Friday, 27 November 2009

1000 Hits!

It's official: my blog has had one thousand hits. Exciting, eh? The standard course of action would be to give you all some story about how I started this blog four months ago on nothing but a smile and a shoeshine, but I'm not, so you can breath easy now.

Rather, I figured we should celebrate, and since the blog's taken a musical turn in the past while (we are in the midst of the White Album Redux Project, after all), what better way to celebrate than with some great music?

Kicking things off is the marvelous Chantal Kreviazuk, who performed "Souls" live at the Canada Day celebrations way back in the year 2000! Amazing what nine years can do.

Next, a pair of Nicole Atkins songs -- her cover of "Blue Christmas" (tis the season) for The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs and "Maybe Tonight" live on Later with Jools Holland. I haven't given her a Saturday Spotlight yet, but she is so worth checking out. I can't stress this enough.

I found out about this next group through Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe radio show, and have been an ardent fan of theirs ever since. Their harmonies are spine-tingling. This is the song that started it all -- here's Dala, with "Sunday Dress".

Aren't they stunning? Amanda Walther almost looks like a young Joni Mitchell.

Speaking of Joni, you might be aware of a great tribute album to Saskatchewan's favorite daughter (yes, it sounds corny, I know), called River: The Joni Letters. Organized by Herbie Hancock, everyone from Norah Jones to Leonard Cohen lent their vocals to covers spanning Mitchell's illustrious career. It even won a Grammy for Album of the Year!

Below are Melody Gardot with "Edith and the Kingpin" (covered by Tina Turner on the album) and Corinne Bailey Rae, who does a stunning version of "River".

Finally, here's Sara Bareilles with a laid-back, off-the-cuff cover of "Oh! Darling" by the Beatles, from the album Abbey Road -- recorded, as luck would have it, at Abbey Road itself. Hope you enjoy.

Thank you to all that have visited Paul's Winnipeg over the past few months! Without you, there wouldn't be this post. 1000 hits... Let's hope for one thousand more.

Until next time,


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

White Album Redux: 2. Dear Prudence

After many months of unseasonably warm weather, winter has finally come to Winnipeg, and the reaction has, quite frankly, been mixed. Having green (or almost-green, or greenish-yellow) front yards in, say, mid-November stirred something deep and disquieting in our souls, made us feel uneasy -- but, on the other hand, we could actually go outside without donning a parka.

But we take it in stride, us Winnipeggers; we're used to being the butt of one too many weather jokes, especially when we go to Vancouver and it's just been -5o degrees Celsius in some areas of the province.

Still, it could be worse, we reason. We could be living in Saskatchewan.


That sense of optimism is what I always think of when listening to "Dear Prudence", the second track off the White Album. Inspired by Mia Farrow's daughter Prudence (who stayed in her room reportedly meditating instead of enjoying the nice weather), the song was composed during the Beatles' stay with the Maharishi and has to be, in my opinion, one of their most popular songs, mostly for its cheerful and exuberant personality. I was even in a musical called Dear Prudence once, but that's another story.

For the 2007 movie Across the Universe (which you either loved or hated -- I loved it), "Dear Prudence" was reimagined as a slowly building anthem, driven by guitars and quiet atmospherics, and was played during a particularly visually stunning part of the film.

The song was cut short in the film, unfortunately, so I've decided to go with the studio version. Here's the cast of Across the Universe with "Dear Prudence".

Sunday, 22 November 2009

White Album Redux #1: Back in the U.S.S.R.

Some forty-odd years ago today, what is regarded as one of the best albums by the Beatles and one of the most musically eclectic albums ever, the White Album, was released.

In celebration of the sheer diversity of styles presented on the White Album, I've decided to embark upon a little project. I will post, in order, each song reinterpreted in a way I find particularly interesting or unconventional. I'm calling it the White Album Redux.

Are you ready? Put on your headphones, turn up your speakers, and take a magical mystery tour (sorry, couldn't resist) of one of the greatest albums of all time, radically reinterpreted.

Here we go.

1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
As far as openers go, "Back in the U.S.S.R." is a pretty good one. It doesn't give an indication of what's to follow, but that's fine -- the White Album is a journey, in my opinion, meant to be traversed without expectations.

When I first saw this cover, several years ago, I knew it was something special. It's from the 2001 comedy Heartbreakers, starring Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a mother-daughter team bent on one thing: enchanting men and, after a sufficient period of time, trapping them in a situation so incriminating that there's really no other option for the male to be sued. It's a good movie.

At one point in the film, Sigourney Weaver's character pretends to be Russian in order to woo a wealthy millionaire played by Gene Hackamn out of his money. He takes her out to a Russian restaurant with live music, and she has to sing a folk song for everyone, like any good countrywoman should. Of course, she doesn't know it.

After grasping at straws for a moment or two, inspiration hits her, and the result has to be seen to be believed.

Here's Sigourney Weaver, with "Back in the U.S.S.R."

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Being Erica: Season 2 Retrospective

The fact that Being Erica was picked up for a second season seems like a no-brainer, considering the cliffhanger season one ended on. Since then, we've had an excellent premiere ("Being Dr. Tom") that shook up the show's format, several so-so episodes ("The Unkindest Cut", "Under My Thumb"), and a few episodes that could, in some sense, be called failures ("Cultural Revolution" and "Battle Royale"). Remarkably, the show pulled itself together, and, from "A River Runs Through It... It Being Egypt" onward, its storylines were clear and compelling.

Last night's finale gives us a chance to look back at what was a sophomore season that had its highs and its lows. Consider this an awards show, if you will -- it's the Oscars, but without any mystifying double-hosts or inexplicable Snuglis (Ellen DeGeneres, I'm looking at you.)

1. Best Actor:
-Michael Riley ("Dr. Tom")
-Morgan Kelly ("Brent Kennedy")
-Sebastian Pigott ("Kai Booker")
-Tyron Leitso ("Ethan Wakefield")

AND THE WINNER IS... Michael Riley. Was there any doubt? Sure, Morgan Kelly is good, but not great, and while Sebastian Pigott really developed over the course of the season, he didn't improve enough, in my opinion. Of note: "Paoa Can You Hear Me?", of course, "Being Dr. Tom".
Runner Up: Morgan Kelly.

2. Best Actress:
-Erin Karpluk ("Erica Strange")
-Reagan Pastornak ("Julianne Giacomelli")
-Joanna Douglas ("Samantha Strange")
-Kathleen Laskey ("Barbara Strange")

AND THE WINNER IS... Surprise, surprise! Reagan Pastornak has made Julianne one of the best characters in the show, someone with real depth and emotional vulnerability (that could be just because of the writers giving her good material, but who knows?) Erin Karpluk, unfortunately, has been cursed with one too many insipid Carrie Bradshaw-style voiceovers. Of note: "Shhh... Don't Tell", "What Goes Up Must Come Down", and "The Importance of Being Erica".
Runner-Up: Erin Karpluk Kathleen Laskey just hasn't had enough to work with this season.

3. Best Supporting Actor
-Jeff Seymour ("Thomas Friedkin")
-John Boylan ("Gary Strange")
-Adam MacDonald ("Josh McIntosh")
-Dewshane Williams ("Dr. Fred")

AND THE WINNER IS... While there hasn't been very much for the men to do this season, Jeff Seymour has been consistently on top form, especially in "Shhh... Don't Tell".
Runner-Up: John Boylan, although he didn't have much time in the spotlight.

4. Best Supporting Actress
-Paula Brancati ("Jenny Zalen")
-Vinessa Antoine ("Judith Winters")
-Grace Lynn King ("Meeri Khan")
-Tatiana Maslany ("Sarah Wexlar")
-Joanna Vannicola ("Dr. Naadiah")

AND THE WINNER IS... Unsurprisingly, the women in the show are all very strong characters, and it's hard to pick just one. But Paula Brancati deserves the award for "Shhh... Don't Tell", even if she was the focus of the awful "Cultural Revolution".
Runner-Up: Joanna Vannicola (the more Naadiah the better, I say), but for only being in two episodes, Tatiana Maslany has impressed me. I'll call it a tie.

4. Best Supporting Actor
-Dewshane Williams ("Dr. Fred")
-David Fox ("Frank Galvin")
-Jon Cor ("Zach Creed")
-Billy Turnbull ("Dave")
AND THE WINNER IS... David Fox. Dewshane Williams is too emotionally impervious for my tastes.
Runner-Up: Dewshane Williams.

5. Best Episode:
-"Being Dr. Tom"
-"The Importance of Being Erica"
-"Shhh... Don't Tell"
-"Papa Can You Hear Me?"

AND THE WINNER IS... "The Importance of Being Erica". A season finale so perfectly nuanced, so perfectly blended together, with the right amount of mystique and comedy to balance Erin Karpluk's character drama. Exquisite.
Runner-Up: Two this time. "Being Dr. Tom" and "Shhh... Don't Tell."

6. Worst Episode:
-"Battle Royale"
-"Cultural Revolution"
-"The Unkindest Cut"
-"Under My Thumb"

AND THE WINNER IS... "Battle Royale", although it was almost a three-way tie between it, "Cultural Revolution", and "Under My Thumb". However, considering the episode's position after "Being Dr. Tom", it just felt like a letdown, an episode that contributed nothing to the show, character- or plot-wise. Of special note: the awful "intruder in the woods" scene and the pointless talent show.
Runner-Up:"Cultural Revolution"

What do you think? Is Reagan Pastornak really deserving of a Best Actress-style award? Was "The Importance of Being Erica" the best episode of the season? Will Tyron Leitso ever learn to emote?

Post a comment, and tell me what you think.