Thursday, June 28, 2007

Review -- WYATT -- Hard Road

HARD ROAD
Wyatt
Independent
8-out-of-10

Country music today is really a genre which has lost its way. It has evolved toward rock, and along the way Nashville has pumped out a bunch of singers which are simply automaton clones of the last 'Next Big Thing', which of course lasted all of one CD, and one cookie cutter single which country radio was all to willing to flog.
So, every time I cut the wrapper on a CD case these days, knowing it's country music, I do it with a certain level of trepidation.
Now we get to Wyatt, which rides the vocal abilities of Daniel Fortier and Scott Patrick, who also have their combined hands in writing all 10 cuts.
Where to start? The first thing I will say is these guys aren't out on the edge blazing a new trail for country, in fact they have the country rock sound, but at least they do it damn well.
The voices of Fortier and Patrick mesh together well, in the grand tradition of some of the top country duos out there; yes you can think Brooks and Dunn here, although generally the styling is different.
Lyrically, Fortier and Patrick do a solid job. You can actually listen to the words and get something of a story. Much of today's country has boiled down to a catch phrase and a guitar riff. I particularly like Hard Road, Drinking You In, Smoke Ring, My Lullaby, Dance Me, and This Town (which is arguably the most memorable song here).
While the CD mixes slow numbers and up tempo cuts, Wyatt is strongest on the slow cuts, where their vocals can be fully appreciated,.
Most of these songs could see radio play over time. In that regard this CD is super solid, reminding of the Poverty Plainsmen's Gotta Be A Believer.
With Fortier and Patrick on guitars, Shaun Dancey on bass and Bray Hudson on drums, Wyatt is a tight band, who are as good as any country I've reviewed in quite some time. Hailing from Saskatoon, these guys are another Saskatchewan gem which should play Yorkton real soon, if the right venue would contact them.
You can keep track of Wyatt, and order this great CD by visiting http://www.wyattmusic.com/

-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 20, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Review - LITTLE MISS HIGGINS - Junction City

JUNCTION CITY
Little Miss Higgins
Indie
7-out-of-10
Any regular reader will know I am a blues fan, and have been for a fair while now. Given that I thought I was pretty well aware of the top blues players in Saskatchewan, the likes of BC Read, Jordan Cook, and Jack Semple. Then the CD Junction City comes across the desk, and I learned pretty quickly there are always gems out there still to be found.
Hey! If the lead-in to this review is the same as the one for Whiteboy Slim above, it's only because this too is a Saskatchewan gem.
Higgins resides in Nokomis, SK., not exactly the locale you'd expect to find a hot blues singer, but then that's the beauty of music it can come from anywhere. Then again she was born in Alberta and grew up in Independence, Kansas, so she's been around to experience music.
Higgins voice isn't the usual low rumbling one most expect from the blues. It carries off into the stratosphere, with a much higher pitch. On first listen that threw me a little, but it quickly grew on me, as I recognized Higgins' voice as distinctive, and that is rarely bad in music.
It doesn't hurt either that this CD and Higgins herself have something of a Canadian blues pedigree going. 'Big' Dave McLean, who local blues fans will recall from appearances at the Painted Hand Casino has called Higgins “a true jewel of the Canadian Prairies.” That's a pretty rock solid endorsement considering McLean is arguably the top blues act on the Prairies.
Junction City, named after a nickname Nokomis once boasted, is also produced by Tim Williams. Williams might be the best roots bluesman in the country, coming out of B.C., so Higgins has obviously caught his ear too.
As you might have gathered by now, Higgins is a roots blues performer, with much of her music having a turn-of-the-century feel. She even pulls some of the material from the past including Memphis Minnie (McCoy's) You Ain't Done Nothing to Me, and finds a way to make it her own.
Higgins also pens the majority of the songs here, including The Broadcast Boogie, The Mama Lion Song, The Train's a 'Comin' Down, The Dirty Old Tractor Song and Nokomis Waltz.
Through it all, Higgins distinctive voice grows on the listener, and the material begins to resonate with that sort of roots Prairie feel, that connects us to this place.
Higgins is another Saskatchewan performer we have somehow missed out on seeing locally. Again we can only hope that changes, since hearing her live would no doubt be a treat.
Until a local venue catches on to this fine performer, check her out at http://www.littlemisshiggins.com/ and don't forget to grab a copy of Junction City.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 23, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - WHITEBOY SLIM - AKA Whiteboy Slim

AKA WHITEBOY SLIM
Whiteboy Slim
Indie
7.5-out-of-10
Any regular reader will know I am a blues fan, and have been for a fair while now. Given that I thought I was pretty well aware of the top blues players in Saskatchewan, the likes of BC Read, Jordan Cook, and Jack Semple. Then the CD AKA Whiteboy Slim comes across the desk, and I learned pretty quickly there are always gems out there still to be found.
Whiteboy Slim is the blues persona of Maurice Richard Libby who cut his blues teeth in Regina as a teen, then headed to Toronto where he transformed into Whiteboy Slim. Now back in Saskatchewan, this guy has a sound like he should be from Georgia, and southern Georgia at that.
As I put the CD back on the player today, as background to writing this review – it's just one of those little rituals I do – my wife commented that Slim sounded a bit like the famous 'Wolfman Jack'. She is right in that Slim has a definite growl to his voice, and that makes it just perfect for the blues.
It does surprise me this guy isn't better known, in-part because of his voice. It really is well-suited for the genre, and to Slim's credit he appears to understand that, and writes material that fits the voice. Songs such as Too Many drivers and 20% Alcohol are perfect fits with the Slim growl.
It's also to Slim's credit that he has written 10 of the 14-cuts on this extensive CD. I always appreciate when an artist writes his own material, and I tend to believe in the case of the blues one gets a truer 'feeling' from music which comes from within. In particular I like Slim's I've Been Down So Long, and Tears On My Pillow.
Slim's website www.whiteboy-slim.com suggests his earliest influences were Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, the second of which he shares a somewhat similar voice. In the world of blues these guys are pretty good performers to desire to follow, and Slim does a creditable job of honouring such roots.
The voice is the key, but he plays solid guitar, and adds some harp work, and that is always a plus in my books too.
This is a very enjoyable blues effort, and the fact Slim is now back in Saskatchewan makes it a tad more special too. Now if he would only catch a gig in Yorkton.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 23, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - BIG JOHN BATES - Take Your Medicine

TAKE YOUR MEDICINE
Big John Bates
Devil Sauce Recordings
9.5-out-of-10
Out on the edge of bluesdom there is an old fashioned traveling medicine show wagon set up. Out of the back troops the band Big John Bates. They begin to play, and the crowd looks bewildered, a little like taking a shot of Buckley's cough medicine. Yes it starts out with a taste you aren't sure you like, but guess what, it only takes a few minutes to realize; Hey! This stuff works.
Well so does Big John Bates. By now I have listened to a ton of blues music over the years having written reviews for a decade, or so now, and yet I'm not sure I can compare this to anyone else.
The band's own website http://www.bigjohnbates.com/ describes them as follows; “Fifty year ago, in the kingdom of Elvis, jump blues and country spat out a style called rockabilly. Twelves steps further down that lowbrow road is Big John Bates, with one foot in Memphis and the other on 42nd Street, pumped on moonshine liquor and knockoff Viagra.”
Quirky, oh my goodness YES!!!!! and I love it. Sometimes living on the edge means a band falls off that edge into oblivion. Not Big John Bates. He digs in his claws and does his own thing and dares you to try to walk away.
I'm not sure why anyone would want too.
Big John has a great voice, but musically tip the old chapeau to Caroline 'Care-oline' Helmeczi, who plays upright bass here. She really carries the beat and the flavour of the group, and that too makes this a wonderful effort.
Gregory 'Stagecoach' McDonald adds drums, in this beat driven musical style.
This is a band that I would love to see in concert. I bet the show, which is noted for including the Voodoo Dolls, stage show, would be totally off the wall.
For freshness, edginess and sound, one of the best I've sampled in a long while. Hope to grab a few of their earlier works one day.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 9, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - The RUSTY AUGERS - Damn You Rusty Auger!

DAMN YOU RUSTY AUGER!
The Rusty Augers
Independent
6-out-of-10
This was one of those CDs that was difficult to score. They are a prime example of a band which seems to be having a difficult time determining exactly where their music fits in.
The opening cut, named after the band, is countryish, and not particularly compelling. This is another little hint for bands just starting out, lead off a recording with a strong cut. It is like your calling card. I was visiting a radio bud the other day and his desk was cluttered with CDs from bands wanting a spot in the rotation. Do you think he listens to the whole CD if the first cut doesn't grab his attention? Probably not.
As a reviewer I too want to be grabbed by the first song, and the Rusty Augers missed on that count.
Now for a Yorkton newspaper, the third song caught my attention even as I read the song list. It is entitled The Esterhazy Man and the Kamsack Woman, so that grabbed me. The band hails from Regina.
The song is interesting because it starts something of a transition on this CD, having less a country feel, and the first taste of something blues, in a way reminiscent of the Blue Shadows.
By cut five; Black Widow Blues, the Rusty Augers are finally in a good place on this CD. The bluesier they get, the better they get. Yes I am a blues fan, so may lean in that direction anyway, but in this case the Rusty Augers don't offer a whole lot that intrigues on the country side. By contrast on this cut by one of the band's vocalists; Sam Minevich, they score real solid.
What the Rusty Augers have ended up with here is a CD that kinda pops around a bit too much for me. The most country-like pieces, would best be left off the CD.
The purest blues are the gems.
Songs such as People Don't Make Sense, which has some nice horn work, are good enough, think Blue Shadows of Junior Gone Wild, and fit ok with the blues.
This band certainly has talent, and some good songs, Priscilla Blues by Paul McCorriston , another of the band's vocalists, is pure upbeat fun blues, however I think they need to settle fully into the blues, and leave the thoughts of anything with even the slightest twang to someone else.
Nice potential just needing to be fully realized here. Check 'em out at www.myspace.com/therustyaugers
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week May 9, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - DUKE ROBILLARD - Guitar Groove-a-Rama

GUITAR GROOVE-A-RAMA
Duke Robillard
Stony Plain Records
9-out-of-10
Well it seems this week is six string week for my reviews. This time we are talking about one of the most prolific guitar players in the field of blues today in terms of time in the studio. Duke Robillard is a machine when it comes to laying down tracks. The guy has recorded 17 albums since 1984 were he is the featured player, and literally dozens of others were he has lent his guitar hand on other albums. Just check out http://www.dukerobillard.com/discography.cfm and you will see just how many hours this guy must have spent in the studio in the last couple of decades.
Once again Robillard highlights smooth blues guitar here, not surprising considering the CD's title. In some cases he allows the guitar to be the sole focus of a cut, such as the instrumental Do The Memphis Grind, Sunday Morning and a nice take on the classic Danny Boy.
On other cuts, such as Sewed Up and Gambler Blues Robillard adds in vocals.
The true gem here though is the title-cut, a 16:11 attribute effort where Robillard pays homage to 10 of the greatest blues guitarists in history, from Muddy Waters to Eddie Jones to Lowell Fulsom and B.B. King.
It's a nice, and effective mix, all held together by Robillard's guitar work.
Again, if you are a fan of guitar, especially with a blues feel, then this is the one for you. Look for it.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 2, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Revieew - JOEL FAFARD - ... And, Another Thing

...AND, ANOTHER THING
Joel Fafard
Independent
9-out-of-10
I've been a fan of Joel Fafard's since reviewing his 1996 release Fierce Warmth, and my interest only grew with the 2003 release Rocking Horse. Sadly I missed a couple of releases in between but that is a reality of following a Saskatchewan performer, the publicity is not always widely available.
Thankfully I have my greedy little hands on ... And Another Thing.
This is certainly the most pleasing of Fafard's works to-date, and I truly enjoyed the two earlier releases I reviewed to start with.
This is also an album which is receiving its share of accolades within the music industry, suggesting Fafard's work is beginning to reach a higher plane in terms of skill. The CD was named Outstanding Instrumental Recording at the 2006 Western Canadian Music Awards, and was a nominee at the 2006 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
That pretty much tells the tale of ...And Another Thing, in the sense that it is an instrumental album, so you best enjoy guitar work to pick this one up, although if you do you will find Fafard can pick with the best of them.
Stylistically the music has a folkish feel. It would not be hard to envision folk, or perhaps a slightly country blues-feel to a set of lyrics for these tunes.
This is definitely an album which brings the overall talent of Fafard into tight focus. The material, and there is a healthy slice of it here, were all composed by Fafard himself, and he produced the CD as well.
The CD begins with 11-cuts which highlight Fafard on guitar, accompanied by Richard Moody on viola and Gilles Fournier on double bass.
Eight additional tracks are guitar solos by Fafard.
All the works are recorded live off the floor at Private Ear Recording in Winnipeg.
Listening to this work, the Yorkton Arts Council should forgo one of its import concerts and simply bring Fafard and company to the Anne Portnuff Theatre. He's that good. In fact, it would be great to see a new series started by the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils (OSAC) highlighting a tour of a few Saskatchewan, home grown stage acts each year. You do not have to come from Alberta or Ontario to be good. But, alas I digress.
Back to Fafard, from the opening tune Auckland Express through cuts such as Sufferin' Socotash, Tricky Trout Tickler and Megan and the Wascana Cyclone, this is a great CD. Well worth searching out at www.joelfafard.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 2, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - DIONE TAYLOR - I Love Being Here With You

I LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU
Dione Taylor
Marquis
8-out-of-10
Dione Taylor may be among the best things exported from Saskatchewan in many years. Born here, the daughter of a pastor, she would enroll in the jazz program at Humber College of Applied Arts and Science and over time a true Canadian flow of jazz would emerge.
I Love Being Here With You is Taylor's second album, and this one is certainly big time good. This is a collection of love songs, and Taylor's voice easily carries you away to such thought. It doesn't hurt that she is as beautiful as her voice is smooth either.
It should come as no surprise this CD is as good as it is. Her 2004 debut disk Open Your Eyes earned Juno, Canadian Urban Music and National Jazz Awards nominations, testament to the strength of that album.
Taylor doesn't miss a beat here either. From the lead cut Little Black Dress, which Taylor co-wrote with Liz Tansey, through more familiar pieces such as He's Funny That Way, this young siren does it all right.
Taylor also shows here that she may grow as a jazz writer too, with songs such I'll Be There and the aforementioned Little Black Dress having her influence in the writing stage. They may not be the strongest cuts here, but they do show a natural direction for this songstress to go next.
I do like Nothing Compares 2 U, Fantasy, I'll Be There and several other cuts on this CD. If you like sultry jazz with the theme of love this one is a can't miss.
Check out this former Saskatchewan singer at www.dionetaylor.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 16, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - The SHEEPDOGs - Trying to Grow

TRYING TO GROW
The Sheepdogs
Independent
7-out-of-10
When Trying to Grow arrived my first thought was wow, the CD cover looks like something the Guess Who would have used about 30 years ago. Now that's not a bad thing since many things retro are very 'in' these days, witness That 70's Show from television.
The better news in terms of The Sheepdogs though is that their music is somewhat reminiscent of The Guess Who too.
No, Ewan Currie lead vocalist here doesn't have quite the same voice as Burton Cummings, no one can quite match one of the most recognizable voices in Canadian music. But, musically, the connection is there. There are rifts, licks and passages that someone from the era of The Guess Who will pick up on starting with the lead cut Warmer Love.
Certain songs, such as It's Alright, could easily have found an audience in an earlier era.
The band doesn't list The Guess Who as an influence, but Led Zeppelin, Credence Clearwater Revival, and the Rolling Stones are, so they obviously are aware of the earlier effort.
This is a very solid album, no doubt in-part because it has a nostalgic feel, at least to my ears.
There really isn't a bad cut here. As the band's first full-length recording they have done an excellent job of putting together this 11-song effort. Musically, it's straight rock, but the kind where vocals still play a lead role, you can hear them clearly, and not at a scream just below the decibels put out by a small jet.
The Sheepdogs do a nice job of shifting gears from slower tunes such as Natural Wonder to ones which have more volume, and more beat, such as Save Yourself.
This band is really achieving something of a cross-over sound here. It will be liked by younger listeners, but for those of us who were teens more years ago than we might like to imagine, the sound is familiar enough to draw us in too.
This Saskatoon-based band has certainly hit the right notes for this reviewer. Check them out at http://www.myspace.com/thesheepdogs
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper May 16, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - IRON DRAGON - Self-titled

IRON DRAGON
Self-titled
Indie
6-out-of-10
I'll preface this review with the statement I think it is generally amazing what music is being distributed today that as recently as 10 years ago would have never seen its way beyond a basement jam session. The emergence of computer recording software, much of it now free shareware for the budding musician, has put the concept of home recording within the price range of anyone with some dedicated computer skills.
That is where Iron Dragon comes from, the fertile minds of guitarist Ryan Crouse and bass player Sam Derkatch. (See related story this edition).
Like many young musicians this pair found themselves jamming in the basement of Crouse's home and before long the music was no longer material from favoured bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but instead were original compositions.
The entrepreneur in Crouse, he self-produces comic books too, soon had the original music laid down on tracks via his home computer, and a CD was born.
Is this the cleanest recording? No, it isn't quite up to studio grade. The musicians know that themselves.
But, then again this is metal music, and having a raw-boned edge to the sound isn't particularly a bad thing, and far more forgivable here than it would be on many other genres.
Helping out the overall sound is the fact this full-length effort – there are 23 cuts ranging from interludes of 30-plus seconds to Mortal Realm clocking in at 6:15 – is purely instrumental. I have always rather enjoyed instrumental metal, at least above the screaming into a microphone kind. In talking to Crouse there are lyrics for most cuts, but since neither he nor Derkatch have the voices to carry the songs, they chose the instrumental avenue.
So what do we have here? Well, it's guitar-driven mental. You can tell it's Iron Dragon's first work. Crouse, a self-taught guitarist is raw too, but again he knows that and they do a descent job of staying within themselves. They don't push the packet too far, knowing as musicians the intricacies would be beyond their skill.
Still, this isn't a bad CD. Musically, there is material on label releases far less appealing than what these two have managed.
That they are local Yorkton boys, as they say "trying to put Yorkton metal on the map" they deserve to be supported.
Check out this CD at Fuzztone Music in the city, or on Crouse's website at http://cdbaby.com/cd/irondragon
-- CALVIN DANIELS

Review - TRACY K & The Right Hand Band - Old, New, Borrowed & Blue

OLD, NEW, BORROWED & BLUE
Tracy K & the Right Hand Band
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
I will admit I have had a soft spot for Tracy K and her music ever since interviewing her, and then hearing her live at the Painted Hand Casino a couple of years back.
I'm a sucker for blues driven by a 'blues harp' (harmonica) and Tracy K does a killer job on harp, something of a rarity for female performers in the genre.
I found Tracy K's first release, Welcome to My Fantasy, released in 2000, a great blues effort, and know it is unfortunate it has taken her seven years to get another recording laid down.
On this effort Tracy has a touch more of a country blues feel, than on her first effort, but it still works.
The key for Tracy, who will perform at Rayzr's in the Yorkton Hotel June 14 (see related story this issue) is her voice. She has a growly sound, which she uses to great effect.
On the 12-cut CD she has written all but the song Sweet Serenity, which she does a great rendition of, and Spoonful On the material she has written, Tracy has found a maturity where her lyrics match well with her vocals, with enough of the aforementioned blues harp to make it work. I love the opening harmonica on Spoonful.
Among her own works, Shine is likely the best, but Rollin' with the Changes sounds like it might be her personal anthem, and Rock This House lives up to its name.
Anyone with even a modest interest in the blues will want to catch this gal live in the city next week, and they won't go wrong picking up this CD either. You can check Tracy K out more at her website; www.tracyk.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS
- Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 6, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - WHEATMONKEYS - Hotter Than a Pistol

HOTTER THAN A PISTOL
Wheatmonkeys
Independent
8-out-of-10
Sometimes the title of a CD captures a band well. This is one of those times. The Wheatmonkeys, a band out of Saskatoon, are definitely hotter than a pistol on this recording.
The Wheatmonkeys have played in Yorkton on occasion, including this weekend at Holly's Nite Club in the Best Western Parkland Inn. People who took the time to head over and give these guys a listen may well have been watching a band of young musicians on the verge of breaking big. To my ear these guys are that good. You can hear little snippets of bands like the Bare Naked Ladies here, although these guys definitely have their own sound.
Don't be surprised if this foursome; Dave Pura and Logan Reid on guitars and vocals, Andrew Cook on bass and vocals, and Darrin Pfeiffer on drums, become a hot ticket nationally growing well beyond local bar venues.
This band has a a pure rock sound with pop overtones. Some songs are more poppish than others, such as Like I Do, others more straight rock tunes, like the lead cut Heat, which is arguably the best piece here.
While Heat is the catchy hook song here, it is not the only gem the Wheatmonkeys have come up with on this effort. Letting You Go is a definite winner, as are Time After Time and Eleventhousand.
Pura has writing credits on all 10 cuts here, and the material shows he could be an emerging name as a songwriter too.
This is not the Wheatmonkeys first effort having release Danger as their debut album in 2002.
This is a very solid band, ranking easily among the elite in Saskatchewan, with the potential to take their sound a lot farther.
You can track this hot young band www.myspace.com/wheatmonkeys
-- CALVIN DANIELS

Review - ULTIMATE POWER DUO - We're In Control Now

WE'RE IN CONTROL NOW
Ultimate Power Duo
Independent
4.5-out-of-10
One of the most difficult things to do as a reviewer, at least I find it to be this way, is to give a bad review. It is even more difficult when it's a Saskatchewan band that you are pretty sure is playing music and recording because they love making music. It's not like most Saskatchewan bands get rich, or even all that famous when they are releasing Indie works.
However, a band still has to offer you something, and sadly, at least for me, the Ultimate Power Duo left me wanting something different – well frankly anything different.
To be fair, I gave this CD a couple of extra listens, although my wife was wondering why. I wanted to make sure that my initial reaction was right. I was hoping too that something in the music might emerge on the additional plays that I could go 'OK that is where the strength of this album is.' It never happened.
This is a group with a poppish/punk sound, that has a sameness throughout. Musically I don't think they push too far from what they have found as a comfort zone, and as a result the CD sort of feels like one long song, although there are actually 18 cuts.
On the bright side the Ultimate Power Duo, actually a three-piece unit with guitar, bass and drums, does have a tongue-in-cheek approach to lyrics which keeps this CD from being a totally bad listen for me.
Ultimate Power Duo on a Rampage with an Elephant Gun, Ultimate Power Duo vs. Optimus Prime: Round 1, Ultimate Power Duo News Update "The War is Going Good ...?", Mole Man March and Buddy Holly was the First Ramone are examples of the titles contained here. The themes here might have elevated this CD higher had they mixed up the stylings more.
It should be noted that while I do not like this CD, several clips from other newspaper coverage suggests other have. For example on the band's myspace site I found
The same site; http://www.myspace.com/ultimatepowerduo, shows the band has extensive bookings in Britain this summer, so that too says they have an audience.
Not my cup-of-tea, but give them a listen on line, they might suit your ears better.

Review - KIM LAFONTAINE - Life Happens

LIFE HAPPENS
Kim Fontaine
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
OK Saskatchewan music fans, as soon as you have finished reading the edition of Yorkton This Week you hold in your hands head over to the personal computer, type in http://www.kimfontaine.ca/ and order yourself a copy of Life Happens.
This is pure GOOD!
When I think back on my collection of Saskatchewan produced CD only a handful are clear-cut standouts, lead in my mind by the 1995 release of Mouse by Jay Semko. Well Life Happens by Kim Fontaine is right up their folks. The interesting thing is that there is a connection between Fontaine and Semko. Semko provides the lead vocals on Sad Love Song. That's pretty heady company for Fontaine considering Semko is most famous as a member of the Northern Pikes (who will be in Yorkton this summer as a highlight grandstand concert of the annual summer fair).
So what does Fontaine offer up to rate such a high mark? Well to begin with she has a unique quality to her voice, one that has an almost male timbre to it, that really catches the ear.
Next, like Semko's Mouse, the lyrics are good here, not as poetically moving as Semko achieved, but still solid enough to earn a strong review.
Musically this is that sweet musical genre of pop folk. The music via its lyrics and approach is very much true to folk roots, but the addition of a broader range of instrumentation. Including electric guitar takes it into the rock world too.
Cuts such as This Old Train, The Story of Mona, Home and the CD title-cut are my favs here, although the entire CD works for me too.
This CD should get good play on college radio, but deserves a much broader audience. Mark this one a definite winner. Grab it now.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

Review - CARBON DATING SERVICE - Self -Titled

Self-titled
Carbon Dating Service
Teargas Recording Tree
7-out-of-10
There are bands and CDs which are immediately intriguing for a variety of reasons, for me Carbon Dating Service was one of those bands, probably starting with their chosen name. You have to admit it's a unique one, especially for a band out of Saskatoon, SK.
When the CD arrived the artwork shows a huge blue whale, not exactly a Saskatchewan image, and a quick perusal of the song list showed efforts with names such as Dragged for Ten Miles by a Harpooned Whale, Robots in Rome (Electrons Escaped), Dead Dogs Love Us Still, Slow Motion Unicorns and Mushrooms On Your Lawn.
By this time I had no idea what to expect.
So, I headed to the band's website, where I found out this is an eight piece group. I thought wow, is anybody playing with a band roster that big these days. Most gigs would leave an eight-member band playing for darn little money per member. Then I looked at the instrumentation this band throws into the mix, harp, horns, viola, steel drum, banjo and dobro.
If that all sounds cluttered, it's really not. Carbon Dating Service goes out of its way to create intricate musical efforts, which expand the usual vision of rock music. Does it always work? Nope, but for the most part they do create music that has a more big band, at times sort of classical feel, set over rock/pop roots, and it works.
There is a horn section focus at the end of Gift Horse that is such a refreshing breath for modern pop/rock, that you can't help but like what these guys are trying to accomplish.
They come back with Drunk Company which has a near country lead in.
Now my wife who was listening to this CD as I reviewed it, was not a fan. She would have admittedly turned it off three songs in. A friend was here at the same time, and she was not a fan either. They both saw the music as somewhat distracting. The friend pointed out she could not read to the music since it was always throwing some new instrumentation at her.
That though is the point for this band I believe. They want the listener's ear focused on the music, to catch just how they push the genre with the range of instruments at there disposal. In fact, for the most part lyrics and vocals are minimalist here too, letting the music take the listener.
I would love to see these guys in the Anne Portnuff Theatre where great acoustics would allow Carbon Dating Service to perform to its full potential.
Check them out at http://teargasrecordingtree.com/artists/carbondatingservice/
Wild, different, unique, strange, and for all of that well worth a listen.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
- Reviews first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper April 25, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - CROFTER's REVENGE - Self-titled

CROFTER's REVENGE
Crofter's Revenge
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
I love Celtic-influenced music, so I was looking forward to Crofter's Revenge, a CD by the Regina-based band of the same name.
Now I'll preface this review by saying this is not a bad CD, however, as a fan of Canadian Celtic music I do end up comparing each new CD to a fairly broad range of material already in the collection. When you end up comparing to bands such as The Paperboys, Mad Pudding, Orealis and Scatter the Mud, Crofter's Revenge doesn't quite match up.
Now I will admit this is Crofter's Revenge first CD, and that means there is room for growth as artists, and that is the good news.
What we have here is a 12-cut CD of mostly traditional music, including cuts such as Cuckoo's Nest, When Will We Be Married, Train to Odessa and Paddy On the Railway.
The band does include one number written by Crofter's Revenge members Don Modderman and L.A. Kaminiski; the cut Dr. Jane's All-Natural Irish Elixir. I rather like this effort and hope the band heads toward more original material in the future. It tends to give a band a fresher sound.
The CD also includes the popular Last Saskatchewan Pirate, originally an Arrogant Worms number, and covered by numerous bands including Captain Tractor and Brad Johner. This is maybe the most fun song with a Saskatchewan theme ever produced, and is almost a given for a band such as Crofter's Revenge.
While this CD might not be a platinum effort, I would guess this band would be a ton of fun in a live setting. It always seems Celtic bands excel in situations where there is a party atmosphere, and I would imagine the Crofter's can spice up a party pretty darn well. That is good news for those planning to attend a concert fundraiser coming up in Saltcoats, see related story this page.
Since the band is from Saskatchewan, Crofter's Revenge is worth seeking out, supporting local talent is always a good thing.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper April 18, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - DOUG COX & SALIL BHATT with KAMKUMAR MISHRA -- Slide to Freedom

SLIDE to FREEDOM
Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt with Kamkumar Mishra
Northernblues Music
7-out-of-10
All right, this is the kind of CD which gives reviewers nightmares, as they go to rate it. I agonized over the score. It could have been a nine, or 10, or it might have been a four, or five.
The problem is that this is not a music I am particularly familiar with, at least mixed as it is. There is a rather unique blending of jazz and world music.
Now I like jazz as a general rule, and world music always has an exotic appeal to the ear simply because it is not something we hear everyday.
Fuse the two together though, and it takes on some new properties which while pleasant enough, do force the listener to pay attention to catch the nuances of the musical styles coming together.
Jazz is often at its best recorded free form, where the artist is able to improvise as he goes. This album does follow in that tradition in feel. The numbers included here are generally longer pieces twisting through the two musical styles. Bhoopali Dance is more than 10-minutes in length, while Arabian Night, Fish Pond, Father Kirwani and Meeting by the Liver all weigh in near eight-minutes, or longer.
Of course it's the instrumentation which makes this album what it is. Cox supplies resophonic guitar, while Bhatt adds Satvik Veena, a guitar-like instrument Bhatt himself created.
Mishra adds the more traditional Indian percussion instrument the tabla.
It's a pretty interesting combination of sounds when you apply it to a bluesy classic such as Soul of a Man.
It is certainly interesting to see the way seemingly diverse musical styles can be interwoven. This might not be everyones' cup-of-tea, but it is unique enough the adventurous will want to check it out for sure.
Check it out at http://www.northernblues.com/
- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper April 11, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PIPEDREAM -- Hold Your Breath

HOLD YOUR BREATH
Pipedream
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Anyone who thinks rock is dead in Saskatchewan, amid the seemingly endless country bands and bars, it's not.
Every once in a while a band pops up with an offering which makes you realize the roots of Canadian rock still have a hold in the fertile Prairie soil of Saskatchewan.
Let me introduce you to Pipedream, a four piece band out of Saskatoon.
Now no band likes too many comparisons, and Pipedream does a nice job of having their own sound, but you will hear rifts reminding of bands such as Nickleback, and other top tier recording acts. Yes folks I think these guys could become that good.
Pipedream is made up of Jamie Tokarchuk, drums, Brent Ziola, bass and both Tyson Drummond and Kris Ewen supplying guitar and vocals.
The band self-produced a CD in 2004, but Hold Your Breath is their first studio effort, recorded at Audio Art Recording in Saskatoon.
This is the sub genre of rock where the music hits in waves, but vocally they keep it on a level where they don't have to scream above the guitars, and yet you can still make out the words without reading the liner notes, and that is a good thing.
Yes, there are some near metal works here, such as Leechfuk, a growly number that tells you this band had come together having varied musical influences, as it dips into the heavier side of things.
Pipedream also drops it down a gear or two, with songs such as Solitude.
The opening cut Tantrum, Believer and Closet Full of Bones are personal favourites on Hold Your Breath.
This album has been out about a year, but alas I just got hold of a copy. I do hope the band is close to another release, because they have a solid sound that would be great to see explored farther. Maybe somewhere along the way they'll find a gig in what appears to be a growing live band music season in Yorkton.
You can check out more on the band at http://pipedreamrocks.tripod.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper April 11, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- WATERMELON SLIM and the WORKERS -- The Wheel Man

THE WHEEL MAN
Watermelon Slim and the Workers
Northernblues Music
7-out-of-10

You want to talk about pedigree in the music business, well Watermelon Slim has certainly been developing one in terms of blues music.
Within the last year alone, Slim and the Workers were nominated for six Blues Music Awards . In addition, Living Blues Radio voted his 2006 self-titled release, the fourth best album of that year. Slim was also inducted into the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame this year.
OK, so you kind of get the feeling when you are cutting the cellophane off the CD that The Wheel Man is likely to be something pretty special.
While today we see many blues musicians – such as Big Poppa Chubby and Big John Bates -- pushing the edges of the genre, Watermelon Slim makes no pretense about his blues. His is a deep-rooted take on the music, one just as relevant today as it would have been in a blues bar from half a century ago.
Songs such as the title cut, Newspaper Reporter (maybe a new theme song), Black Water, Sawmill Holler, and Rattlesnake are just some example of cuts here which are truly timeless lyrically. That tells you Watermelon Slim has a good grounding in current themes, while also being historically aware of the music he plays, and in this case that is clearly a winning combination.
This may not rate in my top five blues albums of 2007, but it is a solid effort by a performer well-grounded in the genre.
It's definitely a CD any blues fan will be glad they purchased.
Check out Slim and the Workers at http://www.watermelonslim.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 30, 2007 - Yorkton, SK, Canada

Review - MELISSA McCLELLAND - Thumbalina's One Night Stand

THUMBALINA's ONE NIGHT STAND
Melissa McClelland
The Orange Record Label
9-out-of-10
Sometimes it just blows me away to think of all the wonderful females singers Canada has produced, from Jann Arden to Shania Twain to Sarah McClachlan. To that list you might well want to add the name Melissa McClelland.
To be honest I hear a touch of McClachlan in McClelland, and at times their music has a similar feel, a similarity heard on a cut such Solitary Life.
At the same time McClelland is nobody's clone. In fact, this is a lady with a sound which is actually quite diverse. Yes there are pop overtones, although lyrically it is more akin to cutting-edge folk. There are stories here to be told and messages to get across, and often that is accomplished in darker tones.
You can also hear elements of country, blues and even a hint or two of jazz.
In some ways this might be an album which exemplifies the reality of 2007, in that musical genres are increasingly blurred. This is becoming an era where one will become less a fan of a particular genre and will instead simply be drawn to musicians who are good at their craft. In that regard McClelland is an artist to seek out.
In the bio notes for McClelland they describe this album about as well as you can. "Thumbelina's One Night Stand is the first of its kind. This album is a collection of dark fables for the soul, where love haunts solitude and fantasy trumps reality. By unflinchingly internalizing pop music sensibilities, Melissa carefully maps out the landscape within us. She explores the rules on the inside, for it is there where most rules are broken"
As dark as some of the so-called fables are, McClelland's comfortable, sweet voice manages to hold the darkness and bay in a sense, leaving one to accept the darker tones of the lyrics. That being said, while Thumbelina's One Night Stand can be appreciated musically on the first listen, there are messages here which will become more poignant as the songs become familiar with repeated plays, and the listener truly begins to hear and absorb the words.
Songs such as Oh, Love, Passenger 24, Come Home Suzie and several others are lyrically gems, and musically pleasing with McClelland's voice.
I am impressed that lyrically this CD is so sound, and with the exception of two cuts, the easily recognizable You Know I Love You Baby, and the cut Dayton Ohio, 1903, each song is written by McClelland. That fact clearly shows there is an exciting new songwriter in this country too.
This is McClelland's third CD, and while not having heard her earlier works I am betting this is her best, since it's difficult to envision a much better effort for the style and genre of music McClelland does so well.
Expect to hear this lady's name on the music scene in Canada for years to come.
You can check her out at http://www.melissamcclelland.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week Newspaper May 30, 2007 - Yorkton, SK, Canada

Review - DEEP DARK WOODS - Self-titled

DEEP DARK WOODS
Deep Dark Woods
Independent
7-out-of-10
It is always a treat to listen to something from a Saskatchewan band. In the case of The Deep Dark Woods, I had not heard of the band until last week.
When I first heard the Saskatoon band's name thoughts turned to a darker, likely heavy metal sound. However, those initial thoughts were tempered by the realization this band was going to appear on the same pre-Juno show as Volcanoless In Canada. (See related article this issue). Many readers will be familiar with Volcanoless for their participation in last summers Fox94 Battle of the Bands at the summer fair. The band, which is based in Saskatoon, also has three members originally from Yorkton. Volcanoless is a band that is acoustically driven, so it was unlikely to be teamed on a pre-Juno stage with a band on the heavier end of the spectrum.
So it wasn't a huge surprise when I threw The Deep Dark Woods on the player that the music had an acoustic feel as well.
This band has a sort of new age country/folk sound that had my memory tweaking on the band Junior Gone Wild.
The band's sounds is guitar driven with Ryan Boldt and Burke Barlow strumming the strings. Chris Mason adds bass, with Lucas Goetz on drums. All four lend vocals to the band, and therein lies The Deep Dark Woods greatest strength. The vocals are clear and sharp and put the music over well.
This self-titled effort has several strong cuts among the 10 songs, nine of which are penned by Boldt, the 10th credited to Mason.
Dead and Buried is a great song lyrically to kick things off. While cuts such as This Town Has Got Me Down, Ramblin Mind and Summer is Gone speak to the Saskatchewan experience, at least in my mind.
The Deep Dark Woods' music may not find an easy home on radio, as it cuts across too many genres without fully fitting any one of them. It has pop elements, country, a hint of jazz, and definite folk lyrics. However, not fitting some cookie cutter radio programming sound is not a bad thing.
This is a band I'd love to see live. A definite fresh sound worth a listen.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 28, 2007 - Yorkton, SK, Canada

Review - FLATLINED - Deaf Leading the Blind

DEAF LEADING the BLIND
Flatlined
Voodoo Records
6-out-of-10
Flatlined, a band out of St. Catherines, ON., is something of a new voice coming out of the indie music scene. Deaf Leading the Blind is the band's second recording, following what was essentially a self-produced promo CD effort.
So is Deal Leading the Blind an indie classic in the making? No, it is not. Will the CD blast Flatlined to the top of the charts, and a major record deal? I wouldn't expect so.
That being said there are indications here that Flatlined could become a very solid band. The question is which way the band will eventually follow as they develop their sound.
As it stands the band seems a little bit out of focus. I found some of their lyrics rather dark and tasty, such as those on Way Too Long, but the music didn't seem to match the words, at least to my ear. The music here all has what I term a 'radio-friendly' lilt. Bands often focus on such music, making sure not to leave too many hard edges on the music for fear radio will keep them off their play lists as a result.
Lyrically though, Flatlined seems to be writing material best suited to a music with more of a rawness. In time that may come as they become more comfortable with themselves as a band.
You can hear little riffs here which are reminiscent of other bands too, for example you can almost hear the Bare Naked Ladies on parts of Dead or Alive, although again the lyrics are darker than the Ladies usually go.
By contrast The Last Goodbye is just too popish for my tastes. A tad contrived for radio.
There are some solid cuts here, including Too Far Away and the title cut, which is the first single release from the CD. I also liked the darkness of the words with Open Wide.
These guys need some maturity, but they show hints of better things ahead. That is also a good sign on a first release, you want to hear potential for growth.
Flatlined will play Rayzr's in the Yorkton Hotel Monday, and anyone interested in listening to a band starting out, one with potential, and enough solid songs to make their future look solid, should make sure to get out to the show. Of course as a side note, hopefully music buffs will get out and support as much live music as possible, so that Yorkton becomes a place bands regularly pencil in to play as they roll down Highway 16 from Winnipeg to Edmonton.
- CALVIN DANIELS
- Review first appeared Yorkton This Week newspaper April 4, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada