Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review -- VICTORIA BANKS -- When YOu Can Fly

WHEN YOU CAN FLY
Victoria Banks
On Ramp Records
9-out-of-10
Oh Wow! Victoria Banks has a voice which says star with every note. Impressive from the first strains of The Wheel, throughout the 11 cuts on When You Can Fly.
It only takes one listen to the disk to know this Canadian is special.
It’s no surprise to learn Banks’ debut album made her the most nominated female artist of 2009 with six from the Canadian Country Music Association; Female Artist of the Year, Rising Star, Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Producer of the Year.
Banks is a country singer, and is following in the footsteps of the best in Canada from Michelle Wright to Terri Clark. As good as those two ladies have been and are — I am a huge Wright fan — Banks may well be destined to be better than both. I’ve been at this review game a lot of years now, and I can’t recall a Canadian female singer who has impressed more with a disk than this lady.
What makes this disk even more outstanding is that Banks has had her hand in writing every song.
There are some killer cuts her including This Old Halo, Long Gone Train, the tile cut When You Can Fly, and Back to the River. All are worthy of radio play.
Jason Blaine adds male vocals on Don’t Leave the Leavin’ and it’s a great touch to the disk. He clicks nicely with Banks.
Now there is one hiccup here. The poppy little word play segments of Kiss Me are frankly annoying, and shave a half point off the overall rating. With such poise shown on the rest of the recording, it’s too bad she slipped into the silly cliches approach on this one.
Still one bump is not enough to not recommend this CD highly. Get in on the ground floor of a rising Canadian country star.
Check her out at www.victoriabanks.net
CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LUKE RYALLS -- The City

THE CITY
Luke Ryalls
Pining For Our Records Records
8-out-of-10

Luke Ryalls calls himself an indie, acoustic, pop performer. All right, that about covers it.
Ryalls, who hails from Saskatoon, will be known to some as the long-time lead singer of The Fjords.
With The City, Ryalls has embarked on a solo path, offering up a disk with nine songs, all self-penned.
The music comes across as deeply personal. The songs are sung with an intimate passion borne of being close to the material.
You notice the intimacy and passion immediately on a song such as Cautious Eyes, one of the best on the album.
That said, Ryalls sings from deep within himself on every cut here. The vocals on Be The One are powerful. The Snow Road plays real. The list goes on.
The depth of the lyrics matches up nicely with the passion of Ryalls as a performer too. The words here are worth listening too — worth digesting — worth understanding.
Ryalls is a performer I’d love to see live in a small, intimate venue such as 5th Avenue Coffee. The songs come across as so personal on the disk, that the live connection would likely be quite electric.
This is certainly an impressive CD which deserves a larger audience. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed.
Check it out at www.lukeryalls.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DON ALDER -- Not A Planet

NOT A PLANET
Don Alder
Indie
7.5-out-of-10
Don Alder has amassed a rather impressive musical resume. The British Columbia-based guitarist has six CDs under his belt.
Listen to Not A Planet, and you see why he has had musical staying power.
Alder is first and foremost a fine guitar player. He combines fingerpicking with simultaneous percussion on the soundboard for a full-fledged acoustic sound.
As far as the latest disk is concerned, Alder mixes fine instrumental efforts on songs such as The Wall and Sayonara.calm, (perhaps the CD’s best effort), with tunes where he incorporates vocals.
While Alder’s guitar work outshines his vocals, the mix still works well here. The vocal efforts are a welcome change of pace to the guitar driven cuts.
Showing his understanding of his own strengths as a musician, and in particular of understanding the guitar he is so intimate with, Alder has written all the material here.
I appreciate that on eight of the songs Alder has allowed himself the freedom to carry the music beyond four-minutes, and actually eclipses six-minutes on the aforementioned Sayonara.calm. The freedom of expression on the longer pieces demonstrates clearly a bonus here.
Overall, Not A Planet is an instrumental guitar-based CD that is extremely-well played. A definite one to search out for lovers of acoustic guitar.
Check it out at www.donalder.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BRAD JOHNER -- Lookin' At You

LOOKIN’ AT YOU
Brad Johner
On Ramp Records
8.5-out-of-10
There is certainly no one more synonymous with Saskatchewan country music than Brad Johner.
For a long-time he was one half of the Johner Brothers, a duo that criss-crossed the province doing shows for several years. If you were a country fan living in the province for much of the ‘90s it’s a sure bet you saw the brothers play.
Today Brad is a solo act. It is a path he embarked on in 2003, and what has followed has been an award winning career as the main man on stage.
Johner launched his solo career with the Juno-nominated Free album. The debut garnered wide acclaim for Johner including a 2003 Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Country Album, a win at the 2004 Canadian Independent Music Awards for Favourite Country Artist.
The accolades continued following his sophomore solo release Summertown Road, which earned Johner a Male Artist of the Year Award win at the 2007 Canadian Country Music Awards.
Lookin’ At You continues to show Johner is at the top of the country not just in Saskatchewan, but in Canada.
The latest release has some plain excellent country songs.
High is a beautiful number, which has one of those uplifting messages without being overly preachy. It’s simply about getting high from the everyday joys of life.
The title cut is a radio-friendly effort that works for me.
It should be noted there are a number of cuts here which radio will like. They also manage to maintain a ‘real’ country beat. Johner knows the roots of the music. He certainly tunes up modern country, but you can sense the heart of the music too.
That Wouldn’t Be Me could be the theme song for that country feel. It really speaks to being country, not simply singing it for the sake of finding a gig.
And, for all the parents who want to tear up remembering their daughter leaving home there is She’s Good To Go. Watch this one be a request show favourite.
Now let’s be honest here, you expect something by someone as veteran as Brad Johner to be a polished and professional. Lookin' At You is both of those things. It is also a darned fine collection of new country songs.
Mark this one as a can’t miss.
Check it out at www.bradjohner.com
CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOHNNY REID -- Dance With Me

DANCE WITH ME
Johnny Reid
Open Road Recordings
7.5-out-of-10
Johnny Reid has been gaining a following in country music starting back in 2005 with the release of Born to Roll and the 2007 follow-up Kicking Stones, also on the Open Road Recordings label.
Dance With Me is another step in Reid’s development.
This disk features the familiar grit-edged vocals which are something of a Reid trademark. The voice is one that is unique enough to set it apart from many in the country ranks these days, where many are attempting to simply mimic the ‘in sound’.
As much as Reid’s voice sets him apart from the usual country herd, it may not be for everybody either. I for one seem to waffle from one song to the next on how much I like his vocals.
The lead cut A Woman Like You misses for me based on Reid’s voice.
Then you hit a number like the title-cut Dance With Me, and I was just going ‘wow, I love the way he handles this song’. A slow love song, Dance With Me is a moving number that Reid handles masterfully. It helps too the instrumentation at times has a near classical feel, taking the song another notch up the ladder.
Brings Me Home is another slower tempo song that is a major highlight of the disk. Reid sings the slow ones with as much emotion as anyone in country today.
While there are times I personally am not the hugest fan of Reid, I totally admire that he really is cutting his own swath in country music.
There are times the music takes on a near blues, or jazz, feel. I’m not sure how country a song such as Let’s Take It Outside, but way to go Mr. Reid for selling something on the edge as country. The harmonica work is great too.
Ditto, Hey-O, which seems equal parts 1950s rock ‘n roll, and blues. Not sure it cuts as country, but who cares. It’s a fun, upbeat song that kicks some butt.
The fresh approach on several of the cuts, and the unique vocals Reid brings to the table certainly make this one an easy one to suggest anyone grab.
Check this one out at www.johnnyreid.com
CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE GRASS MOUNTAIN HOBOS -- Zoot!

ZOOT!
The Grass Mountain Hobos
Indie
8-out-of-10
Bluegrass is sadly an increasingly rare musical treat. When a good bluegrass crosses the desk you have to just sit back and enjoy. Excuse me while I just soak in The Grass Mountain Hobos disk Zoot!
Ah! Yep, that’s bluegrass all right. Sweet!
Interestingly the band comes from Charlottetown, where you expect to hear Celtic-influenced East Coast folk.
Thankfully The Grass Mountain Hobos cut their own sound. The band’s website at www.grassmountainhobos.com suggests their sound is “a swing, bluegrass, blues, and folk infusion.”
All right, I see where they’re coming from with that description, but at its heart this disk is a bluegrass one.
Cuts such as Scrape the Paint, Hillbilly Fix and Zoot Suit are bluegrass through and through.
That said a song such as Graveyard Shift is more fully a folk song, telling the story of a worker coming home after a work shift to find their partner in bed with another. A great set of lyrics on this one.
If you’re looking for the swing influence, look no further than Kansas City Kitty.
The band includes; Josh Ellis on lead vocals and guitar, Peter Cann, guitar, Peter Webb, banjo, Thomas Webb, big bass bull fiddle, Thomas Kirkham, mandolin, and Gordie MacKeeman, fiddle. As a unit they come as smooth as good home brew, not that I’ve ever partaken in such spirits.
A must for lovers of bluegrass. Find this one.
CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review -- ELLEN KOLENICK -- Dear John

DEAR JOHN
Ellen Kolenick
Indie
7-out-of-10

Readers of all things Yorkton This Week will recall a recent story on Ellen Kolenick’s new CD project, since she was raised in nearby Saltcoats. Now its time to focus in on the CD’s sound.
I’ll start by saying this lady has a beautiful voice. It would be wonderful if she had a venue to perform at here in the city to hear her up close and personal.
Kolenick’s debut disk is only seven songs, and regular readers will know I prefer a full disk rather than an EP, although I suppose seven songs almost puts it in between the two. Again the reason I like a full disk is if the music is good, the listener wants more, and when offering up a debut, make sure you offer up as much good music as is reasonable. Kolenick does a great job on the material here. Another four or five songs would just have added to the pleasure.
So what sort of music does Kolenick perform?
That is a question not easily answered, even by the performer herself. In the previous story she explained herself this way; “ I'm a singer/songwriter who plays easy listening, adult contemporary music - I call it, ‘dinner hosting, chocolate eating, wine sipping, bubble bathing kinda sound’.”
Therein may lie a problem for Kolenick in that I don’t recall many radio stations proclaiming they play that kind of music, nor do you find a section in a music store with that label. Just where she fits will be a challenge.
That’s too bad because there are some beautiful songs. Miss You is a wonderfully sad song, and Story of Us and Come Back Home are great cuts too.
Certainly a disk with a local connection worth seeking out. Check it out at www.ellenkolenick.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- QUARTANGO -- El Fuego

EL FUEGO
Quartango
Justin Time
9-out-of-10

Is there any substitute for experience? Yes the question is a cliche, but in the case of Quartango, it begs to be asked since this quartet reaffirms that there is nothing like experience, even in the music business.
El Fuego marks the sixth recording by the quartet on the Justin Time label, and also celebrates their 25th anniversary. That speaks volumes for the Quebec-based group.
Quartango have an unabashed love affair with the tango going on, and that is reflected in the works here, but the music goes so much farther than a single ell-known dance step tune.
The four musicians here are; René Gosselin on double bass, Richard Hunt on piano, Douglas Schmidt on bandoneon (invented in Germany in 1855 that is essential in tango music), and Charles-Etienne Marchand on violin. As a unit the use the tango as a foundation over which they add elements of classical music to create amazing musical tapestries which are rich is flavours you would not necessarily expect when you start with the idea of a tango.
The word classical will scare a number of readers I am sure, but in this case don’t run. This is what I would call accessible classical. While of course significantly different in sound, the approach of Quartango reminds me much of the Canadian Brass. The vision of music that is classical, yet approachable seems to be central to both groups.
That certainly is the case here. El Fuego is light-hearted. It is music that is about passion and joy. Really what else could it be with the tango as its heartbeat.
A disk full of beautiful music with subtle nuances which seem to chase through the pieces like happy sprites at play.
This is a disk that really needs to be heard and appreciated.
Check them out at www.quartango.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SONS OF THE NEVER WRONG -- On A Good Day ... I Am

ON A GOOD DAY … I AM
Sons of the Never Wrong
Waterbug
9.5-out-of-10
It doesn’t take a critic’s ear to hear and understand some bands are simply a cut above the norm. Sons of the Never Wrong are one of those bands.
The first clue really came before even spinning their latest disk On A Good Day … I Am.
The disk is on the Waterbug label, an American folk-centric with a well-deserved reputation for quality. This disk only reinforces that rep.
Sons of the Never Wrong are also a veteran unit in terms of American folk/pop, with this the trio’s sixth disk. That experience means crystal clear vocals, smooth harmonies and a beautiful selection of songs.
Sue Demel and Deborah Maris Lader are the female voices here, and there are times they remind a lot of the Wyrd Sisters, which for me heady praise since I adore the Wyrds. However, the Sons of the Never Wrong add another dimension with Bruce Roper giving them a male voice to compliment the female voices, and it adds depth to the music.
The trio adds piano, guitar, and at times banjo and mandolin, which sound like a bluegrass mix, but here it is far more modernist folk. In the end the label doesn’t really matter since it’s just plane excellent music.
Mention must also be made that at times the Kairos Quartet is on board adding yet another layer of texture to the music. That in itself is a nice touch, showing again the maturity of the Sons to expand their sound as needed.
The disk has 14 cuts, and mixes in another four short interlude cuts for variety, and quite frankly every one of them works.
The lyrics tell stories, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes whimsical, but always one you are glad the Sons took the time to share.
If you are even remotely a fan of folk, or just a lover of good music, this one should be marked as must have material. Totally fantastic.
Check it out at www.sons.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review -- BENT -- Super Heavy Double Insulated

SUPER HEAVY DOUBLE INSULATED
Bent
Indie
7.5-out-of-10

I am continually impressed with the quality of music coming out of Saskatoon. It’s obvious the city has a vibrant music culture which is taking full advantage of the current technologies allowing bands to more easily record to take their music past the local clubs.
Add Bent to that list.
Super Heavy Double Insulated is Bent’s second disk, but appears the first to get a serious push by the band, including being the impetus for the creation of the band’s website. Check it out at www.quadrant.net/bent
Musically, this band is in the current rock pocket, where they show a good understanding of using energy to get their music across to the listener.
Reuben Coleman is the band’s lead vocalist, and he leads the energy, and exhibits a vocal style that fits the music to a ‘T’.
Scott Pilling and Mike Semchuk add guitar work, which of course is the foundation of the style. Brennan Risling on bass and Derek Bachman on drums, provide the backbeat, and give the music the pacing to have listeners keeping time.
The disk has a dozen cuts, and Bent does a good job of hitting the road running here, and maintaining things from the start of the album through to it close, not always an easy thing for a band showing such energy in their music.
While the disk as a whole is very solid, a few cuts edge above the rest. The top cuts include Practical Casting, Livestock Warning, and Kill the Bees.
This is definitely a band and a disk worth connecting with. Grab it, you will like it.
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 25, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- INEZ -- Singsoulgirl

SINGSOULGIRL
Inez
Letsemot Records
9-out-of-10
Wow! When I tossed Singsoulgirl in the player, I was immediately surprised, and it was a very good surprise.
True Love, the first song immediately let’s the listener know Inez is for real. What a voice.
Inez reminds me a lot of Mariah Carey, including at least a passing resemblance. The real similarity though comes in voice and music.
Inez is a Sto:lo, Ojibway and Metis artist, from British Columbia, whose bio at www.inezmusic.ca states she grew up “playing the fiddle with her Metis grandfather and learning the traditional Sto:lo dancing and singing from which her music has evolved.”
What an evolution. This is about as far from Metis fiddle as you can get. Now that is not a bad thing. While I can enjoy fiddle music, it would be a shame had Inez never set down the fiddle and bow and picked up the microphone. This girl deserves to be front and centre. Her voice truly demands it.
It would be hard to imagine Inez on stage singing as she does on this disk, and not have every eye in the place glued to her every move.
As you might gather from the CD title, Singsoulgirl is a soul effort, although it’s modern soul, with that sort of R&B, hip hop undertone.
The disk earned a cart load of recognition at the recent 2009 Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards including; Best Album Cover, Best New Artist, Best Pop Album, and Single of the Year.
The disk also earned a 2009 Western Canada Music Awards nomination in the Aboriginal category (won by Eagle & Hawk which will be reviewed here in the coming weeks).
I particularly like how Inez incorporates her First Nations roots in some of the songs, most notably Stick Game Jam. A great touch.
Inez does it again on Ready 1-2.
This is one of those disks that impressed me from the very start, and held me attention. I’ll listen to this one again and again. Pick it up. Inez is for real.
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 25, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- AMY NELSON -- I'm Just Me

I’M JUST ME
Amy Nelson
Indie
6.5-out-of-10
Amy Nelson falls into that category of contemporary country, which sadly is the new soda pop flavour for country radio consumption.
It is too bad Nelson had chosen a different country vision. She has a very nice voice, the kind that at times, such as on That Hat, reminds a touch of Reba.
The music though is sort of that poppish country that offers up a beat you can tap your toes too, but you won’t remember a song a month from now when the next ‘radio ready’ country CD comes your way.
There are times Nelson ascends above the average here. If I Can’t Have Tomorrow is easily the best song here, and likely the one radio will never play. That says a lot.
What Nelson does do here is offer up a six pack of songs that for the most part should have today's country music directors drooling. They all really fit radio, with the possible exception of the aforementioned If I Can’t Have Tomorrow.
The title cut (I’m Just Me), Every Time I Wear These Boots and That Hat are radio hits of the week.
Nelson scores high for her vocals, but the music is too bubble gum country for me -- the taste wears off pretty quickly.
Give this gal some meatier music, something where the lyrics have something to say, and you’d have a nine.
As it is, the content, and the fact she offered up only six songs on a debut, the disk you have a lifetime to accumulate materiel for, and I was simply left wanting more, more songs, more ‘real’ memorable music.
Nelson’s voice shows tons of promise, but it’s largely unfulfilled promise here. You’ll feel good after a listen, but you won’t remember why for long.
Check out this Regina-based artist at www.amynelson.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 25, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RIDLEY BENT -- Buckles & Boots

BUCKLES & BOOTS
Ridley Bent
Open Road Recordings
9-out-of-10

If you like country music, and you haven't heard of Ridley Bent I suggest you stop reading this review and head out and buy Buckles & Boots right now.
Bent is one of those intriguing country performers, in that he is largely a throwback to an earlier era in country, yet he mixes in a sort of urban country savvy that makes it fresh.
Bent mixes early John Anderson with Corb Lund, yet copies neither, so the result is purely good Bent country.
In terms of country, the music has an older swing feel, although at times Bent twists in some modern elements to keep it unique.
This British Columbia artist is also great at changing tempo on material. He can slow it down with a hurting song with the best of them, as is the case with Cry.
Arlington is another slower number, one which is arguably the best cut among the 11 here, although to be honest, this is a very strong effort from start to finish.
Then he shifts up with Heartland Heartbreak, with a cooking upbeat cut.
While Bent can up the tempo, he never goes so far that you start to think its rock from the 1970s disguised as today’s country. This guy knows what country is, and he sticks to that.
When you listen to this outstanding CD you will understand why Bent was nominated for Best Roots Artist at the 2009 Canadian Country Music Award, and won seven BC Country Music Awards.
Mark this one as a must if you like country. They don’t get much better than this.
Check it out at www.ridleybent.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 18, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CASEY STONE -- Rock Garden

ROCK GARDEN
Casey Stone
Indie
8-out-of-10
Casey Stone is a performer whose style doesn’t classify well. The reason is obvious why too. At times Casey Stone has been a country performer, and at times a rock gal. With Rock Garden she is sort of caught showcasing elements of both.
Lyrically, and for the most part, this is a very good rock-influenced album. Cuts such as Tenacious and Randy’s Song are clearly rock, and very good rock at that.
At the same time, there are just a few times when Stone’s country background shows through on the album, for example it infiltrates the fringes of the lead cut She’s A Believer. It’s back on But Now You're Gone as well.
Rock Garden also has a decided level of maturity to it. That isn’t surprising considering Stone has been involved in music for a number of years, having actually recorded a rock effort in the 1980s under the same name. She was also the voice of the band Eva Gold.
With Rock Garden Stone has brought her considerable experience to the forefront penning most of the songs here.
I particularly like how she is willing to let her new songs go where they want to go.
Beloved clocks in at 6:05, Randy’s Song at 5:11 and But Now You’re Gone at 5:27. Not really radio format, and kudos for Stone for not paring them back to suit radio. They are great as is.
The maturity is also seen in her song selection beyond her self-written songs. She ends the disk with the Gordon Lightfoot classic, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and it is a great rendition. Again, Stone is commended for doing her own thing.
This is a CD that impressed me for its honesty. You feel as if Stone is singing songs because they are part of her, and that she would be singing them whether anyone was listening, or not.
In this case, believe me, you are glad you are listening.
Be sure to check it out at www.caseystone.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 18, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE BETTER WORLD -- Broken Memories

BROKEN MEMORIES
The Better World
Indie
7.5-out-of-10
The Better World is a rock trio out of New Jersey that has a sound that should earn them a solid following.
The band is fronted by vocalist and guitarist Matt Coban, who is joined by Justin Miskowski, also on guitar and Elli Rothenberg on drums.
Broken Memories, is a six-song sophomore disk for the band. I must say I wish they had opted for a full-length effort. That’s a good thing, in the sense I like what The Better World has done on the six songs here. There should be more.
Of course we might expect a slick effort here given the industry experience they brought into the picture to help with Broken Memories.
“The Better World teamed up with Grammy award-winner Jason Corsaro (Soundgarden, Buckcherry) to record Broken Memories,” explained their spot on Myspace (www.myspace.com/thebetterworld). “Mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, U2, Creed), Broken Memories captures the intensity of the Foo Fighters and the heart-felt melodies of 3 Doors Down and Lifehouse to form a powerful, hard-hitting album of shout out loud rock songs.”
Foo Fighters and 3 Doors Down are pretty lofty comparisons, but The Better World does a solid job of living up to them.
There is certainly a 3 Doors Down ‘feel’ to the title cut, and it is also likely the best of the solid six tunes here, although it’s close with the slower-paced Counting the Days.
The lead cut, Only One will also win fans for the disk.
Definitely a band to watch and a disk that bodes well for them breaking big.
Check them out at www.thebetterworld.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 18, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOEL FAFARD -- Three Hens Escape Oblivion

THREE HENS ESCAPE OBLIVION
Joel Fafard
Indie
9-out-of-10
Joel Fafard is a name you can trust in terms of music.
This Saskatchewan-born musician has always managed to impress when I have had the pleasure of reviewing his work. His 2007 release ... And, Another Thing rated a 9-out-of-10 and Rocking Horse in 2003 was equally appreciated.
Three Hens Escape Oblivion, besides being a really cool name for a disk, maintains Fafard’s stellar instrumental guitar work.
Yes folks this is an instrumental effort, and be glad of it. When the music is this good you really do not need lyrics getting in the way of enjoying what Fafard is doing.
Fafard plays guitar, resonator guitar (such a nice effect) and banjo on the album, and is ably supported by Gilles Fournier on double bass and Richard Moody on viola and violin.
The trio blends seamlessly.
Fafard also pens all the tunes here with the exception of three older traditional cuts. The guy can write music, and he performs it with a relaxed style that is endearing.
It is interesting how he combines his own work with the traditional, such as on Chalant/Cluck Old Hen. Chalant is his own effort, whereas Cluck Old Hen is traditional. The two blend into a tune which will stay with you for a while. It just gets into the system and makes you feel good.
Fafard does the same thing blending his Theo’s Song with the traditional Angeline the Baker for arguably the second best cut on the CD.
Of course picking a best cut is a challenge here since I really love this disk start to finish. Fafard is as good a musician in terms of his body of work as I have had the pleasure to review from Saskatchewan. This latest disk only reinforces that view for me.
Mark this disk a must have.
Make sure to check it out at www.joelfafard.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 11, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DON MODDERMAN -- Garden

GARDEN
Don Modderman
Indie
7-out-of-10
Don Modderman is one of those artists you have probably never heard of, and that is truly a shame.
The Regina-based musician is very talented, offering a variety of music, including being a member of the fun Celtic band Crofter’s Revenge whose debut Ghost Ship was reviewed here in July 2008.
Garden is a solo effort from Modderman, and is significantly different from the Celtic genre.
On this disk Modderman highlights his versatility. While you may best remember what you hear on Garden for Modderman’s flute work, he also offers us accordion, bass and keyboards. The key is a multifaceted instrumentalist for sure.
The disk starts out with a beautiful instrumental piece; Life is a Journey. It might be the best of the songs here.
From there, the music falls into that intriguing realm where it simply is not easy to classify.
Modderman goes on extended musical explorations on Garden. Not one song clocks in at under four-minutes, and three eclipse six. The length allows the artist to do some interesting instrumental efforts, adding vocals to the seven songs which follow the instrumental opening.
At times, the music sort of has a 60’s soft rock feel, such as on the title cut. You could see it played at some peace rally at an American college.
On other cuts the music has a more folkish feel, such as with Back In Time.
The strength here is the instrumental work. The vocal work however, doesn’t always match the same level.
For example, I love the flute work on the title cut, the vocals, not so much.
This is a disk I would love to hear minus the vocals, as a clean instrumental effort. I think it would come across as an overall stronger recording.
As it is, it’s still an interesting musical effort to roll out of Regina, give it a listen.
Check it out at www.croftersrevenge.ca/DonModderman
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 11, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review - RIK REESE & NEON HIGHWAY -- Mama Raised A Good Boy

MAMA RAISED A GOOD BOY
Rik Reese & Neon Highway
Indie
8.5-out-of-10
Rik Reese is something of a country music throwback, and that is a good thing.
When I first listened to Mama Raised a Good Boy I was thinking how much of the music would have fit nicely on a country CD from around the time of Dukes of Hazzard, the TV show, not the junky movie. The CD’s title cut would be a good alternate theme song for that good ole series.
Certainly Long White Line would have fit in on the soundtrack of a show such as Movin’ On from the mid-1970s.
There was more of a true country soul to country music back then, and Reese and his band generally manage to recapture that spirit.
There is certainly an element of Waylon in Rik Reese, and I would be amazed if the good old country boy isn’t one of this Maritimer’s influences. Yes I did say Maritimes, the band comes out of New Brunswick, proving country comes from a state-of-mind, not a postal code.
There isn’t much here not to like. Reese can sing, and the music is a nice mix. There are the upbeat fun cuts; Ain’t Lookin’ For Me and Headin’ Down to Memphis, which you want to turn up the volume on as you cruise the highway.
They can also slow it down. Old Black Train is the best cut on the disk.
All For Me slows things down as well, and really has the Waylon going on.
Just My Luck is a definite radio hit cut too.
A very good country disk, well worth searching out.
Check the disk out at www.neonhighwayband.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 11, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE RAMBLERS -- Bad Boys of Blues

BAD BOYS OF BLUES
The Ramblers
Independent
5-out-of-10

It never hurts to start a blues CD with some harmonica work if you want to catch the ear of this reviewer. Now I recognize The Ramblers weren’t going after my ear in particular, but I loved Eric Farran’s blues harp work to open Sex Boogie, the lead cut on Bad Boys of Blues.
From the opening cut The Ramblers offer up a mix of material here.
Burn Out, the CD’s second song again had some nice harmonica work, and I might add the use of French vocals was an interesting, and unexpected twist, although the band does hail from Montreal.
Then they hit the listener with Hey Kitty Kitty. The music is good, but the vocals on this one were lacklustre at best.
Generally speaking the vocals are the weak spot here.
While all the members of The Ramblers; Cliff Stevens, Dany Spallone and David Scott MacLean, have vocal credits, most of this CD is bad.
The Country Foot Stomping Song is an example. Ouch!
When the band switches to French, as on C’est en Famile, it helps, in-part because French is a more lyrical language, and because as an English listener it’s different enough that you pay attention a bit more.
Of the English language songs, Struggle is the one that climbs a bit above mediocrity.
This CD is moderately interesting in terms of the music, a few nice harmonica breaks interspersed along the way, but the vocals simply relegate this effort to the second tier,
There are far better recordings out there.
Check it out for yourself at www.theramblers.org
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 4, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JASON GREELY -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Jason Greeley
Royalty Records
8-out-of-10
If you are a fan of Canadian Idol, you may recall the name Jason Greeley, a top-four finisher from 2004.
Well Greeley is back in the spotlight with a new CD.
Greeley, who hails from Alberta, is showing his western roots on this disk, going full bore country. The good news, this sure seems to be where he feels most at home.
Darn this guy can sing country folks.
In a world where country of late has not generally impressed, especially the solo performers, Greeley kicks it hot and solid.
The lead cut Born That Way was a little, well let’s say a bit too radio for me.
But, Usually, the second song put Greeley in the groove, and from there he found his country stride. There is enough radio here, to get airplay, but there is a bit more to the sound too.
Goodbye Jersey is very solid. I like it.
Around for a Reason did it for me too. Greeley is making a fan as he goes here.
Get A Life is solid too, and Live Our Lives really cooks.
There are a couple of miss steps along the way; Slammin Doors is a little annoying in its style, but as a whole Greeley shows a lot here.
Greeley does pen a few of the songs here, including Slammin Doors and Born That Way, neither being among the best here, so that side of his game needs some polish.
But, vocally, there is a lot of lustre to his work.
This is a country effort well worth searching out. Check it out at www.jasongreeley.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 4, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SOULS IN RHYTHM -- Funklore

FUNKLORE
Souls In Rhythm
Stripey Zebra Music
9-out-of-10
Souls In Rhythm is a band out of Calgary with a sound you might not expect of a city that is often thought of as the cowboy capital of Canada.
This band is a few country miles from country, but it’s worth traversing those miles to listen to their music.
Souls In Rhythm is a funk/soul squad, and while that may deem geographically out of place in Calgary, one listen and you won’t care where they are from, you’ll just be glad you were along to listen to their sweet vibes.
Of course the band is developing a rather solid resume, winning the CBC Showcase Competition, a finalist in the Alberta-wide Big Break Songwriting Competition and winning Calgary’s Last Band Standing Performance Competition.
Scott Henderson, is SIR’s keyboardist, as well as supplying vocals, and frankly he could be fronting a funk group of Detroit. The guy has the voice that fits the genre, soft, melodic, engaging.
Of course engaging is critical to funk. If this music doesn’t get you involved in the feeling of the genre, it fails. SIR gets and ‘A’ on that test of their music.
Caleb Roddick, on bass, Spencer Cheyne on drums and Craig Newnes on guitar round out the four-man band.
There are 11 songs here, and quite frankly there is not a weak effort from the opening Girl Work through the final cut Heaven, So I Can Life With Myself.
The disk is so solid picking a best song really comes down to putting the 11 titles in a hat, and drawing one out. The Same, I Release Me and I Got This end up being just a smidgen ahead of the rest.
This is a super disk. Find it. It is a winner from start to finish.
Check out this great band at www.soulsinrhythm.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 4, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE HIGGINS -- Real Thing

REAL THING
The Higgins
Open Road Records
7-out-of-10
The Higgins are one of those family units which keeps popping up in the world of music, more often in the vein of Celtic, although there is no shortage of sibling bands on the country side of things either.
In this case the unit is Kathleen, Eileen and John Higgins.
As you might expect the Real Thing is all about the harmonies. It really comes down to being the gals powering the music here. Kathleen and Eileen dominate, with their voices in perfect sync. John is sort of an underlying element which adds some depth to the music, but rarely gets to step into the spotlight himself.
The music is at its best based on the tight harmonies. It really is enjoyable to hear two voices which come together some seamlessly.
In time though it would be nice to see John brought out of the shadows a bit. As it stands this is a female album, and as a family unit they could add another element by using John as a counter balance.
Musically, this is a disk that is completely geared to today’s radio. Every song is fashioned with a hook that radio programmers seem to look for as the first element they want to hear to add a song to the playlist.
As a result the lyrics aren’t particularly memorable. They are modern country, designed for today, forgotten tomorrow.
The one exception is Factory Girl, the only song not likely to make radio, and it’s only 1:42 long, but its the truest effort here.
Now while the music is radio-ready, there are still songs here it’s hard not to like.
I Got No Time (For a Little Boy), is a song where The Higgins seem to get a bit of emotional fire going, and it shows.
Then there is Flower Child, a single release which fits radio like a glove, but the song comes across as one where The Higgins know the song is a tad superficial. The harmonies are tight, but the emotion isn’t embodied like it is in the aforementioned efforts.
This is radio-ready country, which means hits galore. In the future though I hope The Higgins add a bit more emption to their music.
Check them out at www.higginsmusic.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SIMON FISK TRIO -- Unless

UNLESS
Simon Fisk Trio
Plunge Records
8-out-of-10
Regular readers will be familiar with the name Simon Fisk. This guy is a prolific Canadian jazz musician, who finds himself in the recording studio often. Vague Hotels with Simon Fisk / Chris Gestrin / Jerry Granelli was reviewed here in January of this year, and back in 2007, Fist You and Yours.
Fisk is a bassist who has the ability to not just lay the foundation on which a piece is based, but to truly carry a song forward with his stylistic approach.
With his trio he is supported perfectly by the piano work Gestrin who lays down the body of the music here. The piano is generally front and centre, although Fist on bass not surprisingly adds some girth to the music.
Granelli provides the underlying heartbeat with his generally under-stated, but effective drum work.
This is active, swirling jazz, the type which takes the listener’s mind on wonderful trips through a maze of images the music creates. No where is that more true than in the piece Freedom Suite which clocks in at more than 10-minutes, and during that time leads the listener on a merry chase of thoughts and images.
Fisk has written all the material here too, showing he has a wonderful understanding of jazz as a musical paintbrush.
This is another enjoyable effort from a jazz artist who is becoming a definite favourite. Check out the trio at www.simonfisk.com.
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LUKE RYALLS -- The City

THE CITY
Luke Ryalls
Pining for Our Records Records
9-out-of-10
When Luke Ryalls started playing harmonica on Swing Low, the lead cut on The City, I was immediately captured -- yes harmonica is a weak spot for me.
Still the harmonica work on the lead song caught my attention and got me focused on what Ryalls was doing as a musician.
On Myspace Ryalls slots himself into the acoustic/pop world, which means at times there are flavours of country, and in his case a lyric-writing style which obviously borrows much from the world of folk.
Ryalls, who comes out of Saskatoon, has been the singer in The Fjords for years, but this new release is his first solo effort.
Again his Myspace spot explains, “He picked up his old acoustic guitar, set up a studio in his creaky living room, and created The City, an intimate and intense record full of sparse, haunting ballads, thumping, grandiose landscapes, and sparkling, rootsy sing-alongs.”
All right that description might be a touch flowery, but the idea of haunting music certainly fits. That is just how I would describe The Snow Road, which I believe is the best song on the CD.
The same moodiness carries on through Halcyon Summers, which again is a wonderful piece.
Ryalls keeps the music simple, his acoustic guitar carrying the spotlight almost exclusively throughout. His voice borrows from the school of Dylan in its approach. Those two elements speak highly of what he is doing here.
Yet, the true strength of the music here lies in the lyrics. Ryalls is a poet who writes so that the mood of the song is transferred to the listener easily. You feel this guy’s music, and it says a lot about a musician when he can share the feelings which fire the music.
Standing Beside Us is one of the songs where the emption transfer is most easily appreciated. Blazer is another emotional gem. Both are simply excellent.
A definite disk to search out. Check it out at www.myspace.com/lukeryallsmusic
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review -- THE ROAD HAMMERS -- The Road Hammers II

THE ROAD HAMMERS II
The Road Hammers
Open Road Records
9-out-of-10
When Clayton Bellamy, Jason McCoy and Chris Byrne formed up as the Road Hammers, doing so under the scrutiny of a television camera leading to a show which caught a lot of attention, they started a phenomena.
The band’s first CD release recycled a bunch of trucking songs, pumping them up with a southern fried, rock, country sound which caught the attention of both radio and listeners.
These boys came out hot with slick production, and a killer sound which was infectious.
Now the trio is back with their sophomore effort.
In terms of bands, the second album is often the one which leaves listeners shaking their heads. It is pushed out quicker than first efforts, and often comes up short.
The good news is that while only on their second recording as the Road Hammers, Clayton Bellamy, Jason McCoy and Chris Byrne are all veterans of the Canadian music scene. There are no signs of the dreaded sophomore slump.
Road Hammers II hits you hard from the get go with the killer cut Homegrown, and just bubbles, cooks, boils, through the next 10 songs.
In fact in some respects this CD takes it up a notch, since this disk has more of a Road Hammers feel. That comes from the three members writing more of the material.
Homegrown, Gettin’ Screwed, Cowboy ’Til I Die, and No Time For Long Goodbyes, are among the songs the players have had a hand in writing. There is a resulting feel that this music is more the personality of The Road Hammers, than the first disk, and that disk was about as good as it gets in terms of country.
That said, The Road Hammers’ rendition of the classic Thank God I’m A Country Boy is a killer track.
The maturity and experience of Bellamy, McCoy, and Byrne shows on II, and proves rather quickly this was more than a gimmick band established for one truckin’ CD.
This is a definite must have country effort. Check them out at www.myspace.com/theroadhammers
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- AGNOSTIC MOUNTAIN GOSPEL CHOIR -- Ten Thousand

TEN THOUSAND
Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Shoutin’ Abner Pim Recordings
9-out-of-10
To say I was surprised when I put Ten Thousand in the CD player would be an understatement.
This is a group of four guys from Alberta producing an all original recording of music which has the sound of old south country blues. When I say old south, I mean a century ago. I was frankly blown away.
The Calgary-based unit features Peter Balkwill on drums; Bob Keelaghan on guitars and vocals; Judd Palmer on banjo, low slide guitar, harmonica, and vocals; and Vladimir Sobolewski with the upright bass. The instrumentation has a bluegrass feel.
In many ways the sound draws from an era when bluegrass, blues, country and gospel were basically all one and the same, before they began to diverge into separate musical genres.
The CD starts with the song Go Back Home. The song is a near anthem for the style the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.
From there the Choir has come up with 14-songs which fit the retro style.
Songs such as The Boig, Never Be Dead, Rainstorms In My Knees, and Dark Holler are among the cuts here which impressed.
This is a winning album which shows how a band can break away from the norm, and create a sound that you don’t hear everyday, but you should. Find this disk, it’s a rare gem.
Check them out at www.theagnostics.com
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CATHY-ANNE McCLINTOCK -- Self-Titled

SELF-TITLED
Cathy-Anne McClintock
37 Records
7-out-of-10

Cathy-Anne McClintock is an artist who terms her music Americana. For those unfamiliar with that term, I relate it to folk music, with a string old-style country music feel to it.
The sound really comes through on a cut such as So American.
When in the ‘Americana groove’ McClintock is at her best.
There are times the sound veers off course a bit. The lead cut How Can We Be Friends is an example. I found myself questioning exactly what sort of CD it was going to be at that point, because it has a sort of jazz, or show tune undercurrent.
Fortunately, more of the disk is material such as the song Strong Enough, which allows McClintock’s sweet comfortable voice to take the limelight.
McClintock’s voice is certainly the strength here, although be forewarned, it is an acquired taste to an extent as well. It is a sweet voice, which by the time I got to song 13, I had had my fill of. I will admit that’s a personal taste, but it is a factor.
If you like the Americana genre and a female voice in the higher range, then this will be your cup of tea.
Check out this disk at www.cathyannemcclintock.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review -- WILLIE MACK -- The Journey

THE JOURNEY
Willie Mack
Aim Music
7.5-out-of-10

Willie Mack is a country artist who fits today’s vision of country.
Mack is sleek musically. There are no edgy risks here. The lyrics are catchy. They are clipped and manicured for country radio, or what passes for country today.
The sound is shiny, catchy, sort of the equivalent of what pop is to rock.
Add in what I suspect most gals would see as hot looks, I would ask my wife but she’s sleeping late as I write this, and you have a well-measured country package in Mack.
Now you might want Mack to at times risk just a little more musically. He sticks to the well-paved highway here, never getting close to taking a grid road that might throw up a rock or two, let alone hitting a dirt road to roar off in a cloud of dust.
That said, success is measured in terms of radio play in the world of music today, and there is a half-ton truck load of potential radio singles among the 16-songs here.
By the way, you have to love an artist who offers up 16-songs in an era many artists are content pumping out six-song EPs.
So what are the hits here?
Well, Just the Way You Are comes to mind immediately. Very catchy.
Of course you can say that about I’m Gonna Love Her, and You’re My Hometown, and several other songs here.
In most cases they will easily make a radio rotation, although most won’t be remembered too long. They are hits today and forgotten tomorrow country, but hey that sells today.
There are songs you just know are going to be on music request shows for years into the future. Mack has at least come up with one of those songs with She Won’t Be Little Long. Dads who are into country music will be requesting this one for daughter’s birthday’s for years. It really does capture the sentiment of fathers. I know the lyrics had me thinking of Heather when she was a little girl (had to add that to see if she reads dad’s reviews).
Mack also can also do the tongue-in-cheek, yet fun song. Howdy Eh is a decidedly Canadian tune that touches on patriotism on this side of the 49th, and touches on many of the little idiosyncrasies which make us Canucks.
In general terms I might like greater depth here, but I will admit I got caught up in the catchy effort Mack puts forward. This may be fast-food country, but at least it’s good fast food, sort of the Fuddrucker’s burger of country.
Check it out at www.williemack.com
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GREG WOOD -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Greg Wood
Indie
6.5-out-of-10

It’s always refreshing when you toss a disk on the player, not sure what to expect. Greg Wood’s full-length debut was like that. The cover is pretty simple, just sort of an art silhouette and the performer’s name. It could as easily be classical guitar, or folk.
However, Wood throws us pure rock. I say pure rock because that’s what it is. This is in the sweet spot between metal and its walls of pounding guitars, and the sugar rush of pop.
Wood plays solid, if not usually inspired guitar, which is the perfect accompaniment to his solid vocal effort. Wood has a clear, resonating voice which really carries the music here.
There isn’t really a soft spot here. Some of the songs though do rise above the norm. I, in particular like Drift Away and its use of acoustic guitar work. It is simple, effective, memorable, all the things you should like in a song.
Bedroom Eyes is another cut where Wood has a winner, although this one has a more electric feel to it. Wake Up follows the same pattern.
Wood, who hails from Alberta, has created a solid album which should draw attention from listeners who will no doubt be watching for whatever comes next.
Check it out at www.gotgregwood.com
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JJ GUY -- Fiddler

FIDDLER
JJ Guy
Indie
8-out-of-10

If you’re going to put out a fiddle CD, how can you go wrong leading with the traditional Buffalo Gals? The song is so universally familiar that it automatically gets people in the mood for what is to follow.
In the case of JJ Guy’s latest effort, entitled simply Fiddler, what follows is a 13-song CD of old-fashioned fiddle music.
While the style is old, much of the music is new. A number of the pieces here -- it is an all instrumental album -- were written by Guy. Credit Guy with the ability to write material that fits in perfectly with traditional numbers, or those such as Dad’s Favorite Jig by the great Don Messer.
Cuts such as Waltz for Larry Ross, Chicken in the Hay, and Slow Rain mesh perfectly stylistically.
Of course a fiddle CD is ultimately measured by the performer’s skill with the bow. Well Guy hits the bull's eye here. He can turn the tempo down, as is the case with Slow Rain, or fire up the engines and burn off some fast-paced fiddle with seemingly equal ease.
Fiddler follows Guy 2007 release Cadillac, and is every bit the equal of the earlier effort. That says a lot since Cadillac pulled an 8-out-of-10 when reviewed here.
Guy has a practiced, relaxed style, not surprising given the fact this Saskatchewan-born fiddler has been playing across Western Canada for years, including a stint with the well-known Midnight Ramblers.
This is a must for lovers of old time fiddle. Check it out at www.jjguy.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DOC WALKER -- Go

GO
Doc Walker
Open Road Recordings
8-out-of-10

Doc Walker is a band I always appreciate listening too, in large part because they are a group which I have been able to watch grow. It wasn’t all that many years ago they were just a Manitoba bar band, out on the road developing a sound, a following, growing as musicians.
It’s nice to see a band pursuing a dream, and then for the most part capturing it.
Certainly today when it comes to Canadian country – which by the way is as good as anything out of Nashville, it just doesn’t come with the mystique of that city’s fabled past – Doc Walker is fighting for the top of the ladder.
At the recent Western Canadian Music Awards Doc Walker were honored with Country Album of the Year for their CD Beautiful Life.
Go is the follow-up disk to the WCMA winner, and that means it’s a CD which was a little scary to give a spin too. There is nothing harder in the world of music than to follow up a disk which received an acclaimed award. It gets even harder when the new disk is released rather quickly. The situation is one where the musicians are forced into building a new library of top-drawer material in a shorter span of time.
Well, the boys in Doc Walker need to step forward and take a bow for what they have managed on Go.
Chris Thorsteinson, Dave Wasyliw and Murray Pulver who make up Doc Walker have a knack for writing country which comes across as radio friendly.
Now I might point out that I generally like my country music a little off the beaten path. The less it fits today’s country radio format, usually the better. Yet here I will admit Doc Walker’s country is rather infectious.
Sure there are times when it gets a bit to poppy, like the repeated ‘la la la’ line on Girls In Their Summer Clothes. Come on that was a bit much.
But then they come back with the heartfelt title cut Go, and you have to forgive them for the aforementioned miss.
There are 10-cuts on this CD, and nine are very solid effort, and frankly any of the nine could go top-10 radio. That says a lot about how well Doc Walker understands today’s country.
As for best cuts … hmmmm … that’s a hard one here, but Dancin’ All Night is excellent, as are Speed of Life and If I Fall.
This is a definite winner for a band which was already at the top of their game.
Hard to find fault for a winning formula like these guys have put together. If you are a country fan … then grab this disk today.
Check them out at www.docwalker.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JENNIFER JADE KERR -- Somehow It Always Does ...

SOMEHOW IT ALWAYS DOES …
Jennifer Jade Kerr
Golden Flame Records
9-out-of-10

Jennifer Jade Kerr may not be a household name to most, but she should be soon. Somehow It Always Does … was my first introduction to this talented lady, and it was only a stanza into the lead cut Suddenly Angels Came that I was doing a double take. I mean really, this gal’s voice blew me away on the song. It is a voice that simply demands the listener’s attention. It shouts I am singing for you, enjoy the experience, and guess what, you do enjoy it – very much.
Now you have to love the story where Kerr’s father bought her a guitar when she was 17, on a trip where he was supposed to be buying tractor parts. There is just something so … well so Saskatchewan about that story.
Now Kerr does play guitar here, but realistically, it is her voice that matters here. This girl could sing with the kitchen tap running as accompaniment, and it would still be fantastic.
Now in terms of music, Kerr’s website gives an insight into that. It states she “began performing her own material at open mic nights and songwriter circles during her university years, and after earning her BA in Religious Studies, she spent a year on the road with Christian music organization CREW Ministries as a member of the group Saltwater, releasing an album called In the Key of La.”
This is not honky tonk country with beers and brawls. Kerr’s music remains deeply spiritual. This is certainly Christian country, which is certainly one of the roots of country music. In that regard it may be an acquired taste for some, and may not be as commercial as it could be.
That is unfortunate, because it will keep Kerr’s voice from being heard by as large an audience as possible.
A fine country voice from Saskatchewan who can go as far as she desires, although she may need to go a bit more mainstream in the music selection to find broad radio play.
Still the voice, oh the voice … you have to check it out at www.jenniferjadekerr.com
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SIGHTS & SOUNDS -- Monolith

MONOLITH
Sights & Sounds
Smallman Records
9-out-of-10

Sights & Sounds, yes that is an unusual name for a band, is another of the bands that comes to the world thanks to the excellent indie label, Smallman Records, who have a knack for finding progressive minded bands with something interesting to offer in their music.
With the release of Monolith, Sights & Sounds certainly comes at us with something which is quite impressive.
The opening cut Sorrows, clocks in at just over five minutes, and shows the band taking a heavy metal heart, and fleshing it out with softer interludes which adds some rather stunning contrasts and musical depth to the work.
The Smallman Records website (www.smallmanrecords.com) explains the music as “post-hardcore and punk influences alongside far-east melodies which are all evident but not overpowering in songs that are as aggressive as they are imaginative.”
That is actually a pretty accurate description, at least in terms of the far-east influences which are evident on a number of the songs here.
This is a disk which really feels as though each song builds on the previous one, as if there is a larger story Sights & Sounds wants to tell, than comes across in any single cut. That feeling really adds to the overall impact of Monolith. You feel as if you are part of something epic here.
This is definitely a CD worth getting. I was impressed from start to finish.
— CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review -- GORDIE TENTREES -- Mercy Or Sin

MERCY OR SIN
Gordie Tentrees
Independent
8-out-of-10

Gordie Tentrees is a man of the Canadian north. This Yukon-based singer uses that fact to create some haunting roots music, and some very upbeat efforts too.
Whether tapping your toes to Same Old Blues, or feeling the emotion of the title cut Mercy or Sin, Tentrees does a smooth job of controlling the mood of the music, and of the listener.
Tentrees offers up a style that is part folk, parts roots, and part country. It is music with a rather broad appeal in that regard. There are cuts here which are solidly country music ready, and some all would be at home in any folkie's collection. In terms of a song ready for county radio, a station would do well to spin out Blue Motel Room. It's the kind of song which country needs to break out of the stagnation is seems mired in.
The instrumentation is rather bluegrass, with the upright bass playing a prominent role on several cuts.
Vocally, at times there is just a hint of Bob Dylan in Tentrees. That isn't a bad comparison. There are also elements of Corb Lund here. Again not bad at all.
The key for Tentrees is the relaxed way he addresses the microphone. He comes at it like an old pro who knows he can attract an audience by just letting his voice be natural. There is a feeling he's singing at the kitchen table, not in a studio. That is a special talent to pull that off.
Of course you should expect some polish from Tentrees who released 29 Loads of Freight in 2004, and in 2007 came back with Bottleneck of Wire. Mercy or Sin becomes his third full-length effort and that means just based on experience most of the rough edges should be smoothed away.
Lyrically, Tentrees is a storyteller in the grandest tradition. There are truly sad stories here, such is the case with Ross River, perhaps the most powerful cut here.
There are also more upbeat tales woven through the songs. Tentrees knows about balance, and it shows in his song selection.
This is a CD that impresses on many levels and is one which any roots country fan must look out for.
Check it out at www.tentrees.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHRIS VELAN -- Solidago

SOLIDAGO
Chris Velan
Killbeat Music
7.5-out-of-10

Chris Velan brings us Solidago, his third full-length effort, and follow-up to his 2006 release Twitter, Buzz. Howl!
With his latest effort Velan lays down a soft rock effort which has a number of noticeable influences from a sort of '80s rock sensibility and at times a reggae heartbeat.
Velan's bio talks of time spent in African and how that influenced his work. I didn't hear that until song five when Hunting Season had a definite African mix in the music. It was a mix that certainly worked. I love the music behind this song. It would be wonderful even without the lyrics.
This is also a CD that is rather radio friendly. Wobbly Bones is a catchy tune with radio written all over it, although lyrically, the subject matter of violence is far darker than the approach. It's a rather odd mix in that sense, yet it works.
Oldest Truck fits that radio 'feel' template too.
I must say I am also impressed with the cut Pauper In A Palace. The lyrics are catchy, the music catchy, the performance smooth. It's soft rock at its best.
Now to be honest, I generally don't go in for the softer pop, rock-influenced music, but darn Velan's music is rather infectious. You get into the sound, the toe starts tapping, and suddenly you're hooked in spite of yourself.
In the end, I have to recommend this CD. It really does rise above most of the soft rock efforts out there, partly because Velan broadens the musical base, part because the lyrics works, and partly because he has a voice that simply fits the genre.
Check it out at www.chrisvelan.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DAN MANGAN -- Nice, Nice, Very Nice

NICE, NICE, VERY NICE
Dan Mangan
Independent
5.5-out-of-10

Dan Mangan is a Vancouver artist in his mid-20s, with Nice, Nice, Very Nice being his sophomore effort, rolling out more than three years after his debut Postcards and Daydreaming.
Frankly, I'd have hoped for more from an album nearly four years in the making.
Mangan does soft, indie pop, so admittedly you don't expect a lot from the genre, and I suppose in that respect he achieves what one might expect; mediocrity.
There are 12 cuts here, and not a one is memorable enough to even spark an ember of interest in spinning this CD ever again once this review is complete. It has a generic sound, with neither the lyrics, the music or the voice grabbing interest.
Sometimes CDs simply misfire. Things don't mesh to make the effort a good listen. This is one of those CDs. It's like there is a gear blown in the transmission which prevents Mangan from ever getting to the next level.
Maybe the next CD will be better. The old adage of a sophomore jinx certainly applies here, so maybe the one about the third time being a charm will too. We can only hope.
You can check it out at www.danmanganmusic.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BLUESTONE -- Bar Room Revelations

BAR ROOM REVELATIONS
Bluestone
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

If you were among the wise and fortunate to be at Rayzr's Pub in the Yorkton Hotel Sept. 11, then you will know Bluestone is a rock/blues band that can really cut loose.
The band actually toured through Rayzr's in the fall of 2008 on tour in support of the disk Start What You Finished. I liked that disk a lot – 8.5-out-of-10. It was a bluesy rock effort powered by the amazing vocals of Angie Russell.
The band is now back with a sophomore effort EP.
To start with, I truly am not a huge fan of EPs. I want the full deal. As a second disk I like them even less. I can appreciate the desire to get product ready for a tour, but I want a band to come back with a full plate when they go to the recording studio the second time.
As a result, what I hear here is a good start to a full CD.
The music is different from the first CD. There is more rock, and less blues. That is probably wise in a bar. I miss the blues though.
Bar Room Revelations also takes a different path vocally. Where the first CD tended to highlight Angie on certain songs, and brother Ben on others, here the two join forces more often. They don't really do a lot of harmony, but both get to shine on the same song. That is a nice touch, although truthfully Angie's voice is still the big hook for Bluestone.
The best cut here is Wait. It is the bluesiest number, so you know it will catch my ear most.
No Rest is a close second. It is the most powerful song, and really brings both Angie and Ben to the forefront with powerful vocal efforts.
A solid step, although I hope the blues reasserts itself a bit more on future efforts.
Still there is enough here to but it on the player often.
Check them out at www.bluestoneband.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 23, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ENTER THE HAGGIS -- Gutter Anthems

GUTTER ANTHEMS
Enter the Haggis
Firebrand
9.75-out-of-10

It was back in July 2007 I reviewed a CD called Live In Northampton by a band called Enter the Haggis. It was my first introduction to this modernistic Celtic band, and I was totally blown away. The disk garnered a 9.5, and readers will know I just never give out 10s.
So now we have Gutter Anthems and a bar set very high by the band's aforementioned effort. I gave this latest disk a spin with huge expectations, to the point there was nearly drool on the CD cover before I got the cellophane off it.
The CD starts off with a short little instrumental intro, then hits us with The Litter and the Leaves, the song from which the CD title is plucked. Guess what folks, Enter the Haggis has not lost a step in the two years since I reviewed Live In Northampton.
The band is still true to the obvious Celtic roots of their music. The tin whistle work on a song like Cameo shows that.
Yet, they still manage to add another level to the music. This is not the Celtic of a John Allen Cameron, although it isn't so far removed either.
What Enter the Haggis does though is update the sound just enough that it fits the modern era, and broadens the fan base. Listen to the intro to DNA and you hear how they blend the modern with the heritage of Celtic music.
That is the strength of Enter the Haggis, the ability to bring the past so vividly into focus in terms of soft rock, yet maintaining the storytelling heart of Celtic music. In that regard they hold a lot in common with Great Big Sea, who just happens to be another favoured band of mine.
The songs here tell stories, the music fleshes out the pieces, and the result is simply put; great.
An example of the story song is the upbeat Noseworthy and Piercy, one of the most interesting songs here. The Death of Johnny Mooring is another story that is great, aided by the most rock instrumentation on the disk – wow it cooks. Both the songs come in at over four-minutes, so they get to tell fleshed out stories too.
The disk is also wonderful in that there are 16 pieces here, including a couple of shorter interludes which serve the overall package well in setting the pace.
So I don't give out 10s, but boy I want to here. There is nothing I don't like about this CD. Absolutely a must for any music lover. Just buy it.
Check it out at /www.enterthehaggis.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 23, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOHNSMITH -- Gravity of Grace

GRAVITY OF GRACE
Johnsmith
Independent
8-out-of-10

This is one of those disks which purely confounds a reviewer. Johnsmith offers up music which is at times clearly folk. Then there are moments it seems country, and other times it comes across as soft rock. Yet in its diverse approach it really never completely fits any of the categories.
A die hard Nashville-country fan would not see Gravity of Grace as country-enough.
It's not pop/rock enough to find a home there either.
As far as folk, which has become something of a catch-all category these days, Johnsmith pushes the boundaries pretty hard.
So we turn to Johnsmith's website (www.johnsmithmusic.com) to see what he thinks of his own music. There it states “Above all else, Johnsmith is a Bard. The role of the Bard in every society is to hold up a mirror to that society, to convey and reveal - through the mysterious alchemy of music and words and performance – the secret inner language of the heart - delivered with that ineffable feeling called ‘Soul’.”
OK, it might be a bit over-stated on the website, but they are right, Johnsmith is a wonderful songwriter. He tells the stories of life, and with his comfortable voice, listeners are treated to an enjoyable experience as he shares those stories.
So what cuts work here?
Actually most of them, although while solid throughout, a couple stand above as truly memorable. Ring That Bell, a cut that has a hint of blues, and a strong folk lyric, with some rock heard in terms of music, is a nice blending of all that Johnsmith offers here.
Father's Day will be a huge hit on request shows at that time of year. It's a heart-strings tugger. The reference to a son and father talking baseball sold me on the song since I love the game.
Johnsmith does a nice rendition of Bob Dylan's The Times They are A-Changin' here too. I particularly like the addition of the tin whistle.
Jay Bird has an upbeat gospel feel, that is really an anthem for doing a better job of caring for our world. Nicely done.
This CD is solid, rock solid. Johnsmith is a craftsman in terms of songwriting, and comfortable and smooth in his performance. Definitely one for lovers of expanded folk.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 23, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, September 18, 2009

Review -- FARIDEH -- Symphony Of Chemistry

SYMPHOMY OF CHEMISTRY
Farideh
Independent
8.5-out-of-10

I have to say that I like a CD where the artist puts their best cut first and foremost, using the first song to catch attention.
Well Farideh does that here, with the song Heart of a Man, which is simply a fantastic song which showcases both her voice and her knack for writing fine lyrics.
Farideh is another one of those musicians that you listen to on disk, figure they came out of the big city music environ of a major city like TO, and then realize she's from Saskatoon. Actually Saskatoon has an amazing music culture, and guess what Farideh makes it a richer one.
As a songwriter, Farideh is very good.
Edgecliff Station is a wonderful piece, Sidelines is a slower-paced effort, that really allows Farideh's voice to shine, and My King, My Beloved, while having more of a pop feel, is simply excellent (can you say hit). She is also a song which has to draw attention.
Vocally, Farideh is smooth, clear, and compelling. She really draws you into her world.
So what style does she perform? Increasingly labeling music is harder as good musicians blend styles in new ways, blurring the lines between styles in the process. Farideh does that.
From the material you think folk, but a cut like Caterpillar reminds me of something the Too Good Tanyas might perform, and they are not folk.
There are elements of pop here, and Farideh gives a nod to R&B when discussing her music. In the end just mark her music and this disk down as darned good.
It is impressive that a lady with this talent is from Saskatchewan, and played in Yorkton at 5th Avenue Coffee Saturday. We are very lucky when music this good comes to the city live.
This is a definite winner. Check her out at www.farideh.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MARSHALL LAWRENCE -- The Morning After

THE MORNING AFTER
Marshall Lawrence
Independent
7.5-out-of-10

All right folks, The Morning After is not the first Marshall Lawrence CD I have reviewed, but it is the best, and that is always a good thing in the sense you hope a musician gets better as they progress in their career.
I have to tell you, this is a very impressive edition of Delta style blues out of this Edmonton musician.
The lead cut Freight Train reminds me stylistically, and even vocally of David Essig, and believe me that is very high praise since Essig is one of my all-time favourites.
The guitar work on Blue Sky is Fallin' also reminds of another Canadian stand out, that being none other than Big Dave McLean. Again that's pretty high praise.
Now before you start thinking Marshall simply copies other performers, that is not the case. This guy doesn't need to copy anyone. He plays a darned fine guitar, adding mandolin, banjo and even kazoo on occasion on this disk. He also has a distinctive voice for the blues which generally sets him apart too.
That said, Lawrence does have aspects of this CD which remind of the best, because he is climbing up the ranks of Canadian blues with this CD.
Back to Lawrence's voice for a second. Most often blues singers are at their best when their voices have a certain amount of gravel to them. It suits the genre.
Lawrence is different there. His voice is smoother, in a sense more mainstream, and that really gives this set of Delta blues a different 'feel', and that is not a bad thing either.
The disk has variety, from the faster-paced Shake It, a Lawrence original that while stylistically strong, is maybe the weakest cut in the sense his individual style suits the blues that are slower and more heartfelt.
Lawrence is in his zone with the more traditional efforts, even those he has written, such as Catfish Blues, and the aforementioned Freight Train.
This CD certainly takes Lawrence another step in his career, and is well worth grabbing if you like Delta blues served up acoustic and hot.
Check it out at www.doctorblues.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOHN WORT HANNAM -- Queen's Hotel

QUEEN'S HOTEL
John Wort Hannam
Black Hen Music
9.25-out-of-10

It was October 2007 when I had the pleasure to review John Wort Hannam's disk Two Bit Suit. I liked it a lot, giving it a 9-out-of-10.
Hannam is back with Queen's Hotel, a disk that was released to the public only yesterday (Sept. 15). Guess what, this talented Canadian artist has not lost a step with this disk.
Of course why would we expect anything less. Hannam is now a veteran of the recording studio, with Queen's Hotel his fourth disk. The maturity shows through on this disk. There simply aren't any missteps here.
The opening song, With The Grain, sets the pace here. It has compelling lyrics, has a perfect arrangement, and John Wort Hannam's voice is clear, inviting – just excellent.
The strength of the first song sets a very high bar for Queen's Hotel, but Hannam is up to the task.
Perhaps the key here is that the music comes off real. That 'feel' is helped along by the recording process. The CD “was recorded live off the floor at Vancouver’s The Factory. Musicians sat in one room facing each other in a circle and played the songs – no bed tracks, no click, and no overdubs except for a few harmonies,” explained Hannam's website.
This is a CD rich in wonderful music.
I have to say growing up in Saskatchewan where small towns are still a vital aspect of the culture, the song Requiem For A Small Town is most touching, and becomes a favourite here.
Come Back To Me is a truly beautiful piece, with a sort of mournful, haunting element, which seems ideally suited to Hannam's voice.
Church of the Long Grass is a hit. It is two parts country, one part folk, and in the end is just all great.
This CD is every bit the equal of Two Bit Suit, in fact maybe just a fraction ahead, the reason for the funky score for fun. This is simply one you should own.
Check it out at www.johnworthannam.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review -- ENUMA ELISH -- A Shine Of Darkness

A SHINE OF DARKNESS
Enuma Elish
DFX Records
8-out-of-10

When you can take heavy metal, add a killer female voice, and an epic twist, you have a winner, and Enuma Elish does a great job of carrying that off.
The sound here can really be explained in two words; Oriana Shadows. She is the lead vocalist here, and her at times near operatic soprano voice carries this CD. That is a good thing. Her voice is a great contrast to the guitar work of David Escudero and the keyboard work of David Inbernom. The keyboard effort here really lays down the underpinnings of the music.
Hailing from Spain, Enuma Elish falls somewhere near the realm of symphonic metal in terms of approach, although their instrumental range is limited to the more traditional metal range. That said there is only one guitarist.
While the music is definitely metallic, it is not overpowering to the sound here. In fact, for some I suspect it may not be quite 'hard' enough. It really hits in the pocket between extremes.
Lyrically, like the best of symphonic-style, Enuma Elish paints large pictures with their words. They are epic in approach. That is not to say at times the lyrics aren't a bit over-the-top, and melodramatic, but that really speaks to the genre as much as this band's particular approach.
Make no mistake, this style of metal is an acquired taste. Traditionalists, those married to AC/DC and Metallica, will likely see this as too forced and dare I suggest 'flowery'.
However, those who have found symphonic metal to open doors to fantastic, epic story lines, and a sound that builds on guitars with a fuller sound approach are going to totally be at home and comfortable listening to A Shine of Darkness.
They will also become quick fans of Oriana Shadows, who really does have a memorable voice for the style.
A definite must if you are already a fan of the genre. If not, this is quite accessible in terms of entering into the world of symphonic-influenced metal since it is not fully symphonic, but does lean that way in its approach.
Very solid, pick it up.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GROOVE KINGS -- Blood Red

BLOOD RED
Groove Kings
Visual music
8-out-of-10
Ah, it's always good when a singer can make the listener's emotions flow to the song they are performing.
Irene Marc, the vocalist with the Montreal-based duet Groove Kings does that very well.
I would defy a listener not to be getting into the upbeat funk of a tune such as Real Love, and then the next moment becoming much more melancholy when she comes at you with Temporary Man.
The songs, all written by Howard Forman, who also does all the instrumental work here, are lyrically very solid as well, and that of course helps the vocalist get the emotions of the song out.
So what style do we have with the Groove Kings? Well they are somewhere between blues and jazz in my books, although on a song such as Chore you pretty quickly think R&B too. At times you might hear some rock vibes, but realistically you can say that about just any CD these days, from country to blues to metal.
Here certain sounds flow into certain categories more closely. For example, I'm The Rain is most definitely a blues song.
However you look at Blood Red in terms of style, you still end up with a very solid disk of music. Marc has a very sultry voice, and she can punch out a tune laden with emotion, just sit back and she'll take you through a range of feelings which by the end of the CD have you feeling emotionally invested in the CD.
This is a CD that is one to take the listener to a different place from song to song. It is escapist in that regard, and we all need that at times.
Check it out at www.groovekings.ca
Nicely done indeed.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- FIVE STAR TRAILER PARK -- The Fight That Broke Your Heart

THE FIGHT THAT BROKE YOUR HEART
Five Star Trailer Park
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Five Star Trailer Park come at us from Toronto. A six-piece rock band that is just that. They play rock. It is sometimes refreshing to hear a band that doesn't see itself as more than that.
The sound here is solid, if not blow you out of your seats great. That said, the more you listen, the more you appreciate how tight the band is, and how complete the sound is.
There are some cuts though which rise above the rest, and have hit potential if they get airplay. I am particularly fond of Slow Motion, the second cut on the CD. I might have suggested they put this one first, just to set the flavour of the CD immediately.
Goodbye Caroline is a nice slower song on the CD.
Nick Spence is the lead vocalist here, and he does the job well.
Rachel Hamilton adds female voice on five of the songs, and that's a nice compliment here.
The sound here is often big too, as you might expect with a six-piece outfit.
This is a disk which will make you a believer in Five Star Trailer Park after a few plays. I will admit I wouldn't have said they were a band I'd put on a portable player after one listen, but after a few spins, guess what, I wouldn't mind taking these guys with me.
A very solid debut effort. Pick this one up, it could be the start of something big.
Check them out at www.fivestartrailerpark.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ROGAIRI -- Self-Titled

SELF-TITLED
Rogairi
Independent
9.5-out-of-10
All right, I will start with a simple plug here for Rogairi. This is an amazing new Celtic band out of Regina, and if somebody in Yorkton is wise, they'll have Rogairi playing some function here very soon.
The CD starts off with a fast-paced and wonderfully rendered Come Out, Ye Black and Tans. The song immediately highlights the vocals of the band's usual lead singer Sean Farr. Just a great effort to start a CD from a new band.
When Susan Wadel lends vocals on the second cut Nil se'm la, it sends chills down the spine. This gal can sing with the best of them. This is arguably the premier cut on a CD which impresses throughout. It really is too bad that she only lends vocals in two songs, the other being The Coal Quay Market.
Song three and Rogairi continues to show its versatility, with Haw Wee Man a rollicking polka instrumental, of course in the finest Celtic traditions. While not a dancer, as my wife will attest, this one certainly calls one to the dance floor.
From there Rogairi weaves you through the variety of Celtic music.
The Hare's Paw / Jean's Reel is an instrumental where Carolyn Lowther on violin gets to cut loose. This gal can handle the bow and fiddle. Another definite toe tapper.
David Popoff gets a pat on the back here too for his flute, whistle and accordion work, with Wadel back to add whistle on a number of cuts as well. Celtic music is often measured by the quality of the whistle work, and these two get top marks throughout.
The whistle work on the intro to When Summer Ends is particularly beautiful and somewhat haunting.
And since I have mentioned the others, I would be remiss not to point out Trevor Bennett plays bass here, with Bryan Rice adding bodhran.
Now I will admit that I enjoy good Celtic music, and Canada has a long list of bands over the years who do it well, Great Big Sea, Scatter the Mud, Mad Pudding, Orealis and others. With this CD Rogairi sends the message that excellent Celtic music comes out of Regina too.
This is an excellent disk, and really one which is a must for anyone who enjoys Celtic.
Check them out at www.rogairi.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SCOTT ELLISON -- Ice Storm

ICE STORM
Scott Ellison
Earwig Music
7.5-out-of-10
It has been a while since I've had a pure blues CD for review, and I have to say it feels good to be back with my favoured musical genre.
Of course Scott Ellison makes the transition back into the comfort zone of the blues an easy one. He has a simple, relaxed, blues style which is immediately comfortable for the listener.
Now to be honest I expected the disk to be a good one. Earwig Music has a solid reputation as having a fine stable of talent, and Ellison certainly keeps that rep intact.
Ellison plays a solid, if not outstanding guitar. That isn't a problem though because it's really Ellison's voice which carries the day here.
That Ellison's voice is front and centre makes sense when you recognize he is perhaps best-respected as a songwriter. The dozen cuts all have Ellison as writer, and good writers usually have a knack for creating tunes with the musical pace to match their vocal talents. Ellison shows he well understands that it is important to match his writing and voice.
Lyrically, Ellison knows the blues too. There aren't any songs here that are startling new in approach. But guess what ? In general terms, blues has a number of well understood elements, and he sticks to them. Like drawing in a colouring book, the finished art work usually looks best when the artist stays within the lines.
The result of that is a song such as Big Blue Car, yep another blues song that focuses on somebody's ride. Hey it has worked before. It works here too. In fact, Ellison offers up Cadillac Woman as another example of the same basic song premise.
In the end, Ellison does everything right here. He may not hit a home run on any particular song, but to follow the baseball analogy a bit further, he sprays a lot of solid singles, stretching a few into stand up doubles along the way.
This may not be the first CD you reach for in your collection, but when you do, it will always be an enjoyable experience to listen to it again.
Check Ellison out at www.myspace.com/scottellisonband
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DWAYNE FORD -- On The Other Side

ON THE OTHER SIDE
Dwayne Ford
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Hmmm! Can you have country/jazz?
OK I suppose not.
Yet after listening to the first two songs on Dwayne Ford's recent CD release, I am not sure he isn't flirting with it.
Lyrically at least, both Please Don't Say You Care and Any Fool With A Gun could be construed as country songs, as could Who Did You Do To Us.
Musically though, the instrumentation is more jazz/pop.
As the CD progresses we find that the jazz/pop world is where Ford, who hails from Edmonton, is at home.
East Side Girls has a sort of R&B feel, and the instrumental Rio Stat is pretty much a straight jazz effort, with just a hit of pop at times.
If this sounds a bit mish-mashed, it surprisingly isn't. There are tangents and corners here, but somehow Ford keeps all the different influences in check enough to offer up a pretty cohesive CD.
Interestingly, the more risks Ford takes, the bigger the leap if you wish, the better he gets. There is a sort of Middle Eastern intro to On The Other Side, and it takes Ford into a song where he lets go more vocally, and in so doing, he reaches higher with the song than all the others.
Somebody Ought To is also a great song, with the most powerful lyrics here. They have greater heart as they delve into the dark side of life.
This becomes an interesting disk for some of the risks Ford takes in his approach, even though he ends up with a CD which is kind of middle of the road poppish in the end. It's the subtle influences of jazz, country and R&B that you can hear here which is most interesting. Hopefully he will explore those influences more on subsequent CDs.
Check them out at www.dwaynefordmusic.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BY 21 TANDEM REPEATS -- No Junk Mail Please

NO JUNK MAIL PLEASE
By 21 Tandem Repeats
Independent
8-out-of-10
When you read the bio for By 21 Tandem Repeats – yes that ranks up there with the lost unusual band names out there – they talk about being part of Vancouver's underground music scene.
Now the concept of a 'music underground' has always been one I have found rather interesting, and in many ways ridiculous. To begin with, the perception of an underground would be that a band operates outside the mainstream, where most have not heard of them. That makes zero sense for a band. Come on almost every band out there wants to attract a mainstream audience. If you make music, you want as many people as possible to hear it.
For those few bands that prefer general anonymity, they are either playing to a very defined group, see some elitist view in playing without being heard, or are so bad who cares.
So I do hope By 21 Tandem Repeats is looking to grow beyond the underground terminology.
I say that because these guys play some pretty fine tunes.
To begin with, these guys are Canadian through and through. It's cool hearing Saskatoon referenced in a song such as On Frozen Pond, and the former obscure Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden is even mentioned in a song. How much more Canadian can you get?
Beyond waving the flag a bit in their music, and that is good to see in a country where all too often musicians seem to write for Americans, there are some very solid modern/folk/rock songs here.
In particular the lead cut; Summertime Will End When It's Over is a beautiful song. It sets the stage for the soft rock to follow.
Heidi Stopover is another top song, with a sort of haunting quality which works nicely.
While definitely rock, a bit of the old British invasion feel, By 21 Tandem Repeats also show they have a folkie heart, at least in terms of lyrics. These are generally songs which tell a story. The words paint a picture in the listener's mind. Nicely done.
I wasn't sure where this CD might go, but must say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the journey By 21 Tandem Repeats takes the listener. They might be underground, but they shouldn't be. They deserve a broader audience for this fine recording.
Check them put at www.21tr.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 26, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DAVE STANLEY BAND -- Self-Titled

SELF-TITLED
Dave Stanley Band
Independent
7-out-of-10
The David Stanley Band comes to the music world from Surrey. B.C., not exactly mainstream music Canada, but you know these guys might just help change that view.
Now I will admit the band scored some pre-listen points with me when I was looking at the song list on the CD cover and noted the first song was entitled Bobby Orr. Come on, how can you not love a band that does a song about the guy who single-handedly changed how defence was played in hockey.
So how is the song Bobby Orr?
Well, I absolutely love how the song starts with a sort of echoing intro, and the story of the song resonates nicely, because so much of the imagery of the song is what I grew up through as a kid of 10 to 15. When a song takes you back, it tends to hit a chord, and this one does that. I love this song.
That is not to say every song here hits for me. In fact the high of Bobby Orr slipped away pretty quickly with the second song When I Get Sober, a song that vocally just missed for me. It's like lead singer Dave Stanley tries a bit too hard to get down and growly with this one.
That is the juxtaposition of this CD. At its best the music catches you, and makes you feel. At it's worst it comes across a bit hollow.
Certainly the band gets back into the groove better on song three with Lights Out, and Hallelujah is solid as well.
In the end, there is good stuff here, but it's a bit like a lot of Saskatchewan highways these days. The pavement is fine, if you can maneuverer around the occasional hole in the road.
This is in the end a CD worth listening too. There is enough here to be generally a pleasing effort.
Check it out at www.myspace.com/davidstanley
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 26, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE GREAT OUTDOORS -- Fall

FALL
The Great Outdoors
DDG Records
7.5-out-of-10

The Great Outdoors are a great folk unit out of B.C., well at least modern folk in style.
It was back in June of this year the band's CD Winter was reviewed here, and now we look at Fall. Sadly it's another EP effort, with only five songs. That is an unfortunate trend for bands. They pump out EPs more quickly I suppose, and get a few added sales, but I am still always left wanting more. If the material on an EP is good, and in this case it's a step up from The Great Outdoors' Winter effort, then you wish the package was thicker.
The strength of Fall is the haunting quality of the lyrics of the CD's best songs, in particular MacIntosh Apples and Black Water Road. If this was a full CD of material like these two songs, then Fall would be an easy nine.
That said, I have a tough time ever scoring an EP as high as a full CD simply because the band doesn't show it can carry a full disk.
Still, there is enough here to recommend this EP. In fact, I wish there was more here.
As for a website, I am afraid the one listed on the CD is a link to a different site all together, so if you want to know more Google the band.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 26, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada