Friday, July 25, 2008

Review -- ROZALIND MACPHAIL -- Edgework

EDGEWORK
Rozalind MacPhail
Independent
9-out-of-10
Oh my, sometimes musicians just find a way to make you go wow! That's exactly what Rozalind MacPhail accomplished on the song Tofino Kiss, the opening cut of her CD Edgework.
To begin with, there was MacPhail's voice, happy, unique, clear. It carries a sweetness which is memorable.
That said, it is a voice which is enhanced by the fact MacPhail is wise enough to allow it to slip into the background. At those moments she remains central to the music, as she plays her flute.
Now I will admit to my ear the flute, when handled by a fine musician, can be one of the most hauntingly beautiful instruments. In this case it is used to wonderful affect.
MacPhail attended several music schools in Canada and abroad, having become both a long-term resident at the Banff Centre and an Artist-In-Residence at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, and the experience shows as her flute work obviously draws on the traditions of several cultures.
The music is overall modern pop-oriented. No it's not bubblegum sweet, but rather filled with emotion and heart, thanks to the combination of MacPhail's voice, and the skillfully used flute, which is allowed to be an integral part of the music.
Of course instrumentation is a strength here. The title song is a a wonderful ride of different sounds, all put together smoothly.
At times the music is haunting, like the lead in to Baba's – Unite Us All, at other times it's happier like on Tofino Kiss, but whichever emotion MacPhail choses to bring out with her flute, it all works.
This is one of those albums which should have more musicians exploring how the flute can be incorporated into music clearly geared to a younger audience, although this CD will be appreciated by any listener with an ear for wonderful music.
MacPhail does set her own course here, but it's a journey the listener will be glad they signed on for.
Check this amazing artist out at www.rozalindmacphail.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- TWILIGHT HOTEL -- Highway Prayer

HIGHWAY PRAYER
Twilight Hotel
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
The first hint that Twilight Hotel might be something sweet in terms of music was noting their CD Highway Prayer was produced by Colin Linden. Linden is a well-respected bluesman in his own right, and has a growing list of successful CDs as a producer for others, and so it was easy to expect this one would be solid.
Then there was the fact this CD is the follow-up to Twilight Hotel's critically acclaimed 2006 release Bethune which was nominated Best Americana Album at the 2007 American Independent Music Awards, which also suggested this would be a good one.
Well folks, it's more than just solid.
Wow! Twilight Hotel is something special.
The strength of this material comes from the way the voices of this Winnipeg-based duet blend together. Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury seem as though they were destined to be a perfectly matched musical pair. At times Zdan takes the lead, and at times such as Slumber Queen, Quanbury takes the lead mic. It matters not, because the other voice is always there as support, rounding out the effort. As a result the songs have a sweet fullness.
This is music that really isn't easily categorized. There are folk elements, Americana if you will, and pop elements too, and kind of weird and wonderful twists too, such as Iowalta Morningside, where Zdan really let's go. But through all the twists the listener can just relax because they are carried forward by the smooth vocals.
The CD starts hot with Viva La Vinyl, arguably the best cut here, although really any song could be chosen 'best'. The 12 original cuts are lyrically strong with stories to tell, and Twilight Hotel tells those stories in a way the listener will want to return to often.
Check this one out at www.twilighthotel.ca, you will be glad you did.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- CATHLEEN LESPERANCE -- Gypsy As I Go

GYPSY AS I GO
Cathleen Lesperance
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
It is interesting listening to Cathleen Lesperance's full-length debut; Gypsy As I Go, that she is a self-taught musician – not that that is so rare – but in this case she didn't start playing guitar, or writing until she was into her 20s.
The late start hasn't seemed a huge hindrance for this Saskatchewan gal. This CD was actually recorded in Prince Albert.
So what does Lesperance offer us. Well this is music somewhere in the folk/roots, at times near country vein. She keeps the instrumentation bare bones, relying instead of her voice, which of course is the bread and butter of folk artists. For someone who wasn't performing at the age of five like many artists, Lesperance has an obviously natural songstress voice. It may not have the range of a classically trained performer, but there is a conversational honesty to it that works in this genre.
To Lesperance's credit, she also penned the nine songs here. There might not be the next great folk anthem here, they don't have that kind of lasting message, but again, there is honesty in the words. You can tell Lesperance wants to simply tell stories, and the words flow as a result.
There are several nice songs here, the title cut and Thomas Berry leading the pack. Overall this is a very nice first effort by a Saskatchewan artist, who you have to believe will grow musically with greater experience at her craft. A nice way to start, and certainly worth a listen.
You can check her out at www.myspace.com/clesperance
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review -- CROFTER'S REVENGE -- Ghost Ship

GHOST SHIP
Crofter's Revenge
Independent
7-out-of-10

You might not expect to find Celtic music to be coming out of Regina yet Crofter's Revenge proves you can create music soaked in a salty brine just about anywhere. On this album the band has focused on a pirate theme, so you're in for a rollicking good time.
What is most interesting here is that most of the songs are original. It's very cool that a band about as landlocked as you can get in Regina, SK., can produce lyrics telling tales of pirates on the high seas. Yet this band does it with panache.
The CD starts off with the jaunty Fly the Jolly Roger written by band mate Chris Weber, and the recording is spattered with other cuts such as Mighty McPeete by band mate Rick McBain and Ghost Ship, Sunken Chest Reel by Don Modderman.
Mixed in with the new material Crofter's Revenge gives their take on traditional songs such as Rocky Road to Dublin, Step It Out Mary and Mari-Mac.
It's a nice balance between the old and new on this little Prairie excursion under the Jolly Roger flag.
Now I will say that on my particular copy of this CD, there were a lot of skips, but I assume it's just this copy and not a general problem, but if you get one and it does, let the band know.
That said, this CD is just way too much fun not to recommend. This is a band which clearly had fun in the recording studio, and one can only imagine that live they'd be a true party band.
So lift anchor maties and search this one out. A nice effort of the high seas from the flat Prairies. You can find the band online at www.croftersrevenge.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- DRUMLIN -- Mackerel Skies

MACKEREL SKIES
Drumlin
Independent
8-out-of-10
The Canadian Maritimes must truly be a place of a music fertile soil because group after group seems to emerge from the region with a sound which captivates. The list of course includes the likes of Great Big Sea, The Rankin Family and the Barra MacNeils. Now you can add Drumlin to the list.
Like the others mentioned, Drumlin emerges playing the music of the region, a music rich in tradition, growing from strong Celtic roots, and grasping the heart of the land and the ocean from which it flourishes.
In this case Drumlin goes right to the heart of the traditional music of Nova Scotia with a CD of 12 songs inspired by the province's heritage songs from the Helen Creighton Collection, a famed-regional collection by a woman born in 1899. It is a volume of songs which provided Drumlin with a fine selection of songs, proving that when it comes to music you can look to the past to find something compelling for the present.
There are songs of outstanding beauty here such as My Irish Girl with its haunting tin whistle work, and great ballads such as Down In Old Ireland, the kind of song with a story revealed by the lyrics. The tin whistle also shines on Homeward Bound.
As for the group itself, Drumlin is another of those family units which also seem to emerge so often from the region. In this case it's the Gilbert family with Anya, Dal, Kassia, Liam and Nehara performing on the CD. The family are fine musicians and have wonderful clear, and strong voices.
Certainly Drumlin is a band with the skills to properly portray the historical music contained here, and as a package it's a fine recording, premised by the fact you must enjoy Celtic/Cape Breton music to enjoy this one.
Check out the group at www.drumlin.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- JENNILEE MARTINEAU -- Apparitions

APPARITIONS
Jennilee Martineau
Independent
7-out-of-10
Jennilee Martineau is a Winnipeg, MB., lass who comes at us with a fiddle and bow, and man does she know her way around the instrument. This gal can flat out play the fiddle, focusing her musical talents on traditional folk/Celtic material.
This CD has been available for a while, but as an indie release is probably not well-known, and it fits with this week's Celtic theme too well not to feature it. Again it shows the Celtic spirit can exist anywhere, although admittedly Martineau did get a bit of first-hand immersion in the music. She spent time studying traditional Scottish music at Lews Castle College in the Scottish Hebrides where she graduated with a certificate in Traditional Scottish Music Performance/Studio Recording. It was while she was in Scotland that Martineau recorded Apparitions.
According to Martineau's spot on myspace (www.myspace.com/jennileemartineau), she began to learn the fiddle from her father at age eight, and apparently he was a fine teacher. At least he must have instilled a love of the instrument and of the music in his daughter because that passion shows here.
This is an instrumental effort, with Martineau's fiddle taking the main spotlight throughout, but she has added instrumental support such as guitar and pipes on the cut Pipe Marches to good effect. The use of tin flute, accordion, whistles and guitars is a nice touch adding richness to the material.
The CD includes solid renditions of Lachlan Dubh, The Stone Frigate, Sandra's Waltz and Father Angus.
It is to be hoped Martineau is at work on another CD, because she clearly has something to say with the fiddle.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review -- SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO FIRE -- Self Titled

SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO FIRE
Self-titled
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
You have got to love the name Sexually Attracted to Fire, although I will admit I initially expected music that was rock, and quite likely metal rock at that.
Oh boy! Was I wrong.
Sexually Attracted To Fire is wonderfully mellow musical effort with elements of folk, country, jazz and rock, brought to life by Steven Maier and Mark Ceaser, two former Yorkton residents now living in Saskatoon. The pair are founding members of SATF joined by Julien LePage on drums and Teegan Jeffers on bass.
This CD starts hot with the cut Let It Roll, arguably the best cut on the 11-song effort, although Ceaser picks Roll Away in a recent interview with Yorkton This Week (see related story this issue). He has his reasons considering in March 2008 the band was selected as the regional winner of the RadioStar National Songwriting Competition for the somg.
Often when you visit a band's website, in this case at www.satf.ca, the descriptions of the music is flowery, vague, and inaccurate. By contrast SATF seem to have a pretty solid understanding of what they are doing, and are honest in their self-assessment. On the website they state; “it is difficult not to be honest when you are from rural Saskatchewan, where community comes first and your neighbours are well aware of most of your personal goings-on. A place where the music of country radio, cabarets, and campfires can benignly infiltrate one’s prairie instincts and plant seeds that, like everything else in this province, bloom in their own sweet time.
“This prairie tradition finds its way into Sexually Attracted to Fire’s songwriting, if not always in the genre being performed, then through the songs’ construction and essential themes.”
That's pretty well bang on.
The music here relies on clear, folk-inspired vocals. Lyrics which reflect the roots of two Prairie kids. And, music which supports rather than buries everything else.
The total package is a relaxing effort, laid back and totally enjoyable. It may not find an easy radio home because it is neither pure country, nor rock, but that said, it should be something anyone can enjoy.
It is something two local guys should be extremely proud of as their first effort. Here's hoping for many more CDs to come.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- CODIE PREVOST -- Spin

SPIN
Codie Prevost
Independent
7-out-of-10

If you took in the grandstand performance at the Yorkton Exhibition last Wednesday you had an opportunity to hear Codie Prevost first-hand.
Prevost has just released his second CD Spin as a follow up to the 2005 debut The Road Ahead, which helped him earn the 2006 Saskatchewan Country Music Association Rising Star and Album of the Year awards.
The debut netted Prevost six singles so he got good mileage from it.
Sadly, with the follow-up Spin Prevost has skimped with only six songs. He does call the effort a 6-Pak Vol. 1, so perhaps he has plans for another release shortly, but I think he'd have been better served giving us more up front.
This is pure Nashville country, with songs made for radio, and that means catchy tunes, such as the first single release Spin, and other cuts such as Good Living and
It's no surprise this one has a 'Nashville' feel since it was recorded in Nashville and was produced by Steve Fox who seems to have his hand in developing every young country singer coming out of Saskatchewan these days.
Prevost has a clear, practiced voice. On Spin he doesn't take any risks, going with the formula sound. The lyrics aren't overly compelling with any deep or lasting messages to impart, but they are catchy, and are fine to turn up and tap your fingers to as you bomb down the blacktop on a summer drive.
The only thing Prevost has to think about in the future is how he stands out from the masses. As solid a Nashville country as this effort might be, there are lots of performers cutting CDs with the same general sound.
Prevost has a voice which could take him away from the crowd, but he will need to look for music with a bit more heart than these basically happy country tunes.
The best cut is Quicksand, where he tunes things down, and offers up a song with some emotion.
An OK sophomore effort, but Prevost has the vocals to take it farther than he shows here.
You can check him out at www.codieprevost.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- DANNY SCHMIDT -- Little Grey Sheep

LITTLE GREY SHEEP
Danny Schmidt

Waterbug Records
7.5-out-of-10

Waterbug Records is a well-known, and respected folk/roots-oriented label, and as such is a perfect home for Danny Schmidt and his latest effort Little Grey Sheep.Schmidt is a definite roots minstrel. He performs roots music which is driven by the lyrics. His voice is the main driver of his sound, and that works. He has a relaxed, friendly delivery which easily takes the listener into the world captured by the words. As a result songs such Leaves Are Burning, Go Ugly Early, Around the Waist, and others become quite personal for the listener. It truly seems you are Schmidt's sole audience, that he is performing the material just for you. That personal connection adds a great deal to the musical experience here.Instrumentally, Schmidt focuses on his acoustic guitar, with just enough spice from harmonica, fiddle, accordion, steel guitar, and others throughout the album to round out the sound. A nice example of minimalist instrumentation used to good advantage.Of course you might expect a smooth, and practiced effort from Schmidt considering Little Grey Sheep is his fifth album, covering a career stretching back to his debut album; Live at the Prism Cafe, released in 1999.This is a nice, relaxed effort which would be perfect for a relaxing day in the shade at some nice park this summer.You can check Schmidt out at www.dannyschmidt.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review -- STAREWELL -- Broke And Out Of Money

BROKE AND OUT OF MONEY
Starewell
Independent
8-out-of-10

I am constantly amazed by how many really solid bands are out there. It's pretty easy to understand how tough the music business must be just based on the depth of talent. The line between super break-out hit band and just a killer hard working band that too few people ever hear of is razor thin.
Which side of the line a band such as Starewell will ultimately end up remains to be seen, but this Calgary-based group certainly has the music to go somewhere.
So for those heading to Holly's Nite Club in Yorkton July 6, they're in for a treat as Starewell performs live.
For those wondering what they'll hear, this band is pretty much straight ahead rock. They don't throw in a lot of electronica, and I doubt they know what pop is. This is guitars, solid lyrics, upbeat, and go hard music, and frankly what more do you need from a band. In fact on the band's spot on myspace they tag their music simply; rock, rock, rock.
The band is a trio, with Brett Simms on guitar, Wade Simms on drums, and Chris Rozell on bass. The three play tight, and vocally keep it simple and clear. Brett Simms has provided the lyrics for all but one of the cuts here, and he has a knack for the catchy hook. Rozell does provide Straight Line Baby, and it's a song that has hit potential too.
Broke and Out of Money is the band's third album, so they've been out there pounding out the miles playing for a while now. Fully Extended was the band's debut effort, followed by Those Who Matter.
The current single release off the album is the title cut, and recently hit #23 on Canada's Mediabase rock charts, so it's getting some respect on air, and I am not sure it's the best cut on the album. My picks are Last One Alive, Down On Me, and Your Angels.
Starewell is definitely a band any Canadian rock fan will want to check out. Look them up at www.starewell.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE RIGHT ROAD -- 44 Miles

44 MILES
The Right Road
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
The CD 44 Miles comes out of Manitoba as a deeply personal effort by The Right Road.
Checking out the band's website at www.rightroad.ca you glean the nature of the CD pretty quickly. “If you are looking for a listing of band members and that sort of thing, you won't find it here. The Right Road is more accurately described as a personal project. You see, not only did I write every note and lyric of every song, I play every instrument on each track, provided all the vocals, did all the recording am even responsible for the keystrokes that resulted in the web site you are presently viewing,” stated the sight.
Interestingly, I never did find the performer's full name past Thomas. That's too bad because this guy deserves a pat on the back.
He has put together a CD which is essentially country, albeit at times slipping more into the folk-roots category on a cut, or two, and on something like Fade to Shadows, an almost soft pop-feel comes through.
Instrumentation is kept simple, but are effective in carrying the laid back vocals. Thomas has a nice, if not overly distinct voice.
The best part of the CD is the lyrics. He has stories to tell, and emotions to evoke, and does both in a pretty solid, straight forward fashion.
With 14 songs, the value is certainly here too.
A nice edition to Canadian Prairie music. I hope he takes on another project one day.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- KATE MAKI -- On High

ON HIGH
Kate Maki
Confusion Unlimited
7.5-out-of-10
Kate Maki comes out of Northern Ontario, and calls herself a western swing performer, well with a few twists – don't all performers throw a change-up these days?
In this case Maki has a relaxed, slow-paced, and laid back, approach to music. It comes across that she has a story to tell, often stories with a darker tone, or mood, and is willing to spend whatever time it takes to share the tale with the listener. There is no rushing things here.
The instrumentation here is rather diverse, although still simple and bare bones. This is a CD that is really all about Maki's lilting voice, but when it's supported by steel on one song, and the unique flavour of a jug on another, it adds to the richness of the result.
That said, this CD lives and dies by Maki's voice, a voice which is ideally suited to music which has such a folk-roots heartbeat.
On occasion Maki is joined by others here. Nathan Lawr chimes in on Badminton Racket, and Dale Murray joins in on Blue Morning. The duets here are a nice addition to the CD, providing diversity, and also giving Maki's voice a male counterpoint.
Maki has scored with previous CDs -- her debut Confusion Unlimited and follow-up The Sun Will Find Us were both recognized as Album of the Year by the Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards – and this latest effort certainly maintains the level of excellence.
Check her out at www.katemaki.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Review -- MINISTRY OF ZEN -- Unanalyzed

UNANALYZED
Ministry of Zen
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
Kudos to begin with to Ministry of Zen for upscaling the packaging of their debut CD Unanalyzed, which comes in a tin CD case. Sweet!
The even better news is that the music inside matches the packaging, as high quality.
That said, there is a downside here too. There are only seven cuts. Come on boys, in this day and age we expect more. I'd have gladly had you save the money on the fancy CD case in favour of a bit more studio time to offer up another cut, or three.
I know I certainly was left wanting more because Ministry of Zen is a darned solid rock band. By the way, here's a little plug for Rayzr's Pub who are bringing these guys in for a show the weekend of July 3, 4 and 5. Following on the heels of recent band's such as Cold Driven and The Re-Mains, Rayzr's is finding some great bands for the city.
Ministry of Zen is a straight ahead rock band, that at times crosses over onto the edge of metal, but never too far that they lose site of vocal clarity.
Doug Robb is the songwriter here, as well as providing lead vocals. He does a good job of both.
Songs such as Anthem, Lift and Serenity are top-drawer material, and the whole CD holds together as a package nicely.
This is another emerging Canadian band that truly impresses. This is a debut to grab, and let's hope Ministry of Zen stays together for a long time, and that they continue to grow. They have certainly started off on the right foot with Unanalyzed.
Check out this hot band at www.ministryofzen.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 25, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SAMUEL JAMES -- Songs Famed For Sorrow And Joy

SONGS FAMED FOR SORROW AND JOY
Samuel James
Northernblues Music
9.5-out-of-10

Wow! Talk about a modern bluesman that has captured the soul of old blues. One listen to Samuel James' new effort, and you'll be looking on the CD cover to see if this isn't a release of something originally recorded in the 1920's or '30s.
When he starts into songs such as Sunrise Blues and Big Black Ben, it's like you're in a totally different era of the blues.
The power of this CD, and it is a mighty powerful effort, is that it's just James and his guitar, a gravely voice that speaks from the past with such stunning clarity, you feel as though this guy is one of the greats of the past reincarnated. Comparisons to the likes of the famous Son House are a natural here.
What makes this CD all the more impressive is that James is still in his 20s, and yet he has so totally captured the heart of blues, he comes across as much more seasoned than his years. He has tapped into the soul of the music, and lets it bath everyone of the12-original cuts here.
It is impressive too that this is all original. For a young performer to have so perfectly captured an earlier style in his lyrics is amazing.
The best of the bunch, although this is a solid CD from start to finish, are the aforementioned Big Black Ben, Sugar Smallhouse, and The Sad Ballad of Ol' Willie Chan.
This is also a debut effort, which means two things; one grab this CD because if you love blues you'll want to have the first effort of this emerging star, and two, I can hardly wait for the follow up just to see what he can do for an encore.
If you are going to buy only one blues album this year, this is the one to-date to search out. An instant classic.
You can check James out at www.northernblues.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 25, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DANA WYLIE BAND -- The Unruly Ones

The UNRULY ONES
Dana Wylie Band
Tiny White Girl Records
8-out-of-10

Here is another one of those little gem CDs that comes along every once in a while, and when you dig into the performer's background, you find that she's another Saskatchewanite pounding out some really excellent music.
While Wylie is a native of Saskatchewan, the band was formed in Taiwan, and they list England as one of three bases of operation, so this gal is well-traveled, and that shows in the maturity of the music of this CD, their second.
Musically, they call their sounds acoustic roots pop, but truly there is also a strong element of jazz, stage style music, at least to my ear.
Wylie has the style of a storyteller on a time limit. The words roll staccato fashion, veritable tongue twisters which she gets away with crystal clear perfection. The trick, as the listener, is to keep up, and get the depth of the material, the plays on words, the humour, both dark and joyous depending on the song.
And just so you know Wylie hasn't forgotten her roots, one of the best songs here is What the Mirror Said, a piece with a farm-connected theme.
Of the 13 songs here Wylie has written 11, and a 12th Fear No More, she has written the music, while using the words of William Shakespeare as lyrics. Not a bad guy to have on board as a writer. And, the song works as a top piece here.
The sound comes across as light, and friendly, although there are songs here which offer more once you get into the rhythm and can follow this songstress sprite as she speeds through the words with a tongue as sharp as a well-sharpened foil. At times you will simply smile in awe of the way she handles the material.
This is a fun album. It has depth, surprises, humour, and it's all carried by Wylie's sweet voice.
Wylie is another performer who, based on this effort, deserves to be better known than she is. Very well done.
Check this one out at www.danawylie.net
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 25, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada