Jaimie 2

BETTY MOON – Amourphous
BettyMoonOnce upon a time there were artists who chose not to become rock stars or divas but chameleons. David Bowie, Nina Hagen, Frank Zappa, Grace Jones, Kate Bush, and Dalbello come to mind. They chased the muse rather than the spotlight. They spent every album, every project, redefining themselves, their musical canvas and challenging the listener. The risk was always in losing those listeners and having a well-intentioned flop album collecting dust in delete bins. And yet, they kept making these records; they kept finding record labels willing to finance the risk because the payoff was a loyal fanbase; they learned to grow sideways along with the artist.

Rare is the musical chameleon in the post-New Millennium era…until Betty Moon came along. Following her trajectory from Toronto dark gothic songstress in the early 1990s to mature ass kicking post-ironic rock chick on 2012’s critically acclaimed ‘Rollin’ Revolution’ (which I gave 2 definite thumbs up to) it is no surprise that her latest effort, ‘Amourphous’, turns what we’ve learned about her and her muse upside down.

Rollin RevolutionWith the exception of the heavy/soft guitar driven tremolo’d “Powerlines” and “Fresh Tendrils” there’s little sign of the LA Hippie metal that drove ‘Rollin’ Revolution’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJuviuHmXsM . Instead, Moon has written, produced and arranged an album of drifting soundscapes – the kind of album Kate Bush has forgotten how to make. This disc sounds huge. Soundtrack huge, in fact. It’s mastered hot and brings out the underlying moods we find on the ebb and flow of the title track, the near commercial driven “Ladder” and the jazzy “Living Underground”. The tune “Honeytrap” would even make a great James Bond theme song. “The name’s Lucretia….Lucretia Honeytrap, Mr. Bond”.

To her eternal credit Moon has avoided the typical diva histrionics of vocal faucetting – where the voice is turned on and off without much emotion merely to fart out technical virtuosity. She has a powerful rock voice where required but an incredibly sensual vocal approach on the slower numbers as dictated by the material. Depending on your reference point she’s either channeling the bedroom voice of Chrissie Hynde (“Time To Move On”) or a less precious Sadé (on the Chris Lord-Alge mixed “Valentine”…the best track on the album http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpTWAo5bvcM).  Moon also isn’t afraid to use her voice as a pad as well. Not all songs require ‘singing’. She has mastered the art of blending and her voice runs through every track like a river…not a bulldozer. That’s someone who has studied technique and it makes for a truly satisfying listen. http://www.bettymoon.com

BOB MENZIES – One More Highway
Bob Menzies has become one of my new favourite singer-songwriters. I realize it’s a tired old phrase and describes a million different musicians out there, but Bob harkens back to some of our long-lost musical heroes: the troubadours, the storytellers, the minstrels. Musically ‘One More Highway’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDwkdFa80R8 continues driving across the road map (pun intended) as laid out in his debut release ‘Breaking Time’. Bob expands on his world travelled, in-depth observational personality profiles featuring all manner of rogues (“Totally Wrong Side of Town”), ne’er do wells (the Eric Clapton-esque “Black Widow Spider” and the sassy I-IV-V driving “Lucinda Night”) and lovers (“Can’t Be Saved By Love”).  The songs bounce between folk balladry (the Dylan-like “End of the Line” & “San Francisco” and the Chris DeBurgh styled “Totally Wrong Side of Town”) to country (“Riders of the Purple Sage” and “One More Highway” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSPsh0clx-U). Bob makes each song personal and descriptive – a workaday approach to lyrics that are refreshing and unpretentious.

Russell Gray’s production is A1 – allowing a full spectrum mix for all the acoustic instrumentation including some of the final recorded keyboard, violin, and accordion tracks by the late James Gray.
Here’s hoping Bob continues globetrotting so we can be the recipients of more of his engaging musical stories. http://bobmenziesmusic.com/

CAROLYNE MAS – Across The River
Carolyne2So, music guru Gerry Young sends me a note wondering if I was familiar with 1970’s underground music icon Carolyne Mas. The name was familiar and the self-titled album where she donned a top hat and titles was often filed incorrectly under the Canadian section in vinyl shops alongside Gena Raven (yeah, I’m talking about you Star Records!) – but, admittedly, I’d never actually heard her records. She’s been described as both Laura Nyro with a rougher edge and Carole King with a Telecaster. I was curious to hear what Ms. Mas was up to these days.

‘Across the River’ is Mas’ first new recording since 2005’s ‘Brand New Worldhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xlDTOfJ8Ug. In this collection she takes on the mantle of saloon singer to revisit songs that she’s written and songs she’s performed live a thousand times that have resonated with her personally. From her own repertoire she shows off her scat-jazz prowess on “That Sweet Thing” – an acoustic doo wop number that she be adopted by Bette Midler (pronto!). “Sittin’ In The Dark” was a long-standing tune used in the middle of live shows to allow her band to stretch their musical chops. Here it has a live-off-the-floor vibe and is quite effective. Carolyne1http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaZ8KxtU69M .“So Hard To Be True” is a rip-roaring blues shuffle where Mas gets to show off her smokey vocal approach. There’s some tasty guitar work too. The piece-du-resistance, however, is the introspective and confessional track “In a Box” that recounts the memories she’s collected and left in a dusty attic and nearly forgotten…

As for the cover tunes, Mas breaks out one of her any tributes to songwriter Steve Forbert with an acoustic rendition of “Witch Blues” as well as Springsteen’s “New York Serenade”. Of course, the killer track here is Willie Nile’s “Across the River” which Mas turns into a heartfelt enough track to name the album after. http://www.carolynemas.com/

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


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

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