JAIMIE VERNON: FEBRUARY 2013 – DISCoveries

vernon_19972There hasn’t been much new music to trumpet since the end of 2012, but the music’s starting to filter in slowly so today I’ve got four releases worth talking about.

One of the side benefits of having been behind the scenes in the music business for the last 28 years has been in watching artists and bands blossom in real time. I started Bullseye Records in 1985 and in 1986 I put the word out for acts to start sending me demos. I wasn’t sure who I would find – or even if I could ever sign them – but I wanted to see what the landscape was like…in both sizing up the competition where my own music pursuits were concerned and to see what direction music was heading overall.

cassetteTo me, the best way to gauge agrowth industry was to study the output of the farm teams. Many times these acts were so far away from what was actually going on in the commercial world that I felt bad knowing that they would never, ever see succeed outside of home studios or their garages.

But there were always surprises from artists that did have that certain something and would go on to bright musical futures. I remember hearing The Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Fruvous and Eileen “Shania” Twain in their formative demo stages. All the fame they achieved was well deserved – because the proof was in the rough demos.

To that end, this week’s releases come from artists in various stages of career growth who did have that certain ‘something’ and I’m happy to have been privy to that awakening and evolution.

FrankMarzanoFRANK MARZANO – “The Boy Who Was Always Picked Last”
I’ve known Frank Marzano since the dawn of the Internet (to those keeping track…that was nearly 20 years ago!). He and I were part of a fan news group related to the Canadian pop band Klaatu run by another old friend David Bradley of http://www.klaatu.org. Many were attracted to the band because of the pesky and persistent comparisons that were made between them and The Beatles. And Frank is, by far, one of the biggest Beatles fans I’ve ever met.

We used to hold Klaatu-related gatherings here in the Toronto area with people on the mailing list who’d travel from all over Canada and the US– either at my house, Terry Draper’s house (he being 1/3 of the original band) or Andrew Grantham’s place (the guy that has gone on to YouTube fame and fortune making talking animal videos). Inevitably, the evenings would become a monster jam session where anyone that could sing or play an instrument would plow their way through anything and everything musical. It usually meant following Frank in a run-through of the entire Beatles catalog. He not only knew ever song by heart but he could play the shit out of the most complicated chord progressions on his acoustic – an instrument that’s very hard to play well.

FrankMarzano2Over the years Frank has sent me demos of his many original songs that he’s been forging between his full-time gig as a teacher stateside. One such demo yielded a smoky jazz number called “Drink Her Goodbye” that caught my ears years ago. I vowed back then to find someone to cover it – eventually that someone was me! The songs were clever and thoughtful and even under the rough demo production I could hear something there. Fast forward nearly a decade and Frank’s been out playing consistently live as a solo act – honing his confidence, his live chops and…his original songs.

‘The Boy Who Always Got Picked Last’ is, technically, his sophomore album – following his ‘But Enough About Me’ album from several years ago. And the album is a brilliantly executed pop record. Not only are the songs perfect for those into 1970s-styled singer-songwriter power pop (think Nick Lowe, John Wicks, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Don McLean) but the production is crisp, sparse and does not rely on any studio gimmicks at all. In fact, I was about ¾’s of the way through listening when I realized there was no reverb or echo on anything. In this age of Auto-Tune and ProTools trickery is comes as a welcome relief.

Frank’s strength is in personal and relationship tales he sews with just a pinch of Woody Allen observational wit (“Buy You a Drink” http://youtu.be/OGY2dMxbs3o).  Meanwhile, “Rock Star” and “Hit the Bricks” are my two favourites where he gets right to the point – he’s going to be his own brand of star and he’s not going to suffer fools respectively. There’s also the softer side in the balladry of “June” and “Breathless” and everything in between including confessionals such as “Hurting You Right Back” and “When They Put My Body In the Ground”.

This album is the next growth spurt for a guy that has not let criticism or outside distractions slow him down. I expect the next album will map an even bigger growth – personally and musically.
http://www.frankmarzano.com

Magnet Lane
MAGNETA LANE – “Witchrock”
The all-female trio Magneta Lane – Lexi Valentine (vocals, guitar), Nadia King (drums) and French (bass) – are now in their 10th year together. While still in high school the ladies decided to put a band together after seeing a show by The Libertines in 2003. An EP in 2004, road work (including stints stateside), and two albums followed as the band growing up in public and realized what they did and didn’t want – this, of course, was interpreted by the music industry as being difficult and unladylike. As the band notes in their bio they were dogged by a bad reputation.

However, amongst their peers was encouragement from the members of Finger Eleven who told them to hang on and keep pursuing the dream. The result the newest, and cheekiest, EP ‘Witchrock’ (a poke at those who view women with a mind of their own as witches or bitches depending on who you talk to).

Magneta LaneNow, I was aware of the band back in 2007 after going to a CD manufacturing plant to pick up a copy of my label’s recently pressed Klaatu re-issue ‘Magentalane’ album from 1981. When the warehouse staff went to grab the shipment of the CD they, instead, brought me Magneta Lane’s ‘Dancing With Daggers’ album – a copy of which I snagged before telling staff to take them back and to bring me the correct discs. The album was raw, aggressive and would have made Courtney Love or L7 blush.

So, here we are six years later with ‘Witchrock’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa1LJd8F44w) and the group hasn’t just grown as a unit – it’s redefined itself musically. The instrumentation and performances are spot on (their earlier outings belied their unperfected lack of musical experience). The songwriting is taught, direct and venomous. If Bif Naked or P!NK wanted to rip a dick off…this is the EP they should reference for tips. All four songs – “Burn”(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC4bOEz4u8I), “Good For”, “Leave the Light On” and “Lucky” are no holds barred, hook-filled modern alternative rock. There’s a little Joan Jett, a little B-Girls, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and even Veruca Salt. It’s ‘Mean Girls’ Gone Wild. Don’t let that put you off, though.  The production by Finger Eleven’s Rick Jackett and James Black makes this stuff super accessible. Magneta Lane is the anti-Carly Rae Jepson. In fact, Magneta Lane stands to steal her crown…and crush it under a spiked boot heel. http://www.eonemusic.ca

JefferyBrosTHE JEFFERY BROTHERS BAND – “Cuttin’ Loose”
In the 1970s it was Kiss, Nazareth and Slade; in the 1980s it was Helix and Guns ‘n’ Roses; in the 1990s it was The Quireboys and the Four Horsemen. Now, in the 21st Century it’s Rival Sons and The Jeffery Brothers Band.

Together as a band since 2003, Midland, Ontario natives (and brothers) Josh and Nick Jeffery have been ripping up stages across North America and England opening for the likes of Staggered Crossing, the Mudmen, Helix, Molly Hatchet, Great White and Quiet Riot.
JefferyBros2I missed their debut album, so ‘Cuttin’ Loose’ is their sophomore effort. I haven’t had much time to dig deep into this release but suffice it to say that it’s a non-stop party from beginning to end. The songs are even sequenced to have no breaks. This is old school Rock and Roll, babies. Australia’s Airborne tried it a few years back, but the Jeffery Brothers have perfected the blend of ‘70s straight up guitar driven rock and modern recording and production (courtesy Glen Robinson at Studios Multisons in Montreal) for an equal marriage of head banging and rump shaking not heard since AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’. Standout tracks here are “I Wanna Rock” (http://youtu.be/N4T4VKYYMo4 ), “Kickin’ Me Down” (which I think should be renamed after the song’s chorus hook “I Just Want You To Leave Me Be”, IMHO) (http://youtu.be/C5xIWD_xi10), “Bamboozed” and the title track.
I’m thinking these guys would kick ass live. I recommend you check them out if you miss the legendary rock bands of old. http://www.jefferybros.com

WhistlekingWHISTLEKING – “The Lost Tapes of a Seventies Bar Band: Whistleking Live at the Flamingo Lounge”
So what happens when you bust your hump as a band, overcome adversity and knock a Top40 hit out of the ballpark to become a 10-year overnight sensation and ride that notoriety and success into a long-standing career? If you’re the Kings (“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxkjvKBPQjo) you open the vaults and show the world that that success was no fluke. You pull the curtain back and reveal the 10,000 hours of rehearsing, promoting and living a pauper’s existence in the back of a van logging thousands of miles in obscurity as Whistleking.

Guitarist, Mr. Zero, has been archiving the band’s early works for several years now – an anthology of early recordings and a DVD of their videos have already come to pass. During the anthology project Zero went looking for some Whistleking material as an example of their roots with Rock and Progressive Rock material. He located a tape the band believed had been lost of a performance at the Flamingo Club in Southern Ontario during the mid-70s. Over the last year he returned to the tape and spent a meticulous amount of time choosing songs from sets comprised of original material and the handful of cover tunes they had been playing in their salad days.

With loving restoration Zero and friend Atilla Turi spent nearly a year creating this amazing testament to craftsmanship and showmanship – something we rarely find in the Auto-tuned/ProTooled world of today. Ever wonder where the music went? It’s here on this 17 song CD. The audio quality is phenomenal considering the era’s available recording equipment…and it beats the shit out of most of the professionally released live albums from the period.

KingsWhistleking was a band in flux – battling the commercial forces of paying customers by playing cover tunes and the driven artistic side that was creating lavish and exceptionally performed originals. Listening to this disc it’s not hard to see the line blurring between the two. Whistleking was already adept at writing and performing their own songs – divided almost evenly between Zero, Dave Diamond and Sonny Keyes – and so, it was a matter of assimilation to make their cover tune choices into band standards as well.

The first half of the CD showcases their interpretations of mandatory bar tropes like The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and Frampton’s “Show Me the Way”, but the cleverness of Whistleking was their choice of more obscure material by big names such as Supertramp’s “Another Man’s Woman” (with astounding vocal prowess from Sonny Keyes) and Rainbow’s “Self-Portrait”. The band also took a shining to an obscure San Francisco/Marin County act called Sons of Champlin featuring future Chicago member Bill Champlin for three tunes: “No Mo’ “, “The Swim”, and “Welcome to the Dance”. As someone unfamiliar with Sons of Champlin, these three performances sound easily as ‘original’ as Whistleking’s actual original tracks.

And the original songs shine. Part Prog (“Purple Princess”, “The Holocaust”, “Ryder”) and part Rock (“Love Lasts Forever”, “Just the Way It Is”, “I Like Rock and Roll”, “Look For Someone”), the intensity and melodicism of what would later appear in many of The Kings’ future output was there – albeit in embryonic doses.

It’s hard to imagine a world without the power pop legacy of The Kings but it’s easy to imagine what a world with Whistleking would have also been like. The ‘Lost Tapes of a Seventies Bar Band’ isn’t just a retro flashback of one of our greatest pop exports – it’s a look into an alternative music universe that could have been. http://www.thekingsarehere.com/thelosttapesofwhistleking.php

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON: FEBRUARY 2013 – DISCoveries”

  1. Jesus. Whistleking and Magneta Lane. I’ve got some serious catching up to do. I will get to the other two later. Thanks, Jaimie!

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