Tag Archives: Music

The Sound of Music – Part 3

My wife has got a wide range of musical tastes and only occasionally will I hear something playing in her car that I don’t enjoy. Certainly, without her extensive pallet of auditory awesomeness  I would not have been exposed to this song by the Magnetic Fields:

Or this cover of a Magnetic Fields song – and one of my favourite covers of all time – by The Airborne Toxic Event (whom we also saw play live in Toronto a few years ago):

Or even this:

So, whenever she and I enter into a discussion about which album from a band is better than one of their others, it’s common for me to disagree and then after some listening, acquiesce to my wife’s better judgement. Case and point, The Tragically Hip’s Up To Here versus Road Apples. I was always on the side of Up To Here and her on the side of Road Apples, but after a couple listens in the car on the way to work I have flipped sides.

Such is not the case for The Watchmen and their first two albums. McLaren Furnace Room is their first album and is Jodi’s favourite from the band and for a long time I was in agreement with her on it. It’s a killer album and to this day I’m left to wonder why it didn’t vault the band into more rarified air. However, after many, many, many listens of McLaren and their second album, In The Trees, I’ve changed my tune.

Welcome to the third installment of the Sound of Music – My Top Five Albums Of All Time:

In The Trees by The Watchmen

Released 1994

Track Listing:
  1. “34 Dead St.” (9/10)
  2. “Boneyard Tree” (8/10)
  3. “Lusitana” (9/10)
  4. “Wiser” (9/10)
  5. “Calm” (9/10)
  6. “All Uncovered” (10/10)
  7. “In My Mind” (9/10)
  8. “Laugher” (8/10)
  9. “The South” (8/10)
  10. “Born Afire” (8/10)
  11. “Vovo Diva” (7/10)
  12. “Middle East” (9/10)
As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Looking at my album evaluation criteria seeing this album in my top five shouldn’t come as a surprise. I might occasionally skip over Boneyard Tree and Vovo Diva but even as my least favourite songs on the album I’ll find myself singing along. When listened to end-to-end I find the arrangement of the album to be just about perfect, from the first chords of the hard and heavy 34 Dead St. to the perfect solo bass note played by Ken Tizzard that echoes in your head to end the album, In The Trees, takes me on a journey I never want to end. 

The memories invoked when I hear any song off this album vary, but all begin in first-year university, where in 1993 my friend Riaz introduced me to the band. Naturally, I have oodles and oodles of memories ranging from listening in Riaz’s room to seeing the band play at various clubs and bars around town. Probably the best one, though, is the time Riaz drove me into Toronto to go see them play at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

 

Legen… wait for it… dary.

If you’ve never been to The Horseshoe, you’re truly missing out on a piece of Toronto history. Renowned for being a bit of a dive, it has been home to some of the most amazing musical talents ever known and their walls are adorned with posters, news articles and ticket stubs from all the acts.

The stage at The Horseshoe all decked out for their 60th-anniversary celebrations

This one particular night Ri and I were there early, he liked to make sure he had a spot right up front by the guitarist, Joey Serlin, but after enjoying a few beverages waiting for the show to start we found ourself in need of relieving ourselves. Downstairs to the basement washroom we went. Now if you’ve never been to The Horseshoe you’re missing out, but if you’ve never been to the men’s room at The Horseshoe you’re not missing a thing.

Washroom wall wisdom Probably the nicest part of the washroom
 

We walked into the john and who would we find zipping up just as we were heading in? Danny. Thinking the pisser wasn’t the best place to drum up a conversation we did our business and then wandered out into the hallway, peering into a stairwell on the off chance we could sneak up backstage. Danny was sitting in the stairwell having a smoke. A smoke! (Sorry if I’m exposing a dark secret, Danny). Riaz asked if it was cool if we joined him for a cig, and he said he didn’t mind, so we spent the next cigarette’s worth of time shooting the shit and just enjoying a subdued moment. Three guys having a smoke in a stairwell.

The stairwell. No Danny this time. 

Butting out and stomping on what remained of his Du Maurier, Danny said, “Sorry guys but I gotta get into the moment here before I head out.” Riaz and I nodded and thanked him for the chat and wished him a good show. “Thanks guys. Nice meeting you,” he said as Ri and I headed back upstairs to a now packed floor with a couple hundred folks unaware that we had just had the coolest and most surreal experience of our brief music-loving lives.

The emotional impact of this album is probably stronger than any other. I met my wife sitting in Riaz’s room back in 1993 and even took voice lessons and put a band together to play a Watchmen tune for her for our anniversary a few years ago. I feel so much joy when I hear one of their songs on my iPod (which is often because I have a TON of WM music). On the other end of the spectum, Riaz introduced me to both my wife and The Watchmen’s music and he’s gone now, so hearing many of their songs, even the happy ones, makes me sad. If you listen carefully you can hear In My Mind playing in the background at the beginning of my memorial speech and reading.

So there you have it, the third (in no particular order, yet) of my Top Five Albums of All Time along with some of the reasons why. A dozen great tracks invoking myriad emotions and half a lifetime of memories.

You can find The Watchmen music for sale on iTunes here along with some live show downloads here and some FREE tracks / shows for download here.

~ Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the thing where I share my Top 5 albums of all time. Think of this as a “desert island” list. You know, “If you could only have one CD with you while you’re stranded on a desert island which one would it be?” – only instead of one, I’m taking five (if you can only pick one then you need to listen to more music. Hopefully, my list will guide you toward a future Top 5 choice for yourself.

As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Last time, I shared some thoughts about the Irish pop/rock megaband U2’s fifth (and breakthrough) album The Joshua Tree. This week we’re going in the complete opposite direction and talking about a little-known Canadian indie/folk/rock band whose debut album is heads and butts on top of their entire four-album* catalogue (update: 2017’s “Do the Right Now” makes it a five-album catalogue and it’s a good listen).

Shakespeare My Butt by The Lowest of the Low

Released 1991
Track Listing:

  1. “4 O’Clock Stop” (7/10)
  2. “So Long Bernie” (7/10)
  3. “Just About ‘The Only’ Blues” (7/10)
  4. “Salesmen, Cheats and Liars” (7/10)
  5. “Rosy and Grey” (9/10)
  6. “Kinda the Lonely One” (8/10)
  7. “Eternal Fatalist” (8/10)
  8. “For the Hand of Magdalena” (8/10)
  9. “Subversives” (9/10)
  10. “Bleed a Little While Tonight” (8/10)
  11. “Bloodline” (8/10)
  12. “St. Brendan’s Way” (8/10)
  13. “Letter from Bilbao” (8/10)
  14. “Under the Carlaw Bridge” (7/10)
  15. “The Taming of Carolyn” (8/10)
  16. “Gossip Talkin’ Blues” (6/10)
  17. “Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes” (8/10)
The songs are put together quite well with most of the album upbeat folksy stuff. It’s really hard to listen to that album end-to-end and not be in a good mood. As for the number of songs on the album that I like? Well, if you look at the ratings I gave them (in parenthesis above) I pretty much like all of them and a few are home to some lyrics that I just love to sing out loud:

  • “Her mother’s worst fears are confirmed / She’s taken off with some musician / (Holy shit!)” (from Taming of Carolyn)
  • “Well, I’ve kissed you in France and I’ve kissed you in Spain / And I’ve kissed you in places I’d better not name / And I’ve seen the sun go down on Sacre Coeur / But I like it much better goin’ down on you / Ah, you know that’s true” (from Rosey and Grey)
  • “And if they had genitalia they’d have frozen their nuts off” (from Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes)
There are so many memories involving so many of these songs it’s hard to corral them into a single paragraph. For starters, it seemed like this album was on repeat for all of 1994 when I spent a considerable portion of my time at the local on-campus pub, The Bombshelter (or, as it is better known, The Bomber), at the University of Waterloo. I hung out with the folks that would become friends I still see today and one particular girl who would go on to be my wife. Funny story, she and I would go on to see LotL on my birthday in 2002 and gave our soon-to-be firstborn child her first taste of good live music. In 2004 while white water rafting just outside of Ottawa a guitarist at the hostel we were camping at played “Rosey and Grey” as part of his set. A bunch of us Bomber alum sang along, giving the bar quite a show and garnering applause from the dude with the guitar. An even funnier story, one of our daughter’s first live concerts (out of the womb this time) came just a few years ago. We took the kids to the Toronto Urban Roots Festival and LotL played a short set on the main stage.
Quite simply, this album makes me feel happy, and whenever one of the tracks comes on my iPod I turn it up and sing along as loud as I can (and as best as I can considering I’m terrible at remembering lyrics).
~ Andrew
* Hallucegenia (1994), Nothing Short of a Bullet (live w/ 3 studio tracks, 2001), Sordid Fiction (2004) – an album I didn’t even remember existed until today

The Sound of Music – Part 1

More than five years ago I did a quick little “Top 5” post in homage to the film High Fidelity. The post was a simple 45-word paragraph (including the subheader) that listed my top 5 albums of all time. Well, I’ve decided to update the list and while much of it is the same, there are a couple of changes. You might be wondering what’s happened in the last five years that has led me to change my mind. If you think about it, that list should remain fairly static (I mean, seriously, could an album released in the last five years actually qualify as one of the “best ever”?)

Music is a big part of my family, not that any of us are particularly musically inclined (the kids tried to learn guitar at one point and I have taken voice lessons, but that’s about it). We do listen to it frequently though and everyone has a strong appreciation for it. After my last concussion, I found myself feeling quite thankful for any memory that I was able to recall, and as it turns out, music happens to provide a great “jog” for the ole memory keeper (my long term memory is actually pretty good, but my working memory is complete shite). For me, so many factors go into what makes an album The Best of All Time, and one of those factors is the memories that are invoked when a song from the album comes on the radio or through my iPod when I’m in the car.

Andrew singing as part of the band Speed of Light Lab with Jason Cassidy on guitar,
Joshua Hofstetter on drums, Jason Dykstra on bass, and Robb Farago on cello/harmonica.

Other factors include:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
I’ll list the albums in the proper Top 5 order when I’m done but for now let’s take a more detailed look at one of them in the list. I’ll do this for the next five weeks and end the last post with the ordered list. For now, in no particular order, let’s take a look at one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time:
 
 
Released March 9, 1987
Track Listing:
  1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (8/10)
  2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (8/10)  
  3. “With or Without You” (7/10)
  4. “Bullet the Blue Sky” (6/10)
  5. “Running to Stand Still” (8/10)
  6. “Red Hill Mining Town” (7/10)
  7. “In God’s Country” (7/10)
  8. “Trip Through Your Wires” (6/10)  
  9. “One Tree Hill” (8/10)
  10. “Exit” (6/10)
  11. “Mothers of the Disappeared” (8/10)

I’ve ranked the songs (in parenthesis) so you can see how it stacks up in terms of the “number of songs I like on the album” criteria. Only two of the eleven tracks would rank low on my list and even then I don’t not like them, I just don’t find them as good as the rest of the tracks on the album.

As for the composition of the album, I think producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois struck a good balance with the tracks. It has a great flow, with some ups and downs, while still keeping the overall tone of the album constant. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of the band’s movie Rattle and Hum movie based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.

How does the album make me feel? Nostalgic and wistful. Contemplative and concerned. Listening to this album, and most of the individual songs on it makes me feel like I’ve lived a great life but still have great things ahead of me.

As for the memories invoked by listening to this album, well, there are many. I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).

I remember in the summer of 1987 I was at summer camp and there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.

Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It’s the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn’t happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.

One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn’t feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn’t exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn’t say a word.

The final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.

For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.

~ Andrew

Whisky Is My Muse

With only 19 days left until November 1st it is time to make an important decision: to NaNo or not to NaNo? I have attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, failing in my first attempt but succeeding in the last two. This year, however, I’m torn. You see, I have a fully written novel and it requires a good amount of editing. I’m about one third through my first pass of identifying plot gaps (in come cases chasms) and other major blunders. I should be able to get through the remaining two thirds in a few weeks, and then take a week or so to go back and make some of the additions that I have identified.

That would put me in a pretty good spot to start shopping this baby around sometime early in the new year. On the other hand, I have a half written novel I’ve been sitting on since last NaNo that I really should finish off. It would be nice to have two completed novels under my belt. On the other, other hand, I have this entirely different idea that should squeeze into roughly 60,000 words and make for a nice short little novel that I think would make a great introductory piece for my future readers.

Decisions, decisions.

By Serge Bertasius Photography at http://freedigitalphotos.net 

I really want to move along my finished novel, but the unfinished piece has been sitting for far too long as well. Plus, I really don’t want to anger my muse by ignoring a right proper good idea for too long. Argh!

How to tell if you are a writer:

  1. Do you write?
  2. Do you have more projects started than you have completed?
  3. Do you think procrastination should be an Olympic event?
If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above then congratulations! You are a writer. 

Here’s the thing: I enjoy writing, but I’m a bit lazy turd, but I must also exercise my creativity or I start to get twitchy and depressed. This is why I blog, take a photo a day (as well as many others), write novels, short stories, am about to start a podcast, and write lyrics. Of all these things it’s the writing that I find most rewarding. As mentioned last week, I’m giving it more attention in the next few weeks and through November in hopes I can keep the groove going into the new year, but with what?

Methinks the editing and unfinished novel can wait, if only so I can get this idea that’s been rattling around out of my head and keep my muse from forgetting about me.

What do you think?

Since we’re on the topic, here’s the latest song creation by Jim Tigwell and I, inspired by all our friends over at Writers Without Borders. We don’t have it recorded yet, but we’re working on it.

~ Andrew


By Naypong at http://freedigitalphotos.net

Whiskey is My Muse

Lyrics by Andrew F. Butters
Music by Jim Tigwell

Capo 2 (seriously)

Am             C         G     G
Nothing but potential On the horizon

Am           C          G    G
Close my eyes and feel her warmth

F                                     Am
Standing next to me, Standing next to me

Am        C       G   G
Careful ’cause she is Watching

Am        C       G   G
Open my eyes and look inside

F                               Am
Trying to be free, Trying to be free

Thinking of the options running through my mind
Need something to get started
To get me on my way, To get me on my way
Praying for the answerto my problems
Fighting urges to be weak
And risk staying the same, And risk staying the same

Am      C       E7
Staring at the page

Am          C    G       E7
Listen (to) what she has to say

Am                 C             G
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey

   F
In my veins….

G
I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

G
I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

Fleeting glimpses of the future
Flash before my eyes
I know there is an answer
All I need is to entice
Too much confusion, too much chaos
Hiding deep inside
There she is providing guidance
But not without a price
Not without a price

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away

cadd9
Everything I do

D
Everything I say

cadd9
Every word’s for you

D
In every single way

cadd9
Everything that’s yours

D
And everything that’s mine

cadd9
Even though I’m torn

D                    Am
I think that I’ll be fine

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
All away
All away
All away
All away
.

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

A while back I wrote a post on how the general consensus is that for books that are made into movies, the book will almost always be better. After seeing not one, but two stage versions of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” I have come to the conclusion that musical theatre is to music as movie adaptations are to books.

Rock & Roll music made into a movie with some of the
biggest names of that time in showbiz

There’s a reason there’s the musical expression “phrasing”. Music, you see, is a language. From our friends at Wikipedia: “Phrase and phrasing are concepts and practices related to grouping consecutive melodic notes, both in their composition and performance.” Music, much like the words on the page, allows the mind to wander, fill in the gaps, and fill the consumer with wonder and amazement.

Neither the 1995 nor the 2013 editions of “Tommy” did any of that for me and mostly for the same reasons. I expect a certain style when it comes to musical theatre, but I also have expectations when it comes to live music (not just concerts, but any non-recorded music). Live music should be bigger, louder, full of emotion and energy. It should invoke feelings, and lots of them.

I know, I know. $75 freaking dollars – for balcony?!

Granted, I was only 21 when I saw the 1995 show but I was no stranger to theatre. For its time the visuals were outstanding but I found the actors to be disengaged and tentative, almost as if they were afraid to make a mistake or personally offend the original creators. The music was definitely loud enough, but it was lacking most of the criteria I was expecting.

Now with a few more years behind me (eighteen to be precise), I can look at the performance from this week and, well, basically say the same things. Most of the players were pretty engaging, but I found the lead (teenage Tommy) to be weak. It was as if during the whole performance he was wondering what he’d be having for dinner after the show. The new fancy backdrop visuals were distracting and didn’t add any value. The music could have been louder, and it was lacking intensity. It was as if someone threw a towel over the guitarist’s amp and took away his distortion pedal.

Stratford Festival ticket deal for the win!

Now here comes a comparison with another stage show based on popular music: Abba’s “Mamma Mia!” (this could very well be the first time someone’s ever compared Abba and The Who. A quick Google search turned up 40,700,000 results of which I looked at the first two pages and found no such comparison. Feel free to check out the other 40,699,960 results and prove me wrong).

This principal difference between the two plays (aside from the vastly different plots) lies in the music and the musicians themselves. Abba songs are not rock & roll. Abba songs are poppy, toe tapping ditties and they lend themselves quite nicely for use in a live musical. Abba songs aren’t bigger than life; the stage production brought them to life and then gave them more heart. Songs by The Who absolutely ooze rock & roll. Songs by The Who are not toe tapping and the lion’s share are far from anything I’d classify as a ditty.

They are amplifier exploding epics that make you want to smash things.

You know what I expect when I hear someone play The Who? More freakin’ guitar, that’s what. Cowbell is to Blue Oyster Cult as guitar is to The Who and from what I heard in Stratford – and in listening back to the original 1995 stage recording – Peter Townshend should be rolling over in his grave (wait… what? He’s not dead?! Oh. Sorry, Pete. Moving on…) At the end of it all I simply found “Tommy” to be a little too much tea & crumpets and not enough rock & roll (finale excepted – it was great in both performances).

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised though. Music, really good music, packs so much into each song that it has got to be really difficult to breathe more life into it, short of performing the song live at an actual concert. Could this be a reason for there being such a lack of stage musicals based on popular music? I happen to think so. That being said, if anyone wants to go out and put together a stage production of RUSH’s 2112 I’d be all for it. Lord knows that would at least allow for a better comparison than ABBA.

RUSH’s 2112 “Starman”

~Andrew