Best tunes of 2011: #1 Frank Turner “I still believe”

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“Hear ye, hear ye, friends and Romans, countrymen.
Hear ye, hear ye, punks and skins and journeymen
Hear ye, hear ye, my sisters and my brethren.
The time is coming near.”

Well, I did it. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, just over a week ago, I had been quietly planning over the last couple months to wrap this list up before the end of this year so that I could start with a 2012 list early in the new year. This one has been an awesome list and it’s great to finish it up with such a great song, with a message so near to my heart, so close to the start of a new year and a new decade.

I fully realize my number one tune, “I still believe” by Frank Turner, was released as a single in 2010 but it appeared on the British singer/songwriter’s fourth album, “England keep my bones”, the following year, the year of our focus. Again, my list, my rules. I also didn’t even hear this song until 2013, around the time that Turner released his next long player, so I definitely wouldn’t have had “I still believe” at the top of the list for either year at the time. For me now though, this tune is timeless. A classic.

It was my younger brother Michael that turned me on to Frank Turner. He throws me names every once in a while of artists he thinks I might appreciate and more often than not, he’s right. It just so happened that I decided to give Turner a listen on my road trip to my old hometown of Bowmanville in June 2013, a quick trip down to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I arrived the day before his burial, just in time to go the viewing, and spent the night at my Aunt Joan’s place, the house I grew up in. I was pretty exhausted so I retired pretty early. I lay down on a single bed in a room I slept in as a teenager, put on my ear phones, and queued up Frank Turner on my iPhone.

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the saints.
Yeah, in Jerry Lee and in Johnny and all the greats.
And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound,
That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down.”

Frank Turner got his start in a post-hardcore band called Million Dead but went solo as folk and punk type bard in the mid-2000s. That night, listening to the first couple tracks of “England keep my bones”, I immediately likened him to Billy Bragg, but perhaps leaning more towards the punk than the folk. Nonetheless, I could hear in every note, the sincerity and optimism and passion. And of course, like Billy, Turner doesn’t hide his rough-hewn working class accent, nor does he shy from letting us know what he really thinks. And when I got to track three, I just fell in love.

Here’s a song that knows that as bad as things get, whether you’re tired, sick, lonely, or just trying to sort out how you feel about losing your grandfather, there’s always music. Rock and roll and rockabilly and punk. A guitar, drums, perhaps some piano, and a rollicking chorus. Music from way back and off into the future. Frank Turner set fire to the tune that I replayed over and over and over that night, and took away the numbness, and I‘ve been singing along with it ever since.

“Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
And who’d have thought that after all, it was rock ‘n’ roll.”

Amen.

 

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

New release: One Great Tribute! A Love Letter To The Weakerthans

So here’s something I don’t make a habit of doing very often on these pages: a review (of sorts) of a newly-released album. I figured, given that it’s my younger brother that is behind this pretty extensive tribute album to one of Canada’s musical treasures, that I should give it a listen and share my thoughts.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the know but just in case you’re not… The Weakerthans were an indie rock quartet from Winnipeg, Manitoba that released a handful of excellent albums from the late 1990s and into the late 2000s. Their sound was a melodic blend of folk and punk and the songwriting was pure gold. Frontman John K Samson was a poet laureate of sorts, imparting honest and astute observations on life in Canada and otherwise.

“One great tribute!” is twenty-three tracks long, clocking in at just over an hour, and covers a good portion of The Weakerthans’ four LPs. With the exception of one blip of synths, its entirety dwells in either angsty punk or rootsy folk or a combination of the two. It is bookended by two versions of “Bigfoot!”, both featuring stripped-down piano to the original’s acoustic plucking. However, I think Frank Turner’s opener is the bigger star here to the Bry Webb closer, but more because it feels more aptly upbeat than due to his more well-known name.

The Lowest of the Low’s ska-tinged cover of “Pamphleteer” made smile quite a bit as well, given that the first time I ever heard The Weakerthans was when I saw them open for The Low in 2001. It’s also kind of fun because their current bassist is none other than Greg Smith, though he didn’t play on the original version of the tune.

Del Barber’s choice of song to contribute was pitch perfect. “One great city!”, from which the compilation draws its name, is the love/hate ode to Winnipeg, the hometown Barber shares with The Weakerthans.

Some of the other highlights for me include Skye Wallace’s take on “Without mythologies”, the Have Gun, Will Travel cover of “Psalm for the Elks Lodge last call” and the version of “Sun in an empty room” by Ben Rough with Peachykine.

If I had any complaints to make about this tribute, they would be that it does get a bit long near the end and that despite all the songs, no one managed to take on what is possibly my own favourite Weakerthans tune: “Tournament of hearts”. However, I don’t think this would take anything away from fans of the group enjoying all the love these songs are getting. I personally dug out my copies of all the Weakerthans’ albums to compare notes after giving the compilation a few spins yesterday. I highly recommend you all check it out.

“One great tribute” is available for digital purchase here as of today. If physical formats are more your thing, there are plans to also release the album on CD but a date for that has to be announced.

Best tunes of 1992: #23 L7 “Pretend we’re dead”

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Try as you might, you can’t really pigeonhole L7. Sure, they came out of the punk rock and alternative aesthetic. They came to prominence in the age of grunge and their fashion choices, or lack thereof, certainly had them placed amongst the boys club of those bands. Others will lump them in with the Riot Grrl movement, especially because of their outspokenness and their avid work in support of pro choice. However, the group predated all of these. And there was no conforming or pretension with L7. Nor were they strangers to controversy. They were true originals.

Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner formed L7 in 1985. The quartet was completed in their most prominent years by Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas. By 1992, the group was releasing their third album, “Bricks are heavy”, on Slash records. Produced by Butch Vig (of “Nevermind” fame), the album did very well with the alternative rock set by upping the noise, grime, and by being generally unapologetic. There were three well received singles released from the album, the first of which was “Pretend we’re dead”, the subject of our post today and my introduction to the band. I remember it being played on the regular on CFNY, Toronto’s alt-rock station, which came in pretty clear in my small hometown, east of that city. However, I’m reasonably sure that before I heard it there, it appeared on a mixed tape made by my friend Tim.

“Pretend we’re dead” is loud and pure angsty rock and roll. In fact, it almost feels to me like a song Joan Jett would’ve come up with if the 90s were her era. The guitars are dirty and dripping with sludge and yet they race along, amped with jet fuel. The drums crash and the vocals sing words that seem meaningless, but beg for fist pumping and head banging. Yes!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.