I have a lot of talented friends, some of them make their own albums and send them to me. I love them. Sometimes I get to review them for paid publications, sometimes I just tell people any chance I get. I’m probably biased and tainted by knowing these people but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually talented. In fact, some of these people I only got to know BECAUSE they were talented. Anyway, faster than you can say “Full Disclosure”, I am introducing a new recurring feature on The Pulmyears Music Blog today: My Talented Friends
I have more than four talented friends, of course, so this is only the first of a constantly updated series (I promise, other friends, to do this again!)
Today we have…
Strippers Union: The Deuce
EVERYBODY loves Craig Northey, and I am no different, I have counted him as one of my better friends since I met him at Kevin McDonald’s house in Toronto over 16 years ago. I had heard an album by his band Odds, and I was hooked. Odds were (are) the band I always wished I was in. In 2004, Craig hooked up with Rob Baker from The Tragically Hip, a band that is legendarily huge in Canada yet only quite well known in the States, to form Strippers Union and they released a debut album called Local 518.
Now comes the follow-up, The Deuce. With horns blaring, guitars jangling and strumming, and amazing melodies, they have made an album that should be better known (Although, maybe it is back home in Canada). The album opens with “Making Strange” a defiant song (“That lie won’t set me free!”) which sounds to me like Odds backing Jackson Browne, with Baker wailing all Waddy Wachtel-like. (To be fair Odds were once Warren Zevon’s touring band, so they’ve earned the pedigree). I also hear shades of Neil Finn’s best wistful and obstuse lyrics in songs like “High”: “Exile in my own skin, at 2 a.m. my day begins, then ends, then begins. I’m High as a cloud to get me through, I walk through walls ’cause I have you, and I guess you have me too.” They even do a reworking of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Circle Is Small”, homesick! They are expertly backed by Odds Pat Steward, Doug Elliott and Murray Atkinson plus their frequent keyboards man Simon Kendall. The CD has been in my car for over a week since I got it.
Here’s a video they made for “When Your Beauty Fades (You’ll Be Lonely)”:
And they rock like Rush or The Who this one, “I Give You Away”:
And of course for more information go to the Strippers Union website.
Adam Levy: The Heart Collector
“Would it really be a sin, to write God’s holy name on the head of a pin? If I’m playing a game that I never can win, would it really be a sin?” – Adam Levy, “Would It Really Be A Sin?”
Through Craig Northey, I met Tom DeSavia and through Tom, I met Adam Levy, on Twitter! I didn’t even know that he was a jazz guitarist and had toured and recorded with the likes of Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Amos Lee and others. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have to pay a thing for his album The Heart Collector, but at the same time, I am hoping that others will now! Working with producer Mark Orton, Adam has crafted an intimate, all-acoustic collection which showcases his nimble picking, warm voice and earnest lyrics. Some lovely string arrangements pop up now and then, but it’s mainly a sit-down with an emotionally connected songwriter at the top of his game, communicating truth upon truth. Besides the quotation I opened with here, there’s another bit that really spoke to me, having adopted California as my home, from Adam’s song “A Promise to California”: “As soon as I crossed that state line, heard the harmony that never ends, in the echoes of the canyons, in the Santa Ana wind. In the crash of the Pacific, in the calling of the birds, I made a promise to California, and I never break my word.”
Heather Waters: Propeller
And through following Adam Levy on Twitter (@Stringjuggler) I was introduced to the high lonesome twang of Heather Waters (@mightyrosebud). She graciously sent me a copy of her album Propeller. This is a stunning album filled with precious heartache and country comfort aided and abetted by a clean, clear production which centers on the voice amid all the trimmings and trappings of full arrangements. It ain’t all retro, despite the fact that I hear echoes of Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn in her voice, but I could even compare this to Maria McKee in places. Songs like “Diamond In Your Mind” would make Jenny Lewis jealous, while the mid-tempo radio ready rock of “Wait For Me” is great top down California convertible driving music.
“You only say you love me, when you’ve had too much to drink. And you never say you need me, baby what am I to think, ’bout your fairweather love?” – “Say You Love Me” from Propeller
On her website, she says her songs are all about “Love & murder, baby.” And according to her bio, she’s no stranger to Chicago’s South Side blues clubs, and Boston’s singer-songwriter scene, where she met producer James “Hutch” Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt’s bassist) who worked on her first album before she relocated, again, to Nashville and work with Delbert McClinton. But maybe Nashville wasn’t for her either, and now she’s out in L.A. where she made her 2004 album Shadow Of You.
In 2008, Waters produced Propeller herself, at the suggestion of Greg Leisz, and enlisted help from musicians Michael Chaves, Sean Hurley, Craig MacIntyre and Peter Adams.
Here’s a live recording from a house concert, where she performs “Wait For Me” (with Chuck Lee Bramlet):
Kris + Dee: Still Here Inside
I first met Kris Abbott when my old band The Gravelberrys used to open for her band The Pursuit Of Happiness. Besides being one helluva guitar player, I always thought she was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. As far as I can tell, she always watched our sets from the side or in the crowd and we’d talk about songs she liked and encouraged me. (Actually all the TPOH people were like that, seldom have I worked with a band that open and friendly). Kris and I are both less directly involved in the band thing these days, but we are both refusing to let go of that urge to make original creative music. I salute this. Recently, Kris had been telling me that she was working with Dee McNeil, as Kris + Dee. Kris produced the CD she sent me, Still Here Inside and I love it. Here’s a kind of video documentary EPK thing about their sessions at The Bathouse.
Still Here Inside feels familiar to me. I grew up in Ontario, the music feels like my Canada, it feels like my soul. It’s bleak at times, but in the same way a high contrast, black & white Ansel Adams photograph reveals the stark rock faces of Yosemite, the soundscape Kris paints under Dee’s intimate vocalizations evokes time spent out of the machine. You need that sometimes.
After the opening, “Polar Bears”, which tells a tragic small town story, the darkness continues on “Empty Nest”:
“Do you feel that emptiness you’ve always felt? You’ve got a selfishness like no one else. And all this messiness you brought on yourself… Now you’ve got an empty nest like everyone else. How can they live with you when you can’t even live with yourself?”
Here’s a photo slide show someone made to their song “My Own Devices”
I wish I’d written the cleverly poetic lyric on one of the more uptempo songs here, “Presence of Me”: “Bound by your mystery, you fed my insecurity, could you fill that void in me and did you really even care at all? ‘Cause you walked away so easily, Now it’s harder than it needs to be, held by your memory, the absence of you, is the presence of me.”
They have some songs up on a Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/krisanddee/music/songs?filter=featured
And you can get Still Here Inside on iTunes HERE.
That’s all for this installment of My Talented Friends. I have a lot of talented friends, though, so we’ll do this again real soon!