Saskatchewan music fans will be familiar with the name Jay Semko the lead voice for the Northern Pikes, a band which ranks among the best rock bands to come from this province. The Pikes are still wowing fans with occasional performances, including a grandstand performance at this years' Yorkton Exhibition grandstand (see related story this paper).
However, fewer fans may be familiar with Semko's solo career, and that is unfortunate because frankly his solo music beats anything the Pikes put together, at least in my books.
I became an instant fan of Semko's when I reviewed his solo effort Mouse way back in 1995. The CD, which was re-released a decade later in 2005, was a poetic masterpiece with haunting lyrics that still draw me to play it on occasion (I can't say that for many CDs from that long ago).
If you take a look at the calender you will note it has taken Semko a dozen years to release his next solo effort, a wait that is much too long for a fan.
The first spin of Redberry at least assured me the poet within Semko is still alive and well. This guy's music demands the listener's ear, and you easily succumb to the demand. You want to get inside Semko's head and follow the winding, and wonderful words he weaves into folk-inspired songs.
Songs such as Another Day and Come Across the Water are merely fantastic. While Semko has a great voice himself, the two songs have a little extra touch with the inclusion of a female voice. Serena Ryder does a very nice job of complimenting the polish Semko on a number of cuts here.
While those two songs may stand out, other cuts, including; Rob Roy Room, Juliet Is Bleeding are also great songs carried by the poetic lyrics which are Semko's solo trademark. Juliet Is Bleeding is noteworthy two since it is a duet with Andrea Menard, a gal with an incredible voice of her own. She also adds her voice to the song Saskatoon Smile, one of the most Prairie-influenced songs on the CD.
I also appreciate Semko isn't really worrying about radio play, at least mainstream radio, as he pushes almost every cut on Redberry to four-minutes, and beyond. That simply allows him to weave a more intricate picture with his words.
Redberry has a slightly different feel from Mouse, more folkish than the alternative pop sound of the previous effort, but it's equally good.
While it will be fun to turn back the clock to listen to Semko and the Pikes Friday, I really hope we do not wait another dozen years for Semko to release another solo CD. I also hope one day Semko plays here in Yorkton when he can focus on his solo music. That would be a great gig to be front row and centre at.
This one gets my highest recommendation as a CD to search out and savour. You can check it out at http://www.jaysemko.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- - Reviews first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 4, 2007 - Yorkton, SK. Canada