Gimme Five, April 7, 2022
For this new weekly FYI feature, Jason Schneider searches through new releases, books, TV, and more to find gems worthy of your attention. The premiere edition includes a deserved tribute to Joni Mitchell, an in-depth look at a seminal period in Canadian music, and a hip-hop salute to a hockey great.
By Jason Schneider
The Weber Brothers, 60 Years Of Rock And Roll (Independent)
When Ronnie Hawkins first came to Canada from Arkansas in 1958, he had a blank canvas on which to display real live rock and roll to a population that had only experienced it on the radio or in fleeting glimpses on black and white television. Like a medieval explorer, he found an entire nation to plunder, and we gratefully allowed it with the tacit understanding that Canada had been waiting for such a person to grant us entry into the global rock and roll party.
For that reason, Hawkins’ audacity has always been more important than his actual talent, and its lasting impact extended into the 1990s when it inspired Ryan and Sam Weber to leave their home in Maryland as teenagers and move to Peterborough, Ontario in the hope of joining the illustrious list of musicians whom Hawkins had mentored. Now well established in their own right, The Weber Brothers pay tribute to Hawkins with this track from their latest album Acüsta, which opens with the same driving rhythm that powered Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright Mama, for all intents, rock and roll’s Big Bang.
The accompanying homemade video shows Hawkins as the young man most of us have forgotten, demonstrating his famous “camel walk,” and mugging for the camera with his teenage drummer Levon Helm. It all looks, sounds and feels incredibly alive, something nearly impossible to achieve after decades of historical dissection. In all, it brings things back to the argument that rock and roll was only meant to exist in the moment, whether it was at Sun Studios in Memphis, Hamilton’s Golden Rail Tavern in 1958, or in producer James McKenty’s Peterborough studio where the Webers recorded Acüsta.
Joni Mitchell: MusiCares 2022 Person Of The Year Tribute (April 2)
In 1971, Rolling Stone deemed Joni Mitchell “Old Lady of the Year” as a reflection of her romantic trysts with other high-profile singer-songwriters. It was perhaps the most egregious example of the blatant misogyny she faced throughout her career, despite being lauded at the same time by those who simply couldn’t match her ability. Yet, her perseverance has directly shaped the music industry as we know it today, where inclusion and diversity have replaced sex and drugs. The looks on the faces of everyone at the ceremony held in conjunction with the Grammy Awards tell the story; just getting to hear Joni speak in her typically humble manner, after years of rumours surrounding her declining health, marked a moment that is sure to unite those in the room as they move forward, regardless of the genre in which they reside.
Michael Barclay, Hearts On Fire: Six Years That Changed Canadian Music 2000-2005 (ECW Press, 2022)
Following the last half of the 1990s, when major record labels grappled with marketing grunge also-rans and half-baked pop tarts, a resurgence of the indie rock aesthetic emerged at the turn of the new century, ushering in a period when it could easily be argued that Canadian acts were the most influential on the planet. Michael Barclay had a front row seat and bravely covers much of that territory in Hearts On Fire with his time-tested knack for crafting narratives around disparate subjects. Barclay’s personal connection to many of the artists, as well as important moments such as the recording sessions for Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, bring the stories to life as no other writer could, making Hearts On Fire the definitive account of the era.
Cancer Bats, Pressure Mind (Bat Skull/New Damage)
Now approaching 20 years as a band, the Toronto hardcore outfit continues to offer the kind of heavy music imbued with something close to what could be called soul. The recent departure of founding guitarist Scott Middleton seemed to threaten that sound, but the band’s new album Psychic Jailbreak is a pure example of raw power moulded into the kind of sleek machine all heavy bands seemingly strive for. Vocalist Liam Cormier is at his best on Pressure Mind, spitting out his frustration at a world that’s come to a standstill. The pandemic may have been the best thing to happen to metal.
Cadence Weapon, Connor McDavid
Written ostensibly for a Rogers Hometown Hockey segment, this tribute to the Edmonton Oilers superstar by Edmonton’s Poet Laureate appears more than just a rallying cry for the team to make a playoff run this year. Having one of Canada’s greatest hip-hop artists aligned with the NHL is a small but important step for the league to continue shedding the Don Cherry-isms that still dog its image. With players like McDavid and Auston Matthews energizing a new generation with their work on the ice, it’s going to take more effort from figures like Cadence Weapon to increase the sport’s diversity—as well as finally helping a Canadian team win the Stanley Cup again.