Best tunes of 2010: #23 Jon And Roy “Any day now”

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In July 2010, my wife Victoria and I flew out to Winnipeg to spend a few days with our friends, Sarah and Jorge, and their children. I had been to the ‘Peg a couple of times before with work but this time, it was for pure pleasure and during the summer, rather than in winter when I had previously been there. And our friends were gracious hosts, putting us up in their spare room and playing tourist with us with kids in tow. It was great seeing them and parts of the city I had not seen before but another real bonus for me was getting out to catch a part of the “world famous” Winnipeg folk festival.

Held annually at Birds Hill Provincial Park, it is an extremely well-run festival, right down to loosing the dragonflies the night before it begins to take care of the rampant mosquito problem. One of the features that I found really neat was the daytime “workshops” they held that collected different performers on the same stage to share ideas and songs and perhaps, even collaborate. I caught parts of a couple of these workshops and a full one that was thoroughly entertaining. This last was centred around the theme of hometowns, was led by Winnipeg native, John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans), and also included Works Progress Administration, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (of the film “Once”), and of course, Jon And Roy.

So this sunny Saturday afternoon workshop while lazing around in the grass in a Manitoba Provincial Park, all relaxed and civilized like, was my first introduction to Jon And Roy. And yes, “Any day now” was the song that made me sit up and take notice halfway through the workshop.

Jon Middleton (acoustic guitar) and Roy Vizer (bongo drum) were seated on the stools between John K. Samson and Hansard and Irglová, the two acts I was really there to see. On their third go round (I think it was), Jon And Roy jumped into this head-bopping number that teased both folk and reggae and was so laid back and grooving, it felt perfect in the sun as the dragonflies danced around catching mosquitos above our heads. And man, was it catchy as well. So much so that when they finished, Glen Hansard, upon taking the mike, started right back into that ear worm chorus of “Any day now, any day now, any day now, any day now, any day” and then, dedicated his next song to that one.

And yes, this British Columbia-based group is still a going concern, having released four more albums since 2010’s “Homes”, but don’t let the name fool you, the group is also more than just the duo inferred in their name. Still, acoustic guitar led, laid back folk reggae is their hallmark, and if that’s your thing, you might just want to give them a listen. “Any day now” is a great place to start. And it’s also a perfect song to lead you into the weekend. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1990: #18 Morrissey “November spawned a monster”

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Due to the particulars of my own musical education, the year, the age, and my own geographical location, I definitely put the cart before the horse when it comes to Morrissey and The Smiths. I became familiar and fell in love with Morrissey’s solo material long before I did so with The Smiths. My very first exposure to the Moz was his song “Interesting drug”, thanks to a mixed tape given to me by a friend, and it wasn’t long after that I began searching out his other solo material. As for The Smiths, I heard them throughout my university years but with the exception of a few tracks, I did my best to avoid listening to them on purpose, after having them foisted upon me by one of my roommates.

The former frontman of the band released his solo debut, “Viva hate”, mere months after the dissolution of The Smiths. He had planned to title his sophomore album “Bona drag” but ended up using the title for his first compilation album, which became a necessity in 1990 after he had spent the two previous years dropping single after successful single.

“November spawned a monster” was the last of these singles to be released before making its appearance on “Bona drag” and though not his highest charting, it is one of Morrissey’s personal favourites. Yes, it’s a pretty great track but in my own opinion, quite spooky and not a little a bit freaky. In amongst the jangly guitars, there’s something sinister and ominous happening, nothing quite so obvious as a malevolent harpsichord but it’s there, nonetheless. Then, right in the middle of this, up pops these bone-chilling backing vocals, sounding too much like either someone in agony or a violent voodoo invocation.

And if that all weren’t enough, we’ve got something a bit off-putting about his lyrics, like when he seemingly clucks his tongue at us about the “poor twisted child, so ugly, so ugly”, or those damning words that gave the song its title: “November spawned a monster in the shape of this child”. Like many of his songs, its meaning is up to interpretation, but to me, this one is all about society’s treatment of the physically challenged, through no fault of their own. But unlike some of his other works, Morrissey gives us hope at the end of this one:

“Oh one fine day
she won’t be rich or beautiful
but she’ll be walking your streets
in the clothes that she went out
and chose for herself”

Yep, this is the glory of Morrissey at the height of his powers. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

 100 best covers: #98 Great Big Sea “End of the world”

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“It’s the end of the world as we know it…. and I feel fine.” What a great line and an incredible tune.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard R.E.M.’s original version. From their 1987 album “Document”, “End of the world” is considered one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs and is definitely up there among my own personal faves by Michael Stipe and company.

Fast forward to 1997 and we have Newfoundland-based folk rock band, Great Big Sea, releasing a cover of said song for their third studio album, “Play”. If you’re not from Canada, it’s possible you’ve not heard this band but they were pretty big here in their home country. I say “were” because they’re broken up now but in their heyday in the 90s, the four-piece of Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Séan McCann, and Darrell Power put out a string of albums that were filled with high energy rock tunes with a Celtic folk bent and more than a few of these were perfect soundtracks for hoisting a pint or three. I didn’t like all of their songs, favouring those where their traditional background was more evident, but they had a talent for putting a rousing Celtic folk touch on the songs they were covering.

Great Big Sea’s version of “End of the world” is a full minute and a half shorter than the original. But don’t you go thinking that they cut out a verse or something. No. It’s all there. It may be unbelievable to you R.E.M. fans but they actually did it by speeding up the already frenetic pace set by Bill Berry’s drumming in the original. Fiddles are a-whir and the mandolin on a tear but it’s Alan Doyle’s valiant vocal effort here that really makes this song, sounding off each syllable of Michael Stipe’s lyrics with his own hoarse Newfoundland roar.

Both versions are great in their own right (though I still prefer the original) and both are ripe for a rowdy dance floor, but where R.E.M.’s is made for the pogo, Great Big Sea’s is one more prone to jigging. Oh and be careful, that dance floor is likely quite sticky from all the spilt beer. Carry on.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.