Category Archives: C

Gig Review – Arcade Fire

Artist: Arcade Fire
Venue: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Victoria, Australia (in the somewhat elite seated section – not that we sat down)
Date: Wednesday, 21 January, 2014
Who?: The amorphous ensemble from up Quebec way with a huge indie/crossover following, a big equipment haulage budget, and a welcome desire to dazzle.
Crowd?: Thousands of adoring folks with about 30% beards and lots of skinny jeans.
Best Bits: The aforementioned razzle dazzle, human bobblehead costumes, about three absolute killer tracks.
Could be Better: Heavier basslines, better mix (percussion was too muted), perhaps less cowbell.
Dream Venue: At a festival where they had to tighten up the setlist
Dream Lineup: I’m thinking Echo & the Bunnymen, Bright Eyes… and reformed Canadian gag-popsters Corkie and the Juice Pigs:

Worth a Second Look?: At a festival, yes. At this price solo, nah, probably not.
Give us a look: OK, here’s 67 mins of action (Win wore the same jacket last night)

Gig Review – Ben Caplan & the Casual Smokers

Artist: Ben Caplan & the Casual Smokers
Venue: Northcote Social Club, Northcote, Victoria, Australia
Date: Friday, 3 January, 2014
Who?: A facially hirsute Canadian with a huge gravelly voice, strumming stuff and occasionally bashing keys backed by violin, stand-up bass and drums.
Crowd?: A couple of hundred appreciative inner-city types (and one annoying couple who eventually got asked to leave).
Best Bits: The astounding voice- sure there is a Tom Waits aspect, but the lungs are bigger, the melodies more eagerly pursued. The whole gypsy/folk vibe sans pretense.
Could be Better: I was keen on hearing his Fairytale of New York cover.
Dream Venue: A riverboat, a galleon, a medieval marketplace
Dream Lineup: With fellow Canadian Serena Ryder, the also gravelly Ben Weaver… and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
Worth a Second Look?: Absolutely.  If you’re in Sydney catch him on Wednesday.
Give us a look:

525. Kasey Chambers – “Storybook”

Another (relatively recent) purchase in need of a ‘catch up’ review.

a album cover Chambers Kasey Chambers Storybook Songbook CD review blogKasey Chambers is definitely a guilty pleasure around here, and when she released an album of covers I was intrigued.

The collection reveals a few lessons.

1. Chambers has excellent musical taste.  It’s hard to argue with the Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Paul Kelly, Fred Eaglesmith and Gillian Welch selections (in terms of both artist and song choices). Hearing Earle’s Nothing but a child and Kelly’s Everything’s turning to white with a female voice does add something new to their respective narratives and vibes.

2. She has a decent contacts list, with Kelly and Jimmy Barnes popping in to duet (Kelly very well, Barnesy not so much).

3. While some tunes are excellent reinterpretations, or at least decent homages, in the end it still feels like a diversion from her core business of penning original tunes that intrigue and excite.  Sure it’d be great fun to pop into her regular gigs down the road from her house where she has a covers band, it still doesn’t stack up against the ‘real thing’ (her music, or the originals of said tunes).

So add KC to the growing list of overdue new albums.

File under: Familiar tales

428. Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill And The Little Hillbillies – “Little Kasey Chambers and The Lost Music”

One last pre-K review (actually, I’ve just remembered another J I own – so this is second last!).

I am without children, so I am typically spared the perils of navigating the murky world of children’s music, bedevilled as it is with much that is cloying, aggravating, embarrassing and downright painful.

Sure, there a little nuggets of gold courtesy of them fine folks at CTW (oh, and a J record I should go fish out!), but I am spared all the merchandising masquerading as music that seems to clutter the lounges of so many parents I know.

Nevertheless, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to check out this little ‘family album’ from Kasey, her Dad, and various of their infant family members.

I played it  once upon purchase, shelved it, and was only reminded of its existence by Kasey’s newie, and also seeing Bill and KC performing a track off here (Dad, Do You Remember?) live on stage.

Put succinctly, this album has far too many tracks featuring children singing. They can hold a rhythm quite well, and the sentiments are sweet and well-intentioned (I’d think divorced parents might find Two Houses a useful counselling tool), but there are too few straight ahead country numbers. The title track ain’t bad though:

There are also a lot of mentions of Aussie fauna. I’m guessing it’d work for the 3-6 year old market, and while I am immature, I’m not that spritely.

File under: A Christmas pressie for the little jackaroo/jillaroo in your family?


426. Kasey Chambers – “Little Bird”

Here’s another recent purchase.

There was much excitement around our abode at the news of a new Chambers album.  Here is an artist who unites my wife, my mother-in-law and I in mutual admiration.

I was surprised, once I thought about it, how long it’d been since a genuine solo Chambers album. She’d been off collaborating (very successfully) with her hubbie, and also did a children’s album I need to review also.

I’d call this CD a return to form, if it wasn’t for the fact that KC hasn’t really dropped the ball along the way.  Instead this album should be seen as the latest installment in her evolution, whole also capturing much of where she’s been before.

It is an unashamedly country album, but with a modern-pop twist when it takes her fancy. She rocks out superbly on a couple of tracks (Train Wreck is a standout), but also experiments with some old-time bluegrass on a track you’d swear she dug up from some traditional songbook (Georgia Brown – she also reworks the tailend of  Train Wreck into a banjo-fuelled tune).

Not everything works. Nullarbor is too cloyingly twee for my liking, but I’ll accept some misjudged indulgences, because Kasey doesn’t need or like to be told what to do (as the title track proclaims):

File under: Another feather in her cap/stetson

368. Camille – “Le Fil”

My lovely, linguistically able wife purchased this Gallic CD a couple of months back, and I’ve finally got around to reviewing it.

I did a couple of years of French at school, but my retained knowledge thereof doesn’t stretch far beyond “je m’appelle” and “voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir”.

So an album entirely en Français is a little wasted on me in a lyrical sense. As such, I just tend to listen to it as an exercise in vocal gymnastics.  Thankfully, Miss Camille does seem to be doing a lot of doopedy-do stuff. Even more thankfully she stays this side of Bobby McFerrin gimmicky.

The album has an upbeat, summer feel and Camille certainly has an engaging vocal style.  She bears some similarity to Iceland’s two female forces Bjork and Emiliana Torrini as she ventures up and down the vocal scales with ease.

Her voice is regularly a percussive instrument, as on this track (about being stuck on a boat?):

I’d probably like this more if I understood it, but it moves me in the right way.

One warning/complaint: the final track is some weird barely audible 30 minute hummed/droned fade out which does mess with your mind (well, my weak one anyway).

File under: French for yodel?

281. Cat Power – “Jukebox”

You may recall I was pretty dismissive of Chan Marshall’s The Greatest album. Nevertheless I did pick up her follow-up a couple of months back, and it is thus due for a review.

This time she’s doing the Rod Stewart thing and covering some old standards. So, here we get slightly sultry takes on New York, New York, Blue and Rambling Woman (amongst others).

She (if feel comfortable over-using the personal pronoun here, as she has embraced feline parenthood) makes each song her own.

Of course, that means each sounds pretty much the same.

It’s all delicate (but powerful) vocal over slow, loungy piano. This is fantastic background music. In fact, I can’t imagine how it could come to the foreground in any fashion.

If I walked into a late night bar and some chanteuse was crooning in this fashion, I’d be very happy to sup my drink and let the tunes act as a backdrop to much more interesting thoughts. I wouldn’t rush to see the tracks belted out in a concert venue, however. I recall many of these covers being the lowlights when I saw her live back in 2008.

File under: Save your coins

225. The Commitments – “The Commitments”

Reviewing the Detroit Cobras reminded me I had missed a CD down in the soundtrack section which was also all about covering old classics.

Back in my early undergraduate days I managed to see this film three times at the cinema.  This perhaps reflected some ill-fated dating and lack of imagination, but mainly it was driven by my enjoyment of the flick.  It may well rank up there with various Star Wars editions and Can’t Buy Me Love as the film I have seen most often on the big screen.

Despite this, I never purchased said soundtrack (my missus did).

There is a substantial contrast between this release and the works thus far reviewed from the Cobras.

Music of the soul/R&B description (indeed, almost all popular music) must have some sexual aspect to it.  For a hetero male listener, the women must sound alluring and raunchy, and the males should seem threatening or jealousy-inducing.

That dynamic is very much at play with the Cobras.  Here it is a little lacking.  These pasty-faced Celts are too clean and tidy and, well, white.

Andrew Strong does a better job of pushing into the soul domain with a belting voice that could well be that of a bourbon-drinking Lothario (rather than a 16-year-old Dubliner).

The Commitment-ettes are the weak spot here.  They deliver very saccharine, colourless versions of tracks, that lean towards showtune versions of ’60s Supremes pop.

It just doesn’t turn me on.

File under: Diet-Soul

201. Custard – “Loverama”

I had reasonably low expectations when re-listening to this effort.  I’d presumed Custard had left the bestest days behind them (back around debut album time).

Album Cover Custard LoveramaAs such, it was the pleasantest of surprises to find the numerous pop gems spinning around within this disc.

The secret seems to have been a reversion to the sound and feel of the debut;  more country-ish guitar work, and less synth (and occasional cowbell).

The first five (!) tracks are out and out winners.  The brilliant Girls Like That (Don’t Go For Guys Like Us) kicks off proceedings and sets the tone for party pop. Hit Song is great fun too… and the pace keeps up right through to Ringo (I Feel Like):

The band has hit its stride now, and deliver still more gold in the back half. Pluto (Parts 1 & 2) and Funny are delights and direct contrasts (as one lays down a power riff, the other a synth melody). 

I’m so happy to have reembraced this CD and the world of McCormack and co.  They are a much missed bright spot on the Aussie music scene.

File under: Modern Lovers meets Bananarama?

200. Custard – “We Have The Technology”

There was an unusually high level of pressure on this particular CD as it spun under my review-o-scope.

Album Cover Custard We Have the TechnologyNot only does it bring up my much-anticipated and increasingly tardy double-century of reviews, but also the artists in question are looking to tip the balance back into the positive after one enthusiastic and one disparaging assessment.

My first listen to this effort saw my leaning strongly towards the dismissive.  I struggled to find much joy in this bundle of surprisingly unfamiliar tunes. Much of the material seemed underdeveloped and disposable. 

Burdened with the distraction of huge piles of assignment marking (hence little time to write my reviews and move on), I persisted with the album.

Familiarity was built, and some admiration won. I began to embrace the experiments and the quirks. The surf guitar on Memory Man, the thrashiness of Very Biased, the laidbackness of Hello Machine, and the perverse pop of The Truth About Drugs all became imbedded in my subconscious.

The poppiest moments here don’t quite hit the Wahooti heightbut Anatomically Correct and Nice Bird would get a slot on any ‘best of’ from these lads. 

In the end, I’ve retreated from slamming the band with their own song title: Music is Crap.

File under:  Not quite progress, but some benefits