2013 In Review

You’ve got to feel sorry for the CARAS people who have to announce Juno Award nominees for their Winnipeg award show in April. Based on the supply of releases delivered in 2013, they don’t have much of a selection to choose from.

There was a time not too long ago that CARAS could announce a full slate of nominees for awards like Top Male Vocalist, Top Female Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist, Top New Female Artist and Top New Group – but those days appear to be long gone.

Even over the past two years, the top vocalist awards have been condensed into one Artist of the Year award (won earlier this year by Leonard Cohen????) and the most promising awards have been lumped into one Breakthrough Artist/Group award (Monster Truck). Scanning the releases that came out in 2013, things weren’t much better.

Monster Truck rockin'
Monster Truck rockin’

Yes Drake dominated the North American rap charts with his “Nothing Was The Same” release, Justin Bieber created a world of controversy in pushing last year’s “Believe album and Montreal’s Arcade Fire dropped arguably the biggest release of the year with their ambitious two-disc “Reflektor” record. Otherwise on the international front, Celine Dion took time out from her Las Vegas stint to release “ Love Me Back To Life” but the verdict is still out on this one while Avril Lavigne capitalized on her marriage to Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger to release a self-titled record which got lost amidst the flurry of releases by Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga but did feature one promising hit single; her duet with Kroeger on “Let Me Go’ which suggested a more mature future direction. Yet otherwise, not much else!

It’s not a good sign when newspaper music critics, in evaluating, the best artists and new releases of the previous year, barely acknowledge the impact of domestic releases save for Drake and Arcade Fire. But probably, the biggest villains here are radio. For a national landscape still dominated by formatted stations operated by the likes of Corus and Bell Media (formerly Astral), domestic releases rarely get any exposure. Yes there are a few exceptions; Tegan And Sara’s `Closer’, Serena Ryder scored with two hits off her “Harmony” record; `Stompa’ and `What I Wouldn’t Do’, Metric’s `Breathing Underwater’ off their “Synthetica” record, Classified’s `Inner Ninja’ of his self-titled release and Hedley’s `Anything’ off the band’s new “Wild Life” record – but other than that, the pickings are slim.

Understanding that Music Express has focused much of our attention on the established “Classic Rock” artists, we can empathize that these performers receive next to no exposure in releasing new material. Even radio-friendly groups like Blue Rodeo and Barenaked Ladies have struggled with mainstream radio exposure for their respective “In Our Nature” and “Grinning Streak” releases.

The biggest complaint I have received from executing numerous interviews with these performers is that there is no existing format that combines classic songs with newer material by existing artists. Yes it’s great that classic rock formats continue to pump out hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but where is the incentive for these groups/artists to record new material when they know in advance that there isn’t an existing radio format out there to air new songs.

Coney Hatch - bringin' it
Coney Hatch – bringin’ it

Coney Hatch reunited their original lineup of lead vocalist/guitarist Carl Dixon, lead vocalist/bassist Andy Curran, lead guitarist Steve Shelski and drummer Dave Ketchum after a 30-year absence to released a sizzling new record “Four” yet despite critical acclaim from classic rock media, when was the last time you heard tracks like “Blown Away” on, say, Toronto’s Q-107, answer, you probably haven’t!

Same with Kenny Shields & Streetheart’s “Letting Go” release which is a collection of some amazing cover songs. Now here is a band whose trademark, besides releasing some great original songs, also dominated radio with brilliant covers of The Rolling Stones’ `Under My Thumb’, Them’s `Here Comes The Night’ and The Small Faces’ `Tin Soldier’ – songs that are still played infinitum on classic rock radio. Yet put out another collection which features stunning covers of The Stones’ `Angie’, Los Bravos’s `Black Is Black’ and The Bee Gee’s `To Love Somebody’ and they find absolutely no interest, go figure!!

Even Hugh Dillon’ fresh from his stint starring in hit TV series “Flashpoint” generated a little interest with his new Headstones release; Love & Fury despite positive critical reviews from a devoted fanbase and a well received mini tour. The single “Far Away From Here” did dominate the top ten for several weeks at 97.7 Hits FM in Southern Ontario.

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Add to this list, Platinum Blonde, who also launched a revival with their “Now And Never” record that saw them tour constantly through 2013 yet still receive sparse radio support from stations that used to clamour all over `Blondemania’.

One positive aspect of 2013 is a seeming revival of classic rock music and the bands and artists who recorded those classic songs. Especially on the summer festival circuit, its the likes of Trooper, April Wine, Kenny Shields & Streetheart, Coney Hatch, the Blondes’, Prism, Honeymoon Suite, The Headpins, Helix, Nick Gilder and Goddo who are showing they can still turn in outstanding live performances.

Platinum Blonde wows the crowd.
Platinum Blonde wows the crowd.

And this is an area that will only expand in 2014. Blue Rodeo, The Barenaked Ladies, new boys Monster Truck and Hedley are all executing major tours early in the year, Kenny Shields & Streetheart will make their first Toronto appearance in 30 years when they headline at Rockpile East Saturday April 19th, Coney Hatch is setting up European dates in late Summer and even Brighton Rock is set to finish off a new record.

And finally Rush, might take a break after releasing their deluxe Clockwork Angels package but fellow rock heavyweights, Triumph are strongly rumoured to be preparing for a touring comeback in 2014.

Now if we could just get a couple of FM rock stations to wake up and realize that it’s all well and good to play rock hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but this year it’s 2014. That means some key stations have a 14-year hole in their format??? Why not fill it with new songs from classic rock artists?

It’s not just domestic artists either. When the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi and Boston also can’t get airplay, you know there is a flaw in the system somewhere. A flaw that should be corrected!

Monster Truck & Platinum Blonde Photos: Charles Hope
Coney Hatch Photo: Ted Van Boort

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