Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kent Rock's Top 25 Albums of 2012

Well another year of record purchasing has come to an end. There were some surprises and some let downs but for the most part it, artists released the product I had anticipated. I'll keep this short as JJ pretty much covered the year. We definitely grew tired of writing the standard review. I like JJ, also purchased some 40 new albums this year. It's interesting to see where we agree, where JJ is wrong haha and how our duplicates appear in their pecking order.

Again I will keep this short and sweet as JJ pretty much nailed the how the year went.

The biggest surprise for me went to Serena Ryder for her work on 'Harmony'. Serena Ryder is an artist I always assumed I wouldn't dig. My bad there. She's great.

My favourite find of the year was Del Barber. Del was an artist I discovered at the Regina Folk Festival with two albums in his back catalogue and a new one 'Headwaters' all of which are impeccable.

My biggest disappointment should have been obvious. I liked their first album in the mid 90's but had written their following albums off as crap. When they came back with a new album after a ten year hiatus I had hoped Matchbox Twenty had grown up and put out an adult record that was going to be fresh. Turns out 'North' was everything I hoped it wasn't going to be. Worst album of the year. I do embarrassingly like the drums in their single 'She's So Mean' but that alone can't save the record let alone the album. I should have known, I admit.

Other albums that should have impressed but I felt just simply missed the mark was The Darkness' 'Hotcakes' and Soundgarden's 'King Animal'. Soundgarden's single 'Been Away Too Long' fires on all cylinders but the rest of it just kind of blends in like wallpaper to me. The Darkness has some ripping tracks musically but vocally it just never seems to match up and doesn't get me off.

Best ep's go to The Biters for 'Last of a Dying Breed' and the self titled Lifetakers record.

Best album that came out last year but just discovered this year is 'Killin' Uncle Buzzy' by Travis Meadows

So without further ado this is how I thought the year went down.

1. Lucero – Women & Work
2. The LustKillers – That Which Does Not Kill Us…
3. Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
4. Del Barber – Headwaters
5. Serena Ryder – Harmony
6. Mumford & Sons – Babel
7. Pink - The Truth About Love
8. Hey! Hello!
9. The Cadillac Black
10. Soul Asylum – Delayed Reaction
11. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing Is Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
12. Billy Talent – Dead Silence
13. The Wooden Sky – Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun
14. Holly McNarland – Run Body Run
15. Redd Kross – Researching The Blues
16. Zac Brown Band – Uncaged
17. Danko Jones – Rock and Roll is Black and Blue
18. JD McPherson – Signs + Signifiers
19. The Lumineers
20. Matt Mays – Coyote
21. JJ Voss – Show Em Who’s Voss
22. Jack White – Blunderbuss
23. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
24. Our Lady Peace – Curve
25. Corb Lund – Cabin Fever

Sunday, December 23, 2012

JJ's Top 25 Albums of 2012

Well, ladies and gents, 2012 is almost a wrap so it's time to look back at the year that was in music.  2012 definitely wasn't the most prolific year for myself and my fellow Spunster Kent.  It's been about half a year since our lost blog post so we sure won't be winning the "Hardest Working Bloggers in Show Biz" award any time soon.  I can't speak for Kent, but I kind of got bored with doing traditional music reviews so I gave up blogging for a bit.  I'm still a huge music geek, but after a while you can only use so many adjectives to describe a punk album or a folk album.  As well, we live in the world of Twitter where people only read tidbits of information in sound-bite form, so brevity is key these days.

That being said, it's always fun to reflect on the past year and compile my year-end list.  It gives me a chance to revisit some albums I forgot about and reaffirm how great albums are that I never got sick of.  As well, I feel I would be doing the world a serious disservice by not sharing my impeccable taste in music.  :-)

I didn't buy as many albums this year as I have in prior years so I'm sure I'm missing out on some incredible music.  I think I "only" bought 40 albums or so this year, which is pretty slack by my standards.  I'm sure if I gave the Japandroids, Fiona Apple, Hannah Georgas and Regina's own Bystanders a full spin or two that they'd be on this prestigious list.

2012 saw Bruce Springsteen release one of his best albums almost 40 years after his debut album.  Wrecking Ball easily stands next to Nebraska, The Rising, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born to Run in Bruce's canon.  Leonard Cohen released an album that sounds like his last will and testament.  However, if this is indeed his last album, Cohen sounds triumphant and is at the top of his game, as anyone who saw him in Saskatoon will attest.  Metric released their best batch of tunes and their fellow Broken Social Scenesters Stars delivered another fine piece of work.  Green Day released three topnotch albums with tons of hooks and nary any filler.  Not too shabby for 37 songs.  After two rock operas, it's nice to see Green Day get back to basics and focus on short, fun bursts of power-pop-punk.

My biggest disappointment of 2012 was Jack White's Blunderbuss.  I was a huge White Stripes fan and was pretty stoked for this album but I just couldn't get into it.  It's far from horrible, but considering it's Jack White, I was left a little underwhelmed.  Maybe Jack will knock it out of the park with his next project.  As well, The Killers really dropped the ball with Battle Born.  I really wanted to like this album but Brandon Flowers and company forgot to bring actual songs to this huge sounding album.  Maybe next time.

My biggest pleasant surprise of 2012 was Van Halen's A Different Kind of Truth.  It may be partially due to nostalgia, but it was nice to see Diamond Dave and Eddie back together on record.  The fact that they didn't shit the bed with this album is a minor miracle.  At 15 songs, there is indeed a bit of filler, but songs like "She's The Woman" rock hard.  Now, it would've been nice to see Michael Anthony's bass and background vocals on the album to make it a full reunion but I guess you have to take what you can get.  That being said, Van Halen did the unthinkable and released a good album at this stage of the game and that made my inner 10 year old self a happy camper.

Anyhoo, without further ado, here is what tickled my musical fancy this past year.  Enjoy!

Best Reissues

R.E.M. - Document
Sugar - Copper Blue
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

JJ's Top 25 Albums of 2012

1. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
2. Metric - Synthetica
3. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
4. Green Day - ¡Uno!
5. Whitehorse - The Fate of the World Depends On This Kiss
6. Serena Ryder - Harmony
7. Garbage - Not Your Kind of People
8. Stars - The North
9. Lindi Ortega - Cigarettes & Truckstops
10. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
11. Corb Lund - Cabin Fever
12. Green Day - ¡Dos!
13. Rah Rah - The Poet's Dead
14. Billy Talent - Dead Silence
15. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
16. Our Lady Peace - Curve
17. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal
18. Chad Kichula - A Fire
19. Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock and Roll
20. Green Day - ¡TrĂ©!
21. Imperial Teen - Feel the Sound
22. JJ Voss - Show 'Em Who's Voss
23. Mumford & Sons - Babel
24. P!nk - The Truth About Love
25. Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

Sunday, June 3, 2012

JJ Voss 'Show Em Who's Voss'

I recently got my hands JJ Voss' sophmore record 'Show Em Who's Voss'. In the dozen or so albums I have picked up so far this year it is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. I consider myself a rock n roll kind of guy that likes a lot of country. A more accurate statement would be that I like well written story songs. Just about anything that I can really feel and grabs me I can get behind. Where the magic really happens is when you believe the artist. This is definitely the case with Regina native JJ Voss. JJ writes workin' man music. He writes honest music.

I really dug the first record 'Hillbilly Storybook' from a couple years back but wondered if JJ could top his debut when I picked up my copy of 'Show Em Who's Voss'. I was delighted to find out out that the hardest working musician in Regina has really hit his stride with his most recent effort. In scene chalk full of the likes Taylor Swift's and Lady Antebellum's, JJ is the everything you like about classic country with a really fresh new edge which keeps him from sounding dated, I have no doubt this record will get a lot of spins in the months/years to come. 

'Show Em Who's Voss' really pops. Between working with some killer people in Nashville and another group of stellar people in Regina, JJ has his bases covered. The Nashville band includes on of the original Steve Earle Duke's Harry Stinson, Paul Martin of Exile/Marty Stuart and Kenny Vaughan who has worked with Lucinda Williams and Rodney Crowell when not playing with Marty Stewart also. There are several uber talented musicians that he worked with in Nashville. That being said his Regina band is really impressive also. Jayson Brinkworth, Ken Burton, Brett Schinbein and Laura Roddick really lay it down at home. Between the two bands it's hard to pick a favourite. 

One thing is for sure you won't be disappointed in picking up this title. It really is fantastic from start to finish. It never drags and always keeps moving ahead steady like a train, My personal favourites are 'It's a Pride Thing', a song about being blue collar and happy with it, 'Bare Bones' which deals with the reality of living beyond your means, 'Breakin' Things' a super fun song about simply getting out of hand and 'You Pull Away', a ditty about chasing a girl in a seesaw situation.  

JJ can be seen many Tuesday's at Bocado's lounge in Regina as the host of the weekly Tuesday Night Troubadour. You can pick up 'Show Em Who's Voss featuring "It's A Pride Thing" by ordering though his website here: It's also available at the Future Commincations outlet which is located at 508 Henderson Drive here in Regina.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Holly McNarland 'Run Body Run'

The first time I saw Holly McNarland, I was sixteen years old and walking through the wood chips at the then cross Canada touring Edgefest. The year was 1998 and it was my first concert. It was hot and just trying to take in everything was almost impossible. I felt as though I was in another world. It would have been hard to soak up everything at any concert for me the first time but a festival of this talent level had me on sensory overload. I was there to see Econoline Crush, Foo Fighters and Green Day. I was there to see those bands that day at Sask Place but I became a fan of Bif Naked and Holly McNarland. I knew virtually nothing of Holly McNarland. So as I walk across the grass heard this powerful voice sing/yell “…but I f@#ked him anyway”. I looked at the stage and thought, “that didn’t come out of that artists mouth did it?” On that day when I stopped and listened I was blown away. Fourteen years later I am still blown away.

Holly seems less angry on each record however she still emotes and is still a hell of if not better songwriter. With her having a family now and growing as an artist her songwriting has got to be affected in one way or another. Her phrasing, lyrics and earnest are still in every song on her newest record ‘Run Body Run’. That will never change for her.

As I have grown over the years, so has Holly McNarland. Which really works; she’s where she should be. I think this keeps her from getting stale and keeps her relevant. On this record you have some pop songs and some folk songs but they are all HOLLY songs. The only one that reminds of someone else is ‘After I’m Gone’ which is reminiscent of the beautiful and talented Emmylou Harris. No one can say there is anything wrong with being on the same page as Emmylou. ‘Only Money’ is a sure hit single and the other tracks are perfect for a Holly McNarland record. My personal favorites are ‘Alone’s Just Fine’ and the song she wrote for her daughter, title track ‘Run Body Run’.

Holly McNarland is still a gem. At this stage in her career she could do coffee shops, festivals, and shows like Austin City Limits or anything else she desires. She does it not because she has to but because she wants to and that makes for a fantastic record. ‘Run Body Run’ leaves me with that same sincere captivating feeling that watching her live did all those years ago at Edgefest. I am already looking forward to the next record. This is how a classy independent artist does it. Take notes.


As far as I know there aren't any official videos yet. That being said I did run across a cool bootleg from a while back of a track that made the record.

Cheers Rockers!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kent Rocks - Top 20 Favourite Country Songs of All Time

A couple weeks back a friend of mine (Chris) got me thinking about my top 3 favourite country songs of all time. I like singer/songwriter tunes, be it country, rock, folk etc. I am not going to get into why I like country however, you can read that article if you please here:

It got me to thinking however. I listen to A LOT of country. It's probably still outweighed by rock'n'roll 65/35 but when you listen to as much music as I do, it's a lot of country and folk. I realize I have favourite songs from almost every recent decade 1950's to present day and they are all different kinds of country. The order varies from day to day but here is the most concise list I was able to present to you... today anyway.



Kent Rocks

20. Kenny Rogers - The Gambler

19. Corb Lund - Time to Switch to Whiskey

18. Loretta Lynn/Jack White - Portland Oregon

17. Fred Eaglesmith - White Rose

16. The Ginn Sisters - Hey Doll

15. Shooter Jennings - 4th of July

14. Justin Townes Earle - Slippin' & Slidin'

13. Zac Brown Band - Sic Em on a Chicken

12. Reba McIntyre - Fancy

11. Dwight Yoakam - Fast as You

10. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Modern Day Romance

09. Guy Clark - The Cape

08. Dolly Parton - Jolene

07. Waylon Jennings - I've Always Been Crazy

06. Blue Rodeo - Hasn't Hit Me Yet

05. Dolly Parton - 9-5

04. Steve Earle - New York City

03. Merle Haggard - Mama Tried

02. Hal Ketchum - Past the Point of Rescue

01. Johnny Cash/June Carter - Jackson

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Nickelback: the Whipping Boys of Rock 'n' Roll

Nickelback are simultaneously the most loved and the most reviled band on the music scene. They are one of the few "rock" bands that are fortunate enough to sell shitloads of albums nowadays, so they deserve some respect for that feat. There is the stereotype that commercially successful artists must, by nature, be ravaged by the critics while obscure artists get rave reviews. For the most part, this has been the case throughout the years. For every Beatles who the critics and the masses universally adore, there are twenty MC Hammers who sell millions of albums and twenty Nick Drakes who merely sell thousands.

It's pretty obvious where Nickelback sits on the musical spectrum. The boys from Hanna, Alberta have been the favourite whipping boys of critics, bloggers and fellow musicians across the world for the last few years. Perhaps it's the power of the internet, but I've never seen such an outrageous amount of HATE expressed towards one band or artist. The only case that might be comparable would be the brief backlash against the Beatles after John Lennon said they were bigger than Jesus. But it's safe to say that their reputation sufficiently recovered after that.

So why do people hate Nickelback so much? Before the NFL Thanksgiving game in Detroit, there was an online petition to get Nickelback NOT to play. And this attracted a shitload of people. A similar situation occurred when it was announced that Nickelback would play the half time show at the Grey Cup. To the band's credit, they've had a sense of humour about it. This is especially evident in a pretty clever bit they filmed for Funny or Die.

The level of hate has grown to almost comical proportions. But for a band that everyone seems to hate so much, they sell millions of albums in an age where no one buys albums. They also sell out arenas across the world at the drop of a hat. So who exactly buys Nickelback albums? It seems like the "cool" thing to do nowadays is to hate Nickelback. I'm sure that since so many people claim to hate Nickelback that there are people in the hipster contingent who like Nickelback now... but strictly in a post-modern, ironic kind of way. Regardless, Nickelback get the most publicity of any rock band on the planet. But why?

Before I continue, I may as well let the cat out of the bag. I don't like Nickelback's music. Since the day I first heard of them, I thought they were just watered down post-grunge music. "Leader of Men" was an ok song, but it was so... bland. And since then, they've only gotten worse. However, I must note that I do respect Chad Kroeger and company for making a damn good living doing something they love. They're talented musicians so I have to give them credit for that. It takes balls to go onstage and set yourself up for judgement. And they seem okay with the fact that people like myself really don't like their music. Plus, Chad and company seem like genuinely nice guys. So kudos to them for making money playing music.

So why do people hate their music? I can't speak for everyone, but here is why I cringe whenever I hear a Nickelback tune. I mentioned before that I find their music so watered down. In 1996, I thought Bush were a watered down version of Nirvana. Well, Nickelback are a watered down version of Bush. They make Bush seem like Iggy & the Stooges or the Sex Pistols by comparison. They may play guitars, bass and drums... but any trace of rock 'n' roll has been completely sapped out of their music. They are the worst thing that a rock 'n' roll band can be:

They're safe.

The cinematic equivalent of Nickelback would be a Happy Madison production starring Kevin James, and would feature talking animals, plenty of fat jokes... and at least ten scenes of guys getting hit in the nut sack. If they were a talk show host they'd be Jay Leno. If they were a beer they'd be Molson Canadian. If they were a burger they'd be a Big Mac. Nickelback is the soundtrack for people who buy their music from Walmart.

But why do they sell so many albums and sell out so many shows? See above.

The majority of the population don't want to be even remotely challenged when it comes to entertainment. With Nickelback, people can just turn their brains off and sing along. To Chad Kroeger's credit, he's found a formula that works very well commercially. In a nutshell, Nickelback are a (shitty) country band with cranked up guitars. If you combined country music with hair metal, you would have Nickelback. Chad Kroeger doesn't write metaphors. He just lays everything out for the listener. No one will listen to a Nickelback song and wonder, "I wonder what he means by that?" "I like your pants around your feet" means exactly that. They pick the standard country and rock 'n' roll subject matters: sex, booze, fights, sex and booze... with the obligatory ballad and "socially responsible" song to sway the chicks. Their music is ideal for guys getting off a 12 hour shift on the rigs. This type of listener doesn't want to hear the latest Arcade Fire or Radiohead tune. They want to get shitfaced, watch some UFC and crank up some AC/DC.

In commercial terms, Chad Kroeger's formula is brilliant. They found what sells and they stick to it. AC/DC had their formula and they stuck to it. The Ramones had a formula and they didn't change. I guess I just have a problem with Nickelback's formula because it comes across to me as pandering. I love lots of mindless rock and pop tunes. I even find LMFAO somewhat brilliant. They're dumb... but they know it. They're smart about being dumb. But Nickelback? I just don't get how people can just flock to their tunes. Yet, so many people gladly lap it up. And so many people rail against it. But they have people talking so I guess they're doing something right. In a recent Spin magazine, The Roots' ?uestlove said that he only differentiates music between being "effective and ineffective." I guess Nickelback's music is effective to lots of people.

But as I said before, despite the fact that I think their music is pure drivel and that a kid in Grade 4 could write better lyrics, I do respect the guys for actually writing and performing their own songs... and being able to perform live. In an age where every pop song seems to have autotune and people pay outrageous money to see Britney Spears lip synch onstage, it is nice to see people succeed by playing a (bastardized) version of rock 'n' roll. As Sloan once sang, "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans." I guess I don't hate Nickelback. I just hate that so many people have unquestioningly accepted that mediocrity rules. And I find that very sad.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Van Halen or Van Hagar? The Eternal Question

Most of my friends tend to be obsessive music geeks like myself so the usual music debates always tend to pop up in conversation: the Beatles vs. the Stones, the Ramones vs. the Sex Pistols vs. the Clash, 70's Aerosmith vs. 80's/90's/00's Aerosmith, why Rush do/don't suck, U2 vs. Queen, etc. Well, now that David Lee Roth has reunited with Eddie and Alex Van Halen for a successful comeback tour and now have a new studio album set to be released next month I figure now is a good time to weigh in on the Eternal Musical Question:

Diamond Dave or Sammy? Van Halen or Van Hagar?

To me, it's a no brainer. I'm a David Lee Roth fan all the way. It goes without saying that Sammy Hagar is/was a far superior singer. The dude has an amazing set of pipes. "Dreams" has to be one of the best male vocal performances in the history of 'rock n' roll... and it might even be my favourite Van Halen tune. So for pure vocal ability, Sammy wins in a landslide. It's no contest. However, rock n' roll isn't strictly about technical ability. If that were true, then Emerson, Lake and Palmer would be gods. David Lee Roth was never the best technical singer, but he made it work. He played to his strengths. But mostly, he had fun and he GOT IT.

DLR understood that a band like Van Halen should put on a a helluva show and HAVE FUN. The Roth version of the band wasn't trying to change the world. They were simply trying to provide the soundtrack to people having a good time. By combining the proto-heavy metal of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin with shades of glam rock and punk rock, Van Halen emerged from the L.A. club scene to gradually become arguably the biggest band in the world in 1984. For better or worse, Van Halen helped spawn all the hair metal bands of the mid-late 80's. Before Motley Crue could "Shout at the Devil", Van Halen were "Runnin' with the Devil." With Diamond Dave at the mic, the band understood that rock n' roll should be ridiculous at times. Most importantly, they never took themselves seriously as Artistes. Roth wasn't trying to be Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. The lyric sheets for "Hot For Teacher" and "Everybody Wants Some!!" couldn't be mistaken for long lost Elvis Costello songs. With Diamond Dave, Van Halen were a party band with the best guitar player on the planet. And DLR was one of the best frontmen. He had a charisma and swagger that few possess. But ultimately, it's the songs that matter. "Runnin' with the Devil", "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", "Panama", "Jump", etc, etc, etc. These songs still sound amazing today.

When Sammy Hagar joined the band, they pretty much became a new band. Diamond Dave probably left at a good time because it would be pretty hard to maintain that "party band" ethos for much longer before the schtick got old. With Sammy, Van Halen tried their best to be a Serious Rock Band. There's no way they could've done this this with DLR. I will admit that Van Halen had a few great tunes with Sammy ("Dreams", "Poundcake" and "Best of Both Worlds", for instance). However, I think Van Halen lost the plot when they decided to focus so much attention on power ballads. If you saw the song titles "Love Walks In", "When It's Love", "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Can't Stop Loving You" on a set list you'd think it was for an Air Supply concert... not a hard rock band. When Sammy joined the band, they went from "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" to songs that Dianne Warren could have written. In trying to be a Serious Rock Band, Sammy Hagar once referred to his lyrics as poetry. It's safe to say that Diamond Dave never made this claim. It's pretty obvious that DLR had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote most of his lyrics. On the other hand, Sammy reaches beyond his capabilities in the lyric writing department. As much as I love "Dreams", the lyrics are pretty cliche and would be perfect for a Tony Robbins infomercial.

Diamond Dave left the band when they reached a commercial peak with "Jump". So when Sammy joined the band it was kind of like a free agent signing with the New York Yankees after winning the World Series. So unless your name was Gary Cherone, it was a pretty sweet gig. The band went on to have more commercial success with Sammy Hagar because their music headed into a far more MOR direction. But just because they appealed to more soccer moms doesn't make Van Hagar a better band.

Sammy Hagar seems like a really cool, laid back guy. He just seems like a normal guy. I would much rather sit down and go for a beer with Sammy than Dave because, quite frankly, Dave seems like a bit of a douchebag. However, if I ever listen to Van Halen I always tend to skip over the Sammy songs... and I would much prefer to see the DLR version of the band than the Sammy version. For me, a band like Van Halen should be all about turning your brain off, letting loose and having fun. When Sammy joined the band they lost that key ingredient.

And as for Van Halen's new single "Tattoo" with Diamond Dave? Well... at least he has a cool hat. Unfortunately, the new single doesn't exactly help my case. But at least they'll play "Panama" in concert. You can check out the video below.

So who do you prefer? Van Halen or Van Hagar? Or do you actually think Gary Cherone was the best singer in Van Halen? Or do you not even care? Feel free to post your comments below.