Sunday, April 27, 2008

Review -- QUICKSHIFT -- Devil Won't Go

The Saskatchewan Country Music Association held its annual awards night in Prince Albert on the weekend, and among the nominees for Group of the Year was the Saskatoon band Quickshift. Devil Won't Go is the band's debut album, which was also nominated as Album of the Year.
This band is carried by the female vocals of Leanne Lozinsky who fronts this four-piece band. Having a female band lead vocalist is still something of a rarity in country music, and that at least gives Quickshift its own flavour. That said, the band could be strengthened by a male vocalist who could blend in on harmonies, adding duets to the repertoire, and simply giving the sound greater diversity.
Still, this is a pretty solid first effort, with some definite radio-friendly cuts, such as the title cut, a song with a tinge of rock, and one cut where they do add in some back-up vocals adding to the richness of the piece.
While Quickshift was in tough against competition such as Wyatt and Poverty Plainsmen at the SCMA awards, they shouldn't feel like they were out of place, thanks to the female lead this band does stick out just a little bit from the crowd. The rest of the crew are Jordan Wiebe, lead guitar, Marlin Korczak, drummer and Justin Sopotyk, bass.
With material such as the hopping I Ain't Listening, these guys would be a fun cabaret band, and should certainly win fans wuith the recording too.
This band may not be the next big thing based on Devil Won't Go, but they are at least off to a solid career start.
Check them out at

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

Review -- AMBER SCHNEIDER - Fearless

Amber Schneider

Just the other day I was talking music with a radio friend of mine, and we both agreed that the first cut on a CD should be the best song on the disk, especially for new artists. Our reasoning was that a radio programmer gets so many CDs, if the first song doesn't catch them they may well switch to the next disk in the pile.
Someone should have told Amber Schneider about this. The lead cut is bubble gummy and bad. It makes her sound like a 13-year-old with limited range, and a sound rather common to young singers.
While Schneider picked a clunker to lead her debut CD, there is a message here for radio people, listen a bit deeper into CDs too. In this case you will find a voice with surprising power, and some killer songs.
The second cut is the title cut, and while the sound gets away from country, and more into modern rock, it's a killer cut.
Ditto to the song Drown Me In It.
Then Schneider comes at the listener with Ordinary Kind of Guy, a song that is very much today's country, catchy lyrics, no depth, and a sound the world could do without another clone of.
It's pretty clear Schneider should be shaking off the country mantle, and move more into pop/rock. The more countrified the song is here, the weaker it is. It's almost as if Schneider just goes through the motions on those songs.
That said, Schneider was a nominee for Saskatchewan Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, and Fearless was up for Album of the Year.
When a song gets a bit bigger and bolder, like Fearless, then this gal let's go, and wow, it gets good. Sadly, there are just too few wows here, but on the best of this CD you can hear a star wanting to break free.
Check her out at

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

Review -- DANIELLE BRAUND -- No Tears

Danielle Braund
Take a jazz pianists soul, add a dash of blues at times, and mix in some stage musical style vocals, and you pretty much get Danielle Braund's approach to her new CD No Tears.
Raised in Alberta, Braund studied classical voice at university where she was urged by her music professors into opera. According to her website bio at the same time, she found composing her own music to be the added creative outlet that she needed. With her music degree in hand, she headed to Detroit where she further honed her jazz piano and improvisation skills.
So the gal has a rather strong background in music, and it shows. She sings big. This is music akin to the likes of a Diana Krall, different in pitch and material, there is a similarity of approach.
Braund wrote all the songs here, and they are fine efforts too an example being the title cut, and How Beautiful.
This is a strong debut album which should cross over genres nicely. It certainly has the underpinnings of jazz, but isn't so far removed from something you'll hear on MuchMusic either (she needs a video for No Tears). It's a good mixture, which should earn this talented lady a lot of fans.
There is no doubt Braund was meant to sing, and she has chosen a genre which let's her push herself vocally, and as solid as this debut is, you get the feeling listening to her that she will only get better with time and experience on her side.
Definitely one for jazz fans and lovers of exciting new female vocalists.
You can track her career at

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

Review -- ANNE LINDSAY -- News From Up The Street

Anne Lindsay
When you see someone who professes that their musical style is folk/jazz, if you are like me you immediately wonder exactly what you're going to hear.
Well that is what Anne Lindsay's spot on suggests is this Toronto artist's style, and really her work is even more eclectic than that.
The lead cut, He Shoots, He Scores is pretty straight ahead folk violin as an instrumental number.
Then Lindsay hits you with the title cut, a song where you first hear this gal's memorable voice. She has a timbre that sticks with you.
Musically News From Up the Street has something of an 'world' music undertone, with a hand drum adding a sort of Middle Eastern beat.
As you are taken through the 14 cuts here, you learn Lindsay has borrowed from a number of cultural musical styles, throwing a splash of Eastern Europe here, some South American rhythms there, and twisting them all together rather skillfully by the power of her violin.
This is a happy album, almost playful at times on cuts such as Mirandance.
This is Lindsay's second album, following her 2001 release of Eavesdropping. I quite imagine anyone picking up this new effort will quickly be out looking for the earlier CD too. This is an infectious album, one that is rich in it's cultural textures, and delightful to the ear.
It is rather gratifying to hear Lindsay start a song such as The Silvery Slocan with work that is pure bluegrass fiddle, onto which she then adds new stylistic layers, including a Cape Breton lilt.
Then on a somg like The Man I Love, Lindsay shifts into full on jazz and it still works.
It's clear no one style fully satisfies this lady. She is a world explorer with her violin, picking up bits and pieces of many styles and using them skillfully to make her own sound.
Beautifully done. Check her out at

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review -- CHRISTINA -- The First Time

Ah, what more can you ask for than sweet jazz delivered by a gal with a sweet voice. It's a killer combo, and that's exactly what Christina (Schmolke) offers up on her CD The First Time.
Actually Christina bills herself as a pop/R&B singer, and that might be a truer representation of her music. That's certainly evident on cuts such as Now Becomes the Future.
However, on a cut like the lead No Regrets, there is a definite underlying jazz feel.
In the end, you can apply whatever musical label you want to this CD, and it still comes out as a pleasing experience when you listen to it.
Christina has that kind of voice, while not startlingly unique, which is wonderfully smooth, and pleasant. She has a sort of relaxed vocal style which makes this CD an easy listen. One where you just sit down and get absorbed in the relaxing atmosphere of her approach to music.
Christina’s website ( describes the effort as one which “combines infectious grooves with soulful songwriting using horns, strings, and the occasional drum sample.” That pretty much covers it.
The First Time is the debut album for the Edmonton native. It was co-produced with Edmonton musicians Thom Bennett and Moni Mathews at Homestead Recorders (Edmonton). Barry Allen engineered and mixed the album.
The CD is one made possible thanks to Rawlco Radio as Christina was awarded a grant from their 10K 20 music project for the album.
This is one of those CDs where, if you like R&B/jazz/pop you will definitely want to pick it up since it is likely to be remembered as the one which launched the career of a future star. I just hope she is able to find an audience for her music here in Canada. This is another performer that leaves me wishing we had a venue for such music here in Yorkton. A definite treat.

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

Review -- TIRESIAS -- Delicate Fires

Redshift Music
If you are like many people these days classical music may not be the first genre on your list to listen to. Well, give Delicate Fires a listen, and you might just change your mind.
The CD is the debut recording by the Vancouver-based flute/piano duo Tiresias which was formed by flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor and pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa in 2002.
The duo's website gives a little insight into the music by providing an explanation of the name they have chosen. “Tiresias was transformed from man to woman and back again by supernatural means. S/he symbolizes what McGregor and Iwaasa have set out to accomplish: to speak from two very different perspectives with a single voice, to provide fresh perspectives and insights into conventional chamber music programmes, and to anticipate the future trajectories of the chamber music genre through working with composers and artists from various disciplines.”
Don't let the idea of chamber music scare you away. This is a playful recording. It often reminds of a scene from childhood where two children are chasing each other across a pasture. In this case one child is McGregor's flute, and the other is Iwaasa's piano. That is certainly the case on the piece A Delicate Fire.
Other songs take on a somewhat more mystical feel, taking one's emotion's to a deeper place, such as with the piece I Conversed With You In A Dream II.
While the two aforementioned pieces are rather shorter in length, both under five minutes, Tiresias really seems to hit their boldest strides as they explore through a number of longer pieces. Five selections here eclipse seven minutes, and two of those go over 12. On these longer excursions, McGregor and Iwaasa give themselves the freedom to truly explore the interactions of flute and piano within their chosen genre. The result are pieces where the listener can easily become absorbed into the experience themselves. You soon find yourself deep in the duo's musical work, and learn it's a relaxing place to be.
This is really classical music that should be accessible to anyone with a love of good music. Very nicely done. Definitely one people should check out.
Check this duo out at

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

Review -- TIM HARWILL -- All I Really Need

Tim Harwill
So, do you like older style country, the kind set to root by the likes of Marty Robbins? If the answer is yes, then you are going to appreciate the efforts of Tim Harwill.
Harwill is an Alberta performer, and you get a feeling he may have cut his musical teeth on the likes of Ian Tyson. He sure shares a similar take on country music and lyrics.
Now while stylistically Harwill fits with the likes of Tyson and Robbins, vocally he doesn't quite stand out as predominantly. He has something of a conversational style to his vocals, easy going, and accessible, although as a result maybe not as memorable as one might like. What I mean here is simply that I generally like the CD well-enough, but it won't be one that I grab to spin that often. The material just doesn't quite stick with you, although if you give it a chance it does grow on you as you begin to appreciate the simple delivery, the 12-string guitar work and the heart of the material.
That said, lyrically this is true country, and you will enjoy listening to the words of pieces such as All Too Well.
This is a guy that would no doubt be amazing in a intimate acoustic bar setting, or better yet around a roaring campfire (now there's an idea for a weekend concert).
Songs such as What You're Going Through, Don't Lose My Hair and Seasons are the best here.
This is one where real country fans will be in heaven, although don't expect to find many radio stations giving this a spin 'cause thankfully it ain't today's Nashville sound. It's encouraging to see a performer staying true to the music and not selling out for the radio.
Check Harwill out at

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

Review -- THE GRASS -- Report All Ghosts

The Grass
The Grass, well the band name had me thinking bluegrass, then Crossfire the CD's first cut starts spinning, and there's a sort of Beatles/Monkees feel to the music. I do a double-take and head into the unknown.
This is The Grass' third CD effort, and it really is like taking a trip back in time, with music that has a sort of psychedelic, the '60s meets the '70s, with a little bit of everything tossed in.
The cut Jesus is a revival-beat, gospel, bluegrass, 1960's concoction, which like a lot of songs from an early time carries with it an anti-war sentiment which still holds as relevant today.
I do like they toss in some of the bluegrass I had thought about from the title, such as the cut Shiny New Rifle.
The Grass does seem like a band caught out of time. They really would fit in about 40 years ago, yet in keeping true to that earlier time, there is a sort of retro-renewed freshness to what this band is now doing. For myself it's a trip back to the days I was just sort of becoming aware there was music, having been born in 1960. That makes this a more enjoyable excursion I am sure.
Dartmouth, NS, guitarist/bassist Nicholas Wolfe is the band's founder, hooking up initially with singer/songwriter Patrick McNally, and the pair would over time flesh out the seven-member retro- music band.
So what are the best cuts here? With so many genres intermingling here, I rather expect every listener will settle on a different song as best, depending just where their own musical roots are. In my mind that is one of the true strengths of this CD. In my case I like the cut Down On The Water best, a high energy (think Rolling Stones) cut. Follow Your Heart follows that same style too.
Fresh enough in a retro way to highly recommend. Check them out at

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

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review -- DUANE STEELE -- Ghost Town

Duane Steele
Universal Music Canada
It's easy to hear why Duane Steele has carved out a long and successful career in Canadian country music, the guy just offers up smooth as silk vocals. He could probably sing a grocery list and make it sound like a fine bourbon.
Local fans can hear that smooth voice at the Painted Hand Casino April 7, when Steele is joined by Jamie Warren and Willie Mack for a one-night show.
Thanks to his fine voice Steele has been able to produce six CDs, starting back in 1991 with his debut Highways, and most recently with Ghost Town.
So what does Steele offer with this latest effort?
Well, it's pretty straight forward, radio friendly materials. Songs such as the title cut, Blue Collar Man, Real Close and actually every other cut here has the sound you hear on country radio. Some will see that as good. It certainly is a way to ensure some level of success. Radio is a Mecca for musicians plying their trade.
On the other hand the material does become more formula-listic, and Steele certainly isn't breaking any new ground here.
That said, with Steele's strong vocals, this is still a musically pleasing CD. It's the kind of material that he performs with a level of emotion. The emotion of a sad song is clearly melancholy, and much of this CD plays on the sombre side of life and emotions. Steele has his hand in writing all the songs, and clearly his strength there is drawing on the hurtin' side of country.
The occasional upbeat cut though is just that, fun to listen too. An example is What d'ya Say.
In a world where a lot of country has the same sound, Steele manages to carve out a place of his own, with his strong vocals, and song choices, which still fit radio, yet are generally strong emotionally too, for example the song Livin' Backwards.
You can check the CD out at

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

Review -- JAMIE WARREN -- Right Here Right Now

Jamie Warren
Right Here Right Now is the fourth CD release for Jamie Warren, a guy who has become a veteran of country music in Canada since his 1996 debut release of Fallen Angel.
Warren's latest release starts off hot with the cut Some Days You Will, and over the 12-song CD he offers up a solid country CD.
The current release from the album is She Loves To Dance which followed the initial single release from the CD She's Not Lyin'. They are a couple of the songs local country fans can no doubt hear by being at the Painted Hand Casino April 7, when Warren will be part of a three man show with Duane Steele and Willie Mack.
She Just Loves To Dance is a definite radio favourite. It is a country love song with a moderate beat. This isn't a hard driving romp, nor does it bog down to be purely a heartstrings-tugger. As a result it comes across as a nice song that will be popular on radio for a time, although this won't be a song you remember six months from now. It is sort of disposable country in that sense, but not every single will be a long-term classic.
She's Not Lyin' is a sadder song, although it has a similar pattern. Solid, but short-term.
In fact, this whole CD has that feel. It's the kind you will enjoy once you get it home. It is likely to get a regular play for a while too. Warren's style is like that.
Then one day you'll move on to a newer CD and this one will likely fade from memory rather quickly.
Still, while it's fresh you will enjoy this CD, and you won't regret the purchase. Warren is a veteran, and he knows how to deliver a country song.
Check it out at

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

Review -- THE JW-JONES BLUES BAND -- Kissing In 29 Days

The JW-Jones Blues Band
Northernblues Music
The JW Jones Blues Band are one of Canada's best young swing blues band. These guys can really cook with a style that is all energy and toe-tapping beat.
This is the band's fourth album and features the legendary Ray Charles sax player, David "Fathead" Newman, and boy does he add some hot spice to this disk. He simply cooks up a storm on Here She Comes.
Brian James the band's regular sax man cooks his own hop chops on cuts like Hey Girl!, and I Don't Want to Hear, and is a perfect compliment to the band.
Of course JW himself is among the blues breed who earn their living based on their skills as a guitar slinger, aka the likes of David Gogo. And wait 'til you hear Jones on songs such as All My Money. One listen to the solo here and you get the message this guy wants to be thought of among the guitar elite.
Overall, this CD is a fat, and fun excursion. There are 14 songs on this Northernblues Music release, and you can easily understand why this great little Canadian label has JW Jones on its roster.
The hot stylings of the band have been noticed critically too, as they have earned them a national award for Electric Act of the Year at Toronto's Maple Blues Awards.
This is a smokin', high energy effort worth checking out at

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

Review -- MOSES MAYES -- Second Ring

Moses Mayes
This is another one of those little gems that you give a listen too, then do a double take when you realize the band comes out of Winnipeg. MB. This is sweet modern funk jazz, a style that crosses the tried and true of jazz with turntable scratches and funk lyrics. It's rather impressive.
Younger music fans often shy from jazz, but Moses Mayes has created a CD that is likely to open some doors for jazz to a younger audience.
There is enough jazz here for the open-minded traditionalist too. For example the saxophone work of Paul Metcalfe and trumpet of Miron Rafajlovic on songs such as Tell Me give you the roots of the music.
On Full Moon Moses Mayes goes more into pure funk, relying on the vocals of Phatt Al and Sherry St. Germain to carry the song, aided in no small part by the turntable work of Grant Paley, who adds in his unique sounds on most cuts here.
This CD was recognized at the 2007 Western Canadian Music Awards taking Best Instrumental Recording honours. It would seem an excellent choice as winner given the way this effort connects to two musical worlds so nicely.
And, yes this is fundamentally instrumental, although vocals are added on a song or two, which is a nice break in the pattern for the listener.
Of note, the band also won the 2001 WCMA award for top dance/urban album.
This is a CD that should gain a large audience, although the material might be such too that jazz fans on one side, and younger funk affectionados on the other shy away. That would be a bad choice on their part. Open the mind and give this one a try. You will be glad you did. Check them out at

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