Thursday, March 27, 2008

Review -- EVAN WESTERLUND -- Howlin' At The Moon

HOWLIN' AT THE MOON
Evan Westerlund
Independent
9-out-of-10
Can a guy that used to stop chunks of frozen rubber -- he was a hockey goaltender including a stint with the local Yorkton Terriers in the mid-1980s – become a successful country singer?
After a half dozen listens to Evan Westerlund's Howlin' At The Moon, three of those back-to-back, I'd have to say yes, and that's yes in a big way.
This is as solid a debut in terms of country music that has come across my desk since the Black Coffee Cowboys ultra cool disk hit my player.
Westerlund has a storyteller's approach to writing, and a fine voice, and that's a pretty solid basis.
Now whether Westerlund will find commercial success is anybody's guess considering he now resides in Sweden, and in a recent interview he admitted that country isn't exactly a hotbed of country music radio.
However, back here in Westerlund's native country this CD should find airplay anytime a radio programmer actually takes time to listen to the disk.
Westerlund hits the ground running with the strong I Miss You, and follows that with the upbeat, catchy Lightning, and from there simply rolls through a very solid 12-song offering.
This is country that shows its roots in older style country, yet fits today's approach too. Westerlund seems able to skate the fine line between the pure country and today's brand of country, maybe a testament to those days in hockey skates.
When I first received an email about the project, I admit I wondered what might be coming from a guy stuck in far off Sweden, but Westerlund proves here you can write great country just about anywhere.
The top cuts, well that will be a matter of taste, but I really like Ghost Riders, a song reminiscent in style to Kenny Roger's Gambler, and Lightning has a chorus that will have people singing along in no time, and Top Down follows that same formula.
I Miss My Marie is a true heart-tugger that will stroke the heartstrings of listeners.
This one is a great CD, and country fans will want to make the effort to order this one online. Check it out at www.evanwesterlund.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 26, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SUZIE MCNEIL -- Broken & Beautifil

BROKEN & BEAUTIFUL
Suzie McNeil
Curve Music
9-out-of-10
This is a gal on her way to bigger and better things. Suzie McNeil has one of those big, powerful voices that rings so wonderfully pure that you have to be a fan.
On this CD McNeil also offers up music that sits in that increasingly popular shadow world between pop, and what passes for country today. Songs such as Believe, which has already earned McNeil a lot of attention, could quite easily play on radio of both formats, almost without changing a chord from the recorded version. Believe has been featured on network TV episodes including The Biggest Loser, Beauty & The Geek, The Hills, and Oprah Winfrey’s The Big Give.
The strong lead cut Lonely (Are You Coming Home?) is the same way.
There are times though where McNeil falls more completely in the pop/rock vein, like the powerful, yet bouncy Hung Up.
McNeil is starting to get the recognition you will recognize she deserves once you listen to this CD. Suzie was nominated for a Canadian Radio Music Award, was a featured performer at this year’s Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Awards, and was awarded The Canadian Independent Music award’s for Favourite Pop Artist/Group of the Year.
So where did McNeil emerge from?
Originally from Toronto, at the end of summer 2005, she was the last woman standing on CBS television's reality series Rockstar:INXS. She is featured singing duets on INXS’ 2005 release SWITCH.
As for material this CD is packed with hit songs. Skin, Too, Low and Poison are all great cuts to go with the aforementioned singles.
Jump on this one folks, this girl should go far. A great debut effort. Check it out at www.suziemcneil.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 26, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GREEN TARA -- Global Baby

GLOBAL BABY
Green Tara
Easy Bake Records
7-out-of-10
Green Tara offers up what I think is a solid example of how you can blend different styles into a fresh new one. Here you will find strains of soul, R&B, and then Green Tara adds in some modern funk/rap licks at times, and the result is quite different, but hey it works too.
I am not a fan of rap – at all – but when it is mixed in in small spots in cuts such as Figure It Out and Life Can Be Sweeter it works all right.
I do like horns though, and those are mixed in here too, in particular on cuts such as Life Can Be Sweeter.
Another thing which is appreciated is a song with strong lyrics, especially those with a message to convey. Green Tara does a nice job in that regards with Revolution Time a song that tells of the times of slavery and the freedom train north. Well done.
This music will not be for everyone. It is geared to fans of current music. This is hot, funky music, that has spirit and rhythm.
With its mix of pop styles, and upbeat music, Green Tara cooks up a solid CD effort which is worth looking for if it's style is to your liking. Check her out at www.GreenTaRAmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 26, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HOT BLOOD BOMBERS -- In The Mercury High

IN THE MERCURY HIGH
Hot Blood Bombers
Independent
8-out-of-10
The Hot Blood Bombers are yet another of those emerging hot rock bands which seem to be springing up with increased regularity here in Saskatchewan.
Based in Regina, the Bombers are becoming veteran recording artists with In the Mercury High being at least the band's third release following the 2006 release of Red Wine, Loose Lips, and Punk Is Dead and Your Next from 2005, which was something of an inappropriate CD title considering the band pretty much proves punk is alive.
The band bills itself as garage/punk, and that certainly fits. This is hard driving, guitar driven music, yet there is a soul here, albeit often a dark one. This is the kind of music which demands to be played loud so you can give yourself over completely to the music.
This is a fat album, with the Bombers offering up 15 cuts, and it's also a recording which has gained industry recognition. The CD was chosen as the Outstanding Rock Recording at the 2007 Western Canadian Music Awards. The win is not surprising considering this is pure rock, OK with its punk underpinnings.
While it's hard to pick a best song – the one I like best has an expletive title not possible to print here – this is a CD which really needs to be taken as a total package. It comes at you in powerful waves of driving music which are characterized by strong, powerful instrumentals, and loud vocals, which are still generally understandable, a plus for music of this kind.
I can imagine a live performance would be a definite deafening experience to enjoy.
You can check out the band at www.myspace.com/hotblood
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 26, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, March 21, 2008

Review -- BARLEY WIK -- Beyond The Down

BEYOND THE DOWN
Barley Wik
Independent
9-out-of-10
Sometimes when you check out a band's website it's a lot of glossed over exclamation of quality, and at other times there are honest reflections of the band.
In checking out Barley Wik two lines caught my eye as being bang-on regarding this all gal bluegrass/roots band. One line suggests “Barley Wik sing like angels and play an array of acoustic instruments like they sold their souls to the devil.” Well that pretty much explains this group, as you'll soon recognize on songs such as Sweet Slow Dance, a simply dynamite cut on this CD.
The website also suggest Barley Wik's music is “Prairie sunsets with a Tennessee shuffle.” Again that is a pretty accurate description of what you get here. There are Canadian Prairie elements, set into the world of Tennessee bluegrass/roots, and that all works out fine since there is a common country/rural base to both.
Barley Wik is Liz Pearl, Michelle Voison, A. Jamsz and Paula McGuigan. The four gals are consummate musicians, and their voices come together in pure as silk harmonies. These gals are flat out good.
So what are the best songs here? Frankly all 12 cuts are solid, but All That We Have, Highway 3, 60 Days with sweet mandolin work, and the title cut which has great lyrics.
This is an impressive effort if you like the genre, one not to be missed for folkies and lovers of roots and bluegrass.
Check these gals out more at www.barleywik.com, and buy it.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 19, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CROOKED STILL -- Hop High

HOP HIGH
Crooked Still
Signature Sound/True North
7.5-out-of-10
Crooked Still is a bluegrass/Americana band out of Boston which is immediately notable for one reason, the voice of vocalist Aoife O'Donovan. If you were going to create a voice that said bluegrass it would be this one. She has a distinctive voice that is uniquely suited to the genre.
While I was immediately taken by the voice, I will place the caveat that by the time the CD had spun a couple of times I was wishing Crooked Still had a male counterpoint voice to occasionally take the lead role.
O'Donovan's voice is sort of like a slow Prairie breeze in the summer, enjoyable when you first step out, but on a hot day you soon want a gust or two of a stronger wind to cool you down. This is a bit like that, immediately refreshing, but maybe they could have given us a gust or two of a male voice too.
The rest of the band plays beautifully, Rushad Eggleston on cello, Gregory Liszt on banjo and Corey DiMario on double-bass, along with a substantial list of guest musicians.
Throughout the album the musicians are given plenty of time to shine, with O'Donovan fading away to let the music carry the moment. You notice it on a number of cuts, in particular Orphan Girl and Old Virginia where the music truly is wonderful.
Just a note as well, this is almost entirely a traditional album which in the world of bluegrass does open a huge vault of material much of which is no longer familiar in terms of the original voices who created the songs, so it's great to hear Crooked Still's versions. That said, I hope this band ventures into song creation one day, bringing their own lyrical vision to at least some songs.
Overall this is a fine example of female-led bluegrass, although be warned O'Donovan's voice, while wonderful, is something of an acquired taste when hitting you for 11 straight songs.
A bluegrass/Americana fan will want to find this one for sure. Check it out at www.crookedstill.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 19, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Review -- BEN NAGY -- Balogna Face: Revenge of the Alien-Bodied Noodle

BALOGNA FACE: REVENGE OF THE ALIEN-BODIED NOODLE
Ben Nagy
Independent
7-out-of-10
It has been a long while since I've been so confused by an album, but at the time so interested I wanted to hear every wild, wacky, and yet well-played cut.
Ben Nagy is a young Yorkton musician who has, like most young artists, been in several bands, the kind which rise from a basement jam session, only to fall to the wayside when one, or more of the members leaves home for education, or work.
This weird little effort though is Nagy's first solo effort. I use the word weird, because a) it's not easy to pick a word that can fully describe this one, and b) it is a word the artist himself used. “It's just weird,” he said in describing the work in a related story this issue. “The closet thing I can really compare it too is (Frank) Zappa, but it's still nothing like Zappa either. It goes through a lot of genres; blues, metal, an acoustic tune, some synthesizer stuff.”
So what exactly do you get here? I've listened to it, and frankly I'm still not sure myself. This is one of those efforts where a young musician has a bathtub full of ideas and says 'hey, I'm young, I'm learning. I'm experimenting. Let's just use everything'.
The result is a pretty wigged out ride. You don't need a smokey haze of wacky tobaccy here, the music is trippy enough as it is.
There are some cool instrumental moments, like the Purple Hazish Come With Me, and the psychedelicish Dead Funk Scrounge.
There are moments of blues-inspired rock, like Balogna Face, and Revenge of the Alien-Bodied Noodle.
But then there is the underlying weirdness, vocals distorted by electronics, bizarre yet often endearing lyrics, and some stuff I may have nightmares about if I ever fully figure out what was going on.
This CD is for sure not commercial, not radio friendly, and you know, that's not a bad thing. You know you are going to be among a rather small group to venture into Nagy's world, and that's kind of a cool thought.
This will not be music for everyone. Nagy knows that too. However, as a local musician exploring his potential this is a fun effort, and should be one people take a $10 flier on, just to experience the weirdness first hand.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 12, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- AMOS THE TRANSPARENT -- Everything I've Forgotten To Forget

EVERYTHING I'VE FORGOTTEN TO FORGET
Amos the Transparent
Independent
8-out-of-10
Given the rather funky name of the band, and the intriguing CD title, I was expecting something fresh and interesting from this Ottawa band, and I was not disappointed.
The opening track, the title song, has an infectious pacing, and really wonderful musical presentation. I particularly like the addition of trombone played by Evan Cranley.
Overall Amos the Transparent is soft rock, which means the listener is afforded the opportunity to really focus in on the lyrics, and while maybe not the next great Canadian poet Jonathon Chandler does a solid job of creating material you want to listen to. One such cut is My Fear Of Animals, a song with moody instrumentation, and an interesting set of lyrics around what at its heart is a love song. Nicely done.
Another major plus for Amos is that they come at you with a full musical sound. In an age when most bands end up three guys on stage with a guitar, bass and drums, this band has at times up to seven members pouring out the music including the likes of Mark Hyne, Ana Miura, Steven Bragg, Kelsey McNulty and Cameron McLellan, and that simply adds to the richness of the music.
This is a CD with a ton of good music. I love songs such as All You Bellydancers Unite! We Are But Sorrowed Men, another song with a full band sound, and a somewhat dark, mood-ridden approach.
I also like the addition of vocals by Amy Millan on several cuts. Her voice is a perfect contrast to the male leads of Amos, and adds yet another layer to the material on After All That, It's Come To This. A nice touch.
Some might find the CD a little melancholy, there is not a lot of upbeat, the sun shines brightly, sort of songs, but who cares. This is great music, and it deserves an ear. Check it out at www.amosthetransparent.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 12, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE LEGENDARY MILES JOHNSON -- Self Titled

THE LEGENDARY MILES JOHNSON
Self-titled
Independent
8-out-of-10

Here is another of those bands with a weirdly funky name attached. When it first arrived I was expecting a solo act, but nope. The Legendary Miles Johnson is actually Edmonton’s Graham Guest and Toronto’s Raoul Bhaneja. Guest is a pianist and Bhaneja adds vocals, and harmonica. The duo is aided throughout by a number of other musicians who help flesh out the sound.
So what is the sound?
As the name might imply, it's rootsy.
In some cases, such as the opening Last Time I Left New Orleans, the sound is quite bluesy, as is Blues On The Highway, a song where both Guest and Bhaneja chime in with vocals.
Then LMJ switches gears, and goes old style roots on a song such as Happiness Is, a song with Prairie-born lyrics.
This is one CD which reinforces the old adage 'you can't tell a book by its cover'. You might expect something pop/brackish looking at the two musicians on the cover, but these guys have their hearts and soul in a different genre. They definitely carry off roots/blues in a smooth fashion. You will love cuts such Blood On My Hands, a song penned by Bhaneja, and my personal favourite of the CD.
Bacon and Egg, a fun cut, is another that is memorable because Guest's piano come to the forefront in a stronger fashion.
It also impresses me when a band is able to throw some curveballs at the listener, and they leave you smiling from the surprise, and that is the case with LMJ. These guys are well worth searching out at www.raoulandthebigtime.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 12, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GARTH BOURNE -- Then and Now

THEN AND NOW
Garth Bourne
Independent
7-out-of-10

Wow! Tossing Then and Now on the CD player and hearing the opening strains of The Prisoner's Song was like walking through a time portal and hearing the likes of Charlie Pride or Marty Robbins. The cut is pure, old time country, and that is a refreshing thing in this day and age.
While not exactly a household name in country Garth Bourne does have pedigree.
In the past he appeared with notable labels such as R.C.A. and United Artists signing him on with the band, Canadian Zephyr. As their lead vocalist Bourne took many of their records to number one gaining a number of Juno and Country Music Award nominations.
On this CD Bourne is helped out by The West Hill Billys, a group of musicians including Terry Blankley, who regular readers will recall was born in the Yorkton area, and attended grade school here. Blankley also produced the CD.
As a CD, this is pure country. The vocals are clear. The material guitar driven, but never taking front stage over the vocals. The music is a mix of sad ballads, with upbeat cuts, most notably the always recognizable Jambalaya.
While many of the 11 songs are covers, something I'm rarely overly excited about, Bourne does have his hand in writing a quartet of the songs including Gone, a song I think is the best cut here. The other songs are A Long Time Ago, Walls and Love, all which reside in the realm of the slow-paced, hurtin' side of country. Bourne does the sad songs well.
I like this CD, but would have inched the rating up a bit more had Bourne written more of the material, since he has a knack for pure country lyrics in the songs he did co-write.
If you like old country, you can't go wrong with this one. You can find out more at www.garthbourne.50megs.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 12, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Review -- THE DEEP DARK WOODS -- Hang Me, Oh Hang Me

HANG ME, OH HANG ME
The Deep Dark Woods
Independent
8-out-of-10

The Deep Dark Woods are a band out of Saskatoon whose debut, self-titled CD was reviewed here some time ago, earning a 7-out-of-10. The debut was solid, but with Hang Me, Oh Hang Me, (arguably the best effort on the CD), the band continues to grow and improve as a unit. This is material which is more developed as country music, but don't run screaming that a band with its own voice has sold out. The Deep Dark Woods feels country here, but it's an older, purer, real country sound than you hear coming out of Nashville.
I truly appreciate a band which I feel grows from CD to CD, and The Deep Dark Woods has definitely done that in defining their style.
This music has what might best be described as 1960s country, meets folk/soul, and dang it works well.
This may not be a CD those who are not fans of The Deep Dark Woods would immediately fall in love with, but if you give it a chance, it will grow on you in a major way.
Musically, and lyrically this effort is heavily laden with mood, a lot of rather darkish, especially the lead cut Five-Hundred Metres and the title cut, which is actually an old traditional song. River In The Pines, another traditional cut with music by Ryan Boldt follows that somewhat darker mood here too.
The band's sound is guitar driven with Ryan Boldt and Burke Barlow strumming the strings. Chris Mason adds bass, with Lucas Goetz on drums. In my review of the band's debut I wrote, “all four lend vocals to the band, and therein lies The Deep Dark Woods greatest strength. The vocals are clear and sharp and put the music over well,” and that remains true on this CD as well.
Vocally these guys are VERY solid, and for this refined style of country/folk it's a major plus for The Deep Dark Woods.
Hang Me, Oh Hang Me, shows a nice growth as a band, and I can hardly wait to see where they go with their next CD. Definitely worth a listen for any country, or folkie fan. Check them out at www.myspace.com/deepdarkwoods
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 5, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHARLIE A'COURT -- Bring On The Storm

BRING ON THE STORM
Charlie A'Court
Independent
8-out-of-10

From way out east in Dartmouth, N.S., comes the rock with soul sound of Charlie A'Court, and he brings a stellar sound to his release of Bring On The Storm.
This is A'Court's third solo album, to go with an extensive list of other recording credits with bands and as a guest performer, and you can hear pretty quickly why this guy would be wanted as an addition to a recording session.
Musically this guy has a sound which is pretty diverse, with elements of blues (he performed with Glamour Puss so you know he has a blues base), as well as pop/rock and soul. As a result A'Court picked up Blues/R & B Artist/Recording of the Year at the Music Nova Scotia Awards, and he won the 2007 ECMA Pop Recording of the Year for Bring On The Storm.
A'Court hits the ground running here with the lead cut Big Dark Canyon, which ultimately might be the best of the bunch. That said Broken Man is a killer tune too. The title cut is also one that is memorable.
However, overall this is a darn nice album. A'Court has a smooth voice, one you will remember, and the music has a sound which should find a broad audience because it has such a diverse range of influences which A'Court brings together smoothly.
Definitely a Canadian talent who deserves more recognition for his efforts.
Check this guy out at www.charlieacourt.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 5, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- NATHAN LAWR and the MINOTAURS -- A Sea Of Tiny Lights

A SEA OF TINY LIGHTS
Nathan Lawr and the Minotaurs
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
A Sea Of Tiny Lights is pop music, plain and simple. If it's your cup of tea you will be well-served here. If not you might well find this CD one to pass over.
Nathan Lawr does draw on various influences here. The Glass has a decidedly British-pop feel, while the next song Footsteps has a slightly Santana-ish tone to it.
The strength here is the lyrics, which are not as poppish in nature as the music ultimately makes things.
Lawr himself has a pedigree. His website states his “musical career has been all about movement: the fluid motions of drumming for Royal City, FemBots, and other musical colleagues; the cross-country touring with folks like Jim Guthrie, The Constantines, and the "Mid-winter/Mid-autumn Night's Dream" revues.”
Lawr is joined by The Minotaurs who are Paul Aucoin, Evan Clarke, Kristian Galberg, Shaw-Han Liem, Dave MacKinnon, Kate Maki, and Simon Osborne.
The best cuts here are Swimming Like A Needle, There's A Devil, a somewhat folk/bluesy effort, and the aforementioned The Glass.
You can check out Lawr and the Minotaurs at www.nathanlawr.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 5, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PAUL BENJAMIN -- Feel This Rhythm

FEEL THIS RHYTHM
Paul Benjamin
Independent
6.5-out-of-10

Paul Benjamin was born in India, and now calls Saskatoon home, and Feel This Rhythm is his first CD, and folks it's an interesting one.
Benjamin clearly has had a diverse musical upbringing having studied Mrdangam and karnatic rythmic concepts as a youth in India, and then attending Grant MacEwen College in Edmonton majoring in drum set performance. It has created a definite world view to music, which Benjamin wraps in modern electronic covering, creating a unique musical experience in the process.
In some cases Benjamin has created potential hits. One Life To Live could be an R&B hit if it gets the proper airplay.
However, Benjamin has created a CD which as an entire package is not easily categorized. This is a CD with elements of jazz, from Cuban, Middle Eastern, R&B and of course the element of electronica which is large-part holds the entire package together.
Benjamin also uses a series of spoken-word interludes on the CD which add to its uniqueness, and are used effectively to add to, and further illustrate the international flavour contained here.
While there are a number of savoury elements here, at times Benjamin pushes a bit too far. Blog Song I guess is an effort to be 'hip and trendy', but it fails. This song is purely annoying, and you will wish you could hit delete, not just skip on the CD.
Although there are weak spots here, the overall approach is worth listening too. For example, as bad as Blog Song is, you will love the very next cut Sleep My Child, a deeply beautiful song with Candice Lacina providing the vocals (she should do a solo album).
Check it out at www.paulbenjamin.ca, it is unique enough to warrant a fan base.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar. 5, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada