Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace

Amazing grace title

You'll be forgiven for not having heard of the film "Amazing Grace." After all, it was shot 47 years ago and until recently never available due to a combination of technical difficulties and legal issues. However, it is now available and showing in theaters and definitely worth seeing. 

Aretha choir  The film was originally shot in 16mm by Sydney Pollack at the behest of Warner Brothers. The occasion was to be a live recording of the Queen of Soul's return to her gospel roots at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts over two evenings.  It would be a live album as well as a Hollywood theatrical release, following on the success of Woodstock. Unfortunately, Pollack had never shot live music before and failed to sync the film to the audio recording. Luckily Alan Elliott, with Pollack's blessing, took over the project in 2008 and, with the use of modern computers, was able to digitally sync everything.

My wife and I managed to see the film over Easter weekend and it was terrific. Even if you're not a huge fan of gospel, you cannot help but be moved by the spirituality of the music. Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir show the power of music in their emotional renditions of these songs. The audience swaying and clapping along and if you look closely you'll see long-haired and pale-faced Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger are there on the second night at the back.

It's no surprise that the album went on to become the best-selling gospel record of all time. But it's a shame that neither Franklin nor Pollack were able to live to see the release of this film. 

 


Jerry Leger - European Tour

Jerry Leger - Ireland 2

Jerry Leger & The Situation are one of Canada's best bands in years. I wrote a review of their album "Nonsense & Heartache" after seeing them live in Toronto a few weeks back.  Now, they're on their first ever European tour. By all reports, things are going very well. There's still a week to go and 5 more gigs to play in England including Glasgow, Durham, Manchester and London. After that it's back home to Canada with more dates planned in May in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. If you're a fan of indie rock with a retro vibe, check them out. 

My brother managed to catch a couple of shows in Ireland, and although the crowds were thinner than expected, the shows were excellent. Here's some video of a few of the songs from the set taken from the "Heartache" portion of the "Nonsense & Heartache" album. "Big Smoke Blues" is my favorite. If you haven't picked up the album, I highly recommend it.  

Have you seen Jerry Leger live? Listened to his album? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


BNL Gordon - 25 Years On

Gordon

It was great to see Barenaked Ladies be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards in Vancouver recently. And even better, founding member Steven Page rejoined the band for a short performance. Although the Page and BNL have continued to release albums separately, it was a reminder of just how strong they were together. 

Here's a video of their performance at the Junos.

I saw BNL live a couple of times in the 90's and they were always full of energy. They had big hits with "One Week," "The Old Apartment," and "It's All Been Done" among others selling more than 15 million albums worldwide. But it all started with "Gordon," which was a massive in Canada upon its release in the summer of 1992.

So how does "Gordon" stand up today? Very well! It's a wonderful quirky and unique album. Clocking in at 59 minutes, its effectively a double album. BNL had a unique style stemming from the strong vocal harmonies of founders Steven Page and Ed Robertson. They also had a distinct rhythm section coming from the double bass and occasional congas, rather than a standard rock electric bass and full drum kit. And they blended elements of pop, folk and jazz... but oh, those vocal harmonies. 

The songs on "Gordon" range from the delightful "Hello, City" to the goofiness of "Grade 9" and the anguish of "Brian Wilson." There's melancholy mixed in with up-tempo crazy and lounge lizard jazz.  It's an odd mix that shouldn't work, but does because of the great musicianship and vocals. There are 15 tracks on the album and in my view 14 of them are excellent. (I would leave off "New Kid (On the Block)" though others might chose "Grade 9" or "Box Set.") Oh yeah, and it has "If I had $1000000." You can't help but listen to this album and smile.

 While everyone made a strong contribution to this album, there is no doubt that Steven Page's songwriting and vocals helped make "Gordon" a masterpiece. If Page should ever reconcile with his former bandmates to rejoin for a tour, it would be every fan's dream.   


Jerry Leger - Nonsense & Heartache

Jerry Leger

I had the good fortune of seeing Jerry Leger & The Situation live in Toronto recently. They have a strong local following for their regular gig at Castro's Lounge in the Beaches area of town. While guitarist and pedal steel player James McKie was not in attendance, the band plays well as a trio and it was  an excellent show.

The band pulled heavily from Leger's most recent double album "Nonsense & Heartache," which I highly recommend. The album was produced by Cowboy Junkies guitarist Michael Timmins. In a single album Leger manages to cram a lifetime of film noir vignettes with titles such as "Forged Check," "Coat on the Rack," "Hired Gun," "Baby's Got a Rare Gun," and "She's The Best Writer You've Never Heard Of." the album is pulling from a wide range of influences including '50s rock and roll, R&B, Blues and Rockabilly sounding like a mix of "Highway 61 Revisited," "Watching The Detectives," and "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing."

Leger has been playing with the Situation for ten years and in an earlier era, they would have earned a gold record and sold-out shoes across America. As it stands, they will be embarking on a month-long tour of Europe starting this week with dates in Germany, Sweden, Norway, UK and Ireland. In May they'll be touring Canada. Hopefully momentum for this album will build and they'll undertake a tour of the US in the fall.  

I managed to shoot a couple of videos which you can view below. If you have the chance to see them on tour, I highly recommend it. And tell 'em Zack said hi.

And for comparison, here's the official video for "Big Smoke Blues," which was also shot at Castro's Lounge and around Toronto. 


Paul Weller - Live in Detroit

Weller 3

I'm a bit behind in my posts, so I'll keep this one short. Paul Weller did a US tour, following his fall European tour, and I managed to see him live in Detroit at St Andrew's Hall. I'd seen Weller some years earlier at the Warfield in San Francisco and that was a good show.

More than 10 years later, the Modfather is rocking harder than ever. His voice was in great shape, the band was tight and they also played a much broader range of songs including hits from The Jam, The Style Council and his early solo work. I never thought I'd get to hear "My Ever Changing Moods" live and it was incredible. Songs 

Guitar player and longtime sidekick Steve Craddock from Ocean Color Scene was in absolutely stellar form.  They also played songs from the two most recent albums "A Kind Revolution" and the awesome "Saturns Patterns." Because it was Detroit, he finished off with a nice Motown set including the old Jam standby "Heat Wave."

It was a great show and I captured a couple of songs on video.