Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Review -- DOC WALKER -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Doc Walker
Independent
9-out-of-10
In terms of country music these days, there is a definite sound which Nashville has created, and successful bands have had to emulate in order to find wide radio play, since most public stations follow each other like lemmings on their life-ending romp.
A Canadian band which has the “Nashville' sound, yet manages at times to rise above the homogeneous malaise that is country today is Doc Walker.
Songs such as Maria have radio-friendly modern country written all over it. It is a song that is 1970's rock glazed over as 2000's country.
Thankfully we can forgive Doc Walker for going after such hits because they at least know what real country is, something I'm not convinced a lot of Nashville acts really know these days.
You can enjoy the tutti-fruttie radio-style material here as an appetizer to songs such as My Life, which lyrically, and stylistically is a far truer form of country. This is one we might have heard from any top country act the last 50 years. It's a song sung from the heart, showing a country soul.
Doc Walker gets even better with the song That Train, one of those sad country anthems for the ages. This one is timeless. A 10-plus as a single. It is a song like this which puts this band Doc Walker among the biggest name's in country music in Canada today.
They were nominated for nine Canadian Country Music awards in 2007, including Album of the Year, Single of the Year (Driving With the Brakes On), and Group of the Year.
Doc Walker's self-titled album would win Album of The Year at this year's CCMAs, which were handed out at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
Doc Walker was also awarded for Outstanding Country Recording of the Year and Independent Album of the Year at this year's Western Canadian Music Awards. The awards were handed out October, in Moose Jaw.
Country fans this one is a must. Super job. Check them out at www.docwalker.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SHUYLER JANSEN -- Today's Remains

TODAY'S REMAINS
Shuyler Jansen
Independent
5.5-out-of-10

Shuyler Jansen is a throw back to an earlier time in country. This is a purer country, with less electric tricks than most country today. Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash would relate to this guys approach to the genre.
Originally from Saskatoon, and now in Edmonton, Shuyler calls his music a mix of country/folk and rock on his spot on www.myspace.com
That pretty well covers it, although the rock influences are generally kept to a minimum, which is good because Shuyler loses his way the most when he looks to mix in the rock. Play Fair is an example. This one has something of a '60's rock-Beattles undertone, and it simply doesn't fit here.
On the country side, Shuyler fairs better, although he still has some steps to take. Part of the problem is that some songs here are stylistically old country, Shuyler doesn't carry them off with the same guts and grit that a Cash or Robbins used to become famous.
In the end Shuyler might well find he fits best as a modernist folk singer, although the cowboy hat on the CD cover suggests he wants to make listeners think he's a country singer.
Certainly the song Today's Remains is, the best here, with a flavour, and sound reminiscent of Ian Tyson.
The problem for Shuyler is consistency here. He needs a tighter focus, and once gained, the time to bring his voice, music and lyrics into sync. Right now it's just too scattered for me. Check him out at www.shuylerjansen.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RACHEL RIES - Without A Bird

WITHOUT A BIRD
Rachel Ries
Independent
8-out-of-10
Indie/folk/country is sort of a catch all explanation of a musical style, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I checked out Rachel Ries at www.myspace.com.
Having listened to Without A Bird, the musical definition may still be broad, but guess what? Who cares about definitions when the music is good.
Ries impressed with her first song Learning Too Slow, a song that you can hear lyrical elements of folk, and musical elements of both country and pop, although I think she missed mentioning she has a jazz sound too.
Quite frankly I hear quite a bit of jazz here. It's certainly there on cuts such as Never You Mind.
Then again, there are touches of blues too. The intro of When Will You Be Mine?, will have some thinking Patsy Cline and others Janis Joplin, which gives you a pretty good indication this gal weaves some rather intricate music together.
This is one of those CDs which deserves repeated listens simply because you will pick up new musical influences and nuances every time you give it a spin.
Another strength of this CD is Ries has written a group of songs which resonate with the Prairies, not surprising since she is from South Dakota. That said, she does throw a few wrinkles in that theory too, with the song Chicago more quirky lyrically. It also has a show tunes sound.
This is one of those CDs that is fresh in it's broad approach, and impressive in how well she holds the diversity together to create a pleasing whole.
Certainly a gal worth listening too. Check her out at www.rachelries.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- TANGLEFOOT -- Dance Like Flames

DANCE LIKE FLAMES
Tanglefoot
Borealis Records
6.5-out-of-10
If you have a traditional view of folk music then you will have a pretty fair idea of what Tanglefoot is all about.
The Ontario band has been around for a number of years, having occasionally evolved along the way. Dance Like Flames is the band's first studio recording since 2002, and features material from all five band members. The recording is also the first time Tanglefoot has recorded with a female voice with Sandra Swannell joining in 2003. The rest of the band is; Terry Young, Rob Ritchie, Al Parrish, and Steve Ritchie.
Dance Like Fames has a Celtic/Canadiana feel to it. The lead cut; The Whiskey Trick, has humour, and a sound which brings forth thoughts of band's such as Edmonton's Captain Tractor.
Paddle Like Hell is powered by Swannell's fine fiddling, and shows the Canadiana with the lyrics sung in French.
Like many bands with a folk-Celtic feel, Tanglefoot throws in plenty of humour. This is pub music after all. You get the idea from the song title Boot Soup – 'nuff said.
This Cd works on the power of the fiddle, and the high spirit of the music. This is a feel good effort. Pick this one on a blue day and it will lift your spirits.
Full marks for it's attitude, although that said, it doesn't quite warrant top marks simply based on the flavour of the lyrics. This is kind of like the movie Slapshot, well loved for what it is, and often enjoyed, it's not exactly an Oscar nominee either.
Check the band out at www.tanglefootmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review -- MEGAN LANE -- Wrapped In Plastic

WRAPPED IN PLASTIC
Megan Lane
Independent
7-out-of-10

Fans of the sadly long gone blues nights at the Painted Hand Casino are likely to recall a young female guitar slinger from Saskatoon named Megan Lane. Well this girl is starting to grow up, and that shows in her CD release Wrapped In Plastic.
With this work, her second CD release, Lane offers up what might be best described as blues for the new millennium. This is music which fits in the same list with someone like the famed Poppa Chubby who really kicks the rock into the blues.
What Lang does well here is infuse rock and blues, especially noticeable on the cut Moving On ..., a song with rock leaning lyrics, and incorporating some killer blues-style guitar solos.
Of course we should expect a strength of the CD to be the guitar work, since Lane is one of several strong blues guitarists to emerge from the Queen City, a group which includes Jordan Cook and Kyle Riabko.
There are times where Lane gets a little lost on where she is going musically though. For example After Sex Cigarette has poppish lyrics which don't really fit Lane's somewhat angry growling voice, nor does the lyrical approach fit with her powerful guitar skills.
That does not mean this is a bad CD. What it does suggest is that Lane is still young, and that alone means she is feeling out where she wants to go musically. She was obviously born into the blues, but as a teen most find their way to whatever is popular, and at this time bringing the two worlds together is a challenge. At times Lane handles it as a master. At times her inexperience still shows through.
Still, this is an album blues fans should consider since it will be part of the legacy of a performer who one day could be remembered as one of the greats as she develops her craft.
At the same time, this CD will not be a disappointment to rockers either, which is good since it does leave doors open for Lane as she grows.
Check her out at www.publish.shaw.ca/meganlane
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.23, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- FIVE STAR HOMELESS -- Lost Wages

LOST WAGES
Five Star Homeless
Independent
7-out-of-10

It's always refreshing to find a hot folk/Americana band that hails from our home province of Saskatchewan, and that's exactly the case with Five Star Homeless, a strong roots-based trio out of Saskatoon.
Five Star Homeless has a bit more 'beat' to some of their folk interpretations (such as the song Better Things) than other bands which fit snugly into the genre, but it's still clearly roots music, and that simply means this trio knows how to to expand the boundaries a bit.
I like how these guys approach their craft. There is a definite energy to what they are laying down for the listener, and that energy is infectious. It's always good when a band draws you in to their world, and Five Star Homeless does it skillfully.
While these guys do punch it up a bit, this is still the music of Prairie soul, and it comes through on cuts such as Likes of Him, which is my personal favourite on the CD. That said this is a solid effort through all 10 cuts.
Dirty Old Town should be on country radio too.
The band features Matt Griffith on vocals and acoustic guitar, Harley Hoeft on bass fiddle and vocals, and Robin Pereia, organ, accordion and again vocals. All three contribute vocally adding to the depth of the work.
Check these guys out at www.fivestarhomeless.ca, and if you like roots music at all, support this Saskatchewan band.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.23, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HUNTER VALENTINE -- The Impatient Romantic

THE IMPATIENT ROMANTIC
Hunter Valentine
High Romance
7.5-out-of-10
This CD opens with the words “let's not be typical” the catch phrase to the lead cut Typical. To the credit of this Toronto, all-female trio, they do a creditable job of being unique.
Hunter Valentine is Kiyomi McCloskey, lead vocals and guitars; Adrienne Lloyd, bass and keyboards; and Laura Petracca, drums and backing vocals. The three meld together solidly both musically, and most importantly vocally, led by the solid voice of McCloskey.
Musically, Hunter Valentine is alternative rock, that wide ranging category which gives a band a ton of leeway musically. The trio does a nice job of not going so far into the alternative side of things to make themselves inaccessible to the average listener, but still adding enough twists to the rock roots to keep their overall sound fresh.
There are a number of killer cuts here, including the aforementioned Typical, Break This, Jimmy Dean and Wait and See. All 11 songs are written by the band, another plus in my books, and lyrically the girls do well on this their debut effort.
If you like your rock fresh, yet familiar,. Then Hunter Valentine should be a good fit. Check them out at www.myspace.com/huntervalentine
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.23, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JULIA -- Peaceful Night

PEACEFUL NIGHT
Julia
Independent
9-out-of-10
Oh wow! Talk about something that is refreshingly different in terms of what I usually have the opportunity to review. Julia (Cunningham) offers up something that is sultry, sexy, amazing and smooth – jazz music with the focus on her favoured instrument the harp.
Cunningham is from Los Angeles now, but actually has roots here in Saskatchewan which says something abut the fertile ground of Prairie soil in terms of musical inspirations. Those roots are seen clearly with the cut Saskatchewan Sunset which would easily inspire any jazz composer.
As you might expect this is an instrumental effort, thankfully so, because you would not want vocals taking away from the music here. By the way it's one of the best cuts here too.
What Julia has laid down here is music that is relaxing, as smooth jazz often is, made more so by the lyrically sound of the harp.
It helps that Cunningham is obviously a skilled musician too. Check out her website at www.soulharp.com, which is where I found her “special performances have included concerts with Luciano Pavarotti (Pavarotti and Friends) in Modena, Italy, concert tours throughout Europe, North America, Australia & The Middle East, appearances with The Stars of the Musicals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and televised Christmas concerts at the Vatican in Rome.” That's pretty impressive on any resume, and illustrates just how good this gal is.
There are 11 cuts on this CD, only one under three minutes in length, and most going to four minutes and beyond, which is a definite plus for the listener. The more of this girl moving her fingers skillfully over the harp strings the better.
This is definitely a CD which is worth seeking out. Wonderful music throughout.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.23, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, January 18, 2008

Review -- TELE -- Self-Titled

SELF-TITLED
TELE
Independent
8-out-of-10

It's always fun to review a band you know readers will have an opportunity to see live, and that is the case with TELE, a band from Winnipeg.
The band, which released its debut CD in late 2007, will be playing at Holly's Nite Club next Thursday (Jan. 24), and after giving their CD a few spins lovers of modern rock will want to check out the show. This is a band with a sound that has definite scope. In interviewing lead singer Matt Worobec for a story (see related article this issue), he talked about the band having a European flavour, and about trying to create a big sound. Well as a lover of symphonic metal, I can hear some of the same approaches here. TELE comes at the listener with some neat musical sounds, such as the intro to the song Lullaby, and the overall approach to the lead cut Hello, Hello. Nicely done boys.
If there is one complaint here, TELE has taken something of a minimalist approach in terms of song length. They are songs which might be perfect for radio lengthwise, but frankly with the sound these guys produce, I wanted them to delve into their work a little deeper. I think they could have taken the product another step by giving themselves the freedom to go a bit longer on some of the cuts, even if that kept them from being popular radio picks. There are times these guys take an epic approach musically, and that begs for a cut or three which flirt with 10-minute masterpieces of sound. They do let go on Notice, and it might be the best cut on the CD (being a toss up with Choose).
Monster is also a song where TELE hits everything just right.
Still this is a hot new release from a band which is taking a different approach to their music than many Canadian bands these days. They simply borrow from sounds beyond our own borders, and it works well for them.
These guys are definitely worth a listen, so check them out next week at Holly's, or find them on the Internet at www.myspace.com/tele
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.16, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CARRIE CATHERINE -- Green Eyed Soul

GREEN EYED SOUL
Carrie Catherine
Independent
9-out-of-10

To my ear Carrie Catherine is one of the most unique, yet smooth voices on the Saskatchewan music scene, and frankly has a sound which should have carried her far beyond this province's borders.
I fell for this girl with her great album Venus Envy, and I can tell you there is no drop off with the release of Green Eyed Soul. She busts out on her latest album hitting the long ball with the opening cut Carry On, and she keeps hitting them deep throughout the album.
Carrier calls herself a folk rock/soul artist. In truth her music comes across more pop than driving rock, but hey that doesn't change the substance here, which comes from the soul she puts into the music.
The 10 songs here are all penned by the artist, and they show this lady has a modern poet's soul. Lyrically these songs catch you, helped along by Carrie's wonderful voice. Talk about a lady that would shine in a coffee house.
Carrie Catherine hails from Saskatoon, a fertile ground for music in Saskatchewan, and even in a city with a deep pool of talent this gal comes to the top of the list with ease.
Cuts such as Promises, Love To Follow, Wineglass, and Bird's Wings are the best here. The strength of the lyrics come in large part because of their obvious connection to the Prairies where the artist grew up, and became the budding star she is.
If you like the likes of Sarah McLachlan you will love Carrie Catherine who is easily in the same league with her famous Canadian counterpart. Don't miss this one. This girl should be going places, and big places at that. Check her out at www.carriecatherine.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.16, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SHAKTI HAYES -- Touchwood Hills

TOUCHWOOD HILLS
Shakti Hayes
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
This is a CD I was truly looking forward too. I had that feeling Shakti Hayes would provide music which connected with her Aboriginal roots, yet had merit for the rest of us too.
Lyrically Hayes does just that, starting with the compelling title cut which is the first song on this eight-song effort. You immediately recognize Hayes writes songs which are no doubt deeply personal to her, and that helps her perform the material with an obvious passion.
Hayes hails from Vancouver, and her spot on www.myspace says she is an acoustic/folk/blues artist. I have to admit the blues element escapes me on all but One Day Papa. However, there are definite old country elements here. A Lifetime Ago has the sound of a country hit 30 years ago when country was still just that, and not rock in a cowboy hat.
The strength of this CD is clearly in the lyrics, in the stories and messages Hayes portrays so well to the listener; an example being Buffalo Drop. It is clearly evident Hayes is an excellent storyteller.
Vocally, Hayes is something of an enigma to my ear. On one hand she has a unique voice, one that would not be hard to pick out of a crowd. However, the pitch is just high enough that I find it a little bit more than I want to listen to for a full CD. This is no doubt very much a personal preference, but then again I am the one doing the reviews.
As good as the material is it won't be a CD I listen to often. That said for those who enjoy female voices in the higher ranges, and that like folk with exceptional lyrics, this is a good choice. Check it out for yourselves at www.myspace.com/shaktihayes
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.16, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JAY McSHANN - Hootie Blues

HOOTIE BLUES
Jay McShann
Stony Plain Records
8-out-of-10
Speaking of the blues, Jay McShann is the real deal. The Kansas City pianist has been performing the blues since the 1940s, and he still knows how to play keyboard-based blues with a ton of passion some six decades later.
Thankfully, the little recording label gem which is Stony Plain Records out of Alberta has seen fit to capture McShann on this hot little CD Hootie Blues.
This is one of those recordings worth adding to the collection simply because of who is tickling the ivories. There simply aren't that many performers, blues, or otherwise, who have been with their music as long as McShann, (born in 1916), and that makes this one special.
This CD was recorded live in 2001 at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto, and that adds to the effort too as it offers up the energy of performing in front of an audience.
McShann offers up familiar works such as Yes Sir, That's My Baby? (a sweet eight-minute rendition), My Chile and Deed I Do, which goes over nine minutes.
This is McShann's fourth recording with Stony Plain, and you are left hoping they have more material in the vault to keep bringing this fine piano blues to fans.
This is a veteran musician whose voice and piano playing is still sharp, and should be a must-have for anyone into piano blues. Check it out at www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.16, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, January 11, 2008

Review -- ACTIVATE -- Time Is The Enemy

TIME IS THE ENEMY
Activate
Independent
8-out-of-10

This is a rock album which should be of immediate interest locally considering at the heart of Activate are Evan and Byron Chambers, two former Yorkton residents, who may be remembered in the music community as members of the now defunct Things Better Left Unsaid.
Activate is the Chambers latest vehicle, a five-piece band based in Regina (see related story this issue Page B1).
Musically, Activate calls itself progressive, rock, metal, which really suggests just about anything left of the Carpenters, and that isn't so far off the mark with these guys.
There are cuts here, such as The Journey Home – Part II, which are pretty straight ahead metal, not so far removed from the symphonic metal I like so much.
Other cuts, such as Cast of Stone are pretty well just straight driving rock, and frankly the world could use more of that.
Within the varied work here, listeners will hear elements of southern fried rock, blues (The River), and just about everything else. These guys are in many ways a cauldron into which they've poured a bit of everything – heck on The Journey Home – Part II, there is even a segment reminiscent of the sound track to Lord of the Rings – and then pour out something varied, sweet and enjoyable. The band might not like it, but on The Journey Home – Part II, there is even a country feel to the intro.
As you might expect, with the thread of metal through most cuts, there are great instrumental solos here, which are often the highlight of the material.
Vocally, the band is solid, if not extraordinary, with Cody Wilkinson and Evan Chambers taking the lead efforts. Eric Mazden, Andrew Smith and Byron Chambers round out the band.
The question is whether the diversity of style here will win Activate a broader base because it has something for everyone, or whether it will lose fans who can't get into a groove because of the changes of pace? I tend to prefer bands that stay on course with a CD. In fact, I often blast groups for throwing too many change ups because it trends to take away focus. Surprisingly, Activate has served up the differences with enough balance that the ship stays the course.
Yes there are curves here, and yet they maneuver through them smoothly enough the listener can easily navigate this CD, and enjoy it for what it is, something of an experimental effort that delves into everything rock has to offer. Just hang on and enjoy the effort.
I really think Activate has a sound for the times, varied, fresh and held together by strong instrumental efforts.
Check these guys out at www.myspace.com/activaterock
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.9, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SEAN PINCHIN -- Folklore

FOLKLORE
Sean Pinchin
Independent
9-out-of-10
In my mind there are a number of truly great folk troubadours in Canada, starting with the likes of Dave Essig and Tim Williams, and Sean Pinchin doesn't so much follow in their footsteps, as he strides out on his own to walk with other great performers of the genre.
Pinchin knows an underlying truth of great folk music is simplicity, and he comes at it with his slide guitar, his handy harmonica, and a voice unique enough to be memorable. In terms of instrumentation nothing is more appropriate to folk stylings than a slide guitar which is well played, and added to by some well-timed harmonica. These are the instruments a minstrel can throw over his shoulder and hop the rails to the next town. That is the heart of folk laid bare for all to see.
To add some variety to folklore Pinchin has drummer Geoff Elliot contributing on three songs, and bassist Mike Pellitier there too. The three songs are Robin's Nest, The Women I Meet and Sick of Sunday.
This is a fat offering with 16 songs, and frankly I wish it had been 26, this effort is that good.
As a lyricist Pinchin can write a darn fine tune too. I think in terms of folk's commentary on the efforts of the common man Killing Floor stands out as the best.
That said, the soulful harmonica on Sweet Cherie makes it a favourite too.
If you are looking for a CD to spend some of the Christmas money on, then you won't go far wrong on this. A truly wonderful Canadian folk effort. Check it out at www.myspace.com/seanpinchin
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.9, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOSEPH FIRE CROW -- Red Beads

RED BEADS
Joseph Fire Crow
Makoche Music
9-out-of-10
There may not be a more mournful, nor emotionally effective instrument played anywhere in the world than the wooden flute in the hands of a skilled First Nations' player. With that in mind, you are in for a treat with Joseph Fire Crow's Red Beads.
The CD starts off with a lead-in flute solo, and the listener is almost immediately relaxed and in the right mood for what is to come. Some may find the native voice singing on the lead cut As People a little bit of a barrier, but for anyone who has attended a powwow will understand, you simply have to let the music carry you, and I find in most Aboriginal music the singing is simply part of that process.
By the time the CD moves to track 2; Sundance Horses (Oh My Sweetheart), you are so into another place and time, that the foreign language is totally forgotten.
Over the years I have reviewed music in French, Greek and other languages, but none take me to another mindset as deeply as Aboriginal music. It may be the steady undertone drum beat. First Nation's people relate the drum beat to the beat of the heart, and that may well be the connection which makes the music so compelling.
When you layer the music with the haunting flute, the result is something truly quite special, especially in the hands of someone as obviously talented as Joseph Fire Crow.
There are 14 songs here, nine of which go for more than four-minutes, so there is enough music here to take a truly delightful trip to another place any afternoon you need to take a break. Highly recommended. Check it out at www.makoche.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.9, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LIESA NORMAN -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Liesa Norman
Independent
8-out-of-10
It constantly amazes me how fresh new voices emerge seemingly from no where, demanding attention.
Liesa Norman is one of those voices.
When you look into this young lady's background, you do get a better understanding that music has long been part of her life, having started playing both flute and piano in her formative pre-teen years. She went on to achieve a doctorate for her flute, and has played with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Being a skilled flutist is one thing. However, it is another to have a voice which can carry a CD, and not just carry it, but to be special enough that the listener is left thinking they have spent time with an emerging star. Liesa Norman pulls that off.
The question for me is just where Norman's voice will ultimately take her. There are true pop hit cuts here such as Fear and Loving and Days Go By, which suggest this gal might be taking on the crowded world of modern music with the likes of Pink and Madonna. Vocally, and stylistically she could handle that, although we all know that world is as much about glitz, promotion, smoke, mirrors and luck, as it is about voice and music.
At the same time Norman has a voice that could carry off jazz music just as easily, and while maybe not having the same 'bright lights' stardom as pop/rock, it may be a career she will pursue. There are certainly elements of jazz flowing through some of the songs here, including the sultry lyrics of Hey Boy.
Most impressive is that Norman has penned the 10 electronica-influenced pop tunes here (I love Little Monsters for its beat and simplicity), a major event for someone offering up their debut. I can only imagine that this side of her music will deepen too as she gains experience both in life, and in the pop genre.
This is a gal that could ... no make that should ... be among the next generation of big names coming out of Canada.
I like it – A LOT!!!!!
Check Norman out at www.liesanormanmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.9, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Review -- LE VENT DU NORD -- Dans Les Airs

DANS LES AIRS
Le Vent Du Nord
Borealis Records
8.5-out-of-10

Well here is one of those CDs which is admittedly more of a challenge to review than most given that Le Vent Du Nord hail from Quebec and the material is all in French.
Luckily, at least to my ear, French is a very musical language, and you can appreciate this effort for its musical quality without understanding the lyrics. To me the voices simply become another instrument adding to the depth of the music here.
In that regard Le Vent Du Nord quickly impresses. The harmonies on sings such as La Piastre des Etats
are tight, and have a lilting quality which fits perfectly with the folk, acoustic style of music.
Secondly, when it comes to Quebec folk music there is an expectation of great fiddle, and Le Vent Du Nord does not disappoint on that count either. Olivier Demers knows his way around the fiddle real well, offering up some tantalizing solos, such as the lead in to La Traversee.
Rejean Brunet and Nicolas Boulerice both contribute accordion to the effort – Boulerice on the accordion piano -- and that adds nicely to the rustic roots feel of this CD. Boulerice also plays hurdy gurdy (also known as the wheeled-fiddle), and piano here.
Simon Beaudry is the guitarist.
Many readers might shy away from seeking out a CD sung in a foreign language, but I'd recommend you give this one a try if you like folk music. The instrumentation is familiar because of the style, and very well done, and the French language truly sounds great here as well.
This one is worth stretching your ears to give a listen. You can check them out at www.leventdunord.com where you do have the option of an English website.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.2, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- FLAT MOUNTAIN GIRLS -- Idle Talk & Wicked Deeds

IDLE TALK & WICKED DEEDS
Flat Mountain Girls
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

Sticking with folk music, I swing south this week to listen to Idle Talk & Wicked Deeds from the Portland, OR, all-female quartet the Flat Mountain Girls.
Boy, do these gals take you back. The lead cut Little Black Train (the CD title is extracted from the lyrics of this one) could have come off a CD recorded in the 1930s just as easily as it comes from today. The style here is old roots music, steeped in a tradition dating back decades.
That will mean it is something of an acquired taste.
The gals call themselves an old-time string band, and that is exactly what they are. The music is carried by Rachel Gold on banjo, and Lisa Marsicek on fiddle, with help from guitarist Nann Alleman and bassist Laura Quigley.
This CD includes Poor Orphan Child and Jealous Hearted Me, both from the famous Carter Family, All My love In Vain from Robert Johnson, and Sleepy Eyed John from Johnny Horton, which provides a pretty good indication of what the Flat Mountain Girls are all about.
This is a CD old in style, wonderful in harmonies, and enjoyable in the selection of the 15 songs included here.
That said, you have to appreciate the old country, the music of a half century ago, or this will not be for you. This reminds me a lot of music my grandparents listened too, music I remember as a youth I could not stand.
Thankfully, just like I've grown to like the taste of turnips and parsnips, I've come to enjoy this music for its purity, and in that sense, these gals have it.
Check them out at www.flatmountaingirls.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.2, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SUGAR BLUE -- Code Blue

CODE BLUE
Sugar Blue
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Regular readers will know that I love the blues, and in particular harmonica-driven blues, so I was in heaven when Code Blue crossed the desk considering Sugar Blue is a Grammy Award-winning harmonica player. I just knew this one would be sweeeeet!
Well folks I am glad to tell you that I was right. From the lead cut Krystalline Sugar Blue hits his stride with great harmonica solos, and he never takes the foot off the pedal.
There are some great individual cuts here. For example I loved Chicago Blues, an ode to many of the great blues legends who have sadly gone from the scene, although they will never be forgotten.
Sugar Blue's website at www.sugar-blue.com explains “Blue received his first harmonica from his aunt, and proceeded to hone his chops by wailing along with Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder songs on the radio, he was soon to be influenced by the jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon and Lester Young.” That's a pretty good indication of how deep this man is in the blues, and it shows through on all 11-cuts here.
The instrumentation of course is the strength here. Whereas Blue's voice is less sensational. It's not that it is bad, but it is not one that stands out, and is overshadowed by his harp work. That said you won't buy this CD for Sugar Blue's voice, but you should buy it for the harmonica work. That said if his voice were a little more unique, the score would be higher. It does hold back the overall effect just a little.
Still I have to recommend this for the harp work, Sugar Blue is deadly when he takes off on deep, sweet solos. For a blues fan like me they are exquisite.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.2, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BOOMCHIX -- Surprise ... Surprise

SURPRISE ... SURPRISE
Boomchix
Independent
9-out-of-10
The Boomchix are another of the emerging country bands out of Vancouver – it seems like Calgary crossed the mountains.
This is a group which has reached back to an earlier time for the roots of their music, but have managed to nicely adapt the older style to something current. By bringing the past to the present they have a rather unique sound which still has more of a country heart than does most of the country getting airplay on public country radio today.
The sounds of the Boomchix comes from the vocal efforts of Janice Dunbar and Barn Wilkins, who are strong individually, but truly shine when they come together on harmonies. Dunbar for her part plays guitar, while Wilkins adds mandolin, which is a must for music with the roots this band has.
Together these gals are wonderful. I love songs such as 'Til the Searchin's Done, The Edge, Bliss and Let It Go, all songs which should make it to radio but probably won't.
This is where country belongs. The Boomchix know enough about country to be true to the style, yet are wise enough to use elements of rock, well controlled in their application, to enhance the music, not take it over. Too much country today is rock in an ill-fitting country disguise. This is not that. This is country, pure and simple, it just knows enough to draw the best from the past and the present while keeping it real.
Country fans you have to check them out at www.boomchix.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.2, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada