Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review -- ANN VRIEND -- When We Were Spies

WHEN WE WERE SPIES
Ann Vriend
Fire Escape Recording
6-out-of-10

All right, this one had me scratching my head a bit as far as what to write about it, or for that matter just how to rate it.
Ann Vriend has a voice which immediately has me thinking pop. It has that higher pitched tone, which is generally the kind which you have to be in the mood for. On some days she could be just a bit irritating.
To get a better feeling for her voice, consider for a moment that Vriend's spot on Myspace tags her music as melodramatic popular song/lyrical/emotronic, so this work is something of an aquired taste.
Vriend is best on original material such as How the Lights and Hallowe'en, both of which have definite electronic undertones.
That said, this Canadian artist also dares to push the packet a bit with at least one unusual choice on the CD, a rendition of Neil Young's familiar Rockin' in the Free World. For me it's a choice that while daring, doesn't quite work simply because it is such a familiar song that Vriend's voice doesn't quite capture it the way we expect the song to sound. While not quite on target with this one, I do hope Vriend keeps exploring the unusual, because that is important when one takes on a cover.
This is a CD which I'll admit isn't likely going to be a regular on my CD player, but it is memorable. Vriend does have a clear, and strong voice, and she maneuvers through the material in a generally skillful fashion. Some, who like the vocals higher up the scale, will no doubt love this one. But it's not quite my 'cup of tea'.
I will add that Vriend does write most of the 11 songs here, and lyrically she captures a mood well, so that too bodes well for her future.
Check her out for yourself at www.annvriend.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 18, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LINDSEY WHITE -- This Is Now

THIS IS NOW
Lindsey White
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Lindsey White is a Winnipeg-based musician, who hails herself as a folk rock/blues/punk performer, showing yet again how closely related different musical genres are, and how performers today work to mix and twist styles together.
Interestingly, on the opening cut here; Big Rig, White really sounds more jazzy, with country undertones, missing the three styles her spot on Myspace suggest.
This is a lady with a nice voice, not one which necessarily stands out as stunningly unique, but one which can carry the blues/jazz/folk stylings she has chosen to pursue. The way she comes across on a song such as Hung Jury pretty well exemplifies how this gal approaches music. This is a song where she sings with passion, and there are some killer instrumental moments thrown in with good effect.
This is a lady no doubt best appreciated in smaller venues where she can relate directly to the listener, but don't shy away from the CD either. There are a lot of solid cuts here. So To Speak is a beautiful song, and Stereo Type is one where a sort of '60's rock beat comes into play.
Overall White does a nice job here, one which as a first CD bodes well for her future career. Well worth checking out, which you can do yourself at www.lindseywhite.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 18, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, June 13, 2008

Review -- THE YOUNG BROTHERS REVIVAL -- Hymns From The Gutter

HYMNS FROM THE GUTTER
The Young Brothers Revival
Black Cat Music
9-out-of-10
Hymns From the Gutter, as you might imagine is a somewhat dark work. The themes here are certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, as The Young Brothers Revival takes their music into the shadows, and peeks out at some of the nastiness that exists out there.
Now, I should start by explaining that musically this is not heavy, in the sense this is basically country music, layered with strong folk music lyric writing, and a slightly bluesy undertone which works well for the heavier material.
So what exactly are the Young Brothers offering?
Well, the title cut is the lead effort here, and the title sums it up. From there the band moves to songs such as Saint and Sinner, Dancing With the Dead, Fallen Age, and Stuck In A Bottle. The song titles tell you that lyrically, you are in for a somewhat macabre effort.
While this is dark, and is a mood piece that will only find the CD player on certain days when I need to wrap myself in a cloak of shadows, it doesn't take away from this as a great CD.
The Young Brothers have forged a unique effort. They have really pared country to it's skeletal form, and then layered on sort of a death mask of music, creating a dark, yet accessible little monster that in spite of the creepy shadows it resides in, you still want to be your friend.
A band needs to be commended that goes on its own path in the music world, and when it's the path to the dark old mansion on the hilltop, on a storm night to boot, stand up and applaud at their moxie.
Check these guys out at www.countryinterviewsonline.net/JamRoom/members/225/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 11, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOEL HAYNES TRIO -- TRANSITIONS

TRANSITIONS
Joel Haynes Trio
Cellar Live
9.5-out-of-10
There are some CDs that the minute you put them on you know you have something special. That was certainly the case with Transitions from the Joel Haynes Trio. From the opening notes of the title cut, I just knew this jazz album was going to impress and please.
The good news is, it didn't disappoint as the trio worked its way through the eight cuts on the album.
Haynes is the drummer here, joined by Jodi Proznick on bass and Tilden Webb on piano. The simple instrumentation really adds to the music here. You can quite easily follow the contribution of each musician as they are given solos to shine, and then come back together again as a flawless trio. For example, Proznick does some delightful work on the cut House of Haynes, yet it is the sound of the entire trio, out of Ontario, which is most memorable here.
Seamus Blake is on hand as a guest to add tenor saxophone and on Champagne Supernova works so well with the trio, you wonder if they shouldn't be a quartet. The cut is arguably the best here, just an eyelash ahead of the title cut.
The material, all instrumental, is allowed to flow rather naturally, with several songs flirting with 10-minutes in length. The time allows the trio to fully explore the mood and context of the piece. It must have been a pure joy to be in the audience the night this one was captured.
The CD comes from Cellar Live, an amazing little jazz label out of Vancouver, noted for its live recording. Transitions is a live album, and shows just how accomplished this label is at what they do. Check out the label and band at www.cellarlive.com
If you are a fan of jazz at all, then mark this one as a must for your collection. Delectable indeed!
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 11, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JACOB & LILY -- The Cathedral

THE CATHEDRAL
Jacob & Lily
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
Jacob & Lily are an acoustic-driven, roots/pop duo from Winnipeg. Their music pays homage to a folk spirit, although the music has pop overtones. To the pair's credit they don't go so far with the pop as to water down the music, leaving it little more than sugar-coated verbiage set to music. There is great depth to the music here. They honour the roots style in that regard, keeping the music important.
Jacob and Lily are Karla Adolphie and Caleb Friesen, who cover all the instruments here, although it is important to note as roots music often is, the instrumentation is kept relatively simple here. It provides a nice compliment to Adolphie's voice, which has a haunting quality, and is clearly the strength of this material.
In reading about the duo, some have likened Adolphie to Sarah McLaughlin and Jann Arden. Both are fair comparisons. There are certainly vocal elements shared by Adolphie and McLaughlin, and since she is the writer here too, I see flashes of the same lyrical style of early Arden.
Yes, that's just how good this young lady is.
Friesen for his part, as the percussionist is a good match, willing to take a back seat to the talented songstress, but in so doing, adding a richness to the material.
This CD has several songs which are very rich. Adolphie has a practiced hand in writing songs too, and the duo's style allows the words to be the focus for the listener's consideration and understanding. I particularly like I'll See You Off, Ruby, End of Play and Hush.
That is one of the things that is truly pleasing here, Adolphie wants the listener to get inside the song with her. She gives you the words in a crystal clear fashion, hoping you will turn them over in your mind to better share the emotions and messages woven into the lyrics. Too often these days the words seem secondary to the material groups are offering. Jacob & Lily understand that following a roots path means keeping the lyrics at the forefront.
This is a duo that would be great to hear live in a small, friendly venue over a cup of coffee.
Check them out at www.jacobandlily.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 11, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MARCO D'AMICO -- Meant To Be

MEANT TO BE
Marco D'Amico
Raspberry Music
8.5-out-of-10
Sometimes a performer doesn't really fit into a nice pigeon-hole in terms of music, but they can still have a great voice, and provide something people want to listen too – you can include someone like Frank Sinatra on that list in my mind.
Marco D'Amico fits that list too. The music wouldn't exactly fit a lot of radio formats, but after you listen to Meant To Be you will wonder if a radio station might not do well to give this CD a few spins.
D'Amico has a smooth, crystal-clear, and engaging voice which handles the range of love songs here with a practiced beauty. When he hits songs such as With Or Without Me, and I Am, you almost have to stop anything you are doing, and simply enjoy the voice.
It's not too often a voice alone impresses anymore than this one. I really wish he had turned off the music on a couple of the songs here, and went acapella.
Not that D'Amico overpowers the songs with instrumentation, relying basically on his own guitar with, with the support of bass and percussion. To his credit he's a very solid guitar player too, showing off that side with the instrumental Ciao Bella. Very solid for a guy who's bio states he is self-taught on guitar.
It's not surprising, after a listen or two, that this guy was the winner of the 2007 Ontario Independent Music Awards, for Best Male Artist.
D'Amico also had his hand in writing the lyrics and music for most of the material here too, adding to the significance of the work.
As an Italian-Canadian, he shows off his heritage with a couple of numbers in Italian. A song such as Caruso is beautiful in any language.
Meant To Be is D'Amico's second CD, and hopefully just another step in a long music career, this one is certainly a winner. Check him out at www.marcodamico.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 11, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review -- OH SUSANNA -- Short Stories

SHORT STORIES
Oh Susanna
Stella Records
9-out-of-10
If all country music was like that offered by Oh Susanna on Short Stories, I might still tune into country music radio more often.
This gal (Suzie Ungerleider is her real name) has a real country heart, not some pop singer wearing a cowboy hat, and crooning as a clone of every other Nashville act out there. Nope, instead, this gal grabs a bit of folk, a hint of bluegrass, and stirs it with a clear country voice, and the result is simply solid, pure country music.
From the opening cut Pretty Face through to Filled With Gold, I believe this gal is country.
The CD has already garnered attention too with a Juno nomination for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year: Solo, an award eventually won by David Francey.
While this might be recognized as roots music, this is really where country music should be. This is music with heart, with prairie grass soul, and Susanna, although hailing from Toronto, captures that feeling like she grew up where country music is a way of life.
This CD is filled with great music, from Bullies, through Greyhound Bus, to Miss Liberty and Billy 4.
Where the music shines is in the fact the instrumentation, while full, and varied, is simply a compliment to Susanna's voice which is clearly the strength of this album.
If you love country/roots music, then mark this one a must have.
Check her out at www.ohsusannamusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 4, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CRUSH LUTHER -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Crush Luther
High 4 Records
6.5-out-of-10

Coming out of Toronto is the pop/rock indie band Crush Luther with a self-titled debut, which kind of skates down the middle of the ice in terms of where it fits in the rock world.
This isn't driving guitars, and head banging, nor is it overly syrupy pop. Instead, Crush Luther tosses out something that has elements of both, creating a sound which should have a fairly broad appeal.
Certainly when the CD begins spinning songs such as When We Were Golden and Slowdance Anywhere I Go are almost assured to get your toes tapping.
Luther Mallory has written all but one of the cuts here, and has a co-write credit on that one; Trouble with Giggi Bongard.
The best song here is likely Don't Fight About It, although this is a pretty good first outing for the band.
Don't expect anything too deep, or to find lyrics out to change the world, but it will getting you feeling better. This is kind of a jive and smile offering, and there are days that's just the ticket.
Check them out at www.crushluther.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 4, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE CHRIS TARRY GROUP -- Almost Certainly Dreaming

ALMOST CERTAINLY DREAMING
The Chris Tarry Group
Independent
9-out-of-10
Welcome to the latest effort of one of Canada's best jazz performers.
Tarry, who now resides in New York has had eight Juno nominations so far, having taken home the hardware for Best Contemporary Jazz Recording on three occasions, including the 2008 Juno for this sweet release.
So when this jazz bassist brings out a new recording it's an event to mark on the calender.
If you're still not convinced give Almost Certainly Dreaming a listen, and you'll quickly become a fan of this guy.
This is Tarry's eighth solo recording, although he has played electric bass on literally dozens of albums for others, telling you this guy is a highly sought after addition to the richness of any jazz effort.
Like the best in jazz usually is, this CD is filled with instrumental cuts which are allowed something of a seeming life of their own, meandering joyously along. Not one of the cuts clocks in below five-minutes in length, and seven of the eight sweetly eclipse the seven-minute mark. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Numbers such as An Unlikely UFO, Prettiest Town of Goderich and Alien Blueprints are notable here, although the whole CD works wonderfully as a package with nice emotional swings present in the material.
While you can imagine this is bass driven jazz, Kelly Jefferson on saxophone, and Henry Hey on piano are allowed their moments too. Pete McCann on Guitar and Dan Weiss on drums round out the musicians.
Tarry wrote all but Same Clothes, Different Day, which was penned by Hey.
If you like jazz this one is a must. Check it out at www.christarry.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 4, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review -- CORB LUND -- Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!

HORSE SOLDIER! HORSE SOLDIER!
Corb Lund
Stony Plain Records
8.5-out-of-10

Corb Lund deserves a medal simply for showing that you don't have to give into the current Nashville vision of country -- that sort of generic mash of country swirled with 80's rock, that all sounds the same after a while – to sell records.
Lund has proven that you can take the path less traveled, and if you can write good songs, and if you can sing, you can succeed.
This guy must have learned a few things watching the career of fellow Albertan Ian Tyson, another guy that found a way to make real cowboy music succeed. Really Lund simply takes it yet another step. The music often has an even more Canadian approach than Tyson, although with Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!, Lund has a bit more of an 'international approach' with a CD that hasn't got a lot to do with Canada.
In a way it shows some growth for Lund, this being his fifth CD. This latest effort is a theme piece, with the music focused on the horse, it's place in terms of battles through the decades, and of course the men who rode the proud beasts against the enemy.
As has become something of a trend with Lund, when he heads to the studio, he emerges with something which provides the future listener with a good value. This CD has 15 cuts, that's a fat recording from a guy that is a bona fide star at this point.
Now I like this guy. He can play and sing and write, and for those who saw his concert in Yorkton a couple of years ago, he can entertain too, and he continues that here. There are lots of good songs here, from the title cut through numbers such as I Wanna Be In the Cavalry through to The Horse I Ride On, and Especially A Paint.
This is a CD which will have any horse lover tearing up at times, and country music fans feeling well-satisfied every time they give it a spin.
Another excellent effort from a performer who knows how to do country the right way. You can learn more by checking out www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 28, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ID GUINESS -- Cure For The Common Crush

CURE FOR THE COMMON CRUSH
Id Guinness
Independent
9.5-out-of-10

There are CDs which are able to catch your attention from the very first strains of the opening song, and that is exactly what Id Guinness does on his debut album Cure For The Common Crush. The opening tune Rising River has a haunting opening, the song being somewhat dark musically, over which Guinness' voice, one with a sort of British feel, carries a truly beautiful song. Impressive start.
Of course the key is making sure it's not one good song, and then nadda. Well fear not on this one folks, Guinness keeps it coming throughout this 13 cut CD.
The second song, The One That Got Away, has another killer musical intro. Again moody and rich, Guinness' voice still shines through. By the time the second song is finished, you will be hooked. You will realize you have found a gem. This guy combines it all. The lyrics are compelling, the music rich, deep, moody and full. The arrangements are lush. The voice smooth, with that sort of British undertone – think a twist of David Bowie, who interestingly he lists as an influence. The result is pure WOW!
Now I might have guessed this would be good considering Guinness has been performing with the Wyrd Sisters of late, and they are perhaps the best, yet sadly not widely know groups in Canada. I can tell you that they must have taught Guinness well, because at times there are times you can see slight similarities in approach, although fear not this guy has his own beautiful sound as well.
Songs such as I Have seen the Future, Down to This and The Joke are other cuts to watch, although in truth any one of these are pure gold.
Check him out at www.idguinness.com and buy this CD.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 28, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- NICOL LISCHKA -- Back Porchlight

BACK PORCHLIGHT
Nicol Lischka
Independent
8-out-of-10

Yet another of the talented legion of musicians which seem to be emerging out of Saskatoon these days, Nicol Lischka comes at us with what is actually her sophomore release, although it's more like a second coming being released a decade after her debut Leaving For Omaha.
I can tell you the decade between releases hasn't meant a deterioration of skill. Lischka has a voice that has a haunting, yet beautiful quality, which is ideally suited to music which has folk as a foundation, on which she builds music with a modern, pop twist.
Like most who perform the best of the folk/pop genre, Lischka has written all the songs here, and her work with the pen shows she has a poet's soul. The lyrics are rich in mood, and draw the listener into her world.
Of course the best news for listeners is that Lischka shows a consummate skill in the way she takes her poetic writing to song form, a credit to her simplistic but beautiful instrumentation, and her rich with emotion voice.
The CD takes its name from the lyrics of Disappear, one of the best cuts here, although others such as Beating On My Heart, Just like Johnny Cash, a song with a more country feel, Half-Dead Flies are all songs to note.
This is a gal whose career should step forward with this release, and I sure hope it's not another decade before Lischka records her next album, because that would mean far too long away to hear the next offering from this talented performer.
Very nicely done. Check her out at www.myspace.com/nicollischka
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 28, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE BUZZ TROUTS -- Pickles From India

PICKLES FROM INDIA
The Buzz Trouts
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Wow, another great band emerges from Regina, a city which seems to produce some very diverse music, with bands going off in various musical directions.
The Buzz Trouts call themselves a rock/reggae/funk band, so they bring together some hot styles, and they do it darn well too.
From the lead cut People, this band puts together a solid-nine song CD, their first effort in the studio.
The band is Dave Fries and Brad Uhrich on guitars, Patrick Andrews on bass, and Robb Homenuk doing the drum work. All four add vocals. Fries also pens all but one of the nine songs here.
Musically, you can hear elements of all three genres the band professes to follow, and they even toss in some electronica on a cut like Serious About You.
They do a very good job of mixing their musical influences.
The Buzz Trouts are another band that would probably be killer in concert. This music, thanks to the reggae feel that permeates through several cuts, has a great beat. The rock adds a raw energy, and the funk adds a depth.
This is another Saskatchewan band really worth seeking out. There are a number of very solid cuts here including; Just The Way It Happens, Melt Away, and Secret.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/thebuzztrouts
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 21, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JIM BYRNES -- House Of Refuge

HOUSE OF REFUGE
Jim Byrnes
Black Hen Music
9-out-of-10
All right I will preface this review with a couple of caveats. Firstly, Jim Byrnes has been one of my favourite Canadian blues singers ever since I first heard his CD That River a decade ago (1996). And, secondly, gospel music really isn't my favourite music.
So, what happens when Byrnes puts out a gospel album? Well, it's great of course. I mean come on, this guy can flat out play guitar, and he has that sort of gravely voice that fits blues so well, and frankly is ideal for gospel too. Of course blues and gospel really are two styles of music with very similar roots, and often share the same emotions, so it all comes together smoothly.
From the opening Didn't It Rain through all 12 cuts, Byrnes cooks with this CD.
It is interesting to read about the next two songs on the CD at www.blackhenmusic.com/artists/jim_byrnes/. It relates the second and third songs were written by Byrnes, “when he was in Lithuania shooting the feature film Highlander - The Source (he was a long time Highlander television series regular too). While the gorgeous, Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid is a nod to the 27th Psalm, the slowly urgent death chaser Running Out Of Time, was written by Byrnes in the time it takes to sing it.”
The same site also related “another Byrnes original, The Death of Ernesto was written in the middle of the night in the Utah Mountains after meeting Che Guevara in a dream,” which in itself is really cool.
This CD won Byrnes a Juno, and it has been picked up by fabled label Rounder for distribution in Europe, so you know it has caught attention, and well it should. Great voice, great material, great CD. Check it out.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 21, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- COLD DRIVEN -- Steel Chambers

Steel Chambers
Cold Driven
Catch 23 Records
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
How often do we think we've found a band that is an overnight sensation, then find they've really been toiling away for a lot of years honing their skills? Well, that is sort of the feeling you might get when you listen to Cold Driven.
This band out of B.C. has a really killer-sounding disk with Steel Chambers, but it is not their first effort, so they have already been around for a while.
And, in truth these guys are not yet a full-blown sensation, although this CD makes you wonder why they haven't broke bigger. It's that good, and that's really good news for local music fans since Cold Driven is playing Rayzr's Pub in Yorkton this Friday and Saturday.
So what will those attending the Yorkton gigs hear? Well, Cold Driven is a band which is a pretty honest, straight ahead, rock band. They don't really get hung up on some trendy sub-rock culture label, but instead they just play good music.
Cold Driven can slow it down with a sadder song like Cries Become the Silence, add a brief flash of symphonic opening on a killer cut such as We Carry On, or go straight rock like on the title cut.
Through it all this band is pretty tight musically, not surprising considering there are three sets of brothers involved in the line-up. Brothers are likely as keenly aware of how to mesh with their sibling band mates as anyone can be.
The sound too here is also big, and well-rounded. In an age of three-member rock bands, Cold Driven comes at listeners with a compliment of six. That adds something to the sound, although how they will all fit into Rayzr's could be interesting to see in itself.
In terms of music, I like what I hear here -- a lot! There is a pureness to the style that is refreshing in an era a lot of bands like to tack on some musical twists in an attempt to be fresh. These guys prove good music is as good a gimmick as you can get.
Check them out at Rayzr's, or online at www.colddriven.com, and grab Steel Chambers, it's worth the effort to find.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 21, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada