Friday, August 29, 2008

Review -- STEVE DAWSON -- Telescope

Steve Dawson
Black Hen Music

Steve Dawson plays a mean guitar, in this case several guitars actually, from pedal steel, to acoustic to baritone and slide guitar, and even adds in banjo, ukulele and a few other instruments as he puts out a wonderful new instrumental album Telescope.
This CD is a musical exploration of jazz, bluegrass and a few other musical influences, showing that style does indeed mix well in the hands of an accomplished musician.
As musically diverse as Dawson is in his own instrumentation, he is also wise enough here to add in some accomplished musicians to round out the sound, something you will appreciate when you hear the trumpet work of J.P. Carter on the song Keith Lowe, one of three he lends his hand too.
Similarly it's great to hear Steve Marriner add harmonica to Speaker Damage, and Brad Turner's trumpet on 1000 Year Old Egg.
In the case of Speaker Damage you have one of the most experimental sounding pieces on the CD, although Dawson never pushes it so far as to separate it from the musical whole of Telescope.
With the blend of instruments from both jazz and bluegrass, the overall sound comes off as a blend, most clearly heard in a song like Chris Gestrin, and you know while you might not think the two have anything in common, it works amazingly well.
You will immediately appreciate the fresh approach, with the overall CD coming off as a unique musical experience.
It is to be hoped Dawson continues to explore this unusual musical duality, because on Telescope at least, it proves to be fertile new territory worth delving into more deeply.
This is one CD worth searching out by both jazz and bluegrass fans for its extraordinary melding of the two styles, and by other music fans simply because this is a great instrumental album.
You can follow this musician's career at or

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

Review -- JOHN MCKINSTRY -- Goliath Falling

John McKinstry

John McKinstry is a singer songwriter out of Toronto. A modern troubadour who melds an array of styles into one musical voice.
Goliath Falling is McKinstry's debut effort, and it brings together elements of soft pop, R&B, reggae, world beat, mixed with a folk style lyrical base. The result is a rather laid back, relaxed musical effort.
This has the feeling of clouds and cotton candy in its approach, just relaxed and easy going.
There are some nice instrumentation choices here. For example the horn work on Mary Celeste is very Jamaican in its sound, a trend you see in other cuts such as Orion, a song on sandy beaches and night skies.
The lyrics here are not particularly exciting, but that clearly isn't what McKinstry is trying for either.
This is really the music you might want to hear in a little bar on a beach somewhere where snow is an unknown. You could kick back, relax with something cold that has an umbrella as decoration, and chat with a friend, as this music merrily played in the background.
While this music has its place, I can't see it being a regular on the CD player for most. This is really mood music, and a particular mood at that.
There is nothing exactly wrong here, in fact take away the lyrics, and the music is darn solid, even hitting the edges of blues rock on a cut like Crackdown.
And, McKinstry's voice isn't bad either, having a clear, straight forward approach.
But, when it all mixes together it just misses the mark a little.
A stripped down instrumental version would have been a more compelling final package.
Check it out at

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

Review -- EMMA COOK -- Hit & Run

Emma Cook
Emma Cook debuted on the solo scene in 2003 with the CD Manifesto. Hit & Run is her second solo effort, and it's a good one.
Cook, who hails from Southern Ontario has a sound that really crosses the genres, something you realize right from the opening cut This Boy. This Boy is one of those songs which could make MuchMusic, yet might also fall neatly under the category of jazz, with enough blues influence to catch fans of that genre too.
Song You Asked Me Not To Write follows that trend, again with jazz influences, a bit of stage musical sensibility, and again just on the edge of modern female soft rock vocals.
It might sound like the overall result would be a bit disjointed, but that is not the case. Cook has a voice with the range to easily encompass the various genres, and the lyrics work on the various levels too.
What I really appreciate here is the way this young vocalist has so skillfully written music that holds together so well as it crosses the genre barriers. Cook, who was classically trained, has certainly learned the basics well, and is now putting the knowledge to skillful use. She even manages a little country heart on the title cut, showing just how far she goes in dipping into different musical pools to achieve the finished product.
The best cut is Take It Or Leave It, a dark mood piece with compelling lyrics and great music.
This is certainly a young Canadian artist who has a vision to expand music beyond the comfortable pigeon-hole many artists are content to occupy. This CD is worth seeking out for that alone.
A very solid job by Cook who explores widely, yet keeps the finished product as a coherent musical piece.
You can check her out at

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

Friday, August 22, 2008

Review -- DOCTOR QTRON -- Self-Titled

It always amazes me to hear the music which is coming out of the garages and basements of young rock bands these days.
In the past the greatest barrier to musical expression, which could be passed to the masses via a recording, was the cost to actually get into a studio and lay down a few tracks.
The emergence of home computers and amazing programs dedicated to music production has changed all that, and so a young group of musicians, such as Yorkton's Doctor Qtron, can emerge with some really killer material.
Doctor Qtron is fronted by Ben Nagy, who has been performing with a number of local groups for several years, in spite of barely being out of high school himself. The guitarist and vocalist is joined by brother Kamyn Nagy on drums and Justis Perry on bass.
The trio have put together a rock CD which has some definite range in material, but holds together pretty well through the limited six song selection.
The band itself admits to the material having a punk feel, and Perry talks of metal riffs, and in the end they manage to just come up with an interesting collection of songs.
The cut Satan and My Girl shows that somewhere in the past Nagy has found the blues, and when he twists that with good old fashioned rock guitar, it becomes arguably the best cut here.
Peace At Mind is a song that goes back to an earlier era for some Black Sabbath influences.
The CD ends with Streets Of Rage, a techno cut Nagy said they included because live fans have liked the cut. It could be just because Nagy likes to go out on the edge anyway. After all this is the same guy who in March of this year release a solo CD entitled Bologna Face: Revenge of the Alien Bodied Noodle, an eclectic, totally off-the-wall, mix of material.
By the way the fans are right Streets Of Rage works, and fits as a strange, but good end cut to this fine CD.
With Doctor Qtron the sound is certainly more commercial, accessible, mainstream, but you can also hear the weirdness muse pulling at Nagy's writing in a few instances too, and that just helps keep the material fresh.
Nice work boys, keep it up.

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

Review -- WEB -- Wolf Is Howling

Crank it up, and let the blues rock baby!
Welcome to the latest effort by Winnipeg's Web; Wolf Is Howling, a blues rock effort in the truest sense of the word.
Web is fronted by guitarist and vocalist Dave Weber, and his voice fits his chosen genre well, it's a little smokey, seasoned, mature. Considering this guy has been performing since the 1960s, it's no wonder there is the maturity to the voice.
“I've been playing a variety of stuff. I like a lot of different styles of music throughout the years, but my favourite is the blues, blues rock,” he said, in a recent interview with this reviewer.
Web can also play. This is basically a power trio, with Weber's guitar joined by Jim Jolly on bass and Keith Zedzora on drums. For this straight ahead style, three works just fine.
The CD was produced at Waterfront Studios in Winnipeg where it was engineered and mastered by Anthony Gianccola with Abbey Road special edition TG 1, previously used on most Beatles recordings, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and Jimmy Hendrix albums.
It is interesting the CD has a little footnote 'all instruments and vocals were recorded in their natural state to ensure the natural sound of each instrument is heard'. That is an interesting approach in an era when a computer stroke can alter and refine a recording line. It's a good choice for this genre of music which relies on a certain degree of 'rawness' to work.
This is a fun, sort of rock party album, one that has a solid overall feel to it, even if no single cut immediately jumps out as the best.
Still, just to relax and let the beat of straight ahead rock blues take you away for a while, this one works. It's never bad to join the wolf and just howl a little.
You can check Web on the web at

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

Review -- STONE RIVER -- Self-Titled


In a world where music seems increasingly fractionalized, with little sub genre categories popping up to be the next hot 10-week trend, it's comforting once in a while to find some good old rock 'n roll.
Stone River is an Ontario-based band which is doing just that. There aren't a bunch of musical gimmicks, and sub genre labels here.
Instead Jeff Desilets and Darren Flower power Stone River with hard driving guitars, while Renan Yildizdogan adds vocals. Jay Macedo on bass and Scott Larocque on drums round out the quintet. The overall result is a band from the mold of an Aerosmith.
The band has something of a retro feel, especially evident on a cut like Cold Black River. However, this is not a clone of the past of rock, but instead Stone River has simply chosen to keep things simple and straight forward.
You take hard driving rock, which stops well short of metal screamer bands, add a dash of blues, and come up with something akin to Lynyrd Skynyrd, at least in as much as there is the southern fried feel on cuts such as Come On, and the result is a wiinner.
Stone River can change it up too, with an AC/DC inspired cut like Can't Help Loving Her.
This band is hard enough to satisfy a metal head on a mellow day, soft enough to be accessible by a fan of a band like Nickelback, retro enough to please a fan of vintage Aerosmith, and good enough they should be on a major label.
The best cut on the album is likely the more laid back On These Turning Tides, a cut with compelling lyrics which Stone River allows to take the lead role here, as the guitars are toned down a bit.
That said, there really isn't a weak effort on this CD. This quintet rocks, plain, simple, and to the point, and in the end you don't need a gimmick if you are honest to the music like Stone River is. Buy this one and rock on.
Check them out at

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

Review -- MORELAND & ARBUCKLE -- 1861

Moreland & Arbuckle
Northernblues Music
Good blues music is often soulful music, and when you hear the vocals of Dustin Arbuckle, soulful is the first thing which comes to mind. Add in his solid harmonica work, and you quickly become a fan.
Arbuckle was born in Kansas on December 25, 1981. Santa was clearly in the mood to give blues music a big present that year. Arbuckle “followed his muse to play at 15 after hearing Elmore James and B.B. King, though the blues harp lessons would become his vocation,” stated bio material on the band website (
The other half of this CD is Aaron Moreland. 'Chainsaw' Moreland grew up in Kansas where his earliest memories are said to have been of hearing 8-track tapes of Kiss and Led Zeppelin records. "As he grew, Moreland felt compelled to become a musician as his only option and began playing guitar at 15, serving his apprenticeship in rock bands until hearing Son House seven years later. His total immersion in the rawest prewar blues even extends to his choice of instruments that include a fretless, four-string “cigar box” guitar that contains a bass string, a National Steel and a funky old parlor guitar," states the band's website.
Together this pair pelts out blues music with the soul of the past and the urgency of more modernistic rock. There are elements of Mississippi Hill Country, Delta and rural blues here, but also a sort of southern-fried rock overlay on cuts such as Diamond Ring which give the sound a freshness too.
Two previous CDs, the acoustic Caney Valley Blues (2005) and electric Floyd’s Market (2006) preceded their NorthernBlues debut 1861, named for the year Kansas joined the Union. You have to credit the Canadian label with going out and signing these guys. This is blues which connects to the past, and looks to the future. It should appeal to a huge cross section of fans, from those in love with the roots of blues, to those who enjoy a touch of rockabilly rock mixed in.
This is a truly killer effort, which should launch Moreland & Arbuckle to greater heights in the blues world. Grab it!

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

Review -- JW JONES -- Bluelisted

JW Jones
Northernblues Music
JW Jones is another one of a growing crop of Canadian bluesmen – including the likes of David Gogo – who is earning his reputation with his guitar. This guy can flat out play, as you will learn as he hits the juicy guitar solos on Looking The World Straight In the Eye.
This CD really lives and dies on how Jones works the guitar strings and he does it with a forcefulness which demands attention.
Bluelisted is one to find for another reason too, since it brings together two influential blues guitarists from the west coast; Little Charlie Baty, and Junior Watson, playing together on the same tracks for the first time in a combined 70 year career. They team on Double Eyed Whammy, Heavy Dosage and Tickets On Yourself, adding even more guitar power to this one.
Lyrically, Jones might not be at the top of the game just yet, although there are some solid enough efforts here. However, you aren't buying a Jones CD for the lyrics. In fact, there are times he might have just forgot to write lyrics and left the music to his guitar, since that is clearly the strength here. He powers up and just carries the listener away.
It helps too that Jones has a few other guests pop in to help on this one, including a sweet tenor sax solo by Martijn 'Lewis' Van Toor on Mad About You.
Jones has become a rather prolific bluesman in the studio, dating back to a demo recording in 1998, and most recently with the full length efforts My Kind Of Evil released in 2004, and Kissing in 29 Days in 2006.
If you like blues guitar, this one is highly recommended.
You can keep up with this bluesman at

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

Review -- JAYME STONE & MANSA SISSOKO -- Africa To Appalachia

Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko

The title of this one suggests the listener is in for something different here, and the CD doesn't disappoint on that assumption.
The music of Appalachia is that of folk, bluegrass and roots, with the banjo a key instrument, one you don't think of when you think of African music, yet here the two come together.
Jayme Stone, one of Canada's best young banjo players said the idea for the CD came about when he learned the banjo has its roots in West Africa.
Mansa Sissoko is from Mali in Africa where he is steeped in the traditional music of that country and continent.
While seemingly from extremely different musical worlds, Stone and Sissoko bring them together skillfully.
Some of the pieces here are strongly African, including lyrics sang in the language of Mali, such as on the lead cut Bibi and then on Djula. While the African vocals are a mystery, that should not scare away the listener as it simply provides an opportunity to enjoy the music of a culture most of us will never experience first hand.
Other pieces have a more familiar sound, with tighter ties to Appalachia. For example June Apple is a traditional number arranged by Stone, as is the cut Tree To Tree.
The interest here is how easily two diverse musical cultures can come together so seamlessly. It becomes rather evident the music has developed from a single root, albeit on different sides of the Atlantic over more than a century.
The coming together of the two musical cultures is one that should be enjoyed. Seek this one out for something amazingly different, fresh, exciting and just plain good.
Check it out at

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

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review -- CORY WEEDS QUARTET -- Big Weeds

Cory Weeds Quartet
Cellar Live
When you put a saxophone in the hands of Cory Weeds and have him performing live at a club, you're in for a jazz experience. Fortunately for us, when Weeds was performing at The Cellar Restaurant / Jazz Club this January, the performance was recorded and we can now enjoy the evening over and over on the CD Big Weeds. You have to love Cellar Live for putting out this type of quality CD, because it gives us access to shows we could not generally hear any other way.In the case of Big Weeds, it is a collection of only eight numbers, but each one is a jazz journey which meanders across the musical landscape.The CD starts with a 7:35 rendition of Darben The Red Roxx, a cut by James Moody many jazz fans will recognize. It is an excellent choice as a lead-in because it has elements that are recognizable.From there Weeds goes with his own compositions, and that too works as it let's us enjoy an accomplished saxophonist playing the music he is most familiar with, his own.To round out the sound here Weeds is joined by Mike LeDonne on Hammond b3, Peter Bernstein on guitar, and Joe Farnsworth on drums who has a killer solo on the cut Corrupted Mango. The three musicians are all accomplished performers, and they blend seamlessly with Weeds as he leads them through cuts such as For Fathead, It's Only A Paper Moon and No Bull, the longest cut here at 10:47.In general terms this is rather straight ahead jazz, no wild electronica, just music to relax and weave too. Perfect for a lazy day at the cabin, or a nice evening on the patio this summer. Sit back, sip something refreshing, and let Weeds take you to a happy place. This is one weed you want to have.Another fine effort from this Vancouver-based label. Big Weeds can be checked out in more detail at or

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

Review -- JAGGER COOK -- All Our Hands Are Dirty

Jagger Cook
When you have the name Jagger you are almost destined to be a rocker, and in the case of Jagger Cook he wears the mantle well, although he takes a decidedly different rock path than the more famous Mick Jagger.In the case of Jagger Cook he is a poet of the modern age. His lyrics are definitely poetic, although they are pieces laden with emotion, often rather dark. They are observations of modern life, warts and all.Cook's own website ( describes the work on All Our Hands Are Dirty “as an anthology of life…a collection of thoughts, ideas, experiences and events that formulate and construct the stories of the human condition…from struggles with childhood demons and personal relationships to the contemplation of life’s greatest questions.” One listen and you recognize this guy has a pretty good handle on his own work.The CD has received a number of regional and minor awards for Cook who was originally from Ontario including winner of the Canadian Niagara Music 2008 Songwriter and Album Of The Year Awards, and winner of the Great American Song Contest 2008 Honor Award for the song Nostalgia. He was also nominated for Artist, Song (Nostalgia) and Album Of The Year by All Access Magazine Music Awards in Los Angeles for 2007. While Nostalgia appears to have received the most notice, the song Afraid Like Me is my personal favourite.This is a very solid CD, powered as it is by strong lyrics, showing that music can be well-written and still be good without every song relying on an oft repeated hook line to catch the listener's attention.Fortunately, Cook also has the voice to bring the words to life in a pleasing way. He has a sort of soulful presentation, perfect for the often darker material.Check it out, it's well worth grabbing.

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

Review -- E.S.L. -- Eye Contact

Jericho Beach Music
When you read a band bio that has influences listed as ranging from Polish cabaret to Neil Young, the Beastie Boys and Velvet Underground, you kind of figure you're in for something a little out of the ordinary, and in the case of E.S.L. you would be right.This Vancouver based band is certainly cutting their own musical path in the wilderness, and the result is rather hard to classify, although overall the CD Eye Contact is rather compelling.To begin with when you see a band that has pop leanings, it's rather intriguing to see a instrument mix as classically oriented as E.S.L. does. The band includes wonderful cello work by Cris Derksen. It is the cello on cuts such as Side By Side which truly set this CD apart. Huge credit to the band for having the foresight to use an instrument usually reserved for classical music is a more modern musical setting.Derksen's cello is complimented by violinist Diona Davies, drummer Joy Mullen and Marta Jacubek-McKeever on piano and vocals. Jacubek-McKeever is another reason E.S.L. stands apart from the crowd. This gal not only plays an accomplished piano, but her vocal style is one which will stick with the listener.The band also draws on a number of cultural experiences in their music. Princess Vs.Dragon has an Old World, Eastern Europe feel, while the Neil Young piece Like A Hurricane has an Aboriginal undertone. The latter features Duffy Driedger on vocals, and his male presence adds a nice break to the work of the all female quartet.This work is one which has indie pop arrangements, folk/roots lyrics and classical instrumentation, and while it might seem like a stretch to bring such diverse elements together, E.S.L. manages it smoothly.This is certainly one to watch for simply to enjoy the unique effort. Well done. Check them out at

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

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Review -- MAD SHADOW -- Self-Titled


Ah to be young and talented, with the world of rock 'n roll laid out ahead of you. That is right where the members of Mad Shadow find themselves.
The band, which hails from B.C. has a world of potential, with the oldest member not yet 20.
With such a young group of musicians you might expect the sound to be poppish, but instead Mad Shadow comes out of the gate with a debut album that has a mature sound with its roots born of music which was being played before these guys were even born.
The band's bio at states their “sound is a throwback to the raunchy guitar rock of 70’s bands such as Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith or Deep Purple.”
That's a pretty heady comparison to make, more so for a group that are still teens, but they do an admirable job of delivering on their statement.
This is rock that is reasonably comparable to the great bands of an earlier era.
Danny Sveinson shows he grew up with the guitar in his hands, and his guitar solo work is a recording highlight, especially on the songs where they let themselves go, throwing away the yoke of making a song three minutes for radio. And instead just going with the song.
Erik Olufson has a voice mature beyond his years as well.
The band is completed by Josh McDonald on drums and Tyler Lindgrin on bass.
There are several excellent cuts here; White Lies as Mad Shadow does a little musical exploration ranging from clearly Led Zeppelin-ish odes, to blues laden cuts. It is what you might expect from young musicians exploring for their preferred sound. Overall it is held together by the fine musicianship.
This is a fine album for a band debut, made more exciting by just how good these guys could be as they grow and mature. They certainly are honouring the bands of the past, and are a new sound in rock that you should check out. It could be the start of a storied career for these four.
You can check them out live at Rayzr's pub in the Yorkton Hotel Aug. 7, and learn more about them in a feature article this issue.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SCOTT COOK -- Long Way To Wander

Scott Cook
Scott Cook is a folkie. Yes there may be other influences to the work on Long Way To Wander, but the heart of this music is good old, lyric driven folk. You know that from the opening song Fish Jumpin, and Cook stays true to the form the rest of the way.
Cook hails from Edmonton, but has spent the last several years in Taiwan, so you get a feeling where the CD title comes from, but in the end he gets back to his Canadian roots, and his songs tell Canadian stories. My Grandma is a beautiful song of family, and life working in northern Alberta, and is perhaps the best song here.
That said, Cook really is consistent in his music here. It's comfortable and rings true to the Canadian experience.
It could be simply a case where Cook is mature enough to let the music speak for him. This is acoustic driven material, Cook switching back and forth between guitar and banjo with a practiced hand on both.
The lyrics tell stories, and Cook, who wrote all 11-cuts, performs them with a crystal clear, friendly voice. As a listener you simply want to pause, sit down, and listen to what this performer has to say, and that is the measure of great folk music.
And, make no mistake about it, this guys has put together one of the better folk CDs to cross this desk in quite some time. He would be great in an intimate coffee house, or even a soft seat venue such as the Anne Portnuff Theatre where he could have a near musical conversation with the audience. Folkies, find this one – it's great.
Check Cook out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RONNIE EARL and the BROADCASTERS -- Hope Radio

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Stony Plain Records
Just how can you go wrong when you team Ronnie Earl, an accomplished blues guitarist, and a premier blues label such as Stony Plain Records?
Well, as Hope Radio is testament too, you simply can't go wrong.
Earl knows his way around a guitar and the blues about as well as anyone in the business today, and on this album he's at the height of his game.
The CD was recorded and filmed live (for a separate DVD) in the studio before an audience at Wellspring Sound in Acton, Mass in April of 2007. Hope Radio features 11 songs that showcase Earl backed by long-time members of The Broadcasters: Dave Limina – keyboards, Jim Mouradian – bass and Lorne Entress – drums. Guests include Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and piano and Nick Adams on second guitar.
As a live, instrumental album Earl lets himself go, exploring songs which often eclipse eight minutes as he let's the music take twists and turns, much to the delight of the listener.
The CD includes sweet renditions of songs such as Blues For The West Side, I Am With You, Wolf Dance and Beautiful Child. In total Earl offers up 11 of his own songs here, coming in at just more than 78 minutes of striking blues music. Wolf Dance is the best for an overall stellar selection.
While a blues album, there are jazz influences on cuts such as Bobby's Bop, and at time Earl's guitar talks with a rock voice.
A new song, Katrina Blues, features a rare solo acoustic guitar performance by Earl. The cut is one which has a ton of emotion as it is written for those who suffered in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Overall the variety simply adds to the depth of the experience of listening to this CD. Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 30, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada