Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review -- SICK CITY -- Nightlife

NIGHTLIFE
Sick City
Smallman Records
9-of-10
Yorkton music fans are in for a treat Dec. 20 when the band Sick City plays here (see related story this issue).For anyone who doubts that, they only need to give the Winnipeg-based band's debut CD Nightlife a spin. This is a recording that catches the listener from the first cut; Antoinette, and holds your attention throughout.It helps that front man Josh Youngson who has a strong, clear voice, and he knows how to carry a tune. He can punch it up when the songs calls for it, but also has the control to tone it down and let the lyrics call the listener in.As a unit Sick City is a pretty straight ahead rock unit, at times flirting with the edge of metal just a little, but owing far more of their sound to the punk/pop world. In the end they just come across as a band with energy, smooth vocals, and a sound that gets the listener involved in the music.As a full-length debut – Sick City did have an earlier EP -- Nightlife has a number of very solid, cutting edge radio type cuts, including the aforementioned Antoinette, Killing Ourselves to Feel, and the title cut, which might be the best of the bunch.This is a very solid disk. While not the same style, it reminds me of how Art of Dying, Bluestone and Cold Driven's CDs caught my attention when they have rolled across my desk this year. You can mark this one as one of the top-5 rock CDs I have reviewed in 2008. This is one to put in the Christmas stocking of anyone who likes rock. A band to watch.Check out this hot band at www.sickcitymusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 17, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PRIYA THOMAS -- Is Blood Heron

IS BLOOD HERON
Priya Thomas
Independent
9-out-of-10
Oh wow, what a captivating style Priya Thomas brings to her CD Is Blood Heron.This gal is part folk, part punkish pop, part modern poet, and all just darned good.The opening cut Your Guitar, My Undoing, has amazing lyrics, and Thomas' voice just calls out like a siren and says, relax, listen, enjoy.After succumbing to Thomas' vocal charms on the lead cut, the listener is just left to enjoy as they are drawn deeper and deeper into this gal's world.Her vocals are lilting, and relaxing, but there is a deeper undercurrent here that calls to another place in the listener's mind. Thomas is a poet who weaves modern tales with her words.
A song like Dakota From The Hebrew demands you to listen into the story, taking the mind deeper than one might expect from the first strains of Thomas' sweet voice.The voice will catch you, the songwriting will leave you remembering this songstress long after the final strains of the CD have faded out of the speakers.Thomas also knows how to package a CD. The liner notes are lavishing illustrated with great artwork, and the songs really read like a poetry tome.As for selecting a best song here I'd suggest you just hit any random number on the CD player and you are likely to hear a song that could become your favourite. There truly are no weak spots in terms of material.This is an exciting effort on so many levels. It might not be for those who only want superficial music, those not willing to invest some energy in the lyrics, but for anyone else this should be marked high on the 'I want list'.Check out this talented performer at www.priyathomas.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 17, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- OLD MAN LUEDECKE -- Proof Of Love

PROOF OF LOVE
Old Man Luedecke
Black Hen Music
9-out-of-10
To start with, if you are a fan of the banjo, skip over this review and simply go out and buy this CD. Old Man Luedecke is a banjo player that knows how to use the instrument in subtle ways, and here he creates a wonderful CD in which the banjo is used skillfully as a compliment to the relaxed East Coast-folk vocals.Luedecke is a minstrel who draws inspiration from a simpler era. He writes songs which tell stories. He keeps the instrumentation simple, adding to the song, yet never overpowering it. He sings in a relaxed fashion, near conversational, coming across like an old friend telling a story after being away for a time.Of course it might be expected that Luedecke would offer up a relaxed, professional effort, considering Proof Of Love is his third CD.That said, this CD offers three strengths which combine to make it a great folk CD. To begin with this guy can write a folk song. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier, Thrown by the Bull, In the Beginning, Just Like A River and the title cut are all fine examples of how folk songs should be written, although truth be told there are no weak spots among the 13 cuts on this CD.Then there is Luedecke's voice. Smooth as aged Scotch, and near as sweet, this guy has the perfect sound for the material.And the final reason, and by far not the least important, there is the banjo. It is increasingly rare that this instrument is given centre stage for an entire CD. Yet here it shines in a world where Luedecke has combined elements of folk, bluegrass, and East Coast roots into a single sound.A CD that is as good as the genre offers.Check him www.oldmanluedecke.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 17, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review -- CARPENTER -- Law Of The Land

LAW OF THE LAND
Carpenter
Smallman Records
7-out-of-10
I will start by saying I generally like Law of the Land.But, and you knew there had to be a but here, there are times it just seems Carpenter tries a bit too hard. There is a forcefulness to the vocals here that at times just seems a bit too forced. At times it comes across as if they're pushing the music, not because the song demands it, but because they think that's what listeners want to hear.Carpenter needs to learn to relax a little and let the song dictate how hard they push at the microphone.It comes across just right on a song such as A Different Life, the lead cut, and a very solid song to intro the CD.Then on the very next song; You Can't Keep A Good Man Down, you hear a hint of being pushed, and on Off The Road, it just goes too far.The result is a CD that sounds a bit too much alike at times, because lead singer Daniel Sioui comes at every song the same forceful way vocally.Still, cuts such as Tell Me, are very good, and it is as forceful vocally as any on the CD.This is the debut CD for Carpenter, although Sioui was with the Vancouver band All State Champion previously. Hopefully as he grows as a musician he'll learn he doesn't have to try quite so hard on every cut to catch attention. Sioui has a solid voice, if not spectacular, and he could quiet it all down a notch, or two on a song here and there to add variety, and give the listener a softer interlude to break the sound barrier down a bit.Now it's not that Carpenter is a screamer band, Sioui notes he was influenced by John Cougar Mellencamp's American Fool, and you can sort of hear the homage here.Overall, a solid effort, that could have been great with a little adjustment here and there.Check them out at http://smallmanrecords.com/bands/carpenter/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 10, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ANNABELLE CHVOSTEK -- Resilience

RESILIENCE
Annabelle Chvostek
Borealis Records
9-out-of-10
When your resume includes being a member of the Wailin Jennys, an amazing group in it's own right, you should expect a great CD. Well then, welcome to Resilience by Montreal's Annabelle Chvostek.This is a CD that is interesting in how smoothly Chvostek blends genres. There are hints of bluegrass, a solid base in roots, and an overlay of modern pop realities. On her website her bio describes the sound “as contemporary urban roots, a style in which acoustic instruments are front and centre, but in which strategically placed programmed beats and electro-acoustic elements wrap themselves gently and tastefully around the strings.”Whatever label and definition you put on it, it works musically.Chvostek has also brought along some friends to help her on her solo debut, highlighted by a collaboration with Bruce Cockburn on the song Driving Away. It is an interesting cut on the CD in the sense it's far from the best, but the male voice's presence is a nice change of pace as a counterpoint to the entire album.Other guests include alternative country artist Mary Gauthier on backing vocals, Ani DiFranco alumnus Julie Wolf on keyboard and accordion and multiple Juno nominee Michael Jerome Browne on assorted strings. The real strength here isn't the guests though, it's Chovstek's ability to so easily handle subtly different music and keep it together as a complete package. There are musical shifts in the nuances of every song that impress from start to finish.My favourite cut is the bluegrass, alternative pop piece I Left My Brain, a song that just catches the listener and holds them in its spell. Firewalker is also a hauntingly beautiful song.This is a fantastic solo debut that deserves to be heard. Grab it.You can check it out at www.annabelle.org
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 10, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LIZ MANDEVILLE -- Red Top

RED TOP
Liz Mandeville
Earwig Music
7.5-out-of-10
I have a soft spot for gals that can play the blues. It seems the scene is dominated by the male voice, so when a gal can wail the blues, it's a treat.Liz Mandeville, a Chicago-based blues singer fits the bill nicely.Mandeville can find that blues growl when she needs to. It comes to the forefront on a song such as Dog No More.Red Top is also interesting in as much as Mandeville offers up 15 songs, all material she has written herself. That always adds an element to a blues CD because they are new songs the listener gets to hear and evaluate.Of course we should expect a level of maturity in the approach Mandeville takes to her music when you consider that Red Top is her fourth effort on the Earwig Label. An artist should grow through the experience of four studio albums, and listening to Mandeville here, you get that she knows what she is doing.There are some killer cuts here, such as My Baby's Her Baby Too, arguably the best cut on the album.Other songs of note are So Smart Baby, Scratch the Kitty, and the slower-paced Hold Me.That said this CD is really very solid from top to bottom, from the lively title cut which leads off the album through to Little Queen, which wraps up the blues tour here.A very nice effort that blues fans will appreciate.You can check out the CD at www.lizmandeville.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 10, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ANDREA MENARD -- Sparkle

SPARKLE
Andrea Menard
Independent
9.5-out-of-10
It's December, and that means Christmas is in the air. It also means it's a time when we pull out our seasonal CD collection, and start reliving musical memories that reach back to our earliest days. Christmas music is some of the best known, and loved music there is.That said it's always refreshing to add a new Christmas CD or two to the collection each year. If you're like me, you often go looking for something just a little different. It's great to hear another rendition of a seasonal classic, but I like hearing some unique takes on the season in terms of music.In that regard Saskatchewan's-own Andrea Menard has come up with a truly amazing album. Sparkle is a Christmas album that contains 13 songs, all new, all written by Menard. I am not sure I recall a time when an artist offered up a CD of all original Christmas music. It's almost always a case of mixing in at least a few old standards for familiarity's sake.In this case, had Menard chosen to go that route she would have done herself a huge disservice. Menard has come up with a superb album, one with a number of cuts that could well be classics of the season at some point in the future.There is the beautiful title cut; the jazzy Yuletide You, Evergreen, the '20s influenced Santa, I'm Broke, the haunting Christmas Letter and A Brand New Holiday.Northern Lights and My Winter Song are a pair of songs which are really interrelated. Northern Lights is an interlude lead-in to My Winter Song which pays homage to Menard's Metis heritage, and is hauntingly beautiful.It doesn't hurt either that Menard has a beautiful voice, one that has seen her do some exciting, out-of-the-box work in the past including the critically acclaimed The Velvet Devil.This is easily the best CD of non-traditional Christmas music I've heard since Stony Plain released a blues Christmas album a number of years ago, and as much as I love the blues, this one is better. It will be a winner with anyone who listens.If you are buying on Christmas CD this year, then you should make it Sparkle. Check it out at www.andreamenard.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 3, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- WATERMELON SLIM AND THE WORKERS -- No Paid Holidays

NO PAID HOLIDAYS
Watermelon Slim and the Workers
Northernblues Music
9-out-of-10
One thing you get when you spin a Watermelon Slim CD is honest, straight forward blues. This guy is a blues veteran, and he doesn't need to play around with the experimental edges of the blues to get attention. He simply goes to the heart of the blues and embraces it completely.This is smoky, bar room, feel good, get a little bit dirty, blues.Slim's voice is easily recognizable, with that little southern drawlish timbre, and it fits the blues perfectly.The fact that Slim can wail a harp, add in sweet slide guitar, and add some electric and acoustic dobro, and you have a multi-talented blues phenom.The Workers have been part of Slim's story for years, and they mix with their front man ideally.Special guests David Maxwell and Lee Roy Parnell are on hand for a couple of cuts too, with both joining in on Bubba's Blues.The result is from the opening Blues For Howard, through cuts such as Call My Job and Dad In The Distance, this CD is a winner. Other top cuts include And When I Die, which uses minimal instrumentation and great harp work, Gearzy'd Boogie and The Bloody Burmese Blues.It doesn't hurt either that Watermelon Slim serves up a fat 14 song effort here. Talk about value for your CD dollar.No Paid Holidays is also a major step for Watermelon Slim, coming in a full two points higher than his previous CD Wheel Man reviewed here back in May 2007. A definite blues gem to seek out. Check Slim out at /www.watermelonslim.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 3, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CARLOS DEL JUNCO -- Steady Movin'

STEADY MOVIN'
Carlos Del Junco
Northernblues Music
8-out-of-10
Regular readers will likely realize by now I have a soft spot for the blues, and for harmonica music, so when it came time to listen to Steady Movin' by Carlos Del Junco I was a bit beyond excited.The harmonica is this guy's instrument of choice, and he applies it to blues music. I was nearly scoring this one a nine before the cellophane was off the disk.Of course I restrained from that urge, and gave the disk a spin.Del Junco offered up a 5:10 cut to lead into the CD called Diddle It, a number which is wall-to-wall harmonica. Awesome!Then Del Junco switched gears with a darker themed piece called Dull Blade. It's a tune which immediately had me thinking of a James Bond flick, and this was part of the musical score. A bit less harmonica at the forefront, but another sweet piece.From there Del Junco just keeps it coming, through 11 cuts – well actually the 11th is a reprise effort of the lead Diddle It.The CD includes some covers, such as Jersey Bounce, and Del Junco's own material, including Mashed Potatoes Canada. It's one of those community name-dropping songs that a performer can insert whatever community he's playing in for a cheap pop, but I'll forgive Del Junco for it, since the rest of the album is so excellent.On Movin' Down The River Rhine, a Sonny Boy Williamson cut, Del Junco mixes his harmonica and vocals just right, providing a solid interpretation of the piece.Del Junco is best with the harmonica in his hand. He plays it extraordinarily well.Vocally, Del Junco is more average in terms of blues singers.As a result the cuts here that highlight the blues harp, are the strongest, such as the beautiful take on Amazing Grace.I like the Middle Eastern tinge I hear in places in The Simple Life too.Still, overall it's a great album. Well worth adding to the collection.Check it out a www.carlosdeljunco.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 3, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- COELACANTH DANCE -- Sonic Excursions and Audio Spasms

SONIC EXCURSIONS and AUDIO SPASMS
Coelacanth Dance
Crying Fish Music
7.5-out-of-10
Sit back for an amazing musical journey as you start to spin Sonic Excursions and Audio Spasms from Regina's uniquely named Coelacanth Dance.This is another one of a growing number of one-man CD efforts that seem to be popping up in the musical field.In this case the man behind the music is Steve McDonnell. He basically provides all the guitars, bass, keyboards, drum programming/percussion. The CD is recorded at Crying Fish Studio in Regina, which again is McDonnell's baby. He even did the CD design, right down to its fantastical artwork. So it's pretty clear this is an effort that is near and dear to the creator's heart. Sometimes when you get a deeply personal album it simply means the writer/musician is flogging something no one else would touch. In this case Coelacanth Dance is a name you should associate with fine music.The sound is strongly electronica influenced, although on a cut like the opening Gumbo Lounge there is a jazz feel that pops through the musical veil quite often.That splash of jazz is something you hear several times here.At other times McDonnell slows the music down, such as on Rain Dreams, and you end up with a relaxed, melodic musical experience, filled with dream moods. A key here is that McDonnell borrows a trick from the best of jazz, and serves up long pieces that allow larger musical tapestries. The shortest work among the eight cuts logs in at 4:37, with five eclipsing six minutes, the longest; Karma Zone at 11:11.This is a relaxing musical effort, one that can provide a nice background to a small gathering, or simply be enjoyed any day you need to chill. It's a good vibes CD.Check it out at www.myspace.com/coelacanthdance
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- HINTERLAND -- Pan Pan Medico

PAN PAN MEDICO
Hinterland
Submerged Records
8-out-of-10
Hinterland comes at us from Vancouver with a sound that is a modern blend of styles. There is an underlying foundation of electronica driven music, but the overall sound probably best fits the conceptual parametres of dream pop/new wave.The Hinterland sound really comes down to the vocal sound of Michaela Galloway. Her voice has an ethereal quality on this CD. She has a voice that literally floats over and through the music. There is a sort of mystical feel to the music.That said, she has a high female voice, and for my ears that is always one that can at times grow a tad tedious. Fortunately, Galloway is able to mix styles enough to keep me focused as a listener. For example, she slows things down on the cut Future Ghost, and the result is a haunting number which is easily the best on the album. It is a melodic piece that shows just how good this vocalist can be.Musically, Future Ghost has a beautiful arrangement too, one filled with mood and life.You would of course expect a solid effort on Pan Pan Medico given the fact it is Hinterland's third release. It follows on the heels of The Picture Plane, a CD that met with top-50 success on Canadian college radio charts.Certainly the style here is one that should meet with interest from younger listeners, because it borrows from, and blends nicely, several modern music styles and themes. In that regard Hinterland is a very forward looking unit, one willing to explore the modern pop genre in rather fresh ways.You can check out this band at www.hinterland.bc.ca, but before you go that far, just find this CD, it's a pleasant musical experience which will not disappoint.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- GRAVEMAKER -- Bury Me At Sea

BURY ME AT SEA
Grave Maker
Independent
8.5-out-of-10
If you like your metal hardcore, I mean in your face with walls of thrashing guitar, and growling vocals, then you better check out Grave Maker, a pounding rock unit out of B.C.This is a band that when it hits the road to tour, it really hits the road. A look at their schedule over the next few months shows the band with gigs from Mississippi to Slovakia and Finland. That tells you a couple of things. To start with metal is a worldwide phenomenon with a deep and loyal fan base, and secondly Grave Maker has the material to break into the circuit and survive.One listen and you'll know why.These guys know hard metal, from the power instrumentation, through to adult lyrics, that they push out with force, although generally they keep it so the listener can at least make out what they are singing. The band wants you on side with what they are trying to do. That said, they skirt the edge, just a decibel away from being a screamer band. They walk the edge, and do it well.Jon McRae is the vocalist here, and believe me, he gets a workout here. He does a very good job of showing just how hardcore, yet accessible metal can be.As for what songs rank as best, Grave Maker offers up 11-songs here which hold together well as a package. Drop The Torch, Dear Brother, Wreckage and several others are all excellent example of the genre.Definitely a metal winner. Check them out at www.myspace.com/gravemaker
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- TRAVIS 'MOONCHILD' HADDIX -- Daylight At Midnight

DAYLIGHT AT MIDNIGHT
Travis 'Moonchild' Haddix
Earwig Music
6.5-out-of-10
Ah now here we go. If you have ever wondered what the blues are, I mean at the very core of the genre, then take a listen to Travis Haddix. Born in Mississippi in 1938, Haddix, who now resides in Cleveland, is a 100 per cent pure, dyed in the proverbial wool, bluesman.At 70, this guy can still get his fingers around the guitar strings with the best of them. He shows some nimble solo work on cuts such as Backward Baby, one of the truly soulful cuts on Daylight At Midnight.Vocally, age is usually a good things for a bluesman. The age adds a richness to the voice you just can't get any other way.Lyrically too, age is generally a good thing, because life experience is really the fuel to fire creativity when it comes to writing the best blues.Now this may not be the greatest blues CD ever, well clearly it's not, yet it is so typical of what the blues is all about, it's a compelling CD to have.There are a few spots where Haddix changes course just a bit. For example, Who Could I Be is more of an R&B cut, and frankly, it's likely the weakest cut on the CD. Moonchild is at his best singing the blues, and he should stick to that. Haddix is a solid bluesman, but when he strays from the purest form of the genre, his voice doesn't carry the change well, and it also tends to push his solid guitar work off the CD, and that too is a shame.By contrast he follows up the sub par R&B cut with the title cut, and falls right back into what he does best.This is a CD worth having, but on occasion you might want to hit skip just to enjoy what Haddix does best. A better song choice on a couple of occasions would have boosted the score a point. With a dozen CDs to his credit Haddix should know better.Check him out through www.earwigmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- GRAVELROAD -- Shot The Devil

SHOT THE DEVIL
Gravelroad
Independent
8out-of-10
If you like your blues down in the mud, dealing with the darker side of life, and of death, then Gravelroad, a bluesy threesome out of Seattle might just be your ticket.This stuff is soulful, nasty, dark, and yes very good.Take for example the cut Forty-Four. It has nothing to do with age. The 44 here refers to the caliber of a gun.The title cut is about exactly what the title suggests, a guy putting seven bullets right in the devil's head and sending him straight to ... well you get the idea. Yes the language is at times a touch beyond PG.Call My Name is a song themed around a succubus type female calling to a man.Gravelroad relies a lot on the gravely voice of singer and guitarist Stefan Zillioux, and he does a solid job of growling out the blues backed by Marty Reinsel on drums and Jon Newman on bass. The trio keeps things generally pretty simple musically, but that works since these guys are really selling mood and lyrics on this CD.This would not be the blues for everybody. The lyrics are rather dark, the material is heavy, but at times it's just the mood music one needs.This is the kind of music that you need to just sit back and take in. It really shows that life has its darkness, but we find ways to persevere, and that there is usually some light to hold onto even in the darkest moments.If that all seems a bit too deep and philosophical for you, then just listen to this one for the moodiness that blues can afford like no other musical genre.Definitely one that I like a lot. Look it up.Check them out at www.gravelroadblues.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- FALL HORSIE -- Devil (E) Durge

DEVIL (E) DURGE
Fall Horsie
Youth Club Records
9-out-of-10
Now there are CDs that are tough to slot into easy to understand categories, and Fall Horsie is certainly one of those.To begin with Fall Horsie is essentially Justin Karas, who supplies vocals, as well as playing piano, guitar and accordion. He also wrote all the songs here. The CD lives and dies with Karas.In most cases it lives by virtue of its diversified nature.Let's start with the instrumentation which includes Anna Sophia Vuckovich on violin, Amber Phelps Bondaroff on viola, and Nathan Cameron on trombone, with Adam O'Reilly adding percussion. If that mix sounds decidedly classical, you're right. There is a definite feel of a modernistic chamber quintet here.While the music has a classic under current, Fall Horsie, adds elements that includes a twist of jazz, and the tempo of ragtime, mixing the finished sound to become something that really crosses a range of styles.For example Horse On The Boulevard has a very 1920's sound, whereas Hornets and Bees is much more pure in its classical sound.Lyrically, Karas is a pop/folkie. He puts together what is very much modern, free form poetry, and weaves his somewhat fantastical stories with the neo-classic music. The result is rather compelling in its freshness.It's all a rather unique musical presentation, one which makes you want to sit back and experience the journey they take you on. In some regards this CD reminds me of the movie Big Fish, wildly fantastical, yet somehow proven to be true at the end. So fresh, it should be sought out and enjoyed. Check it out at www.youthclub.ca/fallhorsie
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- CORTINA -- Been A Long Time

BEEN A LONG TIME
Cortina
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
While I tend to focus on Canadian music, occasionally something from afar arrives for review, and in the case of Cortina, we have a band from the land of the Vikings. However, this Norwegian band has none of the grit and raw power of the famed Vikings.This is a very popish effort. For the most part everything here, it's all written by Paul Hansen is light and bright.Now that isn't to suggest Hansen doesn't have a pretty solid idea of what he's doing in the genre.The lead cut Been A Long Time, and its follow-up Falling Star, could both make pop radio easily.Here I Stand with about two note changes could be a country song these days. In fact, as it is, it reminds a lot of something the Canadian band The Cruzeros might come up with.Lift Me Up is another song that could easily move to country.Musically, and lyrically, there are no risks taken here. It's all just nice and safe. Solid yes, but there isn't much here that will last.I will admit, granted there are some nice hooks for fans to quickly sing along too, and a few harmonica solos that catch the ear, but in the end it just seems a bit short.This is the sort of material that inches into the top 50 with a single or two, but quickly lose momentum and fade off the list rather than soaring higher.The mix of near country, with pure soft pop doesn't enhance the package any either.The band has a website in Norwegian, but you can search them out on myspace.com for some English background.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- TRACY MILLAR -- I'm Not That Girl Anymore

I'M NOT THAT GIRL ANYMORE
Tracy Millar
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Finding a way to stand out in country music these days isn't easy.Tracy Millar, a singer out of Alberta is occasionally on the right track, but still gets dragged back into the cookie-cutter clone world of today's Nashville at times too.When on top of her game, such as with the cut I Can't Be Bothered, Millar is very good. The song is a throwback to an early era in country music, and as a result comes across as fresher than most of the material coming out these days.Then Millar hits us with Spread A Little Love Around and you can tell she's trying to stay true, but on this one just misses the mark.Millar then pulls it back into focus with a nice rendition of Travis Tritt's When I Touch You, with some nice complimentary male vocals from Justin Ament.It's Still Cheatin' is another solid effort from Millar.There are hints here that Millar may well be a bluegrass girl at heart, and I for one wish she'd give herself over to that and concentrate her efforts there. She is certainly strongest in the more traditionalist vein, and the CD insert picture of Millar with a mandolin offers hope she will go that direction.There is enough here on Millar's second CD, to be worth a listen, but you really do get the feeling her best is yet to come when she has the courage to turn off modern country music and just give over to her true country heart. Right now she still gives away a bit too much at the alter of today's country music. Hopefully maturity will give Millar the strength to forge her own path.Vocally, Millar has a pleasant country voice, again one that would be ideal for some pure bluegrass.Pick this one up and hopefully be around to watch her mature into a pure country star.Check her out at www.tracymillar.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- ANDY SHAUF -- Darker Days

DARKER DAYS
Andy Shauf
Shameless Records
6-out-of-10
Andy Shauf is a roots/folk singer out of Regina, with a voice that is something of an acquired taste. When his CD Darker Days started to flow through the headphones I did a bit of a double take in the sense this guy's voice can inch up the vocal ladder to the point it is higher at times than some well-known female vocalists. Now that isn't necessarily a knock against Shauf, who some people locally will remember from last week's performance at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall in Yorkton. What it is, is simply a statement that you have to like a higher male voice to really get into the music this musician offers up.For me, I tend to prefer male voices in the lower ranges, in particular when you start to venture into the world of roots/folk and blues.Now, to be completely honest, Shauf is folk-rooted, but on a number of cuts, such as Gone, he moves more fully into the current pop sounds, and frankly that is when Shauf hits his stride best. Gone is a very good song, and seems better suited to Shauf's voice, which translated into him coming across as more at home on the cut, than say the opening song Your Heart.There are times though that Shauf hits his stride with more traditional cuts, in particular The Darker Night.To be fair, this is Shauf's first CD effort, so he is feeling his way around in terms of what best suits his voice and style. I quite imagine his work will be tighter, and more focused on his strengths as he heads to the studio in the future.Overall, Shauf offers up a rather unique take on music for a young performer, he is only 21. Give his work a listen.You can learn more about Shauf at www.myspace.com/andyshauf
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- AMOS GARRETT -- Get Way Back: A Tribute To Percy Mayfield

GET WAY BACK: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield
Amos Garrett
Stony Plain Records
9-out-of-10
So what do you get when you mix the veteran baritone voice of a consummate bluesman like Amos Garrett and the lyrics of a famous songwriter like Percy Mayfield?Well that's a simple answer, you get pure blues gold, and one of the truly great Canadian blues albums of 2008.Mayfield may not be as famous as some of his contemporaries, but people called him 'The Poet Laureate of the Blues' for a reason.It is the rich vein of material Mayfield penned which Garrett mines so skillfully here. With a volume of great songs to draw from, Garrett doesn't have to worry about the material, because it's all great. That fact is very freeing for Garrett who is allowed to just sit down at the microphone and concentrate on singing. That is where this guy shines best.Garrett has a rich, thick voice, like honey dripping out of a honey comb. He is relaxed, experienced, confident and smooth. There are simply no weak spots through the 11 chosen Mayfield cuts.Garrett also offers up the lead guitar work. While maybe not recognized among the great blues guitar slings of the modern blues scene, his style fits Mayfield's work perfectly, as does the rest of the back up musicians. The arrangements let the focus be on Mayfield's lyrics and Garrett's voice, and that's just where it should be.Picking a best cut is impossible, but Garrett does offer up as range of emotions here on songs such as My Jug and I, The Country, Stranger In My Own Hometown and To Claim It's Love.This is a must-own blues CD from one of best in Canada, he moved here from the U.S., at age four.Check him out through www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- SCOTT ALBERT JOHNSON -- Umbrella Man

UMBRELLA MAN
Scott Albert Johnson
Monkaroo Music
6-out-of-10
Ah, is there anything better than a musician who really knows his way around a harmonica, and how to incorporate it into his material?For me the answer is no. I love the sound of the blues harp, and Scott Albert Johnson provides up just the right sound time and time again on his release Umbrella Man.Now you might expect Johnson to know the blues harp. He was born in St. Louis and grew up in Jackson, Miss., so that pretty well sums up his connection to the harmonica.Musically, this is a CD that doesn't easily pigeon-hole into a particular genre. Certainly blues is at its heart, but there are modern twists, and touches of jazz too.Interestingly, the CD cover, that of a silhouette of a man in a suit and bowler hat, a very British image, illicits thoughts of modern pop more than the bluesy material inside.Johnson is at his best when he lets the harmonica take centre stage, such as on the instrumental effort In the Court of King Oliver. The cut is likely the best on the CD.Overall Johnson gives us something of a mixed bag, not only musically, but in the associated imagery of the package. Into the future he will be better served to focus more squarely on the blues, where the harmonica can truly shine, and should then wrap it in a more familiar blues package.Still, this is an interesting journey Johnson takes the listener on, and if you want to hear some solid blues harp work check it out at www.scottalbertjohnson.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- RAY ST. GERMAIN -- Life Ain't Hard

LIFE AIN'T HARD
Ray St.Germain
GR Records
6.5-out-of-10
In terms of country music old is often best, at least in terms of style. Much of the current country hitting radio airwaves is closer to rock 'n roll than it is to something from a country purist such as Johnny Cash, or Merle Haggard.So it's always refreshing when someone offers up something with the soul of pure country. That's just what Canadian country music veteran Ray St.Germain does with his most recent release.Before we get to the CD itself, it should be pointed out just how veteran this Manitoba musician is. He started on local radio in his native province back in the late 1950's, so is marking 50 years in the business.Over those years St.Germain has been in the recording studio repeatedly, with some 20 disks, singles and full-length efforts to his credit, the last being My Many Moods released in 2003, although a Christmas album was released in 2005.The CD opens with Mother Trucker's Son, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek country number that is notable in that St.Germain manages to drop in the names of several communities into the lyrics, including Yorkton and Saskatoon. It's always interesting when music touches so close to home.Now if there is a problem with this CD it's that St.Germain at times just a bit too hard. Such is the case with the title cut Life Ain't Hard. He pushes this one a bit too hard in presentation, while the lyrics are a tad to blatant attempt at creating a song full of country catch phrases. St.Germain is far stronger when he slows things down and goes full old school country.The best cut here is Let It Rain, a song written by Billy Simard. This one is pure old country, and St.Germain carries it off with practiced skill.You get the same feeling on We All Make Mistakes Sometimes, another classic approach to a classically-styled song.Daddy is a third cut that fits in stylistically with the best on this CD.While not as strong start to finish as it might have been with some wiser song choices, there are a few gems here which are certainly worth repeated listens.Check it out at www.raystgermainmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 29, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SLOWBURN -- All About The Journey

ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY
Slowburn
Independent
7-out-of-10
Coming at us out of Edmonton, AB., is a band that may not be a household name in the world of Canadian blues just yet, but that could well change if they keep pumping out material like their All About the Journey CD.This is a blues CD that is just that, blues. It's not an art nouveau version of the blues. It's straight ahead music with a familiar blues beat that is unmistakable in its sound, and in my book a band can never go too far wrong with a hearty dose of heart and soul in their music.Slowburn is a five-piece unit including; Bruce Watson, Nathan Anderson, Kyler Schogen, Todd Colbourne, Phil Wilson-Birks. Of the group Watson is the one who offers up the vocals, and he does a darn fine job of it too. He has an honest blues voice, one that while maybe not purely memorable as say a Big Dave McLean, it is one that takes the listener into the world of blues easily. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.As for the music, again no one member of Slowburn stands out here with mouth-dropping solos, but as a unit, they cook it up just fine. There aren't any soft spots here either.In fact, this CD is best described as solid. Even when it comes to selecting a favourite cut, it's not easy. Slowburn keeps it real from start to finish, with a nice range of songs. Again, to their credit, there are no soft spots in the material selection either.This is the band's second disk, a follow-up to a six-song, self-titled debut effort. Coming on the heels of an EP, All About the Journey is a strong step forward into carving out a bigger name in the genre.Check Slowburn out, and give them a listen, you won't be disappointed in their style of the blues. They are on the 'Net at www.slowburn.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 29, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JEFF HEALEY -- Mess Of Blues

Mess Of Blues
Jeff Healey
Stony Plain
9-out-of-10
There are CDs that are simply very hard to review, and Mess of Blues is one of those. What can a reviewer possibly say about the great bluesman Jeff Healey which hasn't already been said. There is frankly no new insight I am likely to impart here which will be new, or revealing of something about this guy's music that fans don't already know.Let's face it, if you are a blues fan, and in particular a fan of Canadian blues (he was born in TO), you are already a Healey fan, that is simply a given.Now if you haven't heard Healey, then stop reading this review and simply go out and buy the CD. You don't have to ask why, because that will become completely understood as soon as you hear Healey's take on a familiar song such as The Weight, a classic by Robbie Robertson.Of course there is renewed interest in all of Healey's music, following his death March 2, of this year, just three weeks short of 42 years of age.Healey's death was a loss felt throughout the blues world. I'll leave it to B.B. King to say it best. “Jeff's passing is a tragic loss to the world of blues. His life was cut short. He was courageous throughout his battle with cancer, and his special talent will be greatly missed.” Enough said on his passing.Mess of Blues was completed just before Healey's death, and for the fact alone it will forever be a storied recording in his career. It would have been memorable had Healey lived to be 100. Mess of Blues is a great album, with cuts such as I'm Torn Down, Sugar Sweet, Shake, Rattle and Roll, and the title cut.This is a total must have on so many levels. A great album, by a great musician. Totally memorable. One to long be savoured. You can find it through www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CAVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 22, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BIG DAVE McLEAN -- Got'Em From The Bottom

GOT' EM FROM THE BOTTOM
Big Dave McLean
Stony Plain
8.5-out-of-10
Every once in whhile you hear a singer whose voice is ideally suited to the genre they perform in. Well it would be hard to imagine Big Dave McLean and his gravely voice singing anything but the blues, and as a fan of the blues, I'm completely ecstatic that this guy found and embraced the blues.Based out of Winnipeg, McLean is a veteran of the Canadian blues scene, and truly one of its treasures. I have had the good fortune to meet and interview a fair number of blues singers in this country, and there are darned few I'd rather sit down and listen to than Big Dave.Of course you really do want to catch this guy live if possible, since he has not been terribly prolific in terms of studio recordings.That is why when I talked to McLean a year ago and he mentioned a new CD in the works, I was excited. It has been a fair wait to hear the new recording; Got'em From The Bottom, but I can assure you it was well worth the wait.It really seems like McLean too had a pent up desire to record again, as he offers up 19 songs on this album, an almost unheard of number these days.On this CD McLean gives us a load of old fashioned acoustic blues, often relying almost entirely on his own acoustic guitar, or more familiar National Steel, and of course his harmonica.The minimalistic approach to instrumentation allows McLean's voice, that raspy, wonderful voice, to carry the music.In the process McLean creates some true treasures here, from the opening Sometimes, through a mournful rendition of Atlanta Moan, to Someday Baby, and Comin' Home To You.This is another can't miss, must have CD. Just buy it. Check it out through www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CAVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 22, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BIG DAVE McLEAN -- Got'Em From The Bottom

GOT' EM FROM THE BOTTOM
Big Dave McLean
Stony Plain
8.5-out-of-10
Every once in whhile you hear a singer whose voice is ideally suited to the genre they perform in. Well it would be hard to imagine Big Dave McLean and his gravely voice singing anything but the blues, and as a fan of the blues, I'm completely ecstatic that this guy found and embraced the blues.Based out of Winnipeg, McLean is a veteran of the Canadian blues scene, and truly one of its treasures. I have had the good fortune to meet and interview a fair number of blues singers in this country, and there are darned few I'd rather sit down and listen to than Big Dave.Of course you really do want to catch this guy live if possible, since he has not been terribly prolific in terms of studio recordings.That is why when I talked to McLean a year ago and he mentioned a new CD in the works, I was excited. It has been a fair wait to hear the new recording; Got'em From The Bottom, but I can assure you it was well worth the wait.It really seems like McLean too had a pent up desire to record again, as he offers up 19 songs on this album, an almost unheard of number these days.On this CD McLean gives us a load of old fashioned acoustic blues, often relying almost entirely on his own acoustic guitar, or more familiar National Steel, and of course his harmonica.The minimalistic approach to instrumentation allows McLean's voice, that raspy, wonderful voice, to carry the music.In the process McLean creates some true treasures here, from the opening Sometimes, through a mournful rendition of Atlanta Moan, to Someday Baby, and Comin' Home To You.This is another can't miss, must have CD. Just buy it. Check it out through www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CAVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 22, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SYLVIE -- Trees and Shade Are Our Only Fences

TREES AND SHADE ARE OUR ONLY FENCES
Sylvie
Smallman Records
7.5-out-of-10
Sylvie is yet another one of the surprising number of truly solid rock bands emerging from Saskatchewan. Sylvie is a five-piece outfit with all but drummer Jeff Romanyk adding vocals on the CD. The rest of the band are; Riva Farrell Racette on bass, Chris Notenboom and Joel Passmore on guitars, while Erin Passmore plays keyboards.Erin is the latest addition to the band line-up and having a female vocal presence certainly adds something to Sylvie's sound.Formed in Regina in 1999, Sylvie debuted with their first full-length album I Wish I Was Driving in 2003, garnering the band a nomination for outstanding independent album of the year at the Western Canadian Music Association awards. An Electric Trace was released in 2005 through Smallman Records. In 2006, Sylvie won the CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award.So this is a band that is on the rise. It's easy enough to see why.'Fences' is an album which shows some definite maturity for Sylvie. There is a fair amount of depth and structure to arrangements which they themselves suggest "have a more finely tuned sense of precision." Musically there is a sort of punk underpinning at work here, with the lyrics being drawn more from the pop genre, which creates a fairly interesting completed sound, one that has some sweet beats, and just a little taste of underlying rawness that adds to the sound.In the end Sylvie has a sound that comes across as very current, sort of a perfect fit for the year 2008, and beyond.Certainly this CD should keep Sylvie moving forward in terms of recognition for their efforts. One to check out if you like modern rock.Find them on the Internet at www.sylviemusic.com
-- CAVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 22, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HARD RYDE -- Stages

STAGES
Hard Ryde
Independent
9.5-out-of-10
Ah just how sweet is turning on the CD player and hearing the strains of a musical genre you love dearly, but rarely seem to hear in terms of new music these days?Well, in the case of Hard Ryde is was darned sweet.When the first strains of Hold Onto Your Heart began to flow through the headphones, and I heard the familiar sounds that mark bluegrass, mandolin, bass, fiddle and banjo, I was smiling.Of all the varieties of country music which exist, I like bluegrass best, past bands such as Steel Rail and Tumbleweed forever holding a special place in my musical heart.Well, I can now add Hard Ryde to that all too short list, of wonderful Canadian bluegrass bands.The great thing about Hard Ryde is they don't hide who they are. There are country bands who occasionally offer up a bluegrass tune, or add some bluegrass strains to more mainstream country cuts. Not here. This is bluegrass from start to finish, for 11 sweetly tantalizing tunes.It is pure joy to relax and listen to songs such as If You Don't Go, a tune written by Hard Ryde guitarist and vocalist Doug de Boer. Past The Point of Rescue is another winner.And, wait until you hear Lonesome Road Blues, a number by the famous Earl Scruggs. It's a chance for D'Arcy Campbell to let fly with some killer banjo work, work matched by Will Meadows on mandolin.Tyler Beckett is the fiddle man in Hard Ryde, and he too can flat out play.Rich Koop on bass and vocals and Marc Roy on guitar round out this fine sextet.In terms of material, Hard Ryde mixes original, covers and traditional material.There are some great efforts here, the sad Weak In The Knees, written by Melissa Sherman, and a rendition of the traditional Blue-Eyed Boston Boy and Ridin' On The Midnight Train.As an overall package there really doesn't seem to be a weakness here. There is not one song I would have suggested they leave on the studio floor. In fact, if you like bluegrass at all, you will wish they had added more songs, or that they are at least heading to the studio again soon for another CD.Of course this is a veteran band with three previous CDs, material I know I am going to have to search out myself after hearing this gem.Purely fantastic. Buy it! Now!Check them out at www.hardryde.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 15, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ELIZABETH NICHOLSON & STRINGED MIGRATION -- Fly Not Yet

FLY NOT YET
Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration
Waterbug Records
8.5- out-of-10
Now I generally focus on Canadian bands, but there was no way to pass up the opportunity to give Fly Not Yet a listen since Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration are a band noted for their fine Celtic music, another genre that always catches my attention easily.The band, from Portland, OR, which is darned near in Canada, describes its music as “a lush synthesis of Celtic and international roots music with a twist of jazz.” Now if that isn't enough to be intriguing to a music fan, I'm not sure what would be. For me, as a fan of Celtic and of jazz, it was like honey and I was the bee.The question was, would the music live up to the expectation?The answer is a resounding yes. The music here has the undertones and base of traditional folk and Celtic, but you can clearly hear where Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration has added in twists of world music and jazz. Right from the opening cut; Lebanese Melody/The Unquiet Grave, which has, not surprisingly a Middle Eastern feel, this group takes listeners on a stunning musical adventure.The interesting thing is how easily Celtic music seems to absorb other influences and still coming out sounding right. For that reason, the music here always holds together as a package because there is Celtic at its heart.That said, almost every song throws a twist at the listener, from the Middle East on cut one, to great hand drum work on Paddy Fahey's/Cape Breton Reel.And, then there is the harp work of Nicholson, that adds such depth to much of the music. She is also the female vocalist here, and she has a sweet, lyrical voice that fits perfectly for the music offered here.Bob Soper is the male vocalist, along with a long list of instrument credits.In terms of instrumentation, this group offers whistles, bouzouki, fiddle, 6-string violectra, and a number of more traditional ones. The varied mix gives the music here a depth of sound and allows it to cross genres smoothly.Fly Not Yet may be a debut effort, but it has a maturity to the sound which tells you this band is well-seasoned. The quality is also such that it makes a music fan like myself drooling at the prospects of where they might take their music on future recordings. Any music fan should hop on board now with Fly Not Yet, and take the musical journey with Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration, to enjoy watching this fine band grow.Check them out at www.stringedmigration.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 15, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE BEAUTIFUL UNKNOWN -- Riot In The House Of Ruin

RIOT IN THE HOUSE OF RUIN
The Beautiful Unknown
Independent
7-out-of-10
Coming at us out of Toronto in the alternative/rock/garage band The Beautiful Unknown, and true to their description this band is a rock unit at heart, with just a few twists mixed in. So what does that mean? Well maybe it's easiest to look at some of the band's influences; The Doors, David Bowie, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, Go-Go Girls, and Queens of the Stone Age. Mix these diverse sounds together and you get an idea where The Beautiful Unknown comes from.For example, Spinning In My Grave has a sort of '50's feel, while Undertow is much more the 1980s. Yes this Toronto-based band borrows from several decades in terms of underlying sound.Tom Barlow is the vocalist here, and he does a solid job, and the musical style here requires a good voice since it has to carry the lyrics well.The quartet is rounded out by Derek Downham on percussion, Kirt Godwin on guitar and Ryan Gavel on bass. Although none stand out as the next great musician, as a unit they come across pretty solid.Overall this is accessible rock. Heavy enough to be real rock, yet not buried under a wall of screams rendering the lyrics lost without the liner notes to read.There are a few very good songs here, in particular The Hating, which begs for a video and airplay.She Knows, Feed The Hole and Cruelty are all strong too.For a debut CD effort, Riot In The House Of Ruin is a pretty fair calling card into the world of rock for The Beautiful Unknown.Check them out at www.myspace.com/thebeautifulunknown
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 15, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MY BROKEN HERO -- Man Of Science

MAN OF SCIENCE
My Broken Hero
Independent
8-out-of-10
My Broken Hero is one of those bands that as a reviewer I immediately respect in the sense they aren't trying to carry themselves over as having a nouveau genre sound. This is a rock band, plain, simple, and too the point, and that is a good thing.Sure the band has a current rock undertone to their music, but hey, why wouldn't they, they are a band pounding out the tunes in the here and now. They are attacking rock the way it's supposed to be. They write about things that matter to them. They are lyrics for the day, and that makes them compelling. Often the lyrics have a spiritualistic feel, where you know the band is trying to send a positive message too, which is great the way they wrap it in the power of solid rock.Lead singer Dustin Dame does a good job of carrying off the music too. He has enough power to keep the vocals above the instrumentation, but the instruments still come at you hard and loud too.Nik Vance and Tim Keizer throw guitar at the listener, Cody Dame adds bass and Davey Russell is the drummer. As a unit they punch out a solid sound.As for the 10 songs here, it's not easy picking one or two from the mix, since as a package they run very constant from start to finish.A Fistful of Lightning (Man of Faith) and Man of Science are two worth mentioning as the songs from which the CD draws its name. A listen will tell you why.Overall, this Vancouver-based band, which performed in Yorkton at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall recently, can flat out play. Well worth grabbing if you like rock without a lot of fancy pretenses.You can check the band out at www.myspace.com. Make sure that you do.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 8, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JAY AND THE LOVEBIRDS -- To The Living

TO THE LIVING
Jay and the Lovebirds
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Jay and the Lovebirds are another Canadian band which you can check out at www.myspace.com, the premier place on the Internet to check out Indie bands.In the case of Jay and the Lovebirds, you will find a rock band that has a somewhat poppish sounds. I mean When Sunflowers Aren't Around is just a bit too bouncy for me. It might hit the zone for some, but for me this band could use a little more edge to give their sound a truer rock feel, although admittedly that is my own bias showing through (such is the life of a reviewer *smile).The lyrics here are also geared to be uplifting, in some case rather in your face uplifting, like the cut Gabriel, which will work for some, but takes Jay and the Lovebirds a bit farther from the mainstream too, so be forewarned if you check out To The Living. The is a band that has a message, and they don't hide the fact, coming at their message straight ahead.That said Doug Parker the lead vocalist does a great job of putting the music forward. He also adds guitar too.Jay Christman, guitar, and Justin Hamilton, bass, and drummer Louis Mate round out this Alberta band.As for a best cut, I'm Here works well for me, as does So Done.Local music fans may remember the band since they performed in Yorkton at the Royal Canadian Legion. If you missed the show, you can check out the band on line.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 8, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SAVED BY SASKATOON -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Saved By Saskatoon
Saved By Radio
8.5-out-of-10
In past reviews I've wrote about the diverse music coming out of Saskatoon, a city which may not be at the top of a lot of lists as a music city, but one where quality band after quality band seem to be emerging.Apparently I was not the only one recognizing that.Shuyler Jansen has drawn together an eclectic representation of Saskatoon bands and created the CD Saved By Saskatoon in the process, interestingly coming together on the emerging Calgary label Saved By Radio.What Shuyler has done here it bring together music from nine bands out of Saskatoon representing a rather broad approach to music, yet fitting together because of the bands' common roots.The work here really covers the range of rock, from The End of the World by The Blood Lines, which is pretty straight ahead rock, to Holskopf's The Old Life which is rather electric electronica, to more folk-driven material such as We Will Be Born Again by These Hands.The strength of this CD is in its rich musical diversity. It is interesting to listen to how diverse the music can be coming out of a small city. It shows just how diverse the world of modern music is, and how bands can rise up to create unique music anywhere. Now it's a sure bet few listeners are going to like every cut here, since the music crosses a lot of genres, but the purpose of the CD is not really to have people fall in love with cut. This is about opening the window and showing a broad range of listeners just how good, and how varied the music is coming out of Saskatoon, and coming from Saskatchewan that is rather compelling in itself.This is a CD that should be a must-own for anyone from the province, and the quality of the material should give it an appeal beyond Saskatchewan borders too.Great idea Mr. JansenCheck it out at www.savedbyradio.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 8, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- AYLA BROOK -- After The Morning After

AFTER THE MORNING AFTER
Ayla Brook
Independent
7-out-of-10
Ah what do you get when a musician is left alone as his old bandmates head off in different directions?Well if you are Ayla Brook you take some roots/folk, acoustic Americana-inspired material and you head to the studio. You keep everything startlingly simple, and you lay down some tracks.And, then if you have a knack for writing good songs, and a voice that can carry the day on its own, you emerge with something like After the Morning After.There aren't any electronica tricks here in support of a better sound. Instead, Brook has let the material live and die on its own merits. He puts it out there for the listener, a few whiskers unshaven, and a smudge of dirt here and there, and in the end it doesn't matter because the listener can relate to the relaxed and near-conversational effort.While Brook is from Edmonton, there is a Saskatchewan connection to the CD. It was recorded at Pine Ridge Farm in Lily Plain, SK., with John Blerot engineering and Danny Michel producing. The tracks were laid down in June 2007. Brook's spot at Myspace.com explained “no (real) drums were used. Just foot stomps and hand claps in the wooden high-roofed room. Late night rummy gang vocals were added to creaking floor boards and acoustic strums. Everyone recording in the same room - no isolated control room here. The wind sneaking onto the tracks disguised itself as tape hiss along with the clinking of glasses and stray bird songs. After The Morning After is an album about love, about camaraderie, about being in the places you belong.”It is a recording style perfect to the material. There are great songs here, among them Leaving Tonight, Wake Up Early, Leave Anymore and Wonder, although overall this is simply a solid folkie-inspired effort.This one is well worth searching out.Check him out at www.myspace.com/aylabrookmusic
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 1, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SONIC ORCHID -- Love & War

LOVE & WAR
Sonic Orchid
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Sonic Orchid is all about the vocals of Christine Gasparic. This is a girl with rock in her veins, (think a Joan Jett). She likes the driving rock, metal edged, and powerful.Yet, to Gasparic's credit she doesn't just scream into the microphone so that it sounds little more than greasy feedback. No this gal uses her power under control. You can understand the lyrics here, and that's important on songs such Fight For Your Right, which comes with a message to stand up for what you believe in. This one has a sort of symphonic metal undertone that makes it very good.Gasparic, who also plays keyboards, is backed by Brad Evanochko on guitar, C.J. Cook on bass, and Grant Frew on drums, as well as adding a male counterpoint on a few vocals.The CD has nine cuts, most straight ahead power rock cuts. Without You is a slower cut, and it really is a number which allows Gasparic's voice to shine its brightest. Alive Again is the second slower-paced song, the final cut on the CD, and arguably the best on the album. While Sonic Orchid offers up two great slower songs you get the feeling the band really just wants you to feel their raw energy. That energy is certainly evident is a song such as Chaos, another cut with a definite dramatic take on metal.As a first album Sonic Orchid, who are based in Regina, show a lot of promise. They have done a nice job of dropping their sound smack dab between pure hard core metal, and just hard rock, creating a balance which should find fans on both sides of the equation.Certainly the effort here is worthy of rock fans searching out the debut. With a little refinement as they decide just where they ultimately want to be musically, my guess is in time they will allow their metal hearts to rule more fully, Sonic Orchid could emerge as a top flight genre band. Remember the name Sonic Orchid and Christina Gasparic, you are likely to hear far more from them.Check them out at www.sonicorchid.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 1, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- IRON DRAGON -- Open The Gates

Open The Gates
Iron Dragon
Independent
7-out-of-10
Iron Dragon is the local Yorkton duo of guitarist Ryan Crouse and bass player Sam Derkatch. Regular readers might remember the name since in June 2007 the pair released their debut album which was reviewed here.Iron Dragon is a band which owes its existence to technology. The pair began jamming, and before long they were creating original compositions, which home computer technology allowed them to produce a CD from.In reviewing their first release as having “a raw-boned edge to the sound” which wasn't particularly a bad thing, and far more forgivable in the metal genre than most.Well some of the edges have been smoothed out here. Both Crouse and Derkatch have grown as musicians. More importantly though, you recognize that Crouse, who produced the recording, has learned a few tricks with the recording program, and that has helped improve the musical presentation.The music is metal, with hints of symphonic approach, thanks to computer wizardry so it is widely accessible stylistically.Crouse also seems to have had a bit more of a plan for the CD in terms of content. There is a story here that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sadly though, as was the case with the debut, Open The Gates is basically an instrumental album except for a few voice dubs for effect. Like the debut Crouse said there are lyrics for several of the songs on Open The Gates, but neither he, nor Derkatch is comfortable vocally bringing the words to life. Since this is an album with an epic story underlying the music, it would be easier for the listener to get into that story, with some vocal guidance. Since Crouse also writes self-published comic books it would be interesting to hear his take on metal lyrics.Certainly, if Iron Dragon is to grow with a third album searching out a singer should be considered a top priority.Still, even without lyrics, this is a step ahead for Iron Dragon musically. Nicely done.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct 1, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada