Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review -- SCREWTAPE LEWIS -- Finding Ways TO Self Destruct

FINDING WAYS TO SELF DESTRUCT
Screwtape Lewis
Independent
8.5-out-of-10

When I saw that this CD was produced with Jay Semko, I was immediately intrigued. Semko, fans will remember is a former member of the Northern Pikes, who has done a couple of excellent solo albums, most notably Mouse, and had been involved with other outstanding Saskatchewan CDs such as Kim Lafontaine's Life Happens.
With Semko involved I figured Screwtape Lewis would offer up something good, and my faith in Semko was again rewarded.
This is a intriguing CD to say the least. There are some very different takes on music here.
For example, there is almost a polka meets electronica on the cut Musik For Girls, and guess what, weirdly it works.
The band's spot on myspace.com explains their sound as follows; "Electronics sputter and guitars buzz as two drummers, one on a traditional kit, the other punishing an oil barrel, pound out militant dance floor marches. Like some post apocalyptic Salvation Army band, the front man shape shifts between rock evangelist and art-rock method actor."
That may be a little over-the-top for effect, but it lets you know this Edmonton-based band does things just a little bit different.
Now don't run from the idea of being different. Generally in the case of music different is good, and in this particular case it's very good.
There are great cuts here, including All Great Empires Crumble Under Their Own Weight, and The Tyranny of Little Things, and Anger Is Exhausting, the best cut on the CD.
This music is fresh, with the band bringing the energy of punk to the music, yet with a willingness to turn to electronica to change things up musically, something which works well on cuts such as The Planets Are Smashing.
Lead vocalist Randl Lewis Bailer is also top-notch, helping carry the message carrying lyrics smoothly through the musical twists here.
Check out the band at www.screwtapelewis.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE JAMES DANDERFER GROUP -- Accelerated Development

ACCELERATED DEVELOPMENT
The James Danderfer Group
Cellar Live
8-out-of-10
Thank goodness for small, professional labels such as Cellar Live, which consistently offers up Canadian music which otherwise would not see a disk, or would be self-produced making it that much harder to find.
Here is another case where the label has brought a very mellow, relaxing and enjoyable jazz disk, this time from The James Danderfer Group.
This is a CD where the music is truly defined by the instrumentation. James Danderfer takes the lead most often of course, playing clarinet, bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, all instruments which set mood and pace to a jazz piece. Danderfer is joined by Brad Turner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chad Makela on baritone saxophone Chris Gestrin on piano, Paul Rushka on bass, and Joe Poole on drums. It's a big unit for this age, and the music they create comes across as full-fledged, with the subtle undertones that only a diversified band of musicians can achieve.
Danderfer is originally from Vancouver, but as most musicians do, he travels, and Accelerated Development really reflects on one of those journeys. The artist spent considerable time in Shanghai. And the CD liner notes talk about how the city, and its culture, influenced the writing of the music.
“The exposure to Shanghai's environment of boundless change, and the desire to depict it through my compositions, has been a liberating challenge for me,” wrote the artist. “Writing songs that are relevant to this place and this time has led me to break away from standard jazz forms and to organically incorporate new sounds and styles into the music.”
What that really boils down to is music which doesn't always offer up the expected, a facet of this work most clearly seen on the title cut, which incorporates some unusual sounds into the standard jazz mix, not to overpower, or to distract the listener, but to heighten the musical experience as the ear is drawn to the ever changing landscape of the piece.
Overall the result comes across as a fresh approach to jazz, yet it is still music built on the finest traditions of the style, with clarinet and flute giving the listener some sweetly familiar to hang on to as well.
This is Danderfer's second release on the Cellar Live label, following a 2006 release of Run With It.
You can check out the group at www.cellarlive.com or www.jamesdanderfer.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- LADYHAWK -- Jagjaguwar

SHOTS
LadyHawk
Jagjaguwar
7.5-out-of-10
Ladyhawk is an indie rock band out of B.C., who have put together a very solid debut album in the case of Shots.The CD starts off with I Don't Always Know What You're Saying, a song typical of what LadyHawk offers up. It is straight rock. They don't scream lyrics and build walls of guitar to cater to metal heads, and they don't twist in pop or punk rifts to cross that path either. No, this is honest rock, and in an era where gimmicks often overshadow music, that is refreshing.
The music here is carried by real rock instrumentation, the drum and bass used to lay the foundation, the guitars building the music from there.
The lyrics are at times darker, with song titles that includes Corose Paint, Fear, (I'll Be Your) Ashtray and Faces of Death. That isn't a bad thing since the best rock is often a tad on the dark side, since it draws out the basic emotions of humanity. Ladyhawk is working on that premise, and for the most part they get it right. This is music that will get you involved in its performance. That alone warrants a recommendation.
As far as a killer cut the nod here goes to Faces of Death. There is some sweet guitar work, and vocally the harmonies are smooth and add depth to the sound.
The next cut; Night You're Beautiful, works too. The tempo is a nice change of pace from Faces of Death, and it takes the listener to a different place. Well-staged.
The band includes Duffy Dried guitar, Darcy Hancock lead guitar, Sean Hawryluk bass Guitar and, Ryan Peters drums. All four contribute vocals.
If you like you rock honest, you can't go far wrong searching out LadyHawk.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/ladyhawk
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- ENOCH KENT -- One More Road

ONE MORE ROAD
Enoch Kent
Borealis Records
9-out-of-10
Robby Burns Day has just passed, and that is a time thoughts turn to all things Scottish, and that is a perfect segue for reviewing One More Road. Well if there is even a hint of plaid in your family tree, you will want to check out Enoch Kent. This guy is as Scottish as a haggis, or bagpipes, and it comes through in this raft full of songs (16 in-all). Kent, was born in Scotland, and now lives in Canada. He has a voice as rich, and smokey as the finest Scotch whiskey. This CD is a mix of material. There are traditional sings such as Jamie Raeburn, Itches In Me Britches, Harlaw and Johnnie Lad. Then Kent mixes in his own material including; Childrens' Games and The Dancing Fool, two self-composed pieces by the artist which match perfectly the strongly traditional flavour of this CD. This is music that is thick with the Scottish brogue, songs straight from the peat bogs and highland haunts of movie such as Braveheart. The songs here hearken back to a much earlier time, and as such, might not be the music for everyone, but anyone who wants to connect their Scottish roots, this is a CD that really is a must have. Kent's unique, gravely, yet clear voice is compelling, and is absolutely perfect for the material. Look it up at www.enochkent.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- SHELLEY LYNNE -- Mazatlan 2008 Live !!!

MAZATLAN 2008 LIVE!!!
Shelley Lynne
Independent
7-out-of-10
There is an old adage music is universal. Well Shelley Lynne could be a poster gal for that. Born in Edmonton, this blues singer is based out of Brandon these days. Along the way she married her bass player in London, England, and this CD is recorded live at Canucks in Mazatlan, Mexico. You've got to love the frequent flier miles associated in that little geography trip. But, can Shelly Lynne sing? Yep, this lady has a fine set of pipes, and it works around the blues smoothly. The people at Canucks on the night this CD came to life would have left the establishment well satisfied. There are cuts here that are really solid, starting with Start It Up, a song which is both toe-tapping, and yet purely blues.Cadillac Blues works too, as a traditional blues number. There are songs here; such as Ka Ching, which don't quite measure up in terms of content, lyrically at least, but that can be the curse of a live album, where musicians often mix in a b it of everything to match the varied tastes in the audience. That said, this CD doesn't really suffer because of it, since you are supposed to be in the audience mood given the content. Overall, the blues lady is at her best when the songs have an air of naughtiness to them; witness the cut I Love Him With A Feeling, a song that will have many in the audience smiling wryly, or out right blushing. There is a hearty helping of flirtation the way she attacks a song, and hey that just translates into fun blues. It works for her. Smokin' In Bed a delicious little number too, that again has deliciously naughty undertones without ever crossing the line too far. Considering Shelly Lynne is just across the border, I have to wonder why she hasn't played Yorkton. The blues used to be a regular thing, and it would be great to see it back at least as a monthly musical treat. If that were to happen, this lady should be in the rotation. Solid blues, with a touch of R&B and jazz which is worth checking out at www.myspace.com/hipshakinmamashelleylynne
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- JULIA -- Mariposa

MARIPOSA
Julia
Soul Harp Music
8-out-of-10
I am not sure that for pure beauty any instrument matches the harp. When in the hands of a skilled performer, it captures emotions as well as any musical instrument. So say hello to Julia, a musician with the skill to truly bring out the elements of the harp which make it so endearing to listen to. Born in Canada, and now residing in Los Angeles, Julia Cunnigham, plays the harp with that sweetly lilting style which conjures images of ancient Greek muses playing in a pasture of green against a blue sky as fluffy white clouds float lazily by. If that sounds a touch overly poetic, it might be, yet it fits musical pieces such as the opening cut Innocenza and the beautiful work on cuts such as Antibes and Homeless Angels. This is a melodic instrumental CD that is rich in its mood, and that mood is generally one of gladness and light. It's cheery, without straying into the world of bubblegum. This is music to relax too, music that allows the listener to venture to day dreams of whatever makes them feel good inside. Words such as joyful and relaxing come quickly to mind as Julia dances her fingers over the strings on the 13 pieces included here. Interestingly co-writing credits on all the pieces too, with co-writer Eddie Towns Jr. The pair obviously have a good understanding of what Julia can accomplish on the harp, and a good rapport in terms of penning music that works for the artist. This CD is a follow up to Peaceful Nights reviewed here in January 2008. That CD garnered a 9-out-of-10, and this one certainly maintains the high level. This is an excellent CD, but it does come with the caveat that you must like harp music. That is what Julia offers up from start to finish. It is beautiful harp music, but if that isn't your cup of tea this will not sway you to be a fan. The music is soft, lilting, dreamy, and relaxing, great for a stressful day, or a dreamy day off. Just sit back and take it in for what it is. Check Julia out at www.soulharp.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- SAMANTHA SCHULTZ -- Both Sides

BOTH SIDES
Samantha Schultz
Independent
8-out-of-10
It just doesn't seem fair, as I look from the perspective of nearing 50, that someone should barely be a teenager and have a voice as good as Samantha Schultz. This gal is from Alberta, and was the sage old age of 17 when she recorded her debut disk Both Sides. This is a folk/blues effort, and often someone of 17 trying to get their voice around the blues is a disaster waiting to be heard. With Schultz she handles it like she is a veteran of the genre far beyond her years. It helps that Schultz's voice it more mature than 17 too, which really is essential to carry the blues. While Schultz's voice impresses in its maturity on a cut like The Truth, it's the info in the liner notes which had me doing a total double take with this CD. The 12 songs here, both lyrics and music, were penned by the artist herself. There are numerous artists that never do get to the point of writing their own material, and that is particularly true in the blues since there is such a vast library of material to draw from. That Schultz was both bold enough, and talented enough, to offer up all original material in her debut, even at her young age, speaks volumes to this performers maturity. As solid as this CD is, I can't help wondering what could come next, or come a decade down the road? Where can Schultz go as she adds life experiences she can draw on to fire her writing? How will an already amazing voice sound with a bit of age added? While those thoughts suggest greatness if Schultz holds the course in the blues/folk she already shows such an affinity for, she is darned good today. This is really an amazing debut from a gal with a voice to remember.Check her out at www.samanthaschultz.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- MORGAN CHILDS QUINTET -- TIME

TIME
Morgan Childs Quintet
Cellar Live
8.5-out-of-10
Time is the debut recording for the Morgan Childs Quintet, a jazz outfit out of Vancouver led by drummer Morgan Childs. It best not be the last recording for this excellent quintet. These guys cook from the get-go, offering up a 9:10 rendition of Omicron as the lead in cut on this fine CD. From that point on these guys just grab the listener and hold their interest through to the last strains of The Closer, a 10:13 number penned by Childs which wraps up this CD. Childs also contributes writing duties on Behind the Bar, and Simmer Low. Childs is joined by Chris Davis on trumpet and Evan Arntzen on tenor saxophone, and both are given ample opportunity to shine here, often taking centre stage for sweet solos. Amanda Tosoff adds fullness to the sound behind the piano, and Sean Cronin adds the soul with his bass. Tosoff also gets writing credits on the sweet cut Re-Entry. Of course as you might expect, the drum work of Childs often gets to carry the day too, which is a nice change of pace in its own right. The quintet is wise enough as a unit to let the individual pieces shine at times, yet come together near flawlessly as a unit to weave their combined magic. The pieces here are all joyously free form in the sense that they are on the Cellar Live label, with the music caught off the floor, meaning we get to hear the longer renditions you would if you were there in the club. In this case that means you're in for a treat, as the quintet are in the groove, hitting the sweet spot with almost every number and note. As a debut Time comes off as a seasoned effort, one which should herald in a long studio career for these guys. An excellent CD with no weak spots. If you are a jazz lover this is really one you should mark as a must have.Check it out at www.cellarlive.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- INNER SURGE -- An Offering

AN OFFERING
Inner Surge
Cyclone Records
8-out-of-10
Well there is no mistaking what sort of music the Canadian band Inner Surge is all about – they are metal, plain, simple, direct, in-your face. Now with these guys that isn't a bad thing. They offer up pretty straight forward metal, albeit they do move into the screamer vein a bit too much for my personal tastes. I don't want have to have to dig out CD liner notes to get what they are screaming into the microphone. Too bad they go that far, since these guys have some dark, moody, and politically aware lyrics. They write lyrics that are edgy, and that is a plus. Too often metal bands are so intent on serving up thrashing guitars that they forget they need to write something compelling for listeners to hear beyond the loud music. Inner Surge has at least recognized that. When these guys bring down the vocal volume, such as the cut Crossing The Line, they really are an excellent metal unit. They need to listen to that song a bit more themselves to understand just how good they can be. The rest of the CD will appeal to those who like it 'loud', and to those who like their metal with an occasional flavour added from somewhere else. For example, on Halliburton Piggies and The Monroe Doctrine, there are little electronica-influenced rifts that are nice changes of pace in the music. These guys may be full metal, but you can tell their influences are more broadly based. There are times punk sensibilities percolate through, and the music is often driven into the world of industrial metal. Of course you should expect this band to offer up something that stays fresh and professional in the sense they are veterans of the recording booth, going back to 2001 with their debut Solos Verum. An Offering shows the maturity you would expect, in that it is varied, yet well-calculated in its approach. The lyrics again also show Inner Surge is comfortable telling it like they see it, which is often a good sign of musical maturity too. Overall, metalheads will be pleased. For others, Inner Surge might take a bit of adapting too, although the liner notes makes good dark poetic reading for anyone. Check them out at www.innersurge.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE ABRAMS BROTHERS -- Blue On Brown

BLUE ON BROWN
The Abrams Brothers
Independent
9-out-of-10
When a CD states “this project is a tribute to the music of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie” you should immediately be interested, at least I was. That is what the Abrams Brothers CD offered up, and the band out of Kingston, ONT. delivers the goods nicely. As the name implies, this is a brother band, with John, James and Elijah joining forces to play music that is solidly bluegrass, but with a few elements of simple old rock and country tossed in for good measure. As a tribute album, much of the music here of course is familiar, I mean who hasn't heard a dozen renditions of Oklahoma Hills? Ditto the classic City of New Orleans? That said with material like this it's really hard not to want to hear the songs again, and in this case the Abrams Brothers do such fine renditions of the songs, it's a pure pleasure. The material isn't fresh in terms of new writing, but really folks, do we care when they are borrowing from the likes of Guthrie and Dylan, two of the great songwriters in recent memory? I for one am just glad to hear young musicians tipping their hats to the sage writer/performers who laid the framework for the music of a generation. So sit back folks and enjoy songs that includes; Mr. Tambourine Man, Going, Going, Gone and Last Train. This is is a nostalgic album done well by three young musicians who play the fiddle, bass and mandolin with skill. They also pull off smooth harmonies, as you might expect from three performers who grew up as family. This is a winner folks. Buy it now for the familiar songs, and for the emerging new talent of the Abrams Brothers. Check it out at www.theabramsbrothers.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- J.J. GUY -- Cadillac

CADILLAC
J.J. Guy
Keyteck Music
8-out-of-10
It's always entertaining to spin a disk of someone that knows their way around a fiddle, and J.J. Guy does. For local music fans this CD holds a bit more allure since Guy hails from nearby Lintlaw, SK., showing once again talent can arise anywhere. Lintlaw may be a small Saskatchewan town, but it is obviously home to a rather large fiddle talent. This is traditional, bluegrass/country fiddle work, with songs such as Maytwayashing Waltz and the joint Polar Bear Jig / Saskatchewan Jig. Guy offers up an all instrumental CD, which of course is the norm in terms of traditional fiddle music. The CD is a mix of material that Guy himself has created; such as the title cut Cadillac, Big Al's Hornpipe and A Long Goodbye, as well as a number of pieces borrowed from other writers. In some cases, such as with the Sherbrooke Reel, the pieces are traditional; old fiddle tunes Guy has made his own. Cadillac is Guy's second solo album, a follow up to his debut Nothing But Blues Skies. After listening to this CD, you will hope there are more sessions in the recording studio for Guy.Now do appreciate that this is traditional fiddle, no more, no less. If you like that style of music, this CD truly is a must coming from a talented Saskatchewan fiddler. If fiddle is not your style, then this won't win you over, because it's honest traditional music, with no pretense to be more, and why should it try to be considering how enjoyable it is just the way Guy performs it. Check him out at www.jjguy.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE DEEP DARK WOODS -- Winter Hours

WINTER HOUURS
The Deep Dark Woods
Black Hen Music
8.5-out-of-10
Regular readers may remember The Deep Dark Woods since their CD Hang Me, Oh Hang Me! was reviewed here last March. Well the Saskatoon-based roots/folk/rock band is back again, with Winter Hours a CD due to hit the streets Feb. 17. These guys just keep getting better. There sound is in that sweet pocket somewhere between bluegrass and pop-folk, and might be best labeled just darned good. Hang Me, Oh Hang Me!, earned an eight last year, and this one inches up just a bit higher, and that's impressive. Many bands have a tough time out-doing their last CD, and that these guys have done it speaks to their talents as both songwriters, and musicians. Now I might admit that the style of The Deep Dark Woods might be a touch of an acquired taste, they are the sort of band that could impress the audience of the Yorkton Arts Council's Stars For Saskatchewan series, and could just as easily win favour at a country-themed event hosted by the Yorkton Exhibition Association. These guys keep it pretty simple. The band's sound is guitar driven with Ryan Boldt and Burke Barlow strumming the strings, but it is string work that is often understated, owing its style fully to the folk genre. Chris Mason adds bass, with Lucas Goetz on drums, rounding out a sound that works for the style. All but Barlow take vocal credits here, and at times the harmonies are quite stunning. Songs such as The Birds on the Bridge, All the Money I had is Gone, Nancy and When First Into This Country are among the best of the 12 here. As a Saskatchewan band The Deep Dark Woods are certainly worth checking out, and they should gain a following far beyond the borders of their home province too. Check them out on myspace, or at www.blackhenmusic.com/artists/deep_dark_woods
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- DANIELA NARDI -- The Rose Tattoo

THE ROSE TATTOO
Daniela Nardi
Mineva Road
9-out-of-10
Ah sometime being a reviewer is such a pleasure, and that's because CDs come across the desk from artists you have not previously heard of, and from the opening notes of the recording you are captivated.Such was the case with Daniela Nardi, a performer that at times reminds of the Wyrd Sisters, at times of some of Stevie Nicks best solo material.It's not that Nardi has a voice like Nicks, I mean no one does, but she does have a style that matches at times. That style is a voice and musical presentation that immediately demands the listener's attention. You are totally in her spell.So how good is Nardi, well she is up for Female Vocalist of the Year for the 2009 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. Yet, as you listen to The Rose Tattoo, jazz isn't really the first thought you have regarding the music. Yes, there are jazz influences, but this is really more mainstream in my mind. This music would fit pop, college and even the softer side of many rock stations.As much as this is getting recognition by a smooth jazz awards show, it should be noted that as bonus tracks Nardi offers up nu jazz mixes of Cry and Fugitive Kind as bonus tracks, letting us know the original renditions were designed from the outset to appeal to a broader audience, and well they should.It might be because Nardi's work has some very compelling lyrics. As a songwriter this gal has talent equal to her vocal abilities.Nardi writes emotionally charged songs, and that is set from the lovely opening with hand drum work on Maddalena Blue, through songs such as Cry, with a definite Middle Eastern feel, Book of Days, Fugitive Kind and the deeply moving Longest Road.In terms of true jazz, Still probably comes up closest to that label.This is Nardi's second CD, her debut One True Thing released in 2003, and while not yet having the pleasure of hearing that work, I have to say I'll be looking for it, given how wonderful her follow-up is.This is a CD that starts with a somewhat upbeat piece, and goes through 10 greats cuts that touch on many of the base emotion of the human spirit. This girl lays her emotions on the line in the lyrics, and her strong voice carries them home smoothly.Overall Nardi offers up something quite special here. Don't miss it. Check her out at www.danielanardi.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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