Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Pair of Gems To Get You Through A Cold Prairie Week

Many of us in Western Canada will be hunkered down this week, or at least this weekend, hiding out from winter's angry return.  Sure, I braved the cold yesterday and hit the slopes at Mt. Norquay in Banff to take advantage of a rare good snow day (boot deep powder) up there, but now I've learned my lesson and retreated to my wood burning fire place, my music collection and my wine cellar.  That cowardly run from the cold has compelled me to dive into one of my favourite white wines and one of my favourite musicians, one of whose songs can now be found in the bowels of I-Tunes.  Just who is that? Billy Cowsill, that's who.

Awhile back, I pointed y'all to his work with the Blue Shadows, which is amazing by any standard.  This time however, I have stumbled across a gem on a compilation album from Tom Phillips & The Men of Constant Sorrow that is not the product of Tom and his gang but instead, of Billy Cowsill.  The track is "Vagabond", the lonely tale of a drifter, who has taken to the rails in the wake of a failed relationship.  As always, the song features Cowsill's stellar voice and showcases his ability to capture the human spirit in song.  Download this track and throw it on repeat for the balance of this cold and snowy stint.

While your at it, get yourself a bottle of 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.  This wine is extraordinarily drinkable and features an off-dry style with subtle citrus flavours, making it downright delicious with a variety of food pairings and particularly, Asian food, especially Thai food.  While Chenin Blanc remains one of the world's most underrated grapes and nearly all of South Africa's Chenin Blanc wines are outstanding values, this one is something special.  At $15-$20 in most wine stores, it will also leave you some money for a nice fresh tin of mint Skoal bandits, a marginal cigar, or a pack of cigarillos, whichever you fancy, to also help in getting you through this grim, grim, weather.

Hope this helps warm your souls as we gut out another fierce blast of Canadian winter.  Excelsior! 

Posted by Knox Harrington on January 30, 2011 in Canadian music, Food and Drink, Music | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Knox Harrington Five (KH5): Best Songs of 2010

It seems that I get later and later every year in declaring the best songs of the past year.  Hell, with my prolonged real-life/day job-driven absence from our glorious site, it may have felt like I was never coming back.  Well, here I am. Focused and ready to bring you more of the finer things of life in Western Canada. So, without further ado, here are the best songs that found their way into 'ol Knox's ears in 2010, presented in reverse order to have you on the edge of your seat by the time you hit #1.

5)    "When It Rains" - Born Free - Kid Rock

Yeah, you heard me, Kid Rock.  Gone are the days of palling around with midgets (rest in peace Joe C.) and wowing kids at frat parties.  With his last two albums, Kid Rock  has demonstrated that he can write, he can sing and he can put on one helluva damn show, as evidenced by last year's appearance at the Calgary Stampede.  "When It Rains" showcases Kid's talent and his recent commitment to being "true blue" musically. This track from his most recent, Rick Rubin-produced album, Born Free, is a tale of days gone by and abject loss that while at times sounds like it is close to the razor's edge of cliche, manages to rein things back in to remain more Bob Seger and less New Country cornball.  The fact that he refuses to put his music on I-Tunes shows a rare commitment to integrity and rebellion seldom seen in today's music industry.  I know it sounds crazy, but give this one and "Born Free", the new album's title-track, a whirl.

4)    "Let The Whiskey Take The Reins" - The Grand Theatre - Vol. 1 - Old 97's

I admit it.  I'm a bit of an Old 97's fanatic, so I may be a tad biased.  That said, The Grand Theatre is the 97's finest hour since Too Far To Care.  This track, among other great moments on this album, is a brooding, liquor-soaked track that features Ken Bethea's high, lonesome guitar ramblings and Rhett Miller's near-whisper vocals, both harkening back to many of Knox's longer nights in small town bars and taverns around Canada's west.  This one begs for multiple spins, especially if one does as the song's title instructs. Check out "You Smoke Too Much" too.  Pure Murry Hammond gold.

3) "Greyhound Guitar Man" - Transgression Trail - The Joey Only Outlaw Band

Any band that features a marijuana leaf, an assault rifle and a garlic clove as its logo is ok by 'ol Knox's standards.  That band ascends to something greater when they blast out straight ahead, rip-roaring cowpunk, the way it was intended to be.  The Joey Only Outlaw band does just that on this track about the ravages of life as a Canadian folk-punk-country musician relegated to bus travel.  Great music, great lyrics and a breakneck pace launched this track into this year's KH5.  Make sure you also take in one of Only's live shows - unreal.  I had the pleasure of seeing them on an oddly quiet night at the Palomino in Calgary during the Stampede last summer when they opened for Fred Eaglesmith (whose new song "Shallow" was a KH5 contender too by the way).  I entered the bar having no idea who they were and I left a committed fan.  The fact that the drummer played with a beer can on his head was just a bonus.

2)    "That's How I Don't Love You Anymore" - The Guitar Song - Jamey Johnson

When a guy loses his wife and his recording contract almost simultaneously and then locks himself in a buddy's basement, good things happen musically it seems.   At least that's the way it seems to have worked for Jamey Johnson, who started out as a cookie-cutter Nashville product and became something physically resembling the love child of Canadian music icon Tom Wilson (see Junkhouse, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings), Rob Zombie and the aforementioned Rick Rubin, with the musical chops of Kris Kristoffersen, Steve Earle and George Jones.  With lyrics like "four habits and a carnal sin have left me in a crooked state of mind" and "now I just pour the poison in and act like it's my new best friend", I was pulled in like a bass chomping down on a Rapala Rattlin' Rap.  Throw in a stalker-esque bass line and an off-kilter drum beat with deep, rootsy lyrics and you have one of the best songs this decade, never mind this year.  Check out the whole double-album that spawned this gem.  Rock solid.

1)    "Another Year Again" - Darker Circles - The Sadies

The top of the heap this year is a band that has been around a long time and has been putting out great album after great album, albeit with a dash of inconsistency.  It seems that it took producer Gary Louris of Jayhawks fame to bring the boys to the promised land.  That is where this song resides.  Somewhere between the music from the old school Spiderman cartoons, a Tarantino film and a Sergio Leone film, this song strikes a chord.  The usual brilliant guitar work of the Good brothers, and lyrics about time passing a man by, deliver a clever one-two punch that simply blows your mind each time you here this one.  A classic to be sure.


There you have it - 2010's best.  Download them, enjoy them, and tell me the ones I missed.


Posted by Knox Harrington on January 23, 2011 in Canadian music, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The World's Best Wedding Singer? Maybe

After hearing a lot of buzz about the top notch beer and pub food offered at Calgary's Wild Rose Brewery, I had an opportunity to check it out last week and leaped at the opportunity to cross another much-balleyhooed Western Canadian haunt off my list.  

As I walked through the door of the quonset-like structure that houses the brewery and taproom/pub at the old Calgary Currie Military Base (next to the Calgary Farmers' Market), I was struck by a number of things. First, the crowd was.....well.....let's just say, eclectic.  The young, the old, the blue-collar, the artsy; all had come together to sit together and enjoy Wild Rose's micro-brewed offerings fresh from the taps. Second, the aroma of pub food wafting through the place. In particular, the smell of ribs hung heavy in the air. Last, and perhaps most surprisingly, a band was setting up on some kind of raised platform in the brewery portion of the room. A band? In a brewery? Strange. So I asked one of the many friendly staff who the band was. "I don't know. Some wedding singer who is playing for free to get some exposure. They're supposedly the best wedding band of all-time and claim to play 'everything good'." Hhhhmmmm. Was it possible? That not only was there a decent band in a brewery and a band that could really be in contention for the "best wedding band" around? I decided to order up some beer, ribs, meatballs and wings and to listen to The Ben Rose Wedding Band to decide for myself.

Into about my 3rd rib (which apart from a need to be a little more browned and less soggy were pretty damn good), I heard the band rip into Weezer's "Island In The Sun", one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands.  Great job, and made better by a pint of Wild Rose's "Velvet Fog" (delicious, but the cause of a subsequent Herculean hangover). Then it was Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", which is really not a number that a lightweight singer would want to quarrel with. Great job again. Could it be? Could this be the best wedding band of all time? A few songs and pints later, I received my confirmation that this was certainly the best wedding band and maybe, one of the best cover bands I had ever heard, when I heard their version of the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love". The Ben Rose version was a mildly rocked up version of the original, not the tripe-wrapped Phil Collins bastardization from a few years back. As the evening went on, song after song exhibited a well-chosen and well-played version of great songs crossing many genres. I should note that the female singer in the band added particular flair to the set, as did Ben's red smoking jacket. Upon further investigation, I see that Ben and the gang have a CD out (Cowtown) that is available through links on their website, or iTunes.  'Ol Knox will be grabbing it shortly.

As for Wild Rose, great beer and decent, yet not earth-shattering food (the "under-crisping" of the items, the wings in particular, was a bit unpalatable to me). Anyway, grab a 6 pack of "Velvet Fog", Ben's CD and order some of those over-baked, soggy wings from one of the pizza chains and you have yourself a pretty good night and something like I experienced last week in Cowtown.

Posted by Knox Harrington on April 3, 2010 in Canadian music, Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Lindy's High Notes: The Arkells



A bunch of really cool dudes from Hamilton have a band called The Arkells. I saw them play recently and they kicked my ass. They are a fantastic high-energy live band worth trudging through a blizzard to see. Turns out their album is as good as I hoped. This band restores Hamilton's place on the map of great rock and roll cities.

Jackson Square is fully injected with the high spirits of the energetic and talented young folks. The rockin' single, "Oh, The Boss is Coming" is a song about workin' for the man in a hot city in the summer. They even have a song called "Ballad Of Hugo Chavez" about the time when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was in solitary confinement for trying to take over the government of Venezuela in the early '90s. The lyric in the chorus "In the night of the sun" refers to a degenerative eye disease that mostly blinded Chavez while he was in prison. I wondered what would possess them to write about Chavez.

They have another song called "No Champagne Socialist" about a man who insists he isn't one. But my favourite track "John Lennon" is the catchiest song and you can't help but sing along. This album is solid and worthy of being called one of the top Canadian rock albums of the year.

I had a chance to speak with Max, the lead singer/guitar player. Here's our short conversation: 

Lindy Vopnfjord: How did you guys all meet?

Max: We met in the playground. Tim and Dan were pretty ferocious soccer/baseball players in their day. Mike, Nick and I joined them in grade 9.

LV: What is the greatest thing about Jackson Square (the mall)?

Max: The greatest thing about Jackson Square is its employment opportunities. Two summers ago they gave Mike (our guitarist) a job in the maintenance department. He spent the summer pulling out weeds from the sidewalk.

LV: What is "No Champagne Socialist" about?

Max: "No Champagne Socialist" is written about a family friend. He is a very admirable guy who worked at the post office his whole life, and was very involved in local politics and his community in his neighbourhood in Queens, NY.

LV: The album includes a song entitled "Ballad of Hugo Chavez." I'm curious: Why did you choose to write about Hugo Chavez?  What do you think of what he's got up to?

Max:  It's hard to comment about Hugo Chavez's current political agenda, considering that I am not immersed in Venezuela's complex and ever-changing political scene. Because of this, I think it would be unfair for me to make an endorsement or value judgment.

However, I do think his personal story and rise to power is very intriguing, and was worth writing about. He learned and developed many of his political ideologies while he was in prison. Solitary confinement gives you a lot of "thinking" time!

Check them out across Canada with The Waking Eyes (previously reviewed). This tour offers one of the best pairings of bands I've ever seen.

02/04 - Starlight Room Waterloo, ON / $9 Advance $10 Door 

02/05 - Level 3 St. Catherines, ON / $10 Advance $12 Door

02/06 - The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON / $10 Advance $12 Door

02/07 - Call The Office London, ON / $5 Advance $5 Door

02/08 - Rusty’s at Blue Collingwood, ON / $10 Advance $10 Door

02/11 - E-Bar Guelph, ON / $8 Advance $10 Door

02/12 - Montreal House Peterborough, ON / $8 Advance $10 Door

02/13 - Pepper Jacks Hamilton, ON / $8 Advance $10 Door

02/14 - Merchant Tap House Kingston, ON

02/15 - Zaphod Beeblebrox Ottawa, ON / $8 Advance $10 Door

02/18 - Black Pirates Pub Thunder Bay, ON / $8 Advance $8 Door

02/20 - Amigo’s Saskatoon, SK / $10 Advance $10 Door

02/21 - Starlite Room Edmonton, AB / $15 Advance $20 Door

02/25 - Biltmore Vancouver, BC / $15 Advance $15 Door

02/26 - Avalanche Bar Courtney, BC / $10 Advance $10 Door

02/27 - The Spice Lounge Nanaimo, BC / $10 Advance $15 Door

02/28 - Sugar Victoria, BC / $12 Advance $15 Door

03/03 - Blue Grotto Kamloops, BC / $15 Advance $20 Door

03/04 - The Gateway Calgary, AB / $10 Advance $12 Door

03/06 - Distrikt Regina, SK / $15 Advance $20 Door

03/07 - Pyramid Winnipeg, MB/ $10 Advance $12 Door

Check out The Arkells music on their Myspace Page. Buy JACKSON SQUARE from iTunes here. Or from Amazon here.

Check out this video: Arkells - Oh, The Boss is Coming!:

[ed.: Lindy Vopnfjord is the front man for the Toronto indie rock band Major Maker. He is also known for his solo acoustic folk music, simply as Lindy. To hear Major Maker's music go to the Major Maker website, the Major Maker myspace page, Lindy's website, or his myspace page.]

Posted by Lindy Vopnfjord on February 1, 2009 in Canadian music | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The sound and the fury: angry music for an angry Westerner

I had originally intended to discuss the soulless city of Phoenix, Arizona and the few bright lights of its culinary/wine scene, but the current political situation in Canada has me thinking about music -- angry music.

One particularly angry album that has been getting heavy rotation in my CD player is Okemah and the Melody of Riot, the second most recent album recorded by alt-country legends Son Volt. While fans were dubious about front man Jay Farrar’s decision to dispense with the original band line-up that had produced 3 solid albums (Trace, Straightaways and Wide Swing Tremelo) and build a new band around him, one listen of this album confirms that decision was a good one.  This incarnation features a lot less twang and a lot more rock n' roll.  The blazing guitar work of Brad Rice is proof enough that the then new line-up is rock solid.

Many of the songs focus on anti-Bush and anti-Iraq war themes (see “Jet Pilot” and “Endless War”) and your affection for those songs will likely hinge on your views on those issues, but it is “Six String Belief” that seems to speak (in an American voice) to the current power grab by the NDP- Bloc-Liberal coalition and provides a simple prescription in its lyrics:

The declaration framers state

Revolution sets the course straight

It was necessary then, and it’s necessary now

Corruption in the system, a grass roots insurrection

Will bring them down, will bring them down

If it’s an angry political album that the current state of Canadian politics has you craving, give this album a spin. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted by Knox Harrington on December 8, 2008 in Canadian music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lindy's High Notes: The Dears

The Dears - Missiles (Dangerbird Records)

I instantly dove into this triumphant new album from a Montreal-based band that I've followed for a decade. Missiles is gorgeous, thoughtful and full of expression. Murray Lightburn gives one of the coolest vocal performances in Canadian music. The poetic lyrics are significant and meaningful and should be listened to closely on headphones or speakers at top volume.

My favourite track is Meltdown In A Major, a perfect song to keep you from coming apart. Featured in Crisis 1 2 and complimentary throughout is the lovely singing of Natalia Yanhack. Lights Off has a classic guitar solo you never hear anymore, and has vocal moments like Beach Boys, Beatles and Nat King Cole. It also sounds like these songs were written during the darkest hours of the night. From beginning to end this album is as true as the north star and as solid as moonlight on the Canadian Shield.

Their tour for this new album is bound to be unforgettable. Don't miss a chance to see them play these new songs live.

Here are their upcoming tour dates across Western Canada.

December 13th - Toronto, ON, Canada @ Sound Academy
December 15th - Winnipeg, MB, Canada @ Burton Cummings Theatre
December 16th - Saskatoon, SK, Canada @ Sask Prairieland Park
December 17th - Edmonton, AB, Canada @ Shaw Conference Centre
December 19th - Calgary, AB, Canada @ MacEwan Hall
December 21st - Vancouver, BC, Canada @ Vogue Theatre
December 22nd - Vancouver, BC, Canada @ Vogue Theatre

MySpace: The Dears

You can buy the album in stores, on iTunes from their website www.thedears.org, or by following the Amazon link below:

[ed.: Lindy Vopnfjord is the front man for the Toronto indie rock band Major Maker. He is also known for his solo acoustic folk music, simply as Lindy. To hear Major Maker's music go to the Major Maker website, the Major Maker myspace page, Lindy's website, or his myspace page.]

Posted by Lindy Vopnfjord on November 8, 2008 in Canadian music | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lindy's High Notes: The Waking Eyes

Holdingdk4 The Waking Eyes - Holding On To Whatever It Is (Coalition Records)

I've picked up-and-coming Winnipeg indie rock group The Waking Eyes for my first music feature in the WS for good reason: This album makes me happy.

It is original and inventive, fun and intelligently written. Clever lyrics marry perfectly with catchy melodies. It was instantly enjoyable on the first listen and it continues to grow on me. The band's singing is killer and they are also uber-talented musicians. 

The songs are very well recorded and mixed -- it's clear they took the time to work out these clever and, at times, quirky arrangements. The album sounds like the product of a highly prolific writing spree. Pick Up Your Number is a classic track, while All Empires Fall has all the youthful energy and cleverness of a hot indie rock hit. Wolves At The Door is the lyrical standout and could be picked up as a libertarian anthem against the tax man. Here's a video of The Waking Eyes (and friends) performing Wolves At The Door live in a loft on Albert Street:

Digital Glue, meanwhile, features a great horn section that really soars and is a fitting end to the album.

I asked Steve Senkiw from The Waking Eyes a couple of questions to go with this.

Lindy Vopnfjord: What's the craziest thing that has ever happened to you guys?

Steve Senkiw: I would say the craziest thing would have to be when we were touring in a Winnibago a few years back, and it started on fire and burnt to the ground with all of our personal belongings inside, we saved the gear, thank god!

LV: Do you guys plan on moving to Toronto as do a lot of bands from out west?

SS: I would say no, we do not plan to move to Toronto any time soon, we do love Winnipeg a lot. But I wouldn't say I would never move to Toronto. I do really like it here [Toronto] and have been able to meet quite a few exceptional people, yourself included.

Look for this album in stores or buy it on iTunes  or on their website under media. You can buy their previous 2004 release Video Sound on Amazon by clicking through this link:

If you get a chance to catch these guys live I highly recommend it. Here are some upcoming shows:

25 Oct 2008   The Outpost w/ Finger Eleven, Thunder Bay, ON
30 Oct 2008   Power 97 Power Ball, Winnipeg, MB
5 Nov 2008    Live Lounge, Ottawa, ON
6 Nov 2008    El Mocambo, Toronto, ON
13 Nov 2008   El Mocambo, Toronto, ON
20 Nov 2008   El Mocambo, Toronto, ON

[ed.: Lindy Vopnfjord is the front man for the Toronto indie rock band Major Maker. He is also known for his solo acoustic folk music, simply as Lindy. To hear Major Maker's music go to the Major Maker website, the Major Maker myspace page, Lindy's website, or his myspace page.]

Posted by Lindy Vopnfjord on October 21, 2008 in Canadian music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack