All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rob Morsberger - A Gesture And A Word

Rob Morsberger - A Gesture and a Word
2013, Hieroglyph Records
Reviews should rarely be written about anything other than the music, but an artist’s story can be compelling outside of the music.  To that end, Rob Morsberger’s battle with Stage 4 Gioblastoma has been well-documented.  Over time, so has his prodigy as a songwriter.  What is perhaps overlooked is the way in which Morsberger has chosen to live the last two years of his life.  With extraordinary courage and joy, Morsberger has tended to his family, his friendships and his music as the most precious gifts life has to offer.  This understanding is the basis for Morsberger’s final album, A Gesture and a Word.

The album opens with "Mystic Redemption", a sort of post-reality daydream of Heaven, where the holy and the mundane blend in images and memories of youth in an incredibly moving reflection on coming home.  Morsberger's cover of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is haunting. Each verse kicks off with dissonant piano accompaniment, but resolves slowly to the chorus as the singer finds hope in the moment. The parallels between this rendition and Morsberger's own journey are stark and clear.  "Margot" was written for a young cancer survivor by Morsberger as part of a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and finds a singular sense of joy expressed in a Beatles-esque piano arrangement that gets stuck in your brain. This is perhaps one of the finest pop songs Morsberger has written over the course of his career. Against this backdrop falls the existential loneliness of "Falling", a rumination on the sense of loss in facing a life cut short.

Just as quickly he transitions back to hope and self-determination with "The Hero of Your Life". Morsberger implores listeners to not wait for a hero, but to go out and make the most of their lives. There's no self-pity here, just a pragmatic sense of what can be.   It's a beautiful moment in song with anthem like qualities.  "Count on You" sounds at first like an expression of insecurity, but holds a much deeper grace. It is the expression of need to a loved one thy is full of love and respect. Morsberger captures the pain and beauty of one of the most difficult life transitions here.

"Studio Lane" is a living still life and a tribute to the family dog. The simple joys of boyhood are enshrined here around the companionship of a good dog. Morsberger makes poetry out of simple love in a magical bit of reverie. The album slips into darkness with "Blessed Unrest" averts the issue of goodbye with a paean to the afterlife, however one might envision it. It's a brief but powerful number that expresses hope for a new day and a new adventure.

On A Gesture and A Word, Rob Morsberger reflects on the past as well as the future in a wonderfully dreamy and transcendent musical experience.  For an artist who is facing death to write a work that is full of such abundant life is a blessing for his fans, friends and ultimately, his family.  Rob Morsberger takes his final bow with class and grace; just as he has lived all along.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Take Me To The Pilot - What Makes You

Take Me To The Pilot – What Makes You
2013, Take Me To The Pilot
Winnipeg quartet Take Me To The Pilot might be Manitoba’s best kept secret, but not for long.  With a full bodied rocket and roll sound, and a penchant for the sort of pop hooks that leave radio programmers breathless, Take Me To The Pilot is on the ascent, and their sophomore release, What Makes You, might just the vehicle that brings then international attention.

What Makes You opens with the sonically pleasing alt-rock of “Baby We’re Gonna Be Rich”.  Fired by a big rock and roll hook and a positive outlook on the world, this is the sort of hope-filled pop rock song that has been out of vogue since before the days of grunge.  Take Me To The Pilot has a potential hit single on their hands here.  “Carry You Back” it balladeer rock in the style of the Goo Goo Dolls.  A memorable chorus and pleasant lead vocal from Mike Bilenki make this a AAA radio programmer’s dream.  “Right Now” shows Take Me To The Pilot’s frenetic pop tendencies in a fast paced toe tapper.  The full sound here is great for a concert hall or open air amphitheatre, and will sound equally appealing as the backdrop for a scene from a motion picture.
“Time’s Up” plays on the same sonic playground as “Right Now”, and has an irresistible pop hook at its core.  Fans of The Replacements, Train and Plain White T’s will like the sound mix here.  Things slow down a bit for “Travelin’ Heart”, a tortured dialogue between the musician and the love he leaves at home when out on the road.  There’s no big finish here, just a representation of the push and pull in such a relationship.  Take Me To The Pilot keeps up the string of sing-along choruses here while one again reminding listeners of the Goo Goo Dolls. Take Me To The Pilot winds up with “What About The Time”, an almost jubilant sounding, post-break up attempt to put things back together.  This is already set for radio programming or movie placement, with an irrepressible pop hook and the polished sound of a major label band.

Take Me To The Pilot combines high quality songwriting, delicious pop hooks and a stadium ready sound on What Makes You.  On top of it all, Take Me To The Pilot manages to capture some of the uncomplicated joy of 1980’s pop/rock music.  What Makes You will make you a fan.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Waltons - Live In Buffalo - May 4, 2013


The first time I saw the Barenaked Ladies was in a truck garage-turned-bar called The Ikon, in Buffalo, NY.  With approximately 400 people crushed into a space that legally allowed about 250, it was quite a death defying experience.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, however, was the opening act.  A four piece from Regina, Saskatchewan called The Waltons.  The Juno Award winning group had an independent album, Lik My Trakter, which was in the process of being optioned by WEA Records Canada, and brought their own inviolate energy to a catchy mix of acoustic folk and rock and roll.  Warner never really supported The Waltons, and in spite of placement on one of the Friends soundtrack collections the band never really took off in the states.  Nevertheless, the band was among the most talented to come out of the Toronto Indie scene of the early 1990’s.

The Waltons went their own ways in 2001.  Jason Plumb has gone on to become one of Canada’s most respected singer/songwriters, both independently and with his band The Willing.  By 2013, the band hadn’t been in the same room in about eight years, but on one mild spring night last weekend in North Buffalo, The Waltons were reunited in the living room of a friend.  For the stretch of thirteen songs, the Waltons were as vivacious and alive as ever they were.

This particular lineup included Jason Plumb on vocals and guitar; Keith Nakonechny on bass and vocals; Sean Bryson on drums; and Jeff McLeod (Jason Plumb and the Willing) filling in for Todd Lumley on keys.  In spite of not playing together in close to a decade, the Waltons were on.  Jason Plumb joked about not having the range he once had, but the appreciative crowd never took notice.  The set was heavy on tunes from the band’s first album, and in spite of years apart The Waltons didn’t miss a beat.  Fan favorites such as “The Middle Of Nowhere”, “Colder Than You”, “Michaelangelo’s Tummy” and “Beats The Hell Out Of Me” were well received, but the biggest reactions were for “Colder Than You” and “In The Meantime”.

The Waltons worked their way through ten songs, and were enticed into playing three more by the small but enthusiastic crowd.  “I Could Care Less” got everyone moving, but the band’s cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was a highlight of the night.  The words didn’t come to memory easy, but the performance had an impromptu and fun feel that was very laid back.  The detour into David Alan Coe’s “The Rodeo Song” in the middle might have had something to do with it.  The Waltons had one more hit in them before the night was through, bringing down the house with “The Naked Rain”; a long time fan favorite.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Lik My Trakter, and The Waltons plan on playing a handful of club gigs to celebrate.  Regina, Toronto and Buffalo are sure to be on the agenda.  Dates will be limited because the band members all have families and careers these days, but if this house concert was any indication, The Waltons have still got it.