Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sean Cotton Band and the Hogtown Allstars
The Last Waltz
Hugh's Room

I'm not a big fan of Hugh's Room. The sightlines and sound are great. The artists are first rate supper club acts. The thing is, it's a supper club. I suspect they make more money from the tables, prior to the band coming on, than they do from the door proceeds. They do ask you to be seated early enough that you're done before the show begins but it's a business, they serve you when you want to be served. That's usually throughout the performance. It doesn't help that the type of artists, roots, folk, folk-rock on a raucous night, need a little quiet and attention to present their works. Anjani, Maria Muldaur and Mike Ford were challenged by clanging dishes and clinking glasses at the most inopportune time. Even Steve Forbert has his gentler moments rudely interrupted.

Tonight's show has an advantage. It's rock n roll. You'd have to break a glass to call attention away from the stage.

This is the BIG TIME for Sean Cotton's Last Waltz project. It's come a long way in the few weeks since I witnessed the dress rehearsal at The Hollywood on Queensway. That night showed the promise of this evening. A few performances over the past couple weeks has smoothed out the rough edges nicely. Every facet of the show was better. The guest artists not only settled into their parts, they raised everyone's game with excellent performances. The Sean Cotton Band, already tight, have reached a pinnacle, becoming the ultimate Toronto indie houseband, complementing the leads. Sean, who is to be lauded for coming up with the concept, playing the role of director, choreographer and casting agent, provides some musical highlights, most notably in Up On Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Chest Fever. His support for Corin on Mystery Train turns that song into a Foo Fighters concert if Dave Grohl had an evil twin.

Sean's father, Neil Cotton, formerly biology teacher extraordinaire, now the leader of some kind of AARP Counter Culture Club, pays homage to the transcendant Ronnie Hawkins with a growling bayou version of Who Do You Love? It was many years ago when Neil took Sean to his first concert in Toronto, one where Ronnie Hawkins was playing onstage with his son. Some 30 or so years later, the circle is closed.

Brad Hart turns in two strong songs, his voice wonderfully evocative of both Neil Young's high-pitched whine and Rick Danko's plaintive wail as he provides the lead vocals on Helpless and It Makes No Difference.

David Baxter, a senior member of the Parkdale Artists Commune, laid down some blistering solo's all evening. He warmed up quick in his lead guitar spotlight, Clapton's Further On Up the Road, and absolutely burned up the stage with instrumental breaks through most of the songs in the second set.

Toronto's Troubadour, Corin Raymond, was doing his maiden voyage with these tunes at the dress rehearsal; in retrospect it seems he was a little tentative that night. Sounds like his cherry is well busted now and he steals the show with a howling rendition of Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy.

Treasa Levasseur reprised her dangerously sexy version of Joni Mitchell's opus, Coyote. You gotta see this one to believe it. She's a little bit Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, a bit of Bette Midler in The Rose and only a hint of the girl next door. I don't want to be too forward but if Joni had performed this song, in this manner, those inmates at Clinton Prison in NJ wouldn't have booed her off the stage.

Kristin Cavoukian has found her sweet spot in Evangeline. Her and Sean really nailed it tonight. Her support, either backing or full verses, in The Weight and I Shall Be Released added an important layer of sound to this aural painting.

Steve Klodt added some southern flavour with his peon to Dr. John's, Such A Night.

Marshall Dane, who admits he's new to the Last Waltz community, has obviously immersed himself in the movie and does a punchy version of Van Morrison's Caravan before taking a respectable stab at Levon's Ophelia.

Daniel Skye, a founding-father of the current Parkdale artist scene, takes the spotlight for the two Dylan tunes. A hint of the Dylan twang in Forever Young, just enough to make it familiar and not so much that it was a caricature, resulted in a decent version of a tough song to do well. Trust me, I've seen Bob try it 15 times and decent was seldom reached.

This is more than a concert. It's a large white stallion and a flame-juggling midget away from being performance art. The musical arrangements perfectly capture the sound of that evening at Winterland. The between song banter is replicated, making you feel like your behind one of Scorcese's malfunctioning cameras. The shot that didn't make it into the film.

Enjoy the samples, visit their websites, go to their concerts.

If folks like this weren't singing songs for folks like us, what would we do with our spare time?

Sean Cotton Band and the Hogtown All-Stars
Sean Cotton - guitar, vocals (as Band members)
Graham Howes - keyboards, vocals (as Pop Staples)
Steve Klodt - piano, vocals (as Dr. John)
Mike Churchill - drums
Steve Skingley - bass, backing vocals


Neil Cotton (as Ronnie Hawkins)
Brad Hart (as Neil Young, Rick Danko)
Treasa Levasseur (as Joni Mitchell, Mavis Staples) accordion
Kristin Cavoukian (as female Staples, Emmy Lou Harris)
David Baxter (as Eric Clapton, Levon Helm) guitar, mandolin
Corin Raymond (as Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield)
Marshall Dane (as Van Morrison, Levon Helm)
Daniel Sky (as Bob Dylan)

Set 1

T01 Intro
T02 Up On Cripple Creek (Sean Cotton (and the) Band)
T03 talk - no Neil Diamond
T04 Don't Do It
T05 talk - Stratocaster and Dad
T06 Who Do You Love? (Neil Cotton)
T07 talk
T08 Shape I'm In (Sean, Neil)
T09 talk
T10 Such A Night (Steve Klodt)
T11 talk
T12 Helpless (Brad Hart)
T13 It Makes No Difference (Brad)
T14 talk
T15 Stage Fright (Sean)
T16 talk
T17 Coyote (Treasa Levasseur)
T18 talk
T19 The Weight (Sean, Kristin Cavoukian,Graham Howes, Treasa)
T20 talk
T21 Evangeline (Kristin, David Baxter, mandolin, Treasa, accordion)

Set 2

T01 Further On Up The Road (David Baxter)
T02 Rag Mama Rag (David)
T03 talk
T04 Mannish Boy (Corin Raymond)
T05 talk
T06 Mystery Train (Corin, Sean)
T07 The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Sean)
T08 talk
T09 Caravan (Marshall Dane)
T10 talk
T11 Ophelia (Marshall)
T12 talk
T13 Genetic Method/Chest Fever (Sean)
T14 talk
T15 Forever Young (Daniel Sky)
T16 Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Daniel)
T17 I Shall Be Released (ensemble)

T18 Band Intro
T19 Smokin' in the Alley (non Last Waltz, ensemble)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Corin Raymond and the Sundowners
Jonathan Byrd and the Foggy Hogtown Boys

The wife and I were celebrating 32 years of wedded bliss the other night and we had the pleasure of seeing Corin Raymond and the Sundowners. (Doctor recommended dosage: Minimum, once monthly.) They were opening for North Carolina native, Texas based song writer, Jonathan Byrd.

The TRANZAC Club is where Corin cut his teeth in the Toronto music scene. He was playing with the Sundowners as far back as 2002, entertaining folks on a PWYC basis in the front room. Jonathan Byrd hasn't been in Toronto since November 2009 when his chart-riding Americana album was created in an impromptu (or at least, little planned) 6 hour recording session. He's joined tonight by the same local artists who laid down those tracks.

These guys are nearing the end of what's been almost 3 months of touring North America. Jonathan introduced Corin to his fan base in the American Heartland and Texas, while Corin brought Jonathan to various houses of the holy in the Great White North.

I love Corin's set with the Sundowners. The band is ace. Tight like...well, there's nowhere I can go with that simile that won't land me in trouble. Brian Kobayakowa on bass is so good that you don't notice he's there...except that's a bullshit interpretation of what you need in a bass player. He's laying down some boom that sometimes sneaks up on you but most times just anchors the song. Treasa Levasseur is every front man's dream. Need some waltzing accordion? Got it for you. Want me to tinkle on the keys? I'm your lady. A little estrogen on the chorus? Let me carry that weight. David Baxter provides the complex riffs, the contre-temps, the heartful slide and the mandolin. Corin, well he's the troubador.

He's still working songs that will be on his upcoming album of Canadian indie song writers. The familiar Old Fort Mac laments the cost of high wage opportunities in an oil boom town.
Ridin' West On Dundas is the story of a rural boy, who grew up watching the sun set for hours over the flat prairies, finding the beauty in an urban sunset, where the golden light shines briefly on red brick.
I'm Hard On Things is just so
that you gotta listen to it. LYRIC SAMPLE: "I've worn out two gold wedding rings/ I'm hard on things."

Stealin' My Heart is Corin's love-song to the Tranzac. A tune about the financial security one can garner from singing roots music in parlours for hat money.
3000 Miles has been covered by a number of artists, some can be found on YouTube.

Who doesn't love a road tune with dope?

Corin covers Jonathan's Slip Away then introduces a new song, an homage to three great musical artists who left this world in a tragic fashion; Buddy Holly's flight, Sam Cooke's shooting and the strange case of Jackie Wilson. Under the Belly of the Night is going to be a staple in this set. LYRIC SAMPLE: "singing That'll Be The Day I Die the night before"

I'd wager that Corin may never play a live set without including There Will Always Be A Small Time. A song about the fickle nature of talent, fame and fortune.

Being at the TRANZAC the Sundowners saw fit to close with a song they wore out during their youthful residency here, Woody Guthrie's tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-in-something) Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key.

Old Fort Mac
Ridin' West on Dundas
I'm Hard on Things
Stealin' My Heart
3000 Miles
Slip Away
Under the Belly of the Night
There Will Always Be A Small Time
Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key

Jonathan Byrd's Cackalack has had some terrific success on the Americana and Folk/Roots charts in the States. It's a love song to North Carlina, taking us through it's history, ecology and culture. The word is actually short for 'cackalacky'; it's just a peculiar affectation the people in the Carolines have...they use it in place of Carolina, as in "I'm from Chapel Hill, North Cackalacky!"

If that title hasn't prepared you for a little frivolity then that's the job of Chicken Wire, the opener. It's almost a nonsense song, done bluegrass style, all about a Rooster and a Hen and the things a farmer holds dear. Not quite Ray Stevens nonsense, more in the vein of Boll Weevil.

The melodic love song Wild Ponies is preceeded by a history lesson, a tale of how these horses got on the Outward Banks. Dropped by Spanish sailors trying to save their lives in the graveyard waters off the Carolina coast, these animals adapted to the salt-grass and still roam free on the Shackleford Banks over 400 years later.

More lessons, apparently North Carolina is an ecological marvel of sorts; between what the ice age brought and what grows naturally in their southern climate. The region boasts of a diverse selection of tree species. Jonathan seems to have a penchant for the Mighty Oak as he performs the first of two 'oak songs' on the album; I Was An Oak Tree. This is the story of a thousand year old Oak that had watched kingdoms be formed and lost. It's used to make a slave ship that crashes off the American shores and continues it's journey as driftwood before it's on to the campfire and beyond.

When this album was made Jonathan was nearing the end of an intensive 3 week/19 shows tour. He found himself in a little room, surrounded by ear-selected local artists and with Ken Whitely there to capture a 6 hour session with the Foggy Hogtown Boys that resulted in this beautiful piece of Americana. Ain't it peculiar how it takes Canadians to put the 'oot into American Roots music? (Rick Danko we can still hear you singing.)The songs were done in complete takes and you can tell it would have been just like an informal (but technically proficient) jam with the tapes rolling.

Reckon I Did is a post-drinking song and what can go wrong when the lights go out.

The eternal hope one sees in a new born child is at the heart of New Moon Rise . Back to hillbilly slice of life in Dungarees Overalls followed by a tale of coming to fully appreciate your father, warts and all but perhaps a little too late, the bitter-sweet Father's Day.

More with the trees in White Oak Wood . Scuppernong celebrates the unique species of grape found on the shores of North Carolina, first cultivated over 400 years ago, where they've been part of the culture since before those ponies showed up on the islands.

And now, the national anthem of North Carolina, Cackalack!

Chicken Wire
Wild Ponies
I Was An Oak Tree
Reckon I Did
New Moon Rise
Dungarees Overalls
Father's Day
White Oak Wood

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sean Cotton Band
Tribute to The Last Waltz
Hollywood on the Queensway
Toronto ON

Sean Cotton brought his group and a bunch of friends out to Etobicoke for a dress-rehearsal of his newest tribute,The Last Waltz, honouring The Band.

This show is showcasing at Toronto's Hughs Room on Friday May 27th. Get your table reservations here!

We last saw Sean when he brought his one-man show, The Complete Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, to the backrom at The Cameron.

This project is a touch more ambitious. The scope of the project, the size of the cast, the requirements for a unique sound, all these elements add risk. Sean and his band have been hard at work practising but the 'special guests', for the most part, have been working on their own with resources culled from the DVD or YouTube. Tonight marks their first opportunity to meld the various pieces together as the ensemble assembles.

So it's a two-drink minimum on a rainy Sunday afternoon for a free look and listen to their progress.

Sean Cotton is playing the part of Robbie Robertson, band leader and MC, for the evening. That's when he's not taking on the Danko and Helms vocals. From the outset it's apparent he's paying attention to the art of the show. The set is bejewelled with homages to that special evening; a vocal aside here, a special introduction there, some accurate choreography and more allusions that I was able to note...but I'll attest to what I remember.

Show opens with a hard slam from the Cajun south, a strong version of Up On Cripple Creek. Sean is instantly in 'screamin' lead singer rock star' mode. A full band behind him, including two keyboards, gives him lots of tools to recreate the sound. They move quickly into Marvin Gaye's Don't Do It; the song finds the bouncy groove. A touch of Motown, wrapped in Canadian Bacon and topped with a hillbilly jug band bop. It makes you wanna jump up and down in the same spot.

Seans father, Neil Cotton, trots onstage, looking like a spry Ronnie Hawkins, long silver-hair, grey beard, white cowboy hat and raybans. He's instantly in character, exclaiming "Big Time! Big Time!" as he acknowledges Sean/Robbie. Neil dofs his hat to fan the smouldering strings on Seans guitar during a blistering solo and stays in character right through to his closing exclamation: "The most fun you can have with your clothes on!" He stays onstage to accompany his son on shared versus of Shape I'm In. And despite the lament in that song, the man looks to be in great shape on the young side of 65.

We move over to the piano man, Steve Klodt, for the lead on Dr John's Such A Night. These guys ain't asking for your money and giving you nothing, attention is being paid to the details as they evoke the sounds of that magical night at Wonderland.

Neil Young is represented byBrad Hart and he's seen the movie too as he comments "I just want to say before I start that it's one of the great pleasures of my life to be playing with Sean Cotton up here tonight" reprising Neil's impromptu recognition of the greatness that surrounded him that evening.

He stays onstage to sing Danko's lead on the hauntingly beautiful It Makes No Difference. Both songs were evocative of the artists who originally sang them, well delivered without being overplayed. Not an easy task either as there may be no voice in rock n roll more achingly plaintive than Rick Danko's.

Sean comes back to the mic for more Band music, Stage Fright, another fine knock-off the rocks the joint.

JUNO nominated Treasa Levasseur takes the stage to perform Joni Mitchell's Coyote. Treasa is a fixture in the talent-rich Parkdale music scene. She delivers the highlight of the evening with a scorching version of this raunchy post-modern feminist tract. In my book her version had more punch than Joni's, and that performance is my favourite from that show. The performance is enhanced by a touch of performance art as she mimes the movements of the subjects in some transfixed state more reminiscent of Patti Smith than Joni. I guess that's where the punch came from.

Sean invites everyone who's played so far back onstage for the Staples song, with Graham Howe's in the place of Pop Staples and Treasa Levasseur sitting in as Mavison the ensemble performance of The Weight. The set closes with the other song found on The Last Waltz that came from a studio session, Evangeline, with Kristin Cavoukian doing Emmy Lou Harris' vocals.

After a quick set break Sean's back with David Baxter for a rather appropriate ragged version of Rag, Mama, Rag. They then rip off another highlight of the evening, a blistering Further On Up the Road with some wicked guitar work from both Sean and David.

Corin Raymond, Sean's partner in crime when they play as The Undesirables, comes on to do the blues portion of the night. These guys started out together, jamming, learning, honing their skills with the history of the blues. Corin's been busy, just returning from a 10 week US tour with Jonathan Byrd (still ongoing and they'll be at the Tranzac on May 10th.) He was studying his parts on YouTube and he was a little concerned about getting the lyrics right. He'd need not have worried as he tears into Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy replete with joyous howls. He closes with the Paul Butterfield tune, Mystery Train...and it was no wreck.

Sean's back to get the final part of the night in gear with another rockin' outing, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. He's followed by Marshall Dane delivering Van Morrison's Caravan and Levon Helm's Ophelia.

Graham Howe kicks into Garth Hudson's iconic intro to The Genetic Method/Chest Fever. Then we take a 7 minute ride on that hypnotic riff. Another highlight.

The show closes with Daniel Skye doing Dylan's tunes, Forever Young and Baby Let Me Follow You Down. Now I have to recuse myself from expressing an opinion on the Dylan portion as I've seen him upwards of a hundred and forty times now. It would take a 35 year younger Dylan to impress me. Set ends when the whole cast is back for the sing-a-long, I Shall Be Released.

That's some show Sean, well done.

This show will be making a few summertime appearances at various festivals. Contact Sean, find out where they are, go see it.

Sean Cotton Band
w/ special guests
Tribute: The Last Waltz
Sean Cotton (guitar, vocals
Steve Klodt (piano, vocals)
Steve Skingley
Mike Churchill
Graham Howes (organ, vocals)
Treasa Levasseur, Corin Raymond, David Baxter, Marshall Dane, Daniel Sky, Brad Hart, Neil Cotton & Kristin Cavoukian

Set 1

Up On Cripple Creek (Sean Cotton)
Don't Do It (Sean Cotton)
Who Do You Love? (Neil Cotton)
Shape I'm In (Sean/Neil)
Such A Night (Steve Klodt)
Helpless (Brad Hart)
It Makes No Difference (Brad Hart)
Stage Fright (Sean Cotton)
Coyote (Treasa Levasseur)
The Weight (ensemble)
Evangeline (Kristin Cavoukian)

Set 2

Rag Mama Rag (David Baxter/Sean Cotton)
Further On Up the Road (David Baxter)
Mannish Boy (Corin Raymond)
Mystery Train (Corin Raymond)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Sean Cotton)
Caravan (Marshall Dane)
Ophelia (Marshall Dane)
The Genetic Method/Chest Fever (Sean Cotton)
Forever Young(Daniel Skye)
Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Daniel Skye)
I Shall Be Released (ensemble)