ceased to matter because Carolyn started playing. For those of you who have heard her stuff, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say she was right on target and in fine form. If you haven’t heard her yet, shame on you! Get out there and buy all of her records right now! Today! And oh man, even better, she was joined in her set by Diona Davies too. Bliss!

She announced that the setlist they’d prepared would be All Love Songs, but requests would also gladly be accepted. We were treated to a really great selection of tunes, including Don’t Come Over Baby, The 1 That Got Away With It, Gopherville, Get Along, The Wine Song, Fireworks, Point O’ View, Poisoned With Hope, and a cover of Ray Price’s A Legend In My Own Time. I requested Edmonton, because we love the bit about the border guard, and they played it awesomely even though the words got muffed a bit.

Later in the set, well into our second bottle of Coyote’s Run, I howled for Catscan because it’s one of my faves. Carolyn said she couldn’t play that one without Tolan (fair enough!) but then she immediately offered to play a “secret” Tolan song that he’d taught her in the backyard, telling her not to “sing it like a girl.” I can’t remember now what the song was called but it sure was great! They played several more, and finally crashed to a close with the hilarious You’re Not A Whore If No One’s Paying.

I can think of a ton of other songs I’d have requested (which would likely have ended up encompassing her entire catalogue, thus presumably keeping her playing until the following afternoon). But we can’t be greedy, for the show itself was absolutely perfect as it was. How could we not enjoy the witty and charming between-song banter, or the unique moment which found her kneeling for a drink of water from a cup on the floor followed, after standing again, by a gargling solo replete with its finale of spraying water all over everything, including us? Or what about the bit at the end where she went to walk out into the crowd, unplugging her guitar to go acoustic and got the cord caught in her guitar strap (with Diona coming to the rescue)? Each moment was filled with heart, with humour, and with great, great music.

After the show, I was perusing the merch table by the door and ended up talking to both artists again! Oh man! I already own all of Carolyn’s records, but I did pick up two of Geoff’s records and his book How To Be An Accordian Player. And if you’re reading this rather lengthy posting, Geoff, I payed Carolyn for them because you weren’t there yet! I’m sure she got it all sorted out. I did notice Carolyn’s cookbook Recipes For Disaster, one thing I hadn’t yet found in my travels. I tried to pay her for it but she wouldn’t take money, saying we’d done enough. She even autographed it for us. I hugged her, thanking her for everything. And I meant it.  

We ended up in quite a conversation, that ranged over many topics, including their maybe playing next year’s Summerfolk festival here in our town (which would rock ‘cos it’s so close to our house and we would totally love to see them again!), hypochondria (she found out what my lovely wife does for a living), the better than good chance of a Corn Sisters reunion (this time with Kelly Hogan making it a trio! Wahoo!), a proposed tour with Bob Snider and Bob Wiseman (said she’d be the girl in the Bob sandwich) and the letter I wrote in response to the article about the Mintern (see previous KMA rants about Fresh Breath of Mint Vol. 6) that will be appearing in the next issue, Vol. 7, of FBoM magazine. Apparently, there was speculation that my letter was written as a joke by Mint staffers to tease the Mintern (who is also Carolyn’s friend). But no, it was me, and I meant every word of it, too, no actual offense intended to the guy. Carolyn asked if I’d ever been to the offices (sadly, we haven’t ever been west of Lake Louise – yet), telling me that Mint operates in a “tiny space filled with cardboard boxes and one overworked Asian man.” Still doesn’t sound too bad to me, ‘cos I know she was likely exaggerating at least a little.

I had the great fortune to speak with Geoff again, too. He asked some more questions about our town, about life in this part of the world in general. He’d also mentioned, during his set, that he’d received an email that morning from a fan at the previous night’s show (at the Jane Bond, in Waterloo) expressing her concern for how much Geoff drank during the show. He seemed amused by this, certain he’d not had as much as that letter writer had worried about. And so he said it was nice to end the day meeting people who’d driven so far specifically to be (and have a great time) at the show, after starting the day with an email like that.

“Holy, look at the time…” I realized I’d better pay up as it was getting late, so I handed my lovely wife our books and records and went to settle up the tab. Apparently Geoff witnessed this, so she said “I’ve got the loot!” to which Geoff replied that she was like a gangster’s moll. Ha ha! Awesome! And then we were outside waiting for a cab, saying goodbye to Carolyn and Diona while they relaxed on the small deck with a well deserved after-show smoke.

The next day, after heading over to Niagara to check out the Falls before the long drive home, we talked about our experience, and about the show itself. Folks, we couldn’t have asked for a more amazing night. The marvelous music, the genuinely wonderful people, the venue, the entire night. It seemed too good to be true, but we know all of it happened. We will never forget a minute of it.

We wish the entire crew all the best on the rest of their tour, and all of you (yes YOU, Dear faithful KMA readers) should totally get out and see them every chance you get. Take all your friends. Fill those rooms to Fire Code Maximum Allowance limits and enjoy the amazing music. Seriously. Go.

Thank you, whole-heartedly, to everyone involved: Shena, Geoff, Carolyn, Diona, the folks at Strega, everybody.

Thank you.

Wahoooooooo!

Carolyn Mark And The New Best Friends – The Pros And Cons Of Collaboration

For her third beautiful record, Carolyn Mark is by now proving that everything she touches turns to solid gold, and she seems to be taking the whole thing in stride like she’s known all along. She’s gotten into one hell of a groove with her output, playing exactly what she wants to play, the only way it should be played, and she’s proving she is, without a doubt, the ringer in Mint Records’ amazing artist stable.

By now this stellar group of musicians is making things look so easy that one might be lulled into thinking it’s just that, easy, but I can tell you without equivocation that it is surely not. Song-writing on this level comes from years of practice, skills honed on stages across the country, and no small number of nights spent partying in the aftermath. This elegant creativity is hard-won, folks, and we can all thank everyone involved for offering us yet another record to call Amazing.

The band’s nom de plume this time around is The New Best Friends, and surely they will be exactly that, as soon as these sweet, sweet tunes get into your earholes. Tolan McNeil and Ford Pier are back again to offer up their brilliant expertise, this time joined by a whole cast of characters too numerous to list here, but I should let the name Kelly Hogan slip, as if you needed any more encouragement by this point.

Life continues unabated on this record, and it’s accepted for the sometimes grimy, sometimes perfect, sometimes perfectly grimy series of events that it is. Everything is presented to us in such a way that we feel like we’re being told the story after a few beers have set in and the hilarity and humanity have had time to marinate. But never once do we feel excluded from the goings-on, either – no, we are definitely co-conspirators with the rest of them in these shenanigans, so hold on to your hat, and make sure you spit in your beer before you stagger to the loo or when you get back you’ll discover they’ve finished your pint for you.

This record is another gem of a house party, another fantastic taste of life as these people know it, and it’s another reason for you to fly down to your reputable record retailer and plunk down your hard-earned with confidence. That is, if you weren’t hip enough to get your own copy already, and if not, I mean, what could you have been thinking?!? Run, don’t walk. You won’t regret it, I swear.

This one is unquestionably required listening.
 

Track Listing:
01 The Overture
02 2 Days Smug And Sober
03 Chantal And Leroy
04 Not A Doll
05 Vincent Gallo
06 The Wine Song
07 Jody And Sue
08 Bigger Bed
09 Slept All Afternoon
10 Yanksgiving
11 Hangover
12 Outro/Credits

Carolyn Mark And The Room-Mates – Terrible Hostess

On this, her second record, Carolyn Mark takes things up another notch. I know, I know, that hardly seems possible, given the brilliance of her debut effort. But so be it. Let’s just enjoy, and thank her and her band for offering us what we all need a million more of – another amazing Carolyn Mark Record.

Each of these songs is an event, a chance to sing along and dance and nod your head in agreement with everything she says. Mark has a real knack for taking that slightly darker side of all of us and turning it into something that we all know will be okay in the end, given enough liquid encouragement and time spent with good friends. Oh sure, there may be some small remorse and a substantial hang-over the next morning, but these are minor details when these songs simply ooze that sense of life being lived to its fullest.

It’s a great boon to us all that Tolan McNeil, Ford Pier and Garth Johnson returned to help make this record the goldmine that it is. This time they snuck past the bouncer at the door under the name The Room-Mates. No matter, these guys are rock solid and exciting musicians whose music still gives me pleasure-chills after five years of spinning this disc.

Mark herself is in fine flying form, singing her heart out and keeping that edge of laughter in her voice so that we all know that this is as real as it can get. The songs here are once again peerless; fun and true and rarin’ to go.

The fortunes of life may come and go, people we trust may grow closer or pull away, and the world can spin past us outside the kitchen windows, for all we care. But here in the warmth of this record we all know that we’re invincible, welcome, and expected to have a good time. So take off your hat and put your coat on the bed. The bar’s over there in the corner, and don’t touch the stereo. Let’s dance all night and chase the sun up in the morning.

Yes, this record is that good.

Carolyn Mark – Party Girl

We all have artists that we love, be they painters, writers, musicians, creaters of roadside attractions, whatever floats your boat. In our short lives we are lucky to find such artists who speak to us and for us, who make us laugh and cry, and who make things so real for us that their output was exactly what we were thinking at the time whether we realized it or not.

For me, Carolyn Mark is one of those artists. She’s a brilliant writer of wry, slightly jaded but entirely awake lyrics. She’s a good guitar player whose songs sound like she’s having fun (because she more than likely is). She’s a Party Girl and makes no bones about it, and I’ll bet she’s a great drinking buddy. Best of all, she can sing like nobody’s business, folks. Oh baby, this lady can sing.

There are a lot of different sounds mixed into her songs, like country, folk, rock, and some good ol’ hootenanny stomping too, just to name a few. The songs swing, swagger, stagger, and sometimes they regain their balance at just the last instant before falling down, giggling, on the kitchen floor.

But that last bit about the floor hardly sounds fair, eh? There’s control here, making the party atmosphere more calculated than the casual listener would realize. It helps that Mark has a fine posse of truly excellent musicians to back her up on this gem of a record, like Tolan McNeil, Ford Pier and Garth Johnson. And there are more names you’ll recognize on various tracks here too, like Greg Keelor, Sarah Harmer, Rick White and Ian Blurton. I’m telling you, folks, this is one hot record.

Hard to believe they made this record seven years ago. I’ve played it a million times since discovering it at the Vinyl Diner in Saskatoon (Hiya, Stu!) and these songs are now long-standing, great friends to me. There’s the longing and heartache, the humour and hijinks, the need and the want. It’s all here, ready for you to take it to heart.

Yeah, this one’s amazing. You all need to play Carolyn Mark’s records. Now.

Carolyn Mark – Nothing Is Free

Mint Records has done it again! Our most vociferous THANK YOUs to the divinely and incredibly generous folks at Mint for supplying the humble KMA with the brand spanking new Carolyn Mark album, Nothing Is Free. It’s absolutely awesome!

We absolutely love Carolyn Mark. Her sense of humour, her genuine talent as a song-writer and story-teller, and her one-of-a-kind, powerful singing voice all combine to make her an artist we here at the KMA genuinely adore. She’s another one of those Canadian artists that everyone should know about, so if this little review helps send you in her direction, you’re welcome!

Billed (by Carolyn herself) as her “woodsy, introspective album,” Nothing Is Free is a beautiful, thoughtful effort from start to finish. Each of her albums has contained gentler songs like these packed in amongst her barroom stomping country, but she’s never put them all together in quite this way. And oh boy, it totally works!

Mark sings here like she’s on a back porch somewhere, with a bottle (or three) of something tasty close to hand and an acoustic guitar in her lap. It sounds like she’s digging out the corners of her universe as the sun goes down and the crickets sing, and she’s honestly reporting back on what it all meant to her. Sure, there are still a couple of quicker tunes here, and the whole thing finds a nice balance in the beauty of each piece. As fans will know, she’s always had a way with words, a knack for turning out one-liners that perfectly fit a mood, a situation or an event, and happily this is once again in no short supply here.

As with every Carolyn Mark record, the arrangements and the song structures are gorgeous, and the long list of brilliant musicians who played on these tracks is drool-worthy indeed (see list, below). This is a record you’ll find yourself playing again and again, and each time it offers up something new you hadn’t noticed on the last spin. It’s that good.

And to top it all off, after eleven tracks of sheer beauty, Destination: You is a hanging curveball of a song that reminds me of when we used to live in Montréal at the turn of the century, when all the trendy restaurants were playing Morcheeba, Portishead and Massive Attack. And I can hear you saying What?!? Well, folks, this is another of the beauties of being a fan of this fine lady’s music –  you never know what you’re going to get next. It’s a really cool re-imagining of her style, with its phoned-in vocal effect and trip-hoppy music, which shakes things up and brings the record to a close you would never have expected in a million years. Perfect!

Carolyn Mark is too witty and cagey to ever tell you everything about herself, because after all, what would be the fun of this if all the mystery was gone? But here we find her musing more than her usual amount, about relationships, the past and who could ever make an honest woman out of her… and really, who talks that way anymore?! That’s awesome! Of course, she could be just as likely to laugh and say it’s all fiction and we’re reading too much into it, so is this album an actual window into her soul, the introspective truth as her pull-quote bills it, or is it simply great song-writing about the stuff of life with which everyone can and will identify? Listen for yourself and decide.

We cannot recommend this record strongly enough. It’s absolutely stunning and you can’t live without it. Look, it’s on the street July 3rd, so we highly recommend you be the first in line, money clutched tightly in your sweaty little fist, ready to adopt your own copy as soon as your local record shop opens that morning.

You need this record in your life. Right now.

PS While we’re thanking Mint once again for their incredible generosity, let’s not forget to mention the other awesome bits they sent in this packet, including two totally kicking promo posters (Carolyn Mark and Immaculate Machine), a Mint newsletter (the contents of which will be posted here shortly), and three cool lapel buttons for our jean jackets. Thanks heaps, Mint! You guys rock!

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