Monday, March 29, 2010

Jason & The Scorchers — Halcyon Times
It's been 14 years since Jason & The Scorchers last released an album of new material, but you wouldn't know it by listening to Halcyon Times' 14 tracks.
Group founders Jason Ringenberg and Warner E. Hodges have created an impressive roots-rockin' record that easily stands up to anything the pair did in the '80s when they were among the leaders of a punkabilly movement that showed that Nashville had hot new talent to complement its legendary country music legacy.
The singer and guitarist are joined by a new rhythm section composed of drummer Pontus Snibb and bassist Al Collins, and the record features contributions from former Georgia Satellites leader Dan Baird (including lead vocals on  "When Did It Get So Easy [To Lie To Me]"), Ginger from The Wildhearts and Tommy Womack. Hodges co-produced the album with Brad Jones (Chuck Prophet, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle).
"Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners" gets the album off to an ebullient start, and things pick up tempo and instrumentation-wise from the sparse mandolin introduction on "Beat On The Mountain." Hodges' guitar is unleashed and runs with wild abandon on "Mona Lee," and it hits peaks as stirring and exciting in several places throughout the album. Ringenberg keeps the pace with his distinctive yips and yowls that harken back to 25 years earlier.
There are also quieter, but no less impressive, moments when the listener has the opportunity to savour the stories told in such songs as "Mother Of Greed" and "Land Of The Free."
I was looking forward to hearing Halcyon Times, but it has exceeded my expectations and is one of a couple of contenders to become my favourite album of the first quarter of this year. I'll give it a 9/10.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side

Niagara Falls is one of the natural wonders of the world and, with cheap flights to Toronto,  you're only a 90-minute drive away from taking in this spectacular sight and the other attractions the city on the Canada-U.S. border has to offer.

The views of the 50-metre-high and 800-metre-wide Horseshoe Falls and the 30-metre-tall and 320-metre-wide American Falls are best from the Canadian side, which also has more tourist-oriented facilities if you eventually tire of the natural spectacle. And melting ice in the Niagara River and Lake Erie at this time of year means that the flow rate of water crashing down over the rocks is high.

You can take walkways under the falls or board the famed Maid Of The Mist boat to cruise through the rapids to the falls to feel their immense power. And yes, you will get wet.

There are also lots of great vantage points just by walking along the road that follows the river and the falls. And if you keep on driving along the Niagara Parkway you'll find the whirlpool and the cable car that glides over it, along with other scenic spots and historic locations, until you get to the quaint town of Niagara-On-The-Lake, the home of the Shaw Festival theatres.

The Skylon Tower and Minolta Tower give visitors who ascend to their summits different visual perspectives of the falls and the surrounding area.


Clifton Hill offers a variety of often kitschy wax museums, haunted houses,  mazes, rides, arcades, theatres and miniature golf courses that will especially appeal to children and teenagers. For the grown-ups, Niagara Falls has two casinos and a number of respected golf courses.

A little bit further out, but a short drive away, is the Marineland theme park and aquarium featuring rides, wildlife exhibits, whale and dolphin shows, and a campground. The city also features water parks where kids can splash around and zoom down slides without fear of finding killer whales lurking below.

Niagara Falls offers a wide variety of motels, hotels and restaurants to suit different tastes and budgets, which further enhances its popularity as a family destination.

CMW is over, so attention now turns to NXNE

Canadian Music Week ended on the weekend, but international bands,  industry representatives and dedicated music fans can take advantage of cheap flights to Toronto in June to attend the city's other major annual music event, North By Northeast.

This year's NXNE is expanding to seven days with the addition of a new interactive conference to the long-standing music component, which features 650 concerts at 50 venues, 40 music-themed films, 15 conference sessions and a charity soccer game.

Interactive panels, seminars and events have been part of NXNE's sister festival — South By Southwest in Austin, Texas — for a number of years, so it makes perfect sense for Canada's largest city to host one as well.

The 16th annual NXNE will run from June 14 to 20. More information is available at the NXNE web site.