Thursday, January 8, 2009

Review -- LUKE JACKSON -- ...And Then Some

... AND THEN SOME
Luke Jackson
Popsicle Recordings
8-out-of-10
This CD is an interesting coming together of two musical worlds. On one hand you have Canadian singer Luke Jackson, who not only performs the material, but wrote all the songs here.
And, then there is the Scandinavian influence, since the CD was recorded and produced in Sweden. The back up players bring with them the influences of Scandinavian pop, and at times you do almost hear the ghost of Abba, especially on a song like Goodbye London. Now I will admit Abba would be near the top of a list of my least favourite bands of all time, but fortunately the influence is kept in check here, and doesn't take away from the overall recording.
Instead, the real strength of the music here is the October 2nd Strings, which are featured throughout. The group brings five violins, a viola and two cellos to the table, and it is that rich string section which really makes this album.
Of course a lot of the credit should go to Robert Kirby who did the string orchestration. He takes this album beyond being just another pop recording, but adding that additional richness to the music.
Still, this is a pop CD, albeit quite a good one.
Jackson writes solid lyrics, and delivers them smoothly against a backdrop of the lush string work. The combination is amazing at times, in particular on the cut The Fear, which is the best of the 10 offered here.
Overall this CD is rather compelling as it draws from rather distinct musical backgrounds, adds the richness of strings, and the solid writing of Jackson.
One well worth checking out at www.myspace.com/luke_jackson
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MARDEEN -- Read Less Minds

READ LESS MINDS
Mardeen
Collagen Rock Records
6.5-out-of-10
Coming out of Halifax is the Indie/powerpop band Mardeen.
So what exactly is powerpop? Well it's music with a pop soul, but it has been infused with a heartbeat that owes its creation more to straight ahead of rock.
The lyrics, and musical stylings are poppish, such as the cut Come Back, but there are times when the music does take on a more straight ahead rock feel, such as the intro to City Lights.
The combination gives Mardeen an edge over the average pop band, which often gets so wrapped in candy floss sensibilities that they become too sweet to stand. By mixing in the dash of pure rock, you get a bit deeper sound out of Mardeen.
That said, this isn't overly complex music either.
The lyrics at times try to escape the parametres of the genre, but for the most part stay, well 'poppish', such as is the case with Howling, a cut that is pure pop, which will be loved by pop fans.
Matt Ellis is the bass player, Travis Ellis and Jon Pearo throw in guitars, with all three contributing to the vocals. The harmonies here are an album strength. Jason Burns rounds out Mardeen playing drums.
While Mardeen does attempt to broaden the music at times, this is ultimately still a pop album, if you are a fan, this one will offer you something just a little different. If not a pop fan there is not enough difference here to really draw you in.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/mardeen
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan.7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, January 5, 2009

Review -- SIMON FISK / CHRIS GESTRIN / JERRY GRANELLI -- Vague Hotels

VAGUE HOTELS
Simon Fisk / Chris Gestrin / Jerry Granelli
Plunge Records
9-out-of-10
When Vague Hotels arrived I was immediately intrigued, since the first name on the album is that of Simon Fisk.
Regular readers, especially those who appreciate Jazz, may recall a review of Fisk's You and Yours CD back in October 2007, a disk which rated a nine. That tells you the guy impressed then.
On Vague Hotels Fisk teams with Chris Gestrin and Jerry Granelli, and the trio has come up with another strong jazz album.
So what does each performer bring to the mix? Fisk plays double bass, and he uses it to lay a strong underpinning to the music here.
Gestrin is the piano man, and Granelli the drummer.
It's bare bones instrumentation, although Fisk adds in some electronics and Gestrin mixes in some effects of his own, so the sound is bigger and more diverse than you might expect from the base instrument selection.
This time around the music has a bit more of a free form feel to it, especially on a cut such as You Won't See Me Again, but then again a lot of the best of current jazz has a feel like there was only a few lines of music actually written, and after that the guys just went with the flow.
There are also lots of interesting twists to the music here. The opening to Don't Throw Stones has a darkness to it, over laid with a sort of old Orient feel. The combination makes you sit up and take notice of what is to follow, and what follows is one of the finest cuts on the CD.
In total there are a dozen cuts here, and each adds to the tapestry of the overall effort. The trio weaves some rather intricate musical pieces in the process.
The slow, quiet intro to Of No Consequence is beautiful in its approach, and then the intro gives way to a rather classically styled jazz piece. The combination is a very nice effect.
For jazz fans this is certainly one to look for. An excellent CD.
Check it out at www.simonfisk.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 31, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE REBELLION -- Time

TIME
The Rebellion
Independent
8-out-of-10

The Rebellion may have its greatest notoriety these days for being Josh Palmer's band.
Palmer of course is the Saskatoon-native who made a serious run at being the Canadian Idol a couple of seasons back.
While Idol is really an overly staged production which homogenizes music down into 30 second sound bites allowing the panel to comment longer than the performers get to sing, it is at least a vehicle for some exposure. In most cases even the winners are little more than flashes in the pan, coming and going about as quick as the season in which they won.
Palmer however has taken a different post Idol approach. He has slipped back into the folds of a band. Yes, his fine voice carries The Rebellion, but he isn't parading his name as the reason to listen. Instead, The Rebellion is an entity onto itself, and listeners can judge the music without being hit over the head with the gimmick 'hey I'm a former Idol contestant listen to me'.
It's a strong decision by Palmer.
Forget the Idol connection here, The Rebellion is more than that show generally offers right from the get go.
The music here rings truer, has greater heart and soul, because it comes from the band, not music borrowed from some other star to attract ratings.
Josh Palmer offers up guitar and piano, Silviu Moldovan on bass and Christian Kongawi on drums. All three add vocals to the effort.
There are several fine cuts here, including the slow paced After the Rain, arguably the best cut on the CD. One Night Hero, Change and The Wait Is Over also vie for best-of status here.
This is a strong debut CD that demands to be heard and appreciated on its own merits. Another winner out of our own province.
Check it out at www.therebellion.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- BLUESSMYTH -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Bluessmyth
Independent
9.5-out-of-10

There is a sweet spot right in between blues and rock that is a wonderful place to be musically, although many of the bands that try to reside there fail to achieve a balance that truly serves both sides of the musical relationship.
Bluessmyth, a trio out of Calgary is a band which has staked out the territory between the two genres well. These guys know how to play rock, even metal-influenced rock, yet still maintain a blue heart wrapped in the music enough that it should please listeners on both sides of the musical equation.
Bluessmyth has a strong foundation based in the deep bass laid down by Jason Yaholkoski, while Chris Yaholkoski adds strong guitar work. It's a strong combination, which of course is really a must when a band has only three members.
Celene Yohemas rounds out the trio on drums.
Chis Yaholkoski is the lead vocalist, and again he does a great job, with vocals that at times are a growl, but always remain clear as the music looks to tell a story.
This is Bluessmyth's second album, following their debut 30 Pieces of Silver, which is also a fine album, although this self-titled album does show some added maturity as a unit. On the band's myspace spot Chris summed up the new effort saying “this CD is heavier, and in some ways more thoughtful, than our first CD 30 Pieces Of Silver. In Bluessmyth the songs speak about permanent and universal things everyone goes through, like the choice between good and evil, the finding of your own place in this world, and of life and death. On this CD we wanted to tell stories."
The key story here is that of Emmett Till. Again the myspace page explains it best. “The Story of Emmett Till is a trilogy telling the true story of a fourteen year-old African American boy, who was brutally beaten, mutilated and then murdered in Mississippi in 1955, for whistling at a white woman. Two men were arrested and tried for the crime, but were found not guilty by an all-white jury, and set free. The murder of Emmett Till, among other incidents, is widely believed to be one of the many triggering factors of the American Civil Rights Movement.”
It is such stories that make this CD compelling, when you mix it with strong musicianship, you have a great album that really is a winner on multiple levels. Find this one.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/bluessmyth1
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- CINDERPOP -- A Lesson In Science

A LESSON IN SCIENCE
Cinderpop
Popoganda Records
7.5-out-of-10
Cinderpop are veterans of the Canadian music scene, and it shows with a polished approach to their indie/pop music.
The band released its debut CD Violet Gamma Rays in 1999, following it with a second full length effort in 2005; Their Skies Are Beautiful. With two CDs as experience, you might expect A Lesson In Science to be pretty solid, and Cinderpop doesn't disappoint.
Coming at us out of Vancouver, the Cinderpop crew is made up of vocalist Kevan Ellis, guitarist Mark Jowett, bassist Joel Myers, and keyboardist Erin Jane.
As a unite they offer up some upbeat music in a smoothly presented package. Songs such as Speechless, Blonder and Cinnamon Winter aren't exactly the deepest music you have ever heard, but hey this is pop music, and that means it often tends toward the sugar-coated. You know that going in.
This is music that is all about feeling good. It's about relaxing and enjoying. You don't have to commit a lot of emotion to the music, you just enjoy.
For the genre, Cinderpop does what they do well.
If you are a pop fan, you won't go wrong picking up this one, smooth and fine as it is.
Check them out at www.cinderpop.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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