Thursday, February 28, 2008

Review -- HOLLY McNARLAND -- Chin Up Buttercup

Holly McNarland
Curve Music

At her best Holly McNarland reminds of Evanescence, especially on cuts such as the lead song So Cold, along with Fly and Bye, Bye Boy. That's the good news. This gal is that good.
At her worst she goes for popish fudge candy, like DaDaDa, that is really just plain bad.
There are other cuts where McNarland swerves to the pop too much, like on Mermaid, but she generally gives us enough good material to save the album as worth listening to, although you might well want to have the remote handy to skip a song or two along the way.
That's really sad too since McNarland can gives us very good music. She has written all 12 songs here, and again it's a bit hit and miss. Again picking on DaDaDa, it has a high school, bad garage band, feel from the lyrics to the singing.
At other times McNarland shows the soul of a true poet, and creates songs which are worth listening to for the words.
Since there are inconsistencies here, I had expected to find Chin Up Buttercup was a first effort, being a situation where McNarland was still finding herself musically. However, her website at indicates this is her seventh recording, so I guess she just misses the mark on occasion.
If McNarland could produce every song to match Memory of a Man, and the aforementioned stronger works, this could by a eight, or nine. Then again it could slip to a four, or five if she focused on the poppier side of her material. In the end, it's a CD with some highlights, but falls short of what it could have been.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 27, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- EDDIE TURNER -- The Turner Diaries

Eddie Turner
Northernblues Music
If you like killer blues guitar, let me introduce you to Eddie Turner's latest The Turner Diaries.
Haven't heard of this guy? Well it's time you became acquainted. His website at gives us some insight into the man, and his guitar. “'Otherworldly', 'scorching', 'polyrhythmic' and 'chilling' have all been used to describe Eddie Turner’s guitar playing. His ethereal style is an amalgam of the Afro-Cuban rhythms of his heritage and the music that influenced him as a teenager: Chicago blues, jazz, r&b and psychedelic rock. The Cuban-born singer/guitarist cut his teeth in several rock bands contributing what Slate magazine describes as 'spacey-yet-resounding solos'.”
From the opening licks on Dangerous, through to the closing notes on I'm Tore Down, Turner is on a guitar burning roll.
The added bonus here is that Turner has a fine voice too. It is a fine compliment to the guitar work, which really is stellar. When this guy breaks into a guitar solo it's pure joy to listen.
If I were forced to pick a favourite I might have to choose So Many Roads, but any of the 12 cuts here have merit. This one is pure good.
You will want to mark Eddie Turner on your favourites list real quick, and I for one am anxiously awaiting whatever follows for this guy in terms of his blues career.
This one is a MUST, for any blues, or guitar lover.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 27, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE SOJOURNERS -- Hold On

The Sojourners
Black Hen Music

The Sojourners have something of an intriguing birth story, one which immediately drew my attention. The trio -- Will Sanders, Ron Small and Marcus Mosely -- originally came together to provide background vocals to Jim Byrnes' latest Juno award winning CD project, House of Refuge. Byrnes was so pleased with the trio's contribution to his CD that he christened them The Sojourners.
Now for those who are unaware, Byrnes is a great Canadian bluesman. His CD That River remains one of my all time favourites. Fans might also recall Byrnes from a reoccurring role in the television series Highlander.
Well Byrnes latest, which sadly I have not yet heard, is a gospel effort, blues, roots and gospel do mix together well. So that is what you get with The Sojourners, good old fashioned roots/gospel music. By the way Byrnes is on hand to offer some guest vocals on both Run On and Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb.
Now I may not be the biggest fan of, nor an expert on gospel music, but I do love good roots music, and this truly is music which can fit in both genres. This is music reminiscent of the music sang in the cotton fields a century, or so ago.
Small, Sanders and Mosely work with tight, beautiful harmonies, which is the strength of this CD.
This one of course has strong religious overtones, but musically it is more than that too. Very solid effort for a first recording. Fans will be hoping for more from this trio.
Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 27, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- METRIC -- Grow Up And Blow Away

Last Gang Records
Metric is a band which is notable, memorable, and stands out for one reason, the vocals of Emily Haines. This gal has a rather unique voice which you will remember.
The material on this CD is all by Haines, and co-male vocalist James Shaw, and they make a pretty solid team.
The CD starts off with the title cut, and frankly they do lead with their best, although the cut is only marginally better than the rest of the CD which is really quite strong from start to finish. For example, Hardwire, the CD's second song is one where Haines voice comes strikingly to the forefront, carving out that spot in the listeners memory which is likely to last a long, long time, and for the record that's a good thing in this case.
There is no pretense here, this is rock music as it has developed this millennium. There is an electronica undertone to the work, with lots of electric wizardry carrying the material, but hey it works.
While Haines may not like the comparison, think music from Cyndi Lauper if she was to hit the stage today, although to Metric's credit the music isn't quite that bubbly, but the general feel is there. Certainly Lauper wouldn't fit a song like Rock Me Now, but a listen and you'll get the connection.
Check this band out at they're a good example of how good today's music can be hyped up on electronics and a memorable voice.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 27, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, February 22, 2008

Review -- AMBUSH -- I Wanna Go Home With You

Ambush hits the bandstand on fire with This Could Be The Night, the lead cut to this Ontario band's fine I Wanna Go Home With You. The lead cut is certainly a radio charter.
There are times Ambush misses the mark a little bit, such as the song Too Hot For Words which utilizes the silly 'nah, nah, nah' and 'blah, blah, blah' lines. Come on guys that is so '50's, and just so bad.
Thankfully they sandwich that poor effort in with hot cuts such as Party Like A Rock Star, which is a rockin' party song, which, while thin on lyrical depth, is a song made for backyard BBQs. It's Party Time is a similar mood piece, made for beer and burgers.
There is no doubt Ambush has gone out to create a CD which radio programmers will like in this day and age, so don't expect a lot of seriousness here, although they do shift it down on a song, or two. Her Faith In Me is a really nice sad song, the kind which will pluck at the heartstrings of many. This is the best cut on the album
The band has emerged from among the myriad of indie country acts to gain some recognition. They were up for two 2007 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) awards.
The nominations were Group or Duo of the Year and Independent Group of Duo of the Year.
The nomination for Group or Duo of the year meant they were on the CCMA award's show. Also nominated were Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, The Road Hammers, and The Wilkinsons, so it was pretty impressive company.
Ambush is Mark McDonell, Riq Turner and Jim Wright. Remember those names, your likely to hear a lot more about them in terms of Canadian country music.
Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 20, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- COWBOY CELTIC -- Gunsmoke, Whisky & Heather

Cowboy Celtic

Oh my goodness, talk about a musical gem coming out of the heart of Alberta. Cowboy Celtic are just plain fantastic.
This CD is worth seeking out just for the song Magdalena and the Jack of Spades, a song with beautiful instrumentation including flute and harp, and made all the more compelling by the lead vocals of Denise Withnell, and the tight harmonies when Keri Zwicker chimes in. This is about a 12 on a scale of 1-to-10.
Truthfully this CD is full of memorable songs as it weaves elements of Celtic and country together. There are places here you will think of Ian Tyson, Gary Fjellgard or Valdy, and others where bands such as Scatter the Mud, or Orealis come to mind, which is a testament to the diversity of the music. Yet Celtic Cowboy holds it together so well, it seems as though the two seemingly diverse genres were made to be twisted together.
The instrumentation is diverse (I love the pipes on The Fair Maid of Bara), and vocally Cowboy Celtic is as smooth as a lake on a calm day.
This might not be something for everyone, since the music has something of an 'old tyme' sound, but at the same time this is the kind of music which deserves a much broader audience than it is probably getting. There are a number of cuts which really should be on country radio.
Live, I can only imagine how wonderful Cowboy Celtic must be. They would be amazing in a soft seat venue such as the Anne Portnuff Theatre in Yorkton. This is a band which begs to be part of the Arts Council's Stars for Saskatchewan series.
I can only say this is about as good as it gets. Find it. Love it.
Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 20, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MICHAEL OCCHIPINTI and CREATION DREAM -- Chasing After Light

Michael Occhipinti and Creation Dream
True North Records
When you see a CD by Michael Occhipinti you can pretty well be assured you're in for a musical treat, provided of course that you like jazz.
Occhipinti is winner of the 2002 National Jazz Award for Guitarist of the Year, and a six-time Juno Award nominee for Best Contemporary Jazz Album, so he has the pedigree of success.
On his website at he is described as a “modern and eclectic approach to jazz and creative music of all kinds has earned him a broad array of listeners and the respect of critics and musicians alike.”
You can appreciate why Occhipinti has had success as you listen to Chasing After Light, a CD title which is most appropriate since the listener is left with the feeling the artist has truly been chasing the rays of light with his fine guitar work.
The music here is helped along by an array of other fine musicians too including Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, who steps to the forefront on several numbers, Barry Romberg on drums, Hugh Marsh adds violin on several cuts, and Roberto Occhipinti plays bass on the cut The Cubists.
This is fun jazz, the kind which trips the fantastic. It doesn't veer off into the netherworld of far-out experimental, but instead stays in familiar territory, and allows the listener to simply enjoy the finer musicianship. At times jazz today tries so hard to be different, it becomes work to listen too, to try to follow where the musician is leading. That is not the case with Occhipinti and Creation Dream. They make it easy on the listener who can relax, and simply wrap themselves in the music.
Nicely done. A jazz album which will please any lover of the genre.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 20, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ANTHEM POETIC -- Death of Love

Anthem Poetic

Anthem Poetic is a band out of Moose Jaw, and Death Of Love in their first album.
Now first albums can be surprising, or they can be suspect, as regular readers will know.
I am happy to slot Death Of Love into the category of surprising.
In fact, Down, the CD's lead cut is quite a powerful, modern rock cut, and Anthem Poetic does a good job of keeping up the pace with songs such as Turn It Up, the CD's second number. A great opening for a new band.
Tony Creech is the front man for Anthem Poetic, a fine poet as a songwriter, albeit with something of a dark soul. He also provides vocals, and does that well too. Not a completely unique voice that will stand out, but strong enough to be enjoyable, and to carry the material in a way that makes it work.
The rest of the band is Luke Fleming on drums, Brian Capstick on bass and Eric LaFrance on lead guitar.
Given Creech's approach to music, both as a writer, and musically, this band could find an audience, if they can hold things together. The band's spot on shows them sort of thrown to the wind at present with one in California, another in Edmonton, and a third in B.C., and only Capstick still in Moose Jaw. It will be too bad if Anthem Poetic does not stay together, because it would be interesting to see how they mature as a band.
Their first effort is certainly worth seeking out.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 20, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review -- THE BLUE VOODOO -- Back To The Shack

The Blue Voodoo

I am continually amazed how disks from bands I had not heard of previously arrive, and when you spin the unknown disk you are immediately impressed by the music.
That is certainly the case with The Blue Voodoo, a blues band out of Vancouver. Now I'll admit I was hoping these guys would be good because the band name just trips atmosphere.
The CD title Back to the Shack certainly seemed to indicate a roots-based approach to the genre too, and while there are underpinnings of roots, this is generally higher tempo that you might expect from true roots blues.
I'd categorize The Blue Voodoo as a southern-fried blues band, one that has lots of character and beat to their music.
The band is comprised of Ted Tosoff on guitar and vocals, Rick Dalgarno on guitar and slide dobro and vocals, Kelly Stodola on drums and Gerry Berg on bass. Musically the band plays tight, although it is the gravely vocals from Tosoff which drive this CD best.
This is the band's first CD effort, and they have put together a really solid collection of 14 songs penned by the band. You have to give them credit for forging forward with their own material right from the get-go.
The best cut is the deep south-dipped Black Moon, but there are several other cuts you will remember as you play this one regularly.
You really hear the grit in the vocals on the high-tempo Monday Morning Blues. Suitcase Blues goes the other direction, with a slower, more mournful approach. Somewhere Else Instead is a strong opening cut which introduces you to a really solid new blues band.
It is to be hoped these guys stay together a few years, because they will only get better, and they are darned good right now.
Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 13, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ANGELA SIRACUSA -- Mov'n On

Angela Siracusa

Hailing from Nashville via Niagara Falls in Ontario, Angela Siracusa is an emerging new country voice, with the Indie-produced Mov'n On her debut release.
This CD is interesting from the perspective the material is all composed by Siracusa, with the lyrics penned by Desiree Corso. The pair work together well.
Now Siracusa calls herself a country performer, and that makes sense if you are going to base in Nashville, although I'm not sure how truly country some of this material is.
The lead cut Still Standing has an almost jazz feel.
Don't Tell Me, has pop, or stage elements, and while it shows Siracusa has a great voice, you are left wondering if it is a voice which can reach farther than Nashville country.
I will credit Siracusa with avoiding the current cookie-cutter country malaise which seems to permeate the business of late. This material goes a step, or two farther musically, and vocally.
I really like Siracusa's voice, although I'd like to see her do a jazz album. That said, this gal can go a long way if she can be allowed to grow as a performer, without having to conform to the norm to get the radio break most performers are chasing when they move to Nashville.
As it stands, if this was what country was all about, it would jump up my list of musical interests. This is darned good stuff for country in this millennium. Nice job girl.
Check her out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 13, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ARLETTE ALCOCK -- Wolfgirl

Arlette Alcock

If you want one word to sum up Arlette Alcock's release of Wolfgirl it would be 'lyrics'.
This CD has some strong messages entwined in the songs, starting with Alberta Sunshine and Kitsilano Boys, the first two songs on this 11-cut effort, along with others such as the title-cut Wolfgirl.
I would say the key to enjoying this CD is to actually listen to the words, and digest the sentiment behind them.
Musically, Alcock has taken a folkish approach, keeping the instrumentation minimalist in order to highlight the words, and it works.
Alcock's voice has something of a conversational feel, perhaps homage to the oral storytelling of First Nations and Metis people. Whatever the reason, it generally works, although on occasion she might have simply opted for the spoken word as a change of pace.
This may not be for everyone, but it is a good musical window to the culture of Canada's founding people, and the messages presented are worth contemplating.
You can check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 13, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HIGHWATER JUG BAND - Self Titled

Highwater Jug Band
Hoodoo Records

Talk about a world of joyful noise. Say hello to the Highwater Jug Band, a Calgary band which is a throwback to a far earlier time in the world of blues/folk music.
When you read about this band they talk a lot about a focus on music which was spun out on crackly 78 LPs, and that pretty much sums this band up. This music would have fit on the older phonographs real well.
What adds to the authenticity of the music is the band's instrumentation. “The Highwater Jug Band perform with an array of instruments including ukuleles, guitars, banjos, mandolins, clarinet, washboard, kazoo, harmonica, musical saw, tambourine, drums, bells, whistles, toys, a home made wash tub bass contraption called a “muck-bucket” and yes – jugs,” explained the bands website.
The band includes Mark Sadlier Brown, Tim Williams, Cedric Blary, Suitcase James and John Rutherford, and that tells you this is a gathering of veteran performers coming together to create something fun and nostalgic, and boy do they accomplish that goal well.
This is a fun album, spurred by the instrumentation, the historic style, and the consummate skill of the band members.
This is like a jump back in time by half a century, and it's a time warp you will be glad you made.
This would be a great band for a concert at an event like the Grain Millers Harvest Showdown in Yorkton – fun, upbeat, countrified and exciting.
I won't try to pick a favourite here. There are a dozen cuts, and all are gems. I love this one.
A MUST have. Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 13, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, February 8, 2008

Review -- RONNIE EARL & DUKE ROBILLARD -- The Duke Meets The Earl

Ronnie Earl & Duke Robillard
Stony Plain Records

When you are talking the blues the names Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl are likely to come up pretty quickly when the discussion turns to contemporary musicians. Robillard, as a guitar guru has more CD credits than most artists could ever dream of, and Earl himself is an accomplished performer on the guitar too.
So, what do you get when two guitar slingers come together to record? Well folks, if you like guitar-based blues you get a five-star treat.
These two hit the studio running, opening the CD with a near eight-minute rendition of Robillard's West Side Shuffle that is a pure delight. WOW! These two cook right from the get go. The two guitarists are a perfect compliment to one another.
What makes this such a pure delight is the way Robillard and Earl just let the music flow, exploring the songs, and their interpretations of those songs, through long weaving, improvisational efforts.
My Tears comes in at seven seconds under 16 minutes. What a sweet ride this one is.
Zeb's Thing, a piece by Earl again punches past seven minutes, I Need You So Bad past eight, and A Soul That's Been Abused, again by Earl, beyond 13 minutes. You have to love it when the blues is allowed to flow so freely at the hands of two accomplished guitar players like Robillard and Earl.
This is basically an instrumental effort, which is just fine since these two are known for their guitar work above all else.
This is a must for blues lovers. Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 6, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GO JEFF!!! - Wake Up The Dance Machine

Go Jeff!!!
Anyone who regularly reads the reviews here will know I hold a special place in my heart for music from Saskatchewan. I have come to learn that there is a ton of great Saskatchewan music out there, and it deserves to be recognized, and promoted.
However, Wake Up The Dance Machine by the Moose Jaw band Go Jeff isn't one of those great recordings. In fact, by the time the noise of the second song on this one is growling out of the headphones, I was left wishing that the band had indeed left the dance machine sleep if this was the result of waking it up.
Now I'll admit I'm gray-haired these days, but I'm not sure where the word dance and this noise come together either.
I do recognize that modern music is pretty diverse, and much of it I enjoy, including the likes of One Bad Son, and Volcanoless In Canada which while very different are both great. This is different too, but simply not great.
The band does catch a bit of style on cut three Womandolin, where the female lead singer can actually be heard. Sadly, neither the CD liner notes, or the bands myspace page give her complete name. The song too is about the only bright spot on a CD that really doesn't have a lot going for it.
This is four young musicians who truly need to find a different approach before heading to the studio again.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 6, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DIANA STABEL -- Wave

Diana Stabel

It never hurts to be sultry, and to have a voice to match when playing jazz, and Diana Stabel has the combo going for her. This lady is pure sexy whether looking at her pretty smile, or listening to her voice on her debut release Wave.
Stabel comes from Edmonton, not exactly what most of us would recognize as a jazz hotspot, but that view may soon change as people become familiar with this lady.
Stabel's website at explains her as, “a darling of the jazz and folk genres, Edmonton-based vocalist Diana Stabel captures audiences with her seasoned technique, sensual and distinctive tone, expressive phrasing, and lucid sincerity.” OK, I can buy that as pretty accurate from this CD.
Stabel was one out of only 20 artists awarded a grant from Rawlco Radio as part of their 10K 20 project, one of the most important programs in creating new recordings from the Prairies in years. The result of it is this debut album, produced by Juno nominee and Canadian Indie Award winner Sandro Dominelli. The album is composed of nine jazz standards and features some of Canada’s finest jazz musicians including Chris Andrew on piano, Robert Walsh on guitar, Mike Lent on bass, and Sandro Dominelli on drums.
This is one that jazz fans will want to search out because it could well be the start of a very solid career. Stabel can clearly sing, doing so with enough style you'll remember her. She really does a nice job of songs such as Just Squeeze ME, The Lamp Is Low and Nice and Easy.
This is one gal I'd love to see live on stage, if this city only had a venue for jazz.
Check her out, you won't be disappointed.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 6, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- STEPHANIE MARTIN -- Shape, Line & Harmony

Stephanie Martin
This must be the week for ladies of jazz, as we take a trip down east to check out Toronto pop/jazz vocalist Stephanie Martin.
Martin starts this CD offering up a nice upbeat version of One Good Thing. Like all the material on this CD, Martin wrote the lead long, and it has that wonderful familiar quality of song that will stick with the listener.
Ditto on the second song Come Too Love Again.
That is what amazes me here. Martin has written a selection of songs that have the feel of long-loved standards, something which is not easily accomplished. There is a maturity to her work.
The third song, Box Canyon continues that trend. This one has a country feel, although Martin keeps it in the jazz vein just enough to fit this album.
What surprised me here was that in spite of the first three cuts being so strong, the rest of the CD manges to keep up. There is no let down here. Martin cuts a winner from start to finish. You could pick just about any song you want on this one as a favourite. Songs such as I Paint My Sorrow, Flying Into Delos, Georgia and Hollow Reed all have their strengths that the listen will enjoy.
Martin has a smooth, well-seasoned voice, that is completely at home in the jazz element. If you like jazz, then this one truly is a must. Just plain excellent. An incredible debut. Among the top two, or three jazz albums I've reviewed in the last half decade.
Check her out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 6, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada