Friday, December 28, 2007

Review -- MARIA MCKEE -- Late December

LATE DECEMBER
Maria McKee
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
I just couldn't resist reviewing Maria McKee's Late December CD in this the final edition of Yorkton This Week this year. It just seemed too perfect a fit.
So let's start with the title cut, what a great effort by McKee. The song shows not only her beautiful voice, but her ability to pen some truly poetical lyrics. Although it is just the first cut on a 12-song effort, Late December quickly makes you a fan of this lady.
Of course we should expect something good from this lady considering she has several CDs under her belt – dating back to her self-titled debut in 1989 -- and you hope an artist grows with each trip to the studio. Of note she sang If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags) on the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction. (1994).
In the case of Late December McKee has certainly attained a high level in terms of her craft. I particularly love her lyrics. This gal is a true poet.
Since her work is very poetry set to song, it's no surprise there are folk elements to this CD. However, McKee far transcends folk music too. There are strong rock elements here too, making it a refreshing blend of modern music, mixed with the soul of an old fashioned poet. She herself refers to her style as folk rock so who am I to argue.
I particularly like No Other Way To Love You, Destine, and One Eye on the Sky (One on the Grave), and of course the title cut.
This is a CD with a deep soul, well worth a listen.
Check McKee out at www.mariamckee.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 26, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BOB LANOIS -- Snake Road

SNAKE ROAD
Bob Lanois
Cordova Bay
9.5-out-of-10
Welcome to something totally different.
When I checked out Bob Lanois on www.myspace.com his page tagged his music as psychedlic/experimental/roots. OK, now right off the bat I was intrigued. That's a pretty wide range of styles to bring together effectively, and I wanted to see how he managed it, especially since Lanois' instrument of choice is the harmonica.
Now I know folk artists love the harmonica, it is an ideal instrument for a wandering minstrel because of its size, coupled with its ability to bring out varied emotions. But, psychedelic is a whole 'nother fish as they say.
After listening to Snake Road, I get the roots underpinnings, and the experimental is obvious, at times you feel like Lanois borrowed an oft-used jazz technique and just let the music take him where it desired to go, although I do believe it was likely more structured than that. The psychedelic is far less obvious to me, and may simply be the artist's interpretation of his own music, although I'll give you that it hints at it in a few cuts like Spaceshack.
Regardless of what tag you put on Snake Road, this is an amazing recording. I have long loved the harmonica, maybe because I can recall sitting on the arm of my grandfather's easy chair listening to him play the few tunes he knew on the instrument. I still own the chair, but sadly never learned how to play.
The love grew as I found blues music, which is often at its best when carried by the sound of a harmonica.
However, what Lanois does here blows me away. He takes the harmonica to a whole new level for me. This guy has an amazing style and stellar technique, producing music here beyond what most would associate with the harmonica. Believe me, this is one you want to find simply because it will open your eyes to what the simple harmonica can actually do musically in the hands of an obvious master.
This is truly one of the finest musical treats I have reviewed in 2007.
You can check out Lanois' fine work at www.boblanois.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 26, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - OUTLAW SOCIAL - Dry Bones

DRY BONES
Outlaw Social
Independent
8-out-of-10
I'm not sure why it is, but at present there seems to be a ton of fine folk/bluegrass/Americana style bands coming out of British Columbia these days, including the likes of The Gruff, and The Breakmen two recently reviewed examples. Well you can add Outlaw Social to the list too.
This five-piece outfit out of Victoria certainly captures the essence of the folk roots genre. The instrumentation includes fine fiddling by Kendel Carson, a sweet lyrically voice in Catherine Black, and tight harmonies when Pharis Patenaude and Oliver Swain join in. Adam Dobes rounds out the quintet.
Patenaude also has a knack with the pen, writing some of the CD's best material including; When He's Gone, and the modern-themed folk tune Methadone.
Outlaw Social also does a nice job of mixing in traditional songs, with their own arrangements to make them their own. One of the best efforts in this regard is Country Blues, and the CD's title cut; Dry Bones.
I will admit I like this style of music. I like the banjo carrying tunes, and here both Swain and Black play the instrument, which fits sweetly with the rest of the band.
If you're into country music which still has a healthy roots soul, look for Dry Bones, I promise you will not be dissappointed.
Check out the band at www.outlawsocial.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 26, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SARAH JERROM - Illuminations

ILLUMINATIONS
Sarah Jerrom
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Sarah Jerrom may not be a household name for most, but if you are a fan of jazz it's likely you will come to know this lady. Hailing out of St. Catherines, ON., Jerrom has a big, near theatrical, jazz voice, one which sounds great over a piano accompaniment, but one that could carry stage show songs too.
Illuminations is Jerrom's debut CD. It is an effort which she self-produced recording it in Toronto in August of 2006. To Jerrom's credit as a young performer, she self-arranged much of the material and was wise enough to bring in a number of noted musicians to add to the mix. They include Stu Harrison and Jamie Reynolds on piano, Harley Card on electric and acoustic guitar, Mark McIntyre on bass, David MacDougall on drums, Mike Murley on tenor sax, Alison Young on alto saxophone, Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet & fluegelhorn, and Joel Green on trombone.
So what do you get here?
Well the works include; a version of the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer classic Skylark, which might well be the best cut here thanks to a sort of misty, unusual approach. There is what Jerrom's website terms “a funky, vocally challenging take” on Brad Mehldau’s Dusty Nugget “with clever original lyrics by Sarah”
Jerrom does add an original piece with the CD's title track, but here she can use some more experience. This one clocks in just shy of six-and-a-half minutes, and frankly I wanted it to end far sooner. A tad repetitious in its sound.
Jerrom also includes what the website termed “a pristine, classic and uncluttered version of Benny Goodman’s Stompin’ at the Savoy, featuring synchronistic rhythm section solos ... a Neil Young-inspired perspective on Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and the final track on the CD, Heather on the Hill - the radiant Lerner & Loewe classic from their hit Broadway show, Brigadoon.
Overall, Jerrom serves notice here that an exciting new voice in emerging on the Canadian jazz scene. She certainly has the vocal capability to one day be as well-known as an Diana Krall. Check her out now as she stands on the horizon of a career which should rise into a shiningly bright one.
Check her out at www.sarahjerrom.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 26, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Review -- STAGGERLEE STONEBREAKER -- Mesopotamian Blues

MESOPOTAMIAN BLUES
Staggerlee Stonebreaker
Independent
9-out-of-10
Staggerlee Stonebreaker puts a modern twist on the blues. He calls his own music experimental/garage/blues and that seems a pretty fair description. This is rough-edged music, the kind which springs from the darker side of the heart, which may be what makes it all the more real to the listen.
Certainly the soul of Staggerlee is the blues. You can hear the Mississippi running through songs such as Second Coming, yet there is something totally modern in the sound too. Maybe it's the minimalist instrumentation, or the voice which has a sort of 'everyman' quality, that makes it seem so approachable. While it might be those elements for some listeners, the over riding element is the lyrics, which are rawboned, emotionally ladened, and tantalizing. This guy is one of the best poets catching glimpses of our world I have heard in quite some time. At times they have the impact of a car wreck, but you still can't turn away. You quickly become emotionally-vested in this effort.
There are lots of blues CDs out there, and this one comes across as different from almost all of them, and that might be why I find it so compelling. This guy has been able to carve out his own little world in the blues universe, and it is a world you will want to visit. You might not always like what you see and hear on Staggerlee's world, but as you plow through this 14-cut CD, you are likely to find when your done you want to repeatedly take the tour in the future.
The best cuts here are Love Is Not The Answer, the truly experimental New Bedford c. 1847, and the CD's title cut Mesopotamian Blues.
This is fresh, yet dirty blues, and an effort you will be glad you took the time to search out.
Check this one out at www.myspace.mystaggerlee
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 19, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- A.J. ROACH -- Revelation

REVELATION
A.J. Roach
Waterbug
8-out-of-10
If you were rating a CD based on one song. A.J. Roach would rate about a 15. The lead in cut to this CD Clinch River Blues might be my favourite song on any CD I have heard since Jim Byrne's That River, and that goes way back to 1995.
However, the rest of Revelation doesn't quite match the one song. Now that doesn't mean this isn't a very good CD, but the one song truly does outshine the rest by a country kilometre or three.
Roach is a folk artist out of the U.S., where they have a deep tradition of the genre, and this guy still stands out as one of the best I've heard in a while. He has a voice ideal for his country-folk stylings, which are his natural element hailing from the heart of Virginia.
Roach debuted in 2003 with Dogwood Winter, and effort that inspired well-remembered performer Tom T. Hall to call him a “true poet”. Well that description still fits. Roach has a knack for writing inspired lyrics, the kind which capture the spirit and energy of life around him – think Leonard Cohen with a country soul.
There are some wonderful songs here, including Freezing Car, Hazel Blue, Chemicals, Devil May Dance, Sears & Roebuck Suit, and the CD's title cut. While these songs are certainly strong, they don't quite match the tempo, soul, and sound which comes together in Clinch River Blues, which is so fine it seems like a bit of a let down after you hear it. Had the lead cut been placed later in the album it would probably have helped the other songs achieve a higher level simply because the listener wouldn't immediately be comparing.
That said, this is still a folk/country album worthy of a high recommendation. Check Roach out at www.roachmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 19, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MAUREEN WASHINGTON -- Baby It's Cold Outside

BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE
Maureen Washington
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

As a blues lover it is a treat to review a CD like Maureen Washington's Baby It's Cold Outside. There aren't a lot blues Christmas albums out there, although Stony Plain's Christmas Blues remains my favourite album of the season. Now this effort might not quite match up to the Stony Plain compilation of blues seasonal songs, but it is at least in the same vein.
Washington starts out with a nice bluesy effort on Merry Christmas Baby, a song where the blues beat is clearly evident, carrying the song to something special.
However, on other cuts, such as Winter Wonderland, Washington gives a pretty much straight forward rendition of the familiar Christmas tune. Now that isn't bad since Washington has a pleasant, almost happy voice, one which shines nicely on songs like Sleigh Ride.
As a blues/jazz musician I liked Washington's effort at giving the seasonal favourites a bit more of a blues treatment. As an example is the jazzy sound of the CD's title cut, and the choice of The Christmas Song and I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, which are pretty much jazz numbers anyway. In so doing she created a CD that is more unique than many.
The best cut here is Snow, a song Washingston has a co-writing credit on. This is a song with definite jazzy blues instrumentation, and since its original, it catches the ear. Well done.
As it is, this CD is simply a nice Christmas album. One you can fully enjoy, but not likely one that will become truly memorable.
You can check out Washington at www.maureenwashington.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 19, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JAKE PETERS -- First Christmas: A Musical Journey

FIRST CHRISTMAS: A MUSICAL JOURNEY
Jake Peters
Independent
9-out-of-10
Some of you may recall Jake Peters who performed at the Yorkton Cowboy Festival in August. If you do, you likely recall how this guy can pick one fine guitar. His fingers are definitely nimble dancing over the strings.
Well in this new Christmas release he brings his considerable guitar talents to bare on songs tied to the first Christmas, starting with We Three Kings and meandering through songs such as O Come, All Ye Faithful, Away In The Manger and Joy To The World.
While all 10 songs here are familiar standards of the season, Peters is not content to simply give us another familiar rendition of the material.
Instead, Peters, who hails from Didsbury, AB., delves into the history of the songs, and of the story of Christmas, incorporating musical sounds that one might have heard had they been with the Three Kings, or in Bethlehem that night. What he delivers is music that crosses boundaries with touches of the Middle East melding with the material we all know so well.
In some cases too, Peters takes a different tack, giving us a more bluegrass rendition of Joy To The World to wrap up the journey.
The result are that Peters takes these songs to a fresh new place, which in the world of a myriad of Christmas CDs that all sound the same, is a rare seasonal treat for the listener.
This is one of those must-own efforts because it transcends the norm to give the listener one of the most enjoyable renditions of Christmas music I have heard in some time. Well done !
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 19, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, December 17, 2007

Review - CANADIAN BRASS -- Christmas Tradition

CHRISTMAS TRADITION
Canadian Brass
Independent
9.5-out-of-10

In terms of Canadian music few names are more synonymous with quality than Canadian Brass.
Canadian Brass while symphonic at heart, have been making orchestral-style music accessible to the masses for years now. They play with a sort of easy going approach which has the average listener entranced and liking what they hear, even though they might never count themselves among fans of orchestral music.
When you think of Christmas music, much of it fits well with the bigger sound an orchestra can offer. While Canadian Brass is only five pieces, they bridge that gap, and create something here which is truly special.
For this CD the Brass has collaborated with organist Eric Robertson, and when you add the depth of sound of an organ to the flighty brilliance of the brass instruments you end up with a full sound which carries you deep into the heart of what Christmas music is all about.
As you might expect Canadian Brass has selected many of the true classics of the season in an offering which covers 23 songs.
The greats such as O Holy Night, so hauntingly beautiful when done by the Brass, Silent Night, What Child Is This, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, are all here. However, at the same time the Canadian Brass mixes in a few more modern, and less heavy themed Christmas numbers too including Ding Dong Merrily On High, Jingle Bells, Jolly Old St. Nicholas and Silver Bells.
If you are like many people and buy a Christmas CD or two each season, then this in the one for 2007. Simply fantastic, as an all instrumental Christmas album.
Check it out at www.canbrass.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 12, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JAY SEMKO -- Merry Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS
Jay Semko
Independent
8-out-of-10
Christmas CDs from Saskatchewan performers are not exactly plentiful, so I was rather excited to learn Jay Semko had produced one. Yes we are talking about the same Jay Semko best known as a member of the Northern Pikes.
Of course Semko has produced some really solid solo efforts too, including Redberry released earlier this year, and reviewed in this space with a good review.
Well Semko may be a rocker at heart, but he also has something of a folk soul as well (if you are lucky enough to have his 1995 release Mouse you will know what I mean), and that shows through here.
On this Christmas effort Semko comes across like a traveling minstrel of an earlier era. This is simply Semko with his fine voice, backed with his acoustic guitar. You are left with the feeling he is simply playing a few tunes around the Christmas tree on a snowy night There is a sweet intimacy in this effort.
This is a CD with 10 well-loved classics carried off in a smooth fashion, that fits so well as an effort to listen to to relax after a day of fighting the hordes looking for the perfect gift in crowded stores.
The best cuts here include Good King Wenceslas, What Child Is This?, and I Saw Three Ships.
Check it out at www.jaysemko.net
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 12, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- EMILIE-CLAIRE BARLOW -- Winter Wonderland

WINTER WONDERLAND
Emilie-Claire Barlow
8-out-of-10

OK, let's slow things down just a bit. It's time to lay back and let the sultry voice of Emilie-Claire Barlow help set the mood for the season.
Barlow, a Juno-nominated jazz vocalist has a voice that is as smooth and sexy as fine silk, and she wraps it around a selection of Christmas material well-suited to jazz stylings.
Barlow starts off the CD with What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? a song which might have been written as a jazz tune it fits so well. Add to that songs such as Winter Wonderland, Santa Baby, Baby, It's Cold Outside and I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, and you see this singer knows how to pick material perfect for her genre, and for her voice.
This is a joyful CD. It's about smiles, a fun frolic in the snow as we await Santa's arrival. Barlow does a superb job of creating a mood piece rich in the season, and true to her jazz roots. Often performers who put out Christmas albums get away from their music style, and simply do seasonal songs that don't give much of what fans have gotten to know the performer for. Well if you like Barlow as a jazz singer, you will like her jazzy Christmas. For her this CD may be for the season, but it's still all about the jazz too. A job-well done.
This one is way too much fun – wait until you hear the instrumentation on Sleigh Ride -- not to recommend. Check it out at www.emilieclairebarlow.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 12, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- A VERY VANCOUVER CHRISTMAS VOL II -- Various Artists

A VERY VANCOUVER CHRISTMAS Vol II
Various Artists
9.5-out-of-10
While Christmas is a time of memories, memories often brought forth by the familiar music of the season, it is at times nice to hear something new too. One can only listen to so many renditions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, before you start to look for something new.
When you're in the mood for something fresh might I suggest you search out A Very Vancouver Christmas. This is an intriguing seasonal effort coming at us from the West Coast. I say intriguing because this CD offers up all original Christmas fare, which is all but unheard of. While occasionally an artist will write a new Christmas song it is usually slotted in between familiar standards, the thinking being that one needs the cloak of familiarity to sell.
Well folks I'm here to tell you to be a bit daring, and go for a full-meal deal of new Christmas songs. Yes it might be a little like eating steak rather than turkey for Christmas dinner, but darn it this is mighty tender steak folks.
Now I must admit I did not recognize a single performer on this CD, but you know something, that doesn't matter. The beauty of this album comes from the modern interpretation of the season from these varied artists.
There are some really nice Christmas efforts here including The Vigil by The Roasted Chestnut Orchestra, Favorite Frozen Town by Andrea Chrys which is an ode to a Prairie Christmas, A Squeegee Christmas by Tony Mariott, a song that shows the true heart of the season, and Birth of Christ by Richard Klein.
Andrea Hector even adds a tongue-in-cheek Christmas effort with Cockroach Kinda Christmas.
For some this CD might be a bit too unfamiliar, but I can assure you that is exactly why you should search this one out. It's easy to pick Jungle Bells and add it to a CD. It takes a bit more of an inner look at the season to write a song that speaks to the truths behind Christmas. These artists do it well, and deserve to be heard.
I'm totally blown away by this effort. Check it out at www.veryvancouverchristmas.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 12, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, December 10, 2007

Review -- BURNTHE8TRACK -- Fear of Falling Skies

FEAR OF FALLING SKIES
Burnthe8track
Curve Music
8-out of 10

Let's start by giving these guys a little pat on the back, and a smile for their name. I suppose most of their listeners may not even have seen an 8-track, but for those of us with a touch of grey in our hair (OK, more than a touch in my case) I can fondly remember boxes of 8-track tapes bouncing around in the cab of my first half-ton truck. It's a nice retro reference to music's not so distant past.
Speaking of a tie to the past, as Burnthe8track kicks off this CD with The Great Divide, old rockers might remember a few bands of the past, a touch of Styx perhaps, a dash of Prism, a dollop of a few other bands from that era. Yes folks this is straight ahead rock ' n roll.
The band's website (check it out at www.burnthe8track.com) suggests the band has a punkish sound, and while that genre may be an influence, songs such as Intelligence Lost are good old fashioned rock anthems which seem to pay as much homage to metal as they do to punk.
Formed in 2001, this band hails from Winnipeg, its membership including brothers Derek and Jason Kun (vocals and guitar respectively), Sam Osland (drums) and Mike Goreski (bass).
The band obviously has some experience behind it, with Fear of Falling Skies their second album. The polish shows. They manage that fine line between walls of driving guitar, and being able to keep the vocals clear, and a focus of their music. This is not simply vocals screamed aimlessly into a microphone. Songs such as San Sebastian have solid lyrics, and vocally Derek Kun has a rather melodic voice. It's a well-achieved balance.
Burnthe8track can also slow it down, not to the point of losing touch with real rock, but to the point it gives the listener a different emotional perspective, something especially evident on the CD's title cut.
This is definitely a super solid effort which is well worth checking out. Just go get it folks.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 5, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - TEN SECOND EPIC -- Count Yourself In

COUNT YOURSELF IN
Ten Second Epic
Black Box Recordings
7-out of 10
Coming out of the Alberta capital is the emerging band Ten Second Epic. This is another really solid rock outfit, who have put together a debut effort well worth giving a few listenings.
Count Yourself In is one of those albums where you are left waiting for the band's next CD because you just feel these guys will get better with age, and given the strength of the debut that is a very good thought indeed. The good news is, at least according to the band's website (find it at www.tensecondepic.com) the band is busy readying itself for a new album, so we can wait in anticipation of that.
Like many bands Ten Second Epic might be most recognizable for the voice of its lead singer. In this case it's Andrew Usenik who carries the ball vocally, and he does it with a certain panache. You're going to like what you hear from him.
Musically, this five-piece unit has what I think of as a modern rock approach, lyrically interesting, driving music, and solid vocals, all coming together for a decidedly modern sound.
There are 10 songs here, and there really isn't a weak spot in the bunch. At the same time I can't really say I found one song that was clearly 'a grab you by the throat and demand to be liked tune' either.
Instead, it's solid start to finish, from Suck It Up, Princess, through the title cut, all the way to Point Blank Victoria.
A winner for sure, although I still think we'll hear better from Ten Second Epic as experience grows. That said you'll be glad you picked up Count Yourself In as it could well be the launch pad for a solid Canadian rock career.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 5, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MARIANAS TRENCH -- Fix Me

FIX ME
Marianas Trench
604 Records
9-out of 10
Welcome to a nugget of Canadian rock gold.
Marianas Trench comes out of the gate hard and fast on Fix Me, hitting the listener with a home run stroke on the CD's lead cut Say Anything.
While some bands tend to shoot their only silver bullet with their first song, Marianas Trench shows they had a fully loaded revolver, and they simply keep popping off the dead eye shots that easily find the bull's eye.
This is another debut album, and WOW! these guys had a portfolio of killer tunes in the bag for a fledgling effort. There are a number of hits here, including Decided To Break It, September, Alibis and Shake Tramp (which has lyrics some parents will cringe at, so be warned).
These guy have an undeniable energy that flows through their music. It's infectious.
The band plays hard edged rock, but it's the catchy lyrics, carried forward by lead vocalist Josh Ramsay which makes Marianas Trench such a memorable effort.
This is one Canadian band – they hail from Vancouver – you want to follow. Get this CD, enjoy it start to finish, and hope we don't have to wait too long before these guys give us more.
These guys have an edginess to their pop/punk/rock approach, and it works. Mark this one a can't miss, must have.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 5, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CAUTERIZE -- Disguises

DISGUISES
Cauterize
High 4 Records
8.5-out of 10
Heading out east we find Cauterize, a band out of Oshawa, ON.
Cauterize is an interesting band. On their first song Love In The Attic you might get a slight Aerosmith flashback from their effort on the Armageddon soundtrack, at least stylistically. The same memory gets a bit of a twig on parts of Don't Stop Now as well.
Jesse Smith is the voice here, and he has a good one too.
However, I was really intrigued when I looked at the liner notes the first time and saw that Jason Bone was not only playing bass here, but cello and mandolin too, and that Chuck Coles was also on cello as well as guitar. I am always intrigued when a band goes off on a bit of a tangent trying some unique instrumentation. It shows too these guys likely have a broad appreciation of music.
In addition to Bone and Coles the band is rounded out by Josh Slater on guitar and Matt Worobec on drums, and as a unit they are tight.
The best cut here might well be Minor Key Symphony, although this is another CD that rocks from start to finish. Cuts such as Closer, Dare You To Scream (wonderful lyrics on this one), The Devil In Lace (sweet guitar intro), and Paper Wings are other songs I truly enjoyed.
This is a CD you really can't go wrong with if you like rock. Check these guys out at www.cauterize.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 5, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Review -- THE GRUFF -- Self Titled

THE GRUFF
Self-titled
Independent
9-out-of-10

Hailing from the West Coast we find a sweet country-folk trio of ladies who perform as The Gruff. To begin with, let me assure you these gals are anything but gruff. In fact they are as smooth as fine Scotch trio with sweet, flawless harmonies, which carry their bluegrass/folk sound.
The Gruff are Jenny Ritter, who adds guitar, Terri Upton, who plays upright bass, and percussionist Phaedra Kemp. All three gals take lead vocal roles along the way here, although the true beauty of this recording comes from the harmonies.
This is the trio's debut album, and what a debut it is. There are a number of simply suburb cuts here from the lead Siren Call, which does exactly that calling the listener willing into the world of The Gruff, through songs such as The General Store, Silver Dagger, East For the Winter, and Handsome Molly, a song filled with the flavour of the salt sea.
So how good are The Gruff?
Well they were presented the Artist of the Year Award at the 2007 Vancouver Island Music Awards, no small feat given the depth of musical talent coming from the Island.
The Gruff has also been nominated as the Best New/Emerging Act for 2007 by the Canadian Folk Music Awards.
If this CD is indicative of what is to come from The Gruff it's a sure bet they will be up for many more awards in the years ahead.
Their combination of bluegrass/folk and near Gaelic sound is a winning combination. It may not be the type of music you will hear on radio often, but that only goes to show formula radio misses out on some great music.
The Gruff are a wonderful trio, and you won't go wrong seeking this one out. Check them out at www.thegruff.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 28, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BLACK BOOT TRIO -- Eternal Return

ETERNAL RETURN
Black Boot Trio
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

When you think of country music Ottawa might not be the first place you think of in Canada, but the Black Boot Trio might well change that way of thinking.
I tossed Eternal Return on the CD player and BAM!!! this trio hit their stride from the opening chord of Four Horsemen, a rousing number with a gospel feel.
Overall this is country that has a bit of a 1950's rock feel, a sprinkle of gospel stylings on a few cuts, and in the end a sound which is a cut above the derivative sound of much of the country hitting the airwaves these days.
Steve Fair, Steph Bennett and Geoff Taylor make up the trio which was initially formed in 1990, and has gone through a number of bassist changes culminating in Taylor's arrival. Along the way the band has recorded four albums, Eternal Return the latest effort.
Fair is the voice of the trio, and he has a voice which crosses genres easily. He sounds great on a near blues/rock song such as You Are Love, as well on the more country-centred efforts.
For example I Bought Some Books has a near Johnny Cash-like beat, and Fair handles it smoothly.
With nearly two decades in the business, the Black Boot Trio has a polished sound. Again with its '50's rock underlying beat, it isn't music that fits a lot of radio spots, but if you like country with an edge and a difference you won't go far wrong finding this one.
You can find the trio at www.blackboottrio.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 28, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE BREAKMEN -- Self Titled

THE BREAKMEN
Self-titled
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
Let's swing back out to Vancouver for a little more bluegrass/folk music with The Breakmen.
Wow!! here we go again, another great CD from the Indie scene, showing bluegrass is not only alive in this country, but is thriving thanks to a number of great bands, of which The Breakmen are clearly in the upper echelon.
The Breakmen are deep in the lush sounds of bluegrass, with wonderful work on mandolin by Lee Watson, and banjo by Archie Patemen, and bass from Matthew Lawson.
However, the strength here is again the harmonies the band manages, the three aforementioned Breakmen, along with Ben Rogalsky.
Lyrically, there are some fine songs here too, including Km 19, Gonna Buy Me A Ticket, and Becoming A Poet.
This is the band's debut effort, one that has gone through four pressings to meet demand – one listen and you'll understand why the CD has achieved such popularity.
This is another CD which truly begs for a broader audience. It so clearly shows how bluegrass is one aspect of country still true to its old roots, and it remains as relevant as ever thanks to the efforts of emerging bands suite as The Breakmen.
Grab this one and enjoy songs such as Mama Knows Best, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and No More Cane, and you will quickly become a fan of bluegrass and of The Breakmen.
You can learn more about this band at www.thebreakmen.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 28, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BIG JOE BURKE - Love or Money

LOVE OR MONEY
Big Joe Burke
Independent
8.5-out-of-10

If you like your country with that 1950's rock undertone, then Big Joe Burke is another performer you will want to put on your list to search out.
Burke is the lead vocalist and guitar picker fronting a full blown band which pelts out rockabilly/Americana influenced rock.
This is a five-piece outfit, with a couple of guests thrown in for the Indie recording session, so the sound is big, bold and full-powered, hearkening back to a time when bands could afford to be bigger, a time when there was more money to spread around to the 'boys in the band'. Listening to Big Joe Burke you really get a connection back to the time of performers like Buddy Holly, albeit this is a slightly more countrified. This is music with a beat, a honky tonk sensibility, that keeps the foot tapping.
It's hard to chose a 'best' song here, since almost every cut here works, from the opening effort Prairie Town, through songs such as The Tragic Death of Jimmie Dean & the Ragtop, Statue and Life In Prison.
Big Joe fires on all cylinders here, cruising through the rockabilly streets like a gas guzzling '57 Chevy retrofitted as a hot rod. You can see this guy cruising up to a drive-in burger joint, ordering a mug of root beer, and then grabbing his guitar and wailing out a few songs as the parking lot turns into a dance floor. SWEET!!!!!!
Don't miss this one if you like your country with passion, shooting straight from the hip. Check it out at www.bigjoeburke.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 28, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review -- LUNARTHEORY -- Self Titled

LUNARTHEORY
Self-titled
Independent
4.5-out-of-10

Welcome to the syrupy world of electronic infused pop. Please be aware you might O.D. on sugar here.
LunaTheory is the work of Jared Robinson a Saskatchewan artist who should be commented at least for the effort put into this self-titled release.
Robinson composed the material here, and he performs everything on the CD too, laying down his own guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum tracks. He is also the CD's producer. To put such effort into a project speaks to Robinson's desire as an artist to have his music captured on CD, and to have it shared with an audience.
The problem is, I'm not sure who that audience is. I'm a long way removed from my early teens when sugary sounding pop was of interest. To my mind this is sort of The Partridge family meets electronica, and it is a meeting my ears could simply have done without.
The effort to do it all impresses me, but the results are far, far, far from my cup of tea. If you want to check it out I'd suggest an Internet listen to a song, or two, before taking the plunge to spend money on this one. Check it out at www.myspace.com/lunartheory
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 21, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE SUMNER BROTHERS -- In The Garage

IN THE GARAGE
The Sumner Brothers
Independent
5.5-out-of-10
In the Garage starts with the tune Luke's Guitar, by Stompin Tom Connors, and my first thought was that the Sumner Brothers had a sound which will have many thinking of Connors.
This is a CD which floats between traditional country, blues and folk, with a dash of bluegrass thrown in. While that is usually a tasty recipe for music, somewhere along the way the bread fails to rise here.
There are times I was left hopeful The Sumner Brothers were going to crank it up and find their way to something better. For example Goin Out West is a mournful country blues song which is purely great. If this was the rule here, rather than something of an exception among the 13 cuts, this would be a CD rated way closer to 10 than it is. The CD is almost worth recommending on the one song alone.
It is pretty clear country blues is where The Sumner Brothers are most accomplished and comfortable. You find that when they hit up the chords to Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, another cut where the brothers Bob and Brian shine. There is talent here, but the consistency is just lacking in my mind.
This is worth a look, and shows enough that it makes me curious what will follow. With a bit more consistency, theses guys could truly shine.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 21, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHUCK BROWN -- Rough Stuff

ROUGH STUFF
Chuck Brown
Independent
5-out-of-10

Chuck Brown's spot on myspace hints that Chuck Brown offers up Southern rock and blues, so I was hoping for some guitar-driven music, with a ton of grit and gravel.
Well the CD is called Rough Stuff, but that's about as Rough as this Alberta singer gets. This is blues rock, but of a more poppish lilt. Songs such as Good Ta See Ya! and Love That Lives are examples of Southern rock that doesn't rock. It barely rolls.
This is a CD which fails to live up to the expectations of the expected genre, and really never finds a way to shift down into bull low and really deliver.
Brown does have a nice voice, but maybe that too is a problem. Blues often is best with a song with some edge, warts and flaws.
It seems Brown might be caught between a desire to be a bluesman, and a voice and style that is soft rock driven. The result he is neither, and this CD is left drifting between the worlds of soft rock and blues, two genres which never have much chance of coming together well.
Brown has the tools, he just needs to find a better project to use them on.
Check Brown out at www.myspace.com/chuckbrownband
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 21, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - HUTCHINSON ANDREW TRIO -- Lost But Not Forgotten

LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Hutchinson Andrew Trio
Independent
8-out-of-10
Finally we come to the gem of the week, with the Hutchinson Andrew Trio's sweet jazz album Lost But Not Forgotten. This is the debut recording for this Alberta trio, and hopefully it will not be their last, because they hit the ground running on this effort.
The co-leaders of the trio are Kodi Hutchinson on bass and Chris Andrew on piano, with Sandro Dominelli rounding out things on drums.
The strength of the jazz here is that the trio is wise enough to allow all three instruments their moments to shine, often allowing each to step into the spotlight at different times even within a single song. You hear that approach well on the CD's second cut Frambrough.
While a lot of jazz these days is experimental, with a lot of electronic wizardry at work twisting the genre into new sounds, the Hutchinson Andrew Trio keeps it simple. This is three accomplished musicians playing acoustic-based jazz, and playing it well. There are no bells and whistles, it's simply bare bones jazz, and that works.
Like most good jazz there are several cuts here which paint long, detailed musical pictures, music created from a huge pallet. 3 Corners of Emotion times in it at near 7:30, and seven of 10 cuts go beyond five minutes. The result is a satisfying ride into the Trio's world of jazz.
As a first recording this one is darned impressive, and jazz fans will want to check it out at www.myspace.com/hutchinsonandrewtrio
Me, I just hope they are soon back with a follow up effort.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 21, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DREMORA - Martyrs

MARTYRS
Dremora
Independent
7-out-of-10

I don't usually review EP discs, those with only three, or four tunes, since there are so many full length efforts to listen too, but the above reviews were short, I am going to indulge a personal interest in symphonic metal, and give a hint at what could be coming from Dremora, a duo out of the U.S.
Like many bands of the genre, Dremora relies on the voice of female lead singer Juliana Novo, giving the music a near operatic feel set against the metal driven instrumentation. For a first CD Novo comes across with a full, strong voice, which indeeds carry the sound.
Thomas Kampert is the male vocalist, as well as adding the guitars, drums, and keyboards. Considering symphonic metal can be quite involved, Kampert does an amazing job of pulling it all together. This guy is obviously a very good musician.
There are only four cuts here, but still clocks in at about 23 minutes. The CD starts with the strong piece Alone, follows that up with the powerful Martyrs and Madmen, then offers Fair Haven a cut with a more Medieval feel, at least until Kampert's vocal parts kick in. They wrap up with Transcending God.
Overall, I can only say 'I want more'. Very promising.
Check Dremora out at http://www.dremora.net/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 21, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review - ALANA LEVANDOSKI - Unsettled Down

UNSETTLED DOWN
Alana Levandoski
Rounder Records
8-out-of-10

Alana Levandoski is a conundrum for this reviewer.
On the one hand I quickly recognize a talented roots music writer who grew up in the small town of Kelwood, MB. It's those small town roots that you hear as an underlying truth in her words.
Lyrically this gal has a ton of talent, and a rural heart governing what she puts down on paper.
Songs such as Bring Me On Home are classics in the making, gems waiting to be discovered. I have little doubt Levandoski is among the brightest stars in this country in term of writing a folk roots song.
Musically she mixes elements of bluegrass, straight folk, and a dash of pop in her songs. It's a mix she does a nice job of controlling to good effect, never allowing a song to go too far into the pop genre, nor to get stuck in the most traditional folk vein either.
Moonshine is an example of the controlled approach. It is a song that could be played on a progressive country station, or most pop leaning ones as well. It would find listeners on both as well.
The only drawback here at all is Levandoski's voice, which I find a little bit of an acquired taste. It has just that timbre that can be a bit much when listening to the entire CD. If you heard one cut on the radio it would be so distinctive as to catch your attention, and in a good way at that.
However, the pitch is just high enough that to my ear, I have to be in a particular mood to want to listen to the entire CD. That may well not be the case of other listeners, but it is for me.
I respect Levandoski's skill as a songwriter, and I like how she handles the music. I can see her going far, and deservedly so, even though my ears are not always a fan.
You can check out this artist at www.alanalevandoski.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 14, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - THE PUCKS -- Are We There Yet!

ARE WE THERE YET!
The Pucks
Independent
7-out-of-10

I popped Are We There Yet! on the CD player not sure what exactly to expect, after all it's not too often you see a CD cover where one of the musicians is holding a sousaphone.
Well, the CD was as much a surprise as the photograph.
The CD starts out with Favourite Fantasy, a Latin-flavoured song with a sultry texture, which is highlighted as the introduction to the voice of Cindy Larsen. Larsen's voice is very nice, and could be at home singing anything from folk to jazz, and I'd love to hear her take on some Gothic metal.
Hailing from British Columbia, The Pucks call themselves a folk/pop trio, although really they spend a limited amount of time paying homage to folk in my find. This is what I would term a melting pot pop band that is most at home on the very edge of the genre.
I will grant there is folk instrumentation here, with whistle, harmonica, and bass, but this trio does a good job of taking their sound a bit more mainstream.
Murray Gable is the male vocalist here, and he too has a notable voice. You will fall for it once you hit the song Cinema, and will grow to appreciate as the CD moves through its 11 cuts.
Lloyd Larsen, who plays the sousaphone, along with the bass, rounds out this interesting trio.
One thing about this CD, by the time it's over, you know you've arrived at a place you're happy to be, because the trip has been so much fun listening to The Pucks perform.
Check them out at www.thepucks.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 14, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - PANACEA - Self Titled

SELF TITLED
Panacea
Independent
8.5-out-of-10

Panacea comes to the Canadian jazz scene out of Montreal determined to offer up their own interpretations of the genre.
The CD is experimental, progressive jazz which caresses and jars the senses, often at the same time.
The five-piece band offers a cornucopia of instrumentation, from the traditional trumpet, trombone, bass and drums through to synthesizer, French horn, euphonium and didgeridoo. Guests artists add in violin, oboe, cello,and bassoon, so musically Panacea draws on orchestral roots.
As artists; Nick Kirshnit, Eli Chamber, Gregory Burton, Josh Dodds and Ben Dodds, take the listener on a wild ride, yet never so far to the edge of jazz that they risk loosing the traditionalists among their listeners.
There is enough pure jazz layered here that when the curves do comes, the listeners can take them at full speed, and Panacea never lays down a real hairpin corner that would shake us loose from enjoying what they are doing.
And what they do is tell some interesting stories in a language not totally familiar, yet with enough phrases we can identify that we are comfortable listening.
They do it all with just a bit of humour too as witnessed by song titles which include Freedom Fries, Ode to an Ugly Pig Parts I & II, which combined for a 15-minute excursion, and the CD ending Trash Stash which weighs in at more than 10 minutes.
This is a CD I like because it pushes jazz sensibilities, yet without going too far as to lose even a casual jazz fan. That is not always an easy balance to achieve, but Panacea succeeds. Check them out at www.panacea1.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 14, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- REZONATORS - Delta Man

DELTA MAN
Rezonators
Independent
6.5-out-of-10

The Rezonators are the blues duo of Rob Clarke and Gerry Norris hailing from London, Ont.
The duo offers up a 14-song CD with Delta Man, with both Clarke and Norris providing vocals. The pair are aided on a few of the cuts by Amiel Houghton. She takes the lead vocal reigns on Blues At Midnight, as well as chiming in on Yellow Dog Blues and the CD title cut; Delta Man.
These guys are veterans of the blues, having met in high school, and formed the Rezonators more than a decade ago in 1996. While together for years Delta Man is the duo's first offering on CD.
This is country-influenced blues, as you might expect from the CD's name, Delta Man. Clarke and Norris do it well, offering up a nice selection of material, some written by Clarke, others by Norris, surprisingly, never teaming as writers. I would imagine that may be their next step as a duo, to pen more material together.
These guys would be interesting to see live in the right venue, a smaller intimate location where you could feel part of the show, and get into the mood these two put forward.
For blues loves worth a listen for sure.
The Rezonators can be found at www.myspace.com/therezonators
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 14, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, November 9, 2007

Review -- QUARTETTE - Down at the Fair

DOWN AT THE FAIR
Quartette
Independent
9.5-out-of-10
When you see a CD coming from Quartette you can pretty much assume it's going to be a good one. After all this group of ladies are all veterans of the Canadian music scene with notable solo careers, and a history of great material as the group Quartette as well, having previously released five CDs, including a Christmas album.
For those unfamiliar with Quartette, the line up includes; Cindy Church, Caitlan Hanford, Gwen Swick and Sylvia Tyson.
On Down At The Fair each member of the group brings their own influences and strengths to the effort. However, the true strength of the work is how the four weave their individual talents together creating something wonderful in the process.
Still, the ladies do let each other shine through too. Sylvia Tyson writes Twenty Shades of Blue, and there is a nice underlying feel of a blues tone here, although not so bluesy that it sounds out of place on a CD that is overall more of a folk, easy listening effort.
Hanford's That's What You Always Say To My Heart has a definite bluegrass sound, with some nice mandolin work.
All These Things Are You penned by Swick, and vocally led by her too, has a sound that seems to draw from 1960's country, although at times you wonder if there isn't a touch of stage song here too.
I love the soulful sound of Church's Nothing Can Make the World Right Again.
These ladies are professional enough to allow each their moment to lead, yet are there supporting each other through harmonies, creating a sound that is maintained throughout the CD because of that effort.
Quartette has a mature sound, no I am not saying these ladies are old, but they have the benefit of experience, the strength of a lifetime making music, and here they have drawn all that experience together to create something truly special. It's hard to imagine a better effort from this great group.
If anyone has enjoyed Quartette in the past, or been a fan of the individual careers of the members, then make sure you seek out this CD. Check it out at www.quartette.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 7, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - VARIOUS ARTISTS -- The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson

THE GIFT: A TRIBUTE to IAN TYSON
Various artists
Stony Plain
9.5-out-of-10

I just couldn't resist the idea of reviewing a tribute to Ian Tyson in the same issue as Quartette, which of course includes Sylvia Tyson, Ian's former wife, and musical partner. While the musical careers of the pair went their separate ways, they will be forever linked in the mind's and hearts of Canadian music fans.
Ian Tyson has of course had an outstanding career helping to preserve and re-popularize the genre of true western music.
As a performer you tend to know your career has earned respect when other artists gather to do a tribute album, and one listen to this effort and you know Tyson's career is indeed worthy. This CD is crammed full of recognizable hits covered by some of the best in Canadian music, along with a few American friends added in. I truly enjoy the mix of veteran and new musical stars paying their respects here.
The CD starts with Canadian super group Blue Rodeo doing a sweet rendition of Four Strong Winds, an early hit from when Ian and Sylvia were famous just by their first names in this country.
On the very next cut Corb Lund, a more recent arrival to the country charts in Canada doing the western classic MC Horses.
Cindy Church, yes another tie to Quartette, offers a rendition of Range Delivery.
Amos Garrett, a great bluesman does Some Kind of Fool, and the Good Brothers do Summer Wages.
A favourite cut here though has to be Canadian folk icon Gordon Lightfoot's rendition of Red Velvet.
The only thing really missing here is a rendition of Navajo Rug, maybe Tyson's best known, and best-loved songs. Perhaps for that reason no one felt comfortable covering such a signature song.
Overall this is a great western CD, made even better because of the collection of artists coming together to pay homage to a true star of the Canadian music scene for decades. He has released 11 solo CDs, dating back to 1973, and Four Strong Winds was a hit a decade earlier than that.
This is one to be cherished.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 7, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CAPTAIN TRACTOR -- North of the Yellowhead

NORTH of the YELLOWHEAD
Captain Tractor
Six Shooter Records
6-out-of-10

Way back in 1994 I had the opportunity to review Land from Captain Tractor, and was really blown away by this Edmonton band with it Celtic roots sound tinged with a good share of humour.
East of Edson in 1995 followed that tradition.
Then a number of CDs came out that I have sadly missed, but I'm back on the tractor with North of the Yellowhead, the band's most recent release.
Through the missed CDs, four being release between East of Edson and this effort, Captain Tractor has evolved.
There is less Celtic here. In fact you've got to listen real hard to find a hint of the Gaelic here; although it does pop up a bit on cuts like The Southern Cross.
At the same time the band has gone into lyrics that are generally more humourous overall than in their earliest works.
The result is a band that is probably a blast at university parties, but doesn't quite cut it turning on the player at home.
This may be a case of memories from more than a decade ago overshadowing the current release, but I'll be digging out the earlier Captain Tractor works before giving this one a regular listen. My guess is if you are a fan and have been along listening to the evolution over the seven CDs the band has released, then this might be better received. However, I can't quite make the jump. I want the old tractor back.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 7, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DAWN ALEXIS -- Such-a-Bouquet

SUCH-A-BOUQUET
Dawn Alexis
Funtazm Entertainment
7-out-of-10

Such-A-Bouquet is the debut recording for Dawn Alexis and it's an ambitious undertaking to say the least for the Regina-based artist.
The CD is a 'FAT' 17 songs, all written by Alexis, which is a pretty impressive effort lyrically for a jazz artist offering up her first recording. It is a genre which often begs a few covers to add a touch more familiarity to a debut project. Kudos to Alexis for going her own way.
Alexis also did the arrangements here, and she shows maturity on this front too. The skillful use of brass on a cut such as Don't You Fret shows that.
The CD is also self-produced, so everything you get here has Alexis' mark on it.
So what do we get?
Well it's a jazz album, with touches of swing, and a few Latin twists, such as When Will You Write.
Vocally, Alexis has a deep, sort of throaty voice, with excellent range, which she uses to full effect throughout. It's the sort of voice which will stay haunting the listener for a long time, and that's a good thing. The haunting quality comes through on cuts such as Please Don't Make Me Go.
Overall, this is an impressive effort from a new voice, and one that deserves a listen. Alexis is another Sask. talent who deserves to be heard here in the province. Maybe the adult jazz band the city can have her headline a show, it would be a good one.
Check her out at www.funtazm.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov 7, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Review -- JOHN CAMPBELLJOHN - Weight of the World

WEIGHT of the WORLD
John Campbelljohn
Herman's
9-out-of-10

“I know all four of these guys and played with all of 'em, John Campbelljohn, only, on a session in my studio, he was staying with me for a couple of days studying steel with a friend Bob Taillefer, shortly after he appeared on The Trailer Park Boys Xmas Special playing steel in a church. He's a wicked slide guitarist in the style pioneered by Sonny Landreth. The track I Can't Win on my CD Money Talks had John playin' steel, sadly I lost the data so I replaced it with Hammond organ, the tune would make a good Western Swing. John spends a lot of time in Europe, Germany mostly. As he says "its faster and cheaper than going to Alberta". He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.” -- Terry Blankley

Our first stop is out Cape Breton way, where we find John Campbelljohn churning out some killer slide guitar-powered blues.
Actually Campbelljohn is noted for his slide, but plays a variety of instruments here, including bass on the lead cut Autobahn John as well as Weight of the World, the latter a fine instrumental effort. He also plays standard tuned acoustic, and electric guitar, in addition to electric slide and pedal steel.
Regardless of what his fingers are dancing over this guy can play. You know that when he rolls into a song such as Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing, and does it justice. He also does Waterfall (May This Be Love) by Hendrix, another nice choice for this blues effort.
There are some really great story blues songs here too. I love Sydney Steel a song Campbelljohn co-wrote with Kenneth Larocque. This is the kind of song that shows how thin the veil between folk and blues can be. With different instrumentation this is a folk tune, but works great as a blues effort too.
Of course look at this guy's bio and you should expect some killer blues. Campbelljohn has six CDs to his credit.
In addition Weight of the World earned Campbelljohn the East Cost Music Award for top blues album in 2007, and he was also nominated for Guitarist of the Year and Electric act of the Year for the 2007 Maple Blues awards.
This guy is a killer player, and a fine writer, so it's no surprise he is receiving accolades on this CD.
The best cuts here are the aforementioned Sydney Steel, Ice Cubes In Her Wine, How Does It Feel and Light At The End of the Tunnel.
This is a MUST for blues fan. Just killer.
Check this guy out at /www.campbelljohn.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 31, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JACK DE KEYZER - Blues Thing

BLUES THING
Jack de Keyzer
Bluestar Records
9-out-of-10

“Jack de Keyzer is probably the most well known of the lot. He's a serious blues musician and historian, and has been known to lecture on various blues styles and artists. He is always busy and a hard worker, probably the most popular guy on the blues scene in Ontario. He has started producing as well lately, Tracy K's latest, which you reviewed, is an example. He also has a great sense of humor. We were both up for the same award two years running. He won two years running. Deservedly so!He lives up the road apiece in Whitby.” -- Terry Blankley

So you like guitar blues, but with a big band feel, then you are in for a treat when you spin Blues Thing by Jack de Keyzer.
de Keyzer is the guitar slinger here, and a dang fine one, in addition to providing the vocals, and he shines there too.
However, what helps take this CD to the next level is Chris Murphy on sax, and Dave Dunlop on trumpet, giving the project an extra layer of depth.
Blues Thing is an album that grabs you from the get go. The first song Music Is The Food Of Love is a solid blues effort, and de Keyzer never misses a beat as he takes you through a fat 14-song package, where he has penned every tune.
Quickly he let's his guitar shine, with If I Had Your Love, the CD's second cut, a tune which also shows this guy has a versatile voice. He won the Maple Blues award as Guitarist of the Year in 2004 and 2005.
Stylistically, this is jazz/funk inspired blues, with toe-tapping instrumentation, melding nicely with often more sorrowful lyrics.
de Keyzer was a Juno winner back in 2003 for blues album 6 String Lover, and Blues Thing may well get him on the list for close consideration of the award again, since he's really cooking on this one.
Top cuts here include I Want To Love You, That's The Only Time, Cry The Blues and Merciless Beauty.
Check Jack out at www.jackdekeyzer.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 31, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOHNNY MAX BAND -- A Lesson I've Learned

A LESSON I'VE LEARNED
Johnny Max Band
Pour Soul Records
8-out-of-10


“Johnny Max is a very talented singer and shares a radio show with Chuck Jackson (Downchild) on Sunday nights. Johnny could make a dog laugh. He's one of the funniest people I know. He has a huge voice and strong stage presence. He also coaches hockey and helps under privileged youth. He was born in Scotland, and lives in Etobicoke, ON.. I played with him recently.” -- Terry Blankley

The Johnny Max Band comes to us out of southern Ontario, bringing with them a blues sound that has one foot solidly set in the rock genre, and the other in the traditions of the blues. From the opening Down In History you get the feeling these guys would be a great blues bar band on those nights you really want to party. You get that party feel just from the piano work of Martin Alex Aucoin on the song.
Johnny Max is the vocalist here, and offers up a smokey voice that has some miles on it, making it almost ideal for this boogie blues effort.
A Lesson I've Learned is Johnny Max's fourth recording, and you get the feeling he has learned his lessons well, at least in terms of his music. The CD cover has the look of a school notebook, with a few doodles of musicians and instruments, like a kid dreaming of the stage. Well Johnny Max has made it to the stage and learned his trade well. This CD has a workmanlike feel, blues from a band used to going bar to bar performing for the love of the music.
If you need a blues fix to lift your spirits, well get to the doctor and request 100 c.c.s of A Lesson I've Learned, cause this is the cure.
Songs such as the title cut, We're Gonna To Do It (All Night Long), Big Ol' Girls Need Some Lovin' Too, and Why I Sing the Blues ... for Joe, are what this CD is all about. Blues with soul, for the fun and love of playing.
You just know Johnny Max would be playing for free if he had too, and may well be buried with a microphone in his hand and a sound track in the coffin, so that he's ready to play for all the old friends he may meet along the way.
Check these guys out at www.johnnymaxband.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 31, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- FATHEAD -- Building Full of Blues

BUILDING FULL OF BLUES
Fathead
Electro Fi Records
7.5-out-of-10

“Al Lerman (the front man for Fathead) also teaches harp in workshops at colleges, schools, and in his home in Etobicoke. He has produced Pinetop Perkins and he and Jack (de Keyzer) toured Europe with Pinetop. Jack and Al also play on the CD Juke Joint Rockers featuring Willie Big Eyes Smith. Willie was drummer for Muddy Waters. An interesting aside about Pinetop, is, he lives on McDonald's Cheeseburgers and chain smokes, he presently is 93 or 4. Al told me in Stockholm there was only one McDonald's they took a taxi over and Pinetop ordered six cheeseburgers ate two and put four in his bag...Jeezzz!! Al and I worked as a duo for a couple of years aside from our other gigs. We get along great although my interest in other forms of music clash with his in some ways, him being very much a blues artist. We haven't worked together in awhile but hope to soon.” -- Terry Blankley

Fathead is a veteran of the Canadian blues scene formed back in 1992, giving this Ontario band a decade-and-a-half to hone their skills and fine tune their sound. So it's no wonder Fathead comes off as well-polished on Building Full of Blues, the band's sixth album.
As a band Fathead truly shares the limelight. John Mays in the lead vocalist, but the sound comes from the likes of Al Lerman on harp and saxophone, Omar Tunnoch on fretless bass, Darren Poole on guitar (adding fiddle in a spot or two as well including a hot piece called Katrina), and Hayden Vialva on drums.
Over the years these guys have been up for a ton of blues awards, most recently seeing three 2007 Maple Blues Awards, Mays for vocals, Lerman on harp and Tunnoch for bass.
So the pedigree and polish is there to make this a winner.
I particularly like What About Me? Where Sharkura S'Aida comes on to add duet vocals. Her voice fits in with Mays' like they've been performing together for years.
Other choice cuts are One Day The Sun Will Shine, a cut where Mays' voice really shines, and the sax work is sweet, and Apartment 10, a true party song, and Too Many Heartaches.
Another CD that is well worth grabbing.
You can check out Fathead at www.fathead.biz
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 31, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review -- DONNY PARENTEAU -- What It Takes

WHAT IT TAKES
Donny Parenteau
Independent
8-out-of-10

If your a country fan in Yorkton you are probably already familiar with Donny Parenteau, a somewhat regular performer at the Painted Hand Casino in the city.
For years Parenteau, an accomplished fiddle player has taken a support role for much of his career, playing with a number of big name stars on both sides of the 49th parallel.
With the release of What It Takes, Parenteau has assumed the lead role, and it is a mantle he wears easily. His is a pleasant voice with a maturity that shows. One listen and you'll understand why this CD is up for a Western Canada Music Award (WCMA) for Best Country Album.
I have had the opportunity to interview Parenteau over a cup of coffee in the past, and spent a couple of nights at the Painted Hand Casino Idol Competition. He has a ready smile, and a winning personality, and it comes through in spades in his music.
This CD is a good one, with a number of very good songs, yet one stands out, head and shoulders above the others, the mournful Postmarked Heaven. Anyone whose father has passed on is going to tear up just a little with this song. Simple, yet powerful lyrics make it a winner.
Parenteau really shines on the sadder, slow tempo songs, making Cold Virginia Rain the second best cut offered here.
The upbeat Country Calling Me is a radio hit, and I like that Old Man Thibodeaux features Jo'el Sonnier on accordion. Belly Up is a bar drinking, honky tonk tune that will find an audience too.
Parenteau who penned all 12 cuts here, has a traditional country sound so clearly heard on a song like Someone More Lonesome, that makes him familiar to the listener.
The CD is produced by Parenteau too, along with Steve Fox, who as I have said here before seems to have his hand in most country music coming out of Saskatchewan these days.
This is a fine effort by Parenteau, and definitely worth looking for. Check it out at www.donnyparenteau.net
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 24, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BRENT SAKLOFSKE -- I Love Guitar

I LOVE GUITAR
Brent Saklofske
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

Brent Saklofske is a guitarist from Calgary, AB., and a darn fine guitarist too.
So, it's no wonder his CD I Love Guitar was nominated for the WCMA Best Instrumental Album award.
Saklofske's previous album, the very fine Music For Trees, showed this guy was a talent, and it has progressed with this latest release.
Naturally, I Love Guitar is a CD which highlights the guitar, and with Saklofske at the strings, you're immediately happy about that.
The CD starts off with the somewhat fantastical The Pharaoh's Winter Palace, which clocks in a 7:35 minutes. You might think that long for an instrumental effort, but the music paints such images of a cold winter palace that the time flies by.
Saklofske gives the listener a number of thick cuts here, with A Mountain's Dream also eclipsing seven minutes, and Tabla Prism (Scarlet/Azure/Emerald) and The Bridge to Dunnotar going over five minutes each.
Stylistically you can hear classical elements melded with a more contemporary, easy listening tilt, which proves a nice mix here.
If you like guitar, you'll like this album, it's a simple as that. Check it out at /www.brentsaklofske.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 24, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SIMON FISK -- You and Yours

YOU AND YOURS
Simon Fisk
Independent
9-out-of-10

Simon Fisk's You and Yours is one of two albums being reviewed this week which are up for the WCMA Best Jazz Album award. This is second such nomination with the Simon Fisk Trio receiving a nomination in the same category in 2003 for Trainwrecks.
Fisk hails from Calgary, and is a bassist, so right off the bat you know this is a CD with a deep undertone resonance, which is something I personally like.
The style here is definitely modernistic, with its share of electronica adding a layer to more traditional jazz roots.
The result is breathtaking at times. The overall approach to the piece Jan 29 is dynamic, unusual, and totally satisfying.
What Fisk manages here is a sound that is different enough to catch and hold a listener's attention – you find yourself not wanting to miss the nuances – and yet with familiar enough underpinnings to not turn off a traditionalist jazz fan.
Kudos to Fisk, and his supporting band of Aaron Young, guitar, Chris Gestrin piano and Kenton Loewen, drums and percussion, for achieving the balance.
Often electronica, experimental jazz can end up being just so much noise, but Fisk holds the reins just enough to keep his sound from going completely feral. At the same time listeners will want to be at least a little bit willing to walk the wild side, or this may not be to their tastes. Fisk is after all one clearly not held by tradition. A song like New Sketch proves that.
At the same time a cut like Don't Forget To Mention Me is more traditional in approach, giving the CD a nice blend.
For me though, it is the walk into the wilds of jazz, looking to twist sounds in new, yet pleasing fashions, which set this CD apart, and make it worthy of the nine score. Jazz freaks go get this one.
You can check out more about this exciting jazz artist at his website www.simonfisk.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 24, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ZAPATO NEGRO -- Zapato Negro

ZAPATO NEGRO
Zapato Negro
Independent
8-out-of-10
Canada is noted for its rich ethnic diversity, and in terms of jazz the diversity of the Canadian mosaic comes through pretty clearly in the case of Zapato Negro, also up for the WCMA Best Jazz Album award.
The jazz group bases out of Vancouver, but the line-up is definitely an international one. Gilberto Moreaux on drums and Ivan Soto on congas are both Cuban by birth. Pianist Andre Carrasquero was born in Montreal, cut his teeth in jazz in Caracas, and has toured much of the world. Allan Johnston, the bassist is noted for having performed in a number of Vancouver's hottest bands. Add in that Miguel Valdez, again from Cuba adds trumpet and flugelhorn on five of the nine cuts here, and you see how different cultures come to the fore for Zapato Negro.
Not surprisingly there is a strong Cuban/Latin/Caribbean flavour to this jazz album. Stylistically, the jazz here is progressive, highlighting a nice smooth drum under beat, layered with piano, and punched up a notch every time Valdez adds his horn.
This is a fun CD, one for that afternoon you need a little boost. It's the kind of sound that is infectious in its good nature.
In general terms I find picking a favourite cut on an instrumental jazz album difficult, tending to listen and appreciate it as a whole, but in this case the horn lead numbers including Jazz Tumbao Thing and Caminando stand out most.
This is a really great album and one worth searching out for fans of jazz.
You can find the band on the Internet at www.zapatonegro.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 24, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Review -- MONICA SCHRODER -- A Different Drum

SO FAR
Monica Schroeder
A Different Drum
8-out-of-10
This week I will continue to look at some of the nominees for the Western Canadian Music Awards which were held in Moose Jaw on the weekend, with four of the nominees for Best Pop Recording.
The big thing here is that 'pop' is an increasingly difficult group to get one's head around. Where does pop end and rock start? Where does pop slip back to folk?
It is a category where the music is softer, with a generally more relaxed feel, and thus many might term the music easy listening, at least back in my younger day.
Whatever the criteria was for nomination to the category, Monica Schroeder's latest A Different Drum is a CD that immediately caught my ear.
I knew I was in for something solid, or at least I expected so, having years ago reviewed Schroeder's 2000 release The Expectation of Home, and liking it a lot – and no I don't recall what I rated it back then. Schroeder had a couple more CDs released before this WCMA nominated one, but sadly I missed those.
I can tell you Schroeder continues to mature as a singer, with a voice which is simply enjoyable to listen too. She might sing a grocery list and you would enjoy listening. I mean that too in the sense the opening cut on this CD City Lights has a somewhat monotonous and repetitious chorus that could easily have turned me off as an opening cut, but Schroeder's voice carried me through that minor slip in opening song choice. It was still enough to trim a half point off the final rating.
Once past the opening cut though, Schroeder's lyrics get back on track, and she gains strength the rest of the way.
There are some truly beautiful songs here including; Hold On, These Days and November, my personal favourite.
Schroeder has a style that would fit into the same slot as say the more famed Sarah McLachlan, and quite frankly to my ear should be up there at the same level based on this fine CD. She has a sound that could easily be on the local Arts Council Stage. Yes it's pop but so accessible as to please any lover of music.
Check her out at www.monicaschroeder.com, this Manitoba performer will not disappoint.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

--Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 17, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SHEENA GROBB - Safe Guard Space

SAFE GUARDED SPACE
Sheena Grobb
Independent
8-out-of-10

Maybe there is something in the water over in Manitoba because Sheena Grobb, also up for the WCMA Best Pop Recording, is another gal with a simply pretty voice.
Lyrically, and stylistically, Grobb is more 'pop rock' oriented than Schroeder, but no less accomplished because of it.
Grobb has some sweet musical sequences here with a line up of instrumentation which includes a true orchestral sound thanks to violin, viola and cello on the song Character, arguably the best song here, although that is a close call with the song Good Reason. The CD includes an alternate version of Character, which quite frankly I would have left off in favour of one more original piece, and that is the one little disappointment here (there goes a half point).
However, on the very next song Clean and Discreetly the opening strains include hand drum, and an acoustic guitar is intertwined nicely.
As a song writer, Grobb shows a lot on this her first album. One can only imagine how good this gal will become.
When it comes to voice, Grobb has nice range, hitting some of the high spots on the before mentioned, Clean and Discreetly.
There are only eight songs here, but Grobb likes the longer efforts and you still get a superb package of music thanks to cuts such as Head On, Confession and Back Row.
As this is Grobb's first CD it is definitely one to grab since it could be the launch of a rather fantastic career. Check her out at www.sheenagrobb.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 17, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOEL KROEKER -- Closer to the Flame

CLOSER TO THE FLAME
Joel Kroeker
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
I guess Winnipeg is the place for WCMA pop this year with Joel Kroeker, also a Manitoba capital native up for the pop award.
Closer to the Flame is Kroeker's third album, so you would expect a level of maturity here, and this CD might best be described as solid. It may not be the upper echelon of the genre, but you can see while Kroeker has been able to carve out a three-CD career so far.
I find this a CD that I would most easily recognize as pop among the nominees reviewed here, although I do understand how all four ended up in the category.
This is a generally upbeat effort, with a lot of toe-tapping cuts, including the title cut.
Kroeker does give his fans a meaty CD here with 13 songs, including the bonus track Deja Vu, all the songs under his own pen as well (that seems a near requisite here to write your own material).
As I was writing this set of reviews, I figured after listening through the efforts of Monica Schroeder and Sheena Grobb back-to-back, I would lean toward this CD more just because it offered up a different voice which might influence the score. However, while solid, I'm afraid I just can't get into what Kroeker is doing here to the same degree as the gals above.
It's not that Kroeker misses here with songs like The Good Stuff, Hymn Number One, Nothing But The Stars being the best of the bunch. Everything is done well enough, from the lilting instrumentation, to Kroeker's own soft-male voice, but it never all came together to carry me to a higher score.
As I said solid enough work here, but not enough to particularly excite me. You can check it out at http://www.joelkroeker.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 17, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JP HOE & the TRULY RICHARDS -- The Live Beta Project

THE LIVE BETA PROJECT
JP Hoe & the Truly Richards
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
Rounding out the Winnipeg themed grouping of WCMA Pop Recording of the Year nominees being reviewed here is the live offering by JP Hoe & the Truly Richards.
Hoe is a songwriter that must have some folk influences in his background, at least you are left thinking that as he opens up with the song Always, using minimalist instrumentation to open before jumping into a more pop/rock sound mid way through the cut. It's a rather effective way of showing the two sides of his music. Once amped up, the sound is a little like Volcanoless In Canada in spots. A reference here simply because they are so well-known locally.
I do like some of the instrumentation Hoe employs. The little harmonica riffs on Completely is an example. It is only in there a little bit, but is so effective because of its minimalistic use. By the way Completely might be the best cut here.
Vocally, Hoe is the most unique among the four reviewed here. He sings with energy and that permeates this CD. One can feel the energy he must give off when on stage since this is a live effort recorded at the Park Theatre in the 'Peg.
As for his writing, Hoe brings a poet's heart to his songs, on cuts such as Lady Bliss and Since You Could Be really comes to the forefront. The strength of this CD comes from Hoe's lyrics.
Cuts like Rise, Nicest and All of a Sudden are all great, among a lot of really hot material here.
Just to add to the mix, Hoe does one cover, wrapping up this 13-cut effort with a rendition of David Bowie's All The Young Dudes.
Another first full length effort from an artist that you should keep an eye on if you like folk/pop/rock. His combination of poetical lyrics, and the energy of a live performance gives this CD a slight edge on the field. Check it out at www.jphoe.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 17, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Review -- JOHN WORT HANNAM -- Two Bit Suit

TWO BIT SUIT
John Wort Hannam
Independent
9-out-of-10
This week I'm going to do something a little different, looking at four CDs which are up for awards at the Western Canada Music Awards which will be presented later this month in Moose Jaw.
I'm starting with John Wort Hannam's wonderful recording Two Bit Suit, a CD up for Best Roots Solo Album.
This is one of those albums which could just as easily have been among the finalists for country as well, since several cuts are very much bluegrass, including the title cut. Of course when you start looking at country, roots, bluegrass and folk you often end up splitting hairs to categorize where a given CD fits best.
Regardless of what label the awards committee chose to put on Two Bit Suit, it's a fine album. This is a CD rich in the lyrics Wort Hannam has created. There are love songs like Sweet Sweet Rose, that could easily find an audience on country radio given a chance.
Damn It Gwenivere is pure old-style country, and dang nab it don't it sound fine. It's nice to hear someone who remembers how to write purist country.
Other cuts, such as National Hotel are more upbeat, but still enjoyably acoustically driven.
The ballad Infantryman resonates with raw emotion, and may be the most heartfelt cut on this CD.
Vocally, Wort Hannam has a common voice, that is to say one where you get a feeling he'd be most at home sitting among a group of friends, just him and his acoustic guitar, sharing his wonderful music as a gift to those there.
I will have to say anyone who seeks out this CD will be acquiring a definite gift. This is one that impresses from the opening chord through all 11 songs. I hope he wins. It sure should.
You can check out Wort Hannam at www.johnworthannam.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 10, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- KIM BEGGS -- Wanderer's Paean

WANDERER'S PAEAN
Kim Beggs
Independent
8-out-of-10

Kim Beggs' Wanderer's Paean is another of the Western Canada Music Awards finalists for Best Solo Roots album, and one listen tells you she has a voice that is one so clearly suited to roots music it is hard to envision her playing/singing anything else.
This is a CD that has the flavour you might expect from a roots performer from down Tennessee or Alabama way, having that deep south feel. That is interesting when you consider Beggs has lived in Whitehorse, Yukon for the past decade-and-a-half. At the same time one can easily see how the sort of frontier feel of Canada's north would be a fertile place for roots-style songs, and Beggs has written a number of very nice folk tunes here, including Lay It All Down, Lips Stained Red With Wine and the CD's title cut.
This CD has been recorded in what I would call a relaxed, and yet intimate manner. Instrumentation is generally minimalist, allowing Beggs unique vocals, and the often powerful lyrics. Sit back and get into the words on songs such as Up From The River, and you get into the heart of roots music, compelling words that tell a story, a story which takes the spotlight over the instrumentation with Beggs.
As I mentioned, Beggs has a rather unique voice, almost adolescent in its simplicity, yet again thanks to the realities of roots music, it carries maturity arising from the music itself. It is really a contrast of vocals and material which is compelling here.
Beggs shows here that she is a fine writer, yet does mix in some material not her own as well such as the traditional Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow and All The Good Times Are Past And Gone, both adapted nicely by the artist.
This is one well worth searching out at www.kimbeggs.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 10, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GEOFF BERNER -- The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride

The WEDDING DANCE of the WIDOW BRIDE
Geoff Berner
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Geoff Berner's latest The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride is also up for the Solo Roots Award, although many may question why?
This is a CD which immediately intrigued me, probably be the title, which hinted at a darkly-themed CD. I suppose you would say it achieved that in some tongue-in-cheek way. Certainly the lyrics on songs such as Week, Bride, Weep are dark enough, and is arguably the best cut here.
The instrumentation is the strong point of this CD with the accordion playing a lead role, as the music has the sound of old Eastern Europe. You could easily see a Ukrainian dancer doing steps to the music here.
So there is something different here, and that should be applauded, as Berner goes off into a musical realm rarely, if ever explored. His choice of instrumentation and musical style crossing over with a modernist approach to folk/roots lyrics.
The approach was one that on the first listen I actually dismissed as being frankly awful. However, on subsequent listens my respect for Berner's approach grew. I commend him for taking a rather daring approach to roots music. That is of course one of the strengths of the genre, with the music coming from the roots of cultures, and in this day that means something of a melding. Lyrically, Berner is almost a punk rocker or free form performance poet, but musically the old accordion holds this CD in a different age.
This is a CD that in the end some people will dig in a big way, and others will vehemently dislike – I doubt there is a middle ground on this one.
It's out there on the edge of musical weirdness somewhere, but it is a local worth a visit for those with an adventurous musical taste.
Check it out at http://www.geoffberner.com/

-- CALVIN DANIELS


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 10, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DAVID GOGO - David Gogo Acoustic

DAVID GOGO ACOUSTIC
David Gogo
Cordova Bay
9.5-out-of-10
To mix it up a bit, I'll switch to a finalist for the Western Canada Music Awards Blues Album of the Year, with a look at David Gogo's acoustic effort.
Local blues fans will recall Gogo who was one of the best performers to visit the Painted Hand Casino back when they were doing their bi-weekly blues nights (I still miss those in a huge way).
Gogo is best known as a dynamite blues guitarist. I can still remember him walking through the audience at the casino using disposable lighters and shot glasses as tools as he wailed away on his electric.
Well, this time out Gogo has taken a different approach, going the acoustic route, and guess what, he still wails.
Musically there are a number of Gogo originals including the hot lead cut It's Killing Me.
To mix it up he also throws in a few borrowed blues, including a killer hot rendition of Robert Johnson's Dust My Broom, arguably the best cut here, although I do say arguably because there are a number of cuts which could be labeled 'the best'.
For example Years Since Yesterday, a song by David Gonzalez, is another contender, as Gogo is great on both the guitar, and on vocals on this cut.
The cover of As the Grow Flies by Tony Joe White is also great, with its southern blues tilt.
The blues category is deep at the WCMA with efforts such as B.C. Read's Bowl of Sugar and Kat Danser's Somethin' Familiar, both reviewed in these pages in the past. Those two CDs were rated 8 and 8.5 respectively, but are still a step behind Gogo's latest work.
Very hot. It's a must for blues fans. Check it out at www.davidgogo.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 10, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Review -- TERRY BLANKLEY -- Money Talks

MONEY TALKS
Terry Blankley
Independent
6.6-out-of-10
If there is one thing which continually amazes me it is how much music connects back to Saskatchewan, and in particular to Yorkton and area.
That seems particularly true in the case of blues, as strange as that might seem. Big Dave McLean and Kat Danser are two performers who come to mind with connections to the area. You can now add Terry Blankley to the list.
Blankley, a roots jazzy blues man out of Ontario actually grew up in Kelvington and attended St. Joe's in the city in 1964. It was kind of cool having a note in the CD package asking about Yorkton, with a note that in his time here there was only about 10,000 people in the city. He added he even made TV here in his day appearing on a show called Profile with MC Hugh Vassis.
So musically what does Blankley bring to the table?
To start with the CD was nominated as best roots blues album by the Durham Region Music Society, and Blankley as best male vocalist. While not winning either, it shows the CD has drawn attention.
Well, I'm not sure if its the effects of growing up with Prairie winters inhaled into the old lungs, but he has a deep, growly voice that I really like. To me his sort of voice is what the blues calls for. You really get a feel for the voice on a cut like Lyna, where there is almost a Springsteen-style vocal effort.
Blankley is a man who obviously has a range of influences from jazz, through blues, as well as touches of folk Americana. It all works together since the styles are all rather closely related, with elements common to all.
It does create some wonderful sounds, there is a sort of mix of Spanish, French and jazz on La rue de skid, that is rather unique.
Blankley has his hand in writing most of cuts on this 11-song CD too, and his maturity, in age, as much as as a musician, comes through lyrically. There is a depth of life knowledge here. That isn't to say everything goes back to years long past. Some of the songs connect with the now just as easily, such as the cut Squeegee Kids.
This is a very solid effort, and with his long ago regional roots, one you really need to check out. Head to www.terryblankley.com to learn more.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 3, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- The BLOOD LINES -- Self-titled

The BLOOD LINES
Self-titled
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

The Blood Lines are yet another band emerging out of the fertile music grounds of Saskatoon which is beginning to carve out a strong following.
This is a band that has taken some rather significant steps in conjunction with their self-titled debut CD.
The recording is up for the Best Rock Album Award at the Western Canada Music Awards which will be presented in Moose Jaw this month. They should have a legitimate shot at the award. Although they are in tough with bands such as The Harlots and Into Eternity vying for the same prize.
The Blood Lines were also off to China this summer to play at the Beijing Pop Festival alongside groups such as Public Enemy and Nine Inch Nails, so it's pretty head stuff for this young band.
The band includes Paul Ross on guitar, S.J. Kardash on bass, Maygen Kardash on keyboards and Barrett Ross on drums, with all four contributing vocally to the group.
This is a group that is pretty mellow in its approach to rock, sort of reminding of bands in the late 1960s, at least to my ear.
The CD starts off well with the cut Song Salvation, followed by On My Way Back Home, both songs which show The Blood Lines at their best.
The album doesn't always hold the same level throughout, but still throws some cool sounds at the listener. Off My Mind for example has a kind of retro-Beatles beat that is rather interesting. Not surprisingly the band lists the famous Brit foursome first on the lists of influence on their myspace.com page.
The band mixes an electronic-feel exemplified by the song Modern Science, with a varied vocal approach – four singers does that – to create a definite winner for a first CD effort. The female touches which Maygen adds to the mix are certainly a plus.
The best cut here might be Stay Home, musically upbeat, with an over lay of sadder lyrics.
This is a band well worth giving a listen. Check them out at http://www.thebloodlines.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 3, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CODIE PREVOST -- The Road Ahead

The ROAD AHEAD
Codie Prevost
Independent
7-out-of-10
Let's start by recognizing The Road Ahead has earned Codie Prevost some recognition early in his career, having been picked as the Saskatchewan Country Music association's Album of the Year Award for 2006.
When you give the CD it's first spin and Better Off Alone, the album's first cut kicks in, you can tell why it has garnered attention. Prevost is right in the pocket in terms of today's country sound.
This is Prevost's first album, and to his credit he has a hand in writing most of the 12 songs, usually in collaboration with the Cd's producer Steve Fox. Fox is becoming recognized as the 'go-to' guy for young country performers in terms of material and production.
It is interesting to see A Million Miles Away, one of the best songs on the album was actually co-written by Jay Semko, famous as a Northern Pike member. It's always neat to see the connections within the music industry.
This is ultimately a CD that is safe. Prevost isn't taking any chances here. These songs have “written for radio” all over them. There are the party songs such as Not Just The Beer Talking', something that is a party song, with a catchy chorus. We've heard a hundred derivatives of this song on radio the last decade, which isn't to say Prevost's won't find favor with the same audience.
Songs like The Road Ahead is as strong as any you will hear on country radio, and that says a lot for where this young performer is musically.
I get something of the feel of the Poverty Plainsman's first CD in as much as this effort has a lot of potential single releases, although Prevost's debut isn't quite at the same quality of Gotta Be A Believer, which I rate one of the best country CDs out in the last 20 years.
Still, country fans are going to like this. Check Prevost out at www.codieprevost.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 3, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DARK FOREST -- Aurora Borealis

AURORA BOREALIS
Dark Forest
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Surprise! Slip into this Dark Forest and what you will find is some driving Viking, or maybe more appropriately folk metal.
This is a metal album which is deeply-themed, which of course is at the heart of sub genres such as Viking and folk metal. The songs are all inter-connected, telling a story which is added to be each successive song.
What makes Dark Forest immediately interesting is the fact the band hails from Calgary. It seems most bands focusing on this style of dark metal saga hail from Europe, but Dark Forest boldly goes there and they do a solid job.
Musically, I love this stuff. To me this is the symphony of today's younger generation. Yep, it's driving metal, but there is a full orchestral feel to the music that is compelling. The instrumental Two Ravens Soaring which is the final cut on this CD exemplifies the sound the most. Truly moving. I love the haunting use of the sound of wind that you just know is sweeping over a snow-covered land.
What is truly amazing about this CD is that Dark Forest is a one-man effort. David Parks supplies the guitars, keyboards drum programming, mouth harp and vocals. It's a rather Herculean effort when you listen to the finished product.
The songs were written over only an eight month period as well, again by Parks, who self-recorded the CD too.
By now you are catching on that this is very much a labour of love for the musician.
Now since this CD holds its parentage to Viking metal, the vocals are growled and screamed into the microphone. I'd take a purely instrumental version myself, although that is personal taste.
The lyrics actually have an ode'ic feel, and are full of unique visions, that again hearken to the great sagas of old. And, to Parks credit, even with the growl, he let's you hear most of the lyrics pretty clearly, a definite bonus in this genre. It will be interesting to see where Parks goes next with the style.
This is a pretty good example of what this type of metal can offer. Well worth a listen.
Check it out at www.darkforest.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 3, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada