Friday, December 28, 2007

Review -- MARIA MCKEE -- Late December

Maria McKee
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

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

Review -- BOB LANOIS -- Snake Road

Bob Lanois
Cordova Bay
Welcome to something totally different.
When I checked out Bob Lanois on 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

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

Review - OUTLAW SOCIAL - Dry Bones

Outlaw Social
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

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

Review -- SARAH JERROM - Illuminations

Sarah Jerrom
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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Review -- STAGGERLEE STONEBREAKER -- Mesopotamian Blues

Staggerlee Stonebreaker
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

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

Review -- A.J. ROACH -- Revelation

A.J. Roach
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

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

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

Maureen Washington

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

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

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

Jake Peters
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 !

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Review - CANADIAN BRASS -- Christmas Tradition

Canadian Brass

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

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

Review -- JAY SEMKO -- Merry Christmas

Jay Semko
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

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

Review -- EMILIE-CLAIRE BARLOW -- Winter Wonderland

Emilie-Claire Barlow

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

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

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

Various Artists
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

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Review -- BURNTHE8TRACK -- Fear of Falling Skies

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 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.

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

Review - TEN SECOND EPIC -- 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 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.

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

Review -- MARIANAS TRENCH -- 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.

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

Review -- CAUTERIZE -- Disguises

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

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

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Review -- THE GRUFF -- Self Titled


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

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

Review -- BLACK BOOT TRIO -- Eternal Return

Black Boot Trio

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

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

Review -- THE BREAKMEN -- Self Titled

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

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

Review -- BIG JOE BURKE - Love or Money

Big Joe Burke

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

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