Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review -- PAMELA PACHAL -- Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1
Pamela Pachal
Independent
8-out-of-10
It is always interesting to review a CD after having an opportunity to interview the artist, and especially after having had the opportunity to hear them live, (in this case at Rayzr's Pub in Yorkton), before spinning their CD. That was the way things played out in the case of Pamela Pachal's debut CD Chapter 1.
The interview let me in on a couple of Pachal's secrets, including what is something of a late turn to music after an extended shot at women's hockey including a try-out with the Canadian National Team. The later start perhaps gives Pachal a slightly different take on her debut CD. At least it comes off as a more mature take on music than you sometimes find in a debut. That isn't to say the material isn't contemporary. In fact, Pachal does a nice job of putting a modern music twist on a style that also has clear ties to blues and folk.
As for hearing Pachal live, well it spoke volumes to the passion she has for her own music. Almost without exception, her strongest songs through two sets were songs from her debut disk, or new material she is working on for her next recording. When she turned to covers, the effect of her presentation took a noticeable dip. Stick with your own tunes on stage too.
While Pachal, like most artists, was hesitant to pick a favourite cut off the CD, she did admit to a special place in her heart for Peggy (Perfect), a song written for a mentally challenged adult Pachal had worked with. Both on the disk, and on stage, this one comes across with definite emotion.
That said, Peggy (Perfect) is not the best cut here. The best include a pair of songs, both with mature content names that preclude being printed here. Yes there is profanity here, and the songs come across as real, and relevant to the times, because of it.
Love Song, Superman, Give Me Your Night, and Butterfly, also warrant mention among the 13 cuts here, all of which Pachal wrote and produced.
Overall, Pachal has a nice voice, compelling lyrics, and straight forward but effective instrumentation, which combine to create a fine first CD. I certainly recommend this one, and look forward to her follow-up effort.
Check her out at www.myspace.com/pamelapachal
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 24, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHRISTA COUTURE -- The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker

The WEDDING SINGER and the UNDERTAKER
Christa Couture
Independent
5.5-out-of-10
I have often written about how important the first song on a CD is to catch the attention of listeners, especially radio programmers who are inundated with material. It is a lesson Christa Couture has not yet learned.
The opening cut on the CD The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker is called Sad Story Over, and the real sadness is that the song wasn't over sooner.
Born in Edmonton, Couture is a folk rocker, with closer ties to folk lyrically. It's a style that usually grabs me, but I have to admit her mezzo-soprano voice just doesn't work in this format for me.
For the most part Couture writes a fairly creative song, with some nice turns of phrases, but musically I'm not in sync with her sound. I do get the feeling in a coffee house setting she might be stronger.
I also think she may have benefited from a male voice on a few songs as a counterpoint.
However, one isn't really reviewing what might be, as it stands this is one I'd have to suggest a pass on unless you are a huge fan of folk sang at the higher range of the female voice.
You can check her out at www.christacouture.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 24, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SWEDISH FISH -- Dark Light

DARK LIGHT
Swedish Fish
Bullseye Canada
6-out-of-10
Swedish Fish is a poppish, alternative-leaning band out of Toronto. The band evolved from one of the same name created back in 1986. Dark Light, released earlier this year is the first new work in some two decades for a band with the fish name.
Martha Bouchier provides lead vocals for Swedish Fish, and she is something of an acquired taste. On the lead Summers Needing, the song comes across as rather irritating, but Bouchier does get into a better rhythm after that with All In Love and Birth of the Uncool being the second and third songs on the disk, and among the best here.
That said Swedish Fish could benefit from an added male lead vocalist to offer a counterpoint to Bouchier's voice, at least for this style of music. If they were to take the music more towards Gothic or symphonic metal I would likely be raving about this gal's voice, and you get a hint at that Birth of the Uncool and Worlds Collide.
When they ramp up the tempo, like on a cut such as Dead Easy Street, Bouchier's voice isn't quite as smooth a cut, leaving this a CD with some highs and some lows based on how her vocals fit the tempo of the song.
Swedish Fish is rounded out by Simon Bedford-James and Sue McCluskey on guitar, Kevin Croucher on bass, Todd Gemmill on drums and Martin Cooper on organ.
The best material here is quite good, but they don't hit the sweet spot of material fitting Bouchier's quite enough to rate this one higher. She has a voice that is unique, and as such needs to be particularly careful what fits that uniqueness. Here Swedish Fish misses just a bit too often.
You can check the band out at www.myspace.com/originalswedishfish
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 24, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- VALDY & GARY FJELLGAARD -- Contenders Two: Still In The Running

CONTENDERS TWO: Still In The Running
Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard
Stony Plain Records
9-out-of-10

Ah talk about aging like fine wine. Valdy and Garry Fjellgaard have been part of the Canadian music scene for what seems like forever. The two have always shared a similar take on music, a style somewhere smack dab in between folk and country.
So it was no surprise the duo might eventually get together for a CD and they did that a few years ago with the release of Contenders on the Stony Plain label. The CD was a gem thanks to the seasoned, relaxed styles these two bring to their music.
Fortunately for listeners Valdy and Fjellgaard are back at it, having hit the studios for Contenders Two and have once again put together a must-have CD.
There are numerous fantastic cuts here, the best may be The Fever, River Stay 'Way From My Door and Bay of Sails are both memorable as well.
So too is the rendition of Seven Spanish Angels, which is as good as the original by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles.
There is a line in the opening cut; For The Love Of It, which speaks volumes. It states, “it must be these old troubadours don't know what else to do.” Well that is a lucky circumstance for lovers of Canadian music. It would be a true shame if these two ever walked away from their music. They are consummate performers.
And, having interviewed both in the past, I can tell you they are genuine, and true gentlemen in every sense of the word.
You can check them out at www.stonyplainrecords.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE HOMEMADE JAMZ BLUES BAND -- Pay Me No Mind

PAY ME NO MIND
The Homemade Jamz Blues Band
Northernblues Music
7.5-out-of-10
There really ought to be a law of some kind that prevents young people from having this kind of blues talent.
OK I'm kidding, but one usually thinks of blues coming from life experiences, and in the case of The Homemade Jamz Blues Band they haven't had a ton of those considering none of the three are old enough to vote.
That didn't stop the sibling trio from being the 23rd International Blues Challenge 2nd Place Winners, 2007 (Band Category); the Bay Area Blues Society's West Coast Hall of Fame "Blues New Artist of the Year 2008!".
The Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band consist of three siblings, the youngest blues band to sign with a major record label (NorthernBlues Music). Ryan Perry 15 yrs old is on lead guitar and vocals, while brother Kyle, 13 is the bass player and Taya, 9 is the drummer.
Let's start with Perry. His voice is well beyond his years, deep, soulful, and resonating with blues truth. His guitar work matches his voice. As they say, the kid can play.
Lyle and Taya round out the trio nicely.
While not exactly going off on monster drum solos, for someone still a ways from celebrating a birthday as a teen, Taya is excellent. No one would ever imagine she was nine by listening to this CD.
The songs here are all written by father Renaud Perry, except for John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom. You can see where the kids get the blues because dad can write a darn fine blues song. Dad also chimes in with harmonica on four of the songs.
This trio performs well beyond any notion they are merely a novelty kid's act. Northernblues found a gem here and have launched what could become one of the best blues bands of the next half century, or more.
Check them out further at www.homemadejamzband.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Friday, September 12, 2008

Review -- STEPHEN MAGUIRE -- Self-Titled

SELF-TITLED
Stephen Maguire
Independent
7-out-of-10
There is a lot to be said for simplicity in music, especially in music which is clearly inspired by, if not squarely situated itself, in the folk genre.
That is something artist Stephen Maguire clearly understands.
In an era where a computer keystroke can add instrumentation and twists to a recording track, Maguire has intelligently kept his debut a simple one.
Maguire, who has spent most of his life in Ireland, allows his vocals to be the main focus here. That is a great choice, in part because of the hint of the Irish lilt to the voice, and in part because it's simply a clear, smooth vocal style.
The instrumentation is a man and his guitar, and so a set of songs with often deeply personal lyrics, that works best. It comes across as though Maguire is singing just for the listener. The style creates a nice intimacy between artist and whoever is spinning the disk.
The CD does start off with a brief intro, something a few artists do these days. Sorry that doesn't work for me. I want to hear the music. Get to the meat of the music. I can just see some programmer at a radio station going ewwww and turning to the next disk on the pile.
That would be too bad in this case because Maguire, who notes in the liner notes has been writing songs for years, has come up with some very soulful tunes.
The best of the bunch, all of which were recorded at Freedom Sound in Yorkton, include Sheltered Man, Without A Trace, and Streets of Belfast.
With it's local connection, Maguire married a Yorkton gal in addition to recording the disk in the city, this is one local readers will certainly want. That said musically it also has merit as a nice solid debut effort for a folkie-styled performer.
Check him out at www.stephenmaguirelive.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- SAMARA YUNG -- Show Me The World

SHOW ME THE WORLD
Samara Yung
Independent
8-out-of-10
Samara Yung is a young singer/songwriter from Yorkton, best known to-date locally for her 2005 win of the GX94 Star Search.
Well that is all about to change for Yung who has taken the first major step toward becoming known for her country music, with the release of her debut CD Show Me The World.
This is a nice first effort for Yung, who has shown some amazing growth in the three short years since her GX win. At the time she recorded the song Boomerang as part of her prize package. That song is included here, although it probably should have been tossed aside because it is easily the weakest cut here. She has simply grown beyond the sort of cotton candy lyrics of Boomerang, and is taking on songs with bigger vocals today.
The first single off the CD was But It Was, also the CD's lead-in cut, one of those safe, radio friendly numbers that really the radio airwaves are full of. Again not the best cut by far here.
Fortunately after the somewhat predictable country start to this disk, Yung finds her way into better music.
Big Ol' Monday Morning and the title track are both solid current country efforts, as is A Horse To Ride, the first two which Yung has co-write credits with Steve Fox. It is encouraging to see this young performer pick up the pen, because often in the long run the best songs come from within the singer who sings them.
Fox, who has his hand in writing a number of the songs here, also produced the album, which was recorded for the most part in Nashville, using solid studio musicians, so the sound comes off as smoothly polished.
Now to get too the cream here. Strong Enough is beautiful love song, and it takes Yung's voice into a different range, and she pulls it off wonderfully, and again Yung and Fox teamed on the writing.
However, the truly best song here is James, John & Joni, a song written by Tim Taylor and Tobi Vos. In a recent interview with Yorkton This Week Yung said, “I kind of fell in love with it the first time I heard it,” noting the title refers to music icons James Taylor, John Lennon and Joni Mitchell. Well listeners are likely to fall in love with this one too. The song is expected to be the CD's next single release.
While Yung may not have taken a lot of risks with this one, she did put together a first album with 13 songs, many which could easily see radio airplay, and that is critical in terms of exposure for an emerging artist.
When you add in Yung's winning smile and beautiful looks, Yung is the total package in terms of what the industry is looking for.
The next CD will hopefully see her take a few more risks in terms of material, and then she will have it all, as it is, she's still darned good.
Keep track of this young lady's career at www.samarayung.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review -- BLUESTONE -- Start What You Finished

START WHAT YOU FINISHED
Bluestone
Independent
8.5-out-of-10

When a woman can sing the blues, and when they can sing the blues well, it's a treat.
So welcome to the world of the band Bluestone, a band made memorable by the voice of female lead Angie Russell.
From the opening cut Need It, it is Russell's voice which pulls you into the music of this Ottawa rock/blues band – they are at their overall best the more bluesy they go, because it suits Russell so well.
Adding to the interest in Bluestone is the fact they come at you with a double barrel vocal attack with Ben Russell stepping up to the microphone on a few of the cuts, such ass Domino, to give the songs a male lead voice. While his voice might not be as memorable as Angie's, it does provide an interesting counterpoint to the material, and allows the listener two vocal takes on the songs.
Both Russells also play guitar, and Bluestone is rounded out with Mike Stoodley on bass, and Sandy Hunter on drums, both adding vocal support as well.
Having all four members chiming in on the material vocally gives the songs here a rich, full sound, only achievable through varied vocal harmonization.
As a unit Bluestone is very solid, but Angie is the breakout element that will take this band to new levels. She can flat out wail the blues on cuts such as Find Me. She just lets her voice go, and it wraps around you, and you succumb to her wiles willingly. On Music With You, you are totally under this siren's call.
She has a wailing vocal style, dare I say it, reminiscent of Janis Joplin. Yes, that's rather heady praise, but she earns it with her work on Start What You Finished.
When you add in the change of pace of having a capable male lead in the fold, Bluestone becomes something of a rarity in music, a two-punch threat.
Musically, Bluestone clearly has a blues heart pumping the vibe through their songs, but there is enough of an alternative rock edge to broaden the music to attract a wider audience.
Check out Bluestone live at Rayzr's Pub Sept. 13, or go to their website at www.bluestoneband.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- NDIDI ONUKWULU -- The Contradictor

THE CONTRADICTOR
Ndidi Onukwulu
Jericho Beach Music
8.5-out-of-10
Ah there are new voices which come along every once in a while and grab the listener, imprinting themselves on the mind to be held for a long, long time.
Say hello to Ndidi Onukwulu, a Vancouver-based singer who has a style and vocal presence that is as memorable as they come.
Onukwulu's music is blues with splashes of jazz, touches of roots and elements of R&B, which in itself isn't so unusual as the musical styles are all inter-related, but this gal does it with a dark, and moody wrapping, which brings out the rawness of emotions in her music.
This gal can write darker songs, the music fitting the mood, and her voice being the perfect instrument to bring it all together.
On Onkwulu's spot on myspace.com it states “The Contradictor is personal and universal, built on Ndidi's songwriting mining the extremes of intimacy, with the bigger sounds and tones she is most interested in uncovering. These are songs of heartache, heartbreak, and longing ... Of course, the blues/soul has always been a music made to transcend the pains and sorrows of daily life. 'I think that's why I love it so much,' says Onukwulu. 'It's what I do.'
There are a number of songs here which are great, Almost JD, the jazzier Forever SZ and SK Final, Rise, He Needs Me, and the gospel-inspired Move Together topping my personal list.
The compelling nature of Onukwulu's voice, the sultriness of the dark siren's call, is enough to definitely recommend this one. This one leaves you feeling you have just experienced something special, and knowing you will no doubt return to hear her voice slipping effortlessly through her music on many future occasions. A CD music fans are likely to leave close to the CD player so it can easily be put on for a spin.
You can check her out at www.ndidi.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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