Monday, July 27, 2009

Review -- KIM ESTY -- The Best of Kim Esty

THE BEST OF KIM ESTY
Kim Esty
Squeeze Toy Studios
6-out-of-10
So, were you a fan of Kim Esty in the 1990s? If you answer yes -- even if it's your little secret, no one will see you nodding yes as your read the newspaper – then you are going to like this.
If you're a fan, what's not to like. Esty offers up her familiar hots from the 90s, adds in a few new cuts, and packages it all up as a disk with 17-cuts.
So what exactly are you getting?
Well there is Squeezetoy, the title cut from a rather historic album for Esty. The disk debuted on Billboard at #1 in 1999, a feat only repeated by Alanis Morrisette and Shania Twain in terms of Canadians. Of course I have to question what the world was thinking in 1999, at least based on the single. What a terrible little tune to be on a 'Best of' album.
Dancin With Myself, a Billy Joel cover that Esty had success with is here. I'd rather hear Joel's version.
Esty does offer up the new self-penned He Doesn't Like Me .... It's not a bad song, well at least for the genre. Esty does all right writing in terms of it fitting in with her earlier material. That said it doesn't show any growth stylistically from a decade earlier either.
Of course two versions of He Doesn't Like Me ... on the same album is wasting some CD space.
There are some songs here that are actually pretty good – oh by the way I was never a big fan of this gal. Still Gilligan is a rather haunting song with some merit as a single. The song is new, and also co-written by Esty.
However, in general terms by the nature of the dance mix beat of the music, this is all rather shallow stuff, and while fans may be drooling over 17 songs, it's really just too much for me. It is not something that will get played often – OK probably never again.
Fan will want to run out and get this disk in a hurry. The rest of the world can probably be happy to pass it by. An acquired taste in the 1990s which has not gotten sweeter with age.
Take a look at www.kimesty.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 22, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE LAZY MKs -- A Field Guide To ...

A FIELD GUIDE TO ...
The Lazy Mks
Young Soul Records
8-out-of-10
So for anyone who attended the Yorkton Film Festival Golden Sheaf Awards The Lazy Mks will at least be familiar since they provided the pre-ceremony and intermission entertainment.
The Regina-based Lazy MKs are Tyler Hammer on drums Chris Prpich on bass, and Etienne Soulodre on steel, and really you need go no further than Soulodre's work on the steel as far as getting a feel for this trio.
While the steel gives this music its overall flavour, the drum and bass work are a sweet compliment to rounding out music with a sort of under-stated rockabilly appeal.
On their Myspace page they term themselves 'a steel guitar post-rock' trio. All right, not real sure what they are going for there, but hey, it sounds good.
In terms of music, the steel guitar work invariably gives the sound a sort of country/roots undertone, although you can hear the rock wanting to punch through, in particularly on a cut such as Pakowki, which arguably is the best cut here, because they do push the limits of what they are doing musically the most with the song.
There are only six songs here, and that is too bad, because darn they're fun to listen too. And, yes I know I rarely do Eps, but these guys have played locally, and have some local family ties, so exceptions are made.
Of local interest too should be the cut Burgess Lake, just for the song title.
All the material is strictly instrumental. It works that way, although I could see some fine work with the right vocalist too, a gritty voiced gal fronting these guys would cook.
Still, this is a fine little effort, that really does leave you wanting more.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/thelazymks
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 22, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MICHAEL JEROME BROWNE -- This Beautiful Mess

THIS BEAUTIFUL MESS
Michael Jerome Browne
Borealis Records
9.5-out-of-10
There are CDs that when you hear the first song you just have the feeling you're in for something special. That is pretty much the case with This Beautiful Mess from Michael Jerome Browne.
The opening song Low Tide sets the bar pretty high, and guess what, Browne keeps on pace for the next 14 songs, creating a completely entertaining album.
Now that should not come as a surprise considering Browne earned Soloist of the Year honours at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. There are a lot of excellent Canadian folk artists, and this guy is certainly deserving of the ward based on this disk.
This is true folk. At times Browne sings as a way to protest, a way to send a message, like on the haunting The War Will End. It's an example of what good folk is really all about.
A similar song, albeit with a more personal message is When See Goes Out In This World, a song about a child growing up. Nicely done.
Summer Shoes On (Song for Neil Stonechild) speaks to the tragic death of Stonechild on a cold winter night. This is an extremely powerful song. He tackles a hot spot issue in this song, tells the story, and creates an amazing piece. This is a song which deserves wide play just for the hauntingly sad story it tells.
In some instances, the songs have a definite old folk feel too, I'm Going Away could be a song from the 1920s as easily as from today. Browne shows a definite respect for the roots of roots when he pens a song like this one.
Browne's material is what the best of folk should be. This is a truly incredible album. A true must ave for folk/roots fans.
Check this gem out at www.michaeljeromebrowne.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 22, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CAMILLE MILLER -- Somewhere Near The Truth

SOMEWHERE NEAR THE TRUTH
Camille Miller
Zerospace Music
8-out-of-10
Camille Miller is a veteran of the music scene in Canada with her debut disk released in 1998, and Somewhere Near the Truth her fourth effort.
What is interesting here is that the music seems totally familiar, as if Miller and co-writer Nick Haggar have tapped into the collective memory bank to create material we seem to know.
The disk starts out with the song The Real You, and you are immediately into the music, the lyrics, the voice. It makes you feel at home.
Tear Us Apart continues that feeling. This is an old friend welcomed back to play a few songs.
Spin the Bottle, So Frustrated and Believe come next, and it's more of the same. There is a comfortable sense to these songs.
The style is somewhere on the edge of modern country band soft rock. The songs could be on just about any radio station these days.
In terms of hits, heck you pick one. Believe is powerful and beautiful, and might be my favourite, although that statement would change with my mood no doubt.
The key element for Miller is her voice. She is relaxed, polished, smooth, confident. There aren't any soft spots vocally. All 11 songs come off flawlessly.
It's rare when a CD gives the listener the element of familiarity as smoothly as Miller does here. Another example is I'll Be Good. Very catchy to be sure.
The music here is relaxed too. It compliments Miller's vocals. It is the background, allowing her to use her voice to sell the music, and she does it well.
This is a CD that will have broad appeal because it really does ride the edge of two genres, as Miller finds a way to make music which will please both.
Very nicely done, and well worth looking for.
Check her out at www.camillemiller.com/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 15, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- TYLER KYTE -- Taking Pictures

TAKING PICTURES
Tyler Kyte
Orange Records
6.5-out-of-10
Tyler Kyte is a pop/rocker out of Toronto Canada. He offers up music that sort of has to grow on the listener a bit.
I can't say the music initially blew me away. It is that softer edged rock that sort of needs some time to percolate through the system before you go 'hey this is OK'
Of course Kyte's voice has that sort of softer, under-stated quality to it. Comfortable, but not exactly demanding of attention.
So when he starts off with What You Need, it's sort of ho-hum. By the second song though, you start to get into Kyte's groove as he offers up Some Things Are Better Left Alone.
Now the third song doesn't quite sell me on Kyte. Talking Pictures just isn't a song that catches me. Still it fits with the overall approach of the CD.
In total Kyte offers up 10 songs here, and overall it's a nice little album. I wouldn't suggest the material here is going to take Kyte to the point of being a household name in Canadian music, at least to my ear, but it should be one he can build from.
There is enough here to suggest Kyte has better things ahead of him.
In the meantime, give this disk a listen. If you like soft rock that is gentle in its approach, this could be just the ticket.
You can check it out at www.tyler-kyte.net/

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 15, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JAY CROCKER -- Below The Ocean Over

BELOW THE OCEAN OVER
Jay Crocker
Artunit Recording Kompany
8.5-out-of-10
Well welcome to something that is truly different in terms of music.
Jay Crocker comes at us with Below the Ocean Over, a CD that has the heart of rock, but so many elements of nouveau fusion jazz that it really ends up somewhere between the two.
As a pop / rock effort it is a bit too out on the edge to get much radio attention beyond the hippest college stations.
As a jazz album, there may be a bit too much pop for the purist.
The result is an album for the open-minded listener.
It is always good to go on musical excursions to places you have never heard before, and Crocker is a gifted tour guide in finding places like that.
An example is Keep Calm. It starts off with a big band feel, moves through some jazz horn work, yet is over laid with that poppish lyrical take on things.
July by contrast is more like a pop rock song from the get go, then Crocker goes off with some edge jazz explorative instrumentation and again you are left going 'Wow!'.
Now I will admit this is a CD that is an acquired taste. It's a bit like going to a Chinese restaurant. You have to be willing to try the song of the day, even if you're not sure what the ingredients are. The good news here is that it ends up being a rather tasty treat.
Crocker has knack for surprising not just from song to song, but within a particular piece, shifting gears as smoothly as a race car driver, picking up speed as he goes, and never missing a beat in the process.
This may not be a disk you will play every day, but when you are looking to listen to something creatively fresh and explorative, then this one comes highly recommended.
Check it out at www.jaycrocker.com/

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 15, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review -- SHANE PHILIP -- Live At Baker Studios

LIVE AT BAKER STUDIOS
Shane Philip
Independent
8-out-of-10
Be prepared to enter a world of music that is unique, compelling, infectious and just plain good when you pop Live At Baker Studios into the player.
Shane Philip hails from B.C., but uses Australian instrumentation to create this outstanding album. He combines guitar, Weissenborn lap-slide, djembe and didgeridoo into unique combinations that offer the listener something quite fresh in terms of music.
Insomnia is a beautiful song powered by the didgeridoo, and Philips smooth vocals.
Triple Shot is an instrumental effort where Philip turns to the djembe drum, and it is simply a wonderful upbeat piece.
There are times the mood softens here, such as Sweet Ocean, a piece that lacks some of the unique taste of the best songs here, yet it works as a change of pace.
The CD overall is a combination of folk-heart, with overlying pop sensibilities, which culminate in the absolutely excellent Skydance, a song opened with more didgeridoo, and then turning to an upbeat pop anthem. The blend works perfectly here.
This CD would be worth a listen if just for the unique blending of little-heard instruments, used in a compelling new fashion. That he does it all himself just adds to the satisfaction of being along to listen.
However, there is far more here. The quality of the material Philip has created takes this CD far above just being a novelty, to one that will get repeated plays because it is just so darned good.
A talented songwriter and musician emerges from this CD, be there for the event.
Check it out at www.shanephilip.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 8, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BOB RUSSELL -- Turnin' Heads

TURNIN' HEADS
Bob Russell
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Welcome to today's country that at least has a little bit of the heritage of the genre wrapped in the music.
Bob Russell cooks up straight country, with an ear toward fitting into radio nicely these days.
The disk starts off with Down A Road You've Never Been, then follows up with Cowgirl Love, both songs that could fit into drive time country radio.
Ditto for track three with Hard To Be An Outlaw.
Now Russell doesn't exactly forge anything new here. He uses tried and true formulas. Hard To Be An Outlaw is upbeat. It's a song about being a loner, and doing what you know is right. Not groundbreaking material, but darn it's a fun song that is toe tapping, with catchy hooks to sing along with.
Russell does know how to slow it down too. Too Damn Young is a love song that has a nice pace, and again, could catch country radio interest.
This is a guy that can play today's country, yet keep it with some semblance of older country, at least in terms of song selection. He has selected these songs from a range of writers, but they all fit his easy, clear vocal style.
Now I can't exactly rate this CD higher because it is so geared toward meeting radio, and uses formula-style style songs from start to finish.
Yet, you know what? Russell makes it all work far better than most country CDs that pass around these days.
It doesn't hurt that Bart McKay is around as producer either.
It could be the clear vocals. It could be the song selection which is just a bunch of good-time country songs that are fun to listen too.
Either way, if you like today's country, you will love this CD. Check it out.
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 8, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE GORDON GRDINA TRIO -- ...If Accident Will

... IF ACCIDENT WILL
The Gordon Grdina Trio
Plunge Records
8-out-of-10
The Gordon Grdina Trio takes jazz into the world of the inspired, the experimental, the slightly wild, and the always interesting.
We shouldn't expect less given that his own bio states “Grdina is a Vancouver based Oud/Guitarist whose sound is a combination of his interests in mainstream jazz, free-form improvisation and Arabic classical music.”
That gives you a bit if an understanding of what ... If Accident Will is about.
Joined by Tommy Babin on bass and Kenton Loewen on drums, Grdina uses his interest in Arabic classical music well in that it is clearly heard in most of the instrumental pieces here as a unifying element for the CD.
The influence comes to the forefront on 229, the CD's second cut, and from there on your ear connects to the underlying rhythm of Arabia.
There is some particularly gentle Arabic guitar work on Cobble Hill / Renunciation.
While only nine pieces are included here, they are substantial ones and the trio lets themselves go, delving into the combinations of musical styles, letting the music live and breath and develop as it wants too. They are wise to do so, because it takes some nice curves along the way, going off the beaten path to investigate some interesting side roads of jazz.
This is a CD where you can grasp what the Grdina Trio is out to do, bringing the Arabic flavour to jazz. However, it is an experiment in terms of how they accomplish it, and that is what makes this CD work.
The first listen will capture your attention, but this is the sort of music which you will find little nuances that impress anew three, four, five spins later. That is what make it a truly compelling jazz effort.
If you like you jazz fresh, check it out at /www.gordongrdina.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 8, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SORA -- Heartwood

HEARTWOOD
Sora
Independent
9.5-out-of-10
OK to start this review I'll just say if you love amazing voices and great music you should abandon reading this right now and instead simply go out and buy Heartwood by Sora.
It took all of 35 seconds of the opening cut of this CD, which also happens to be the title cut, to totally fall in love with this lady's voice. To term it anything less than stunning, or amazing, would be to do Sora a disservice.
As for the music, well we reviewers love to categorize, but in this case it's interesting to read what Sora herself says.
“I have thought a lot about genre, about where I should place my music and after all these years, I still have no idea,” she said on her website. “My favorite description of my music is neoclassical, although I often call myself Contemporary Celtic or that nebulous singer/songwriter category. As a kid, I had strict classical teachers and mentors as well as folk, neither could seem to find merit in the other, but I see music as simply music. Genre, you always hear about genre. Classify yourself, categorize, but be interesting and unique while doing it. My music, to me, comes from the natural world. That is what inspires me, that is the imagery I place in my songs. Trees, and forests, light dappling through the canopy. The feeling of fiery leaves falling around as you walk on an autumn day, a cherry full to the brim with blushing blossoms, springing to life. The way ice forms in intricate patterns on my window, the sound of the wind in the trees. My lyrics come from there and that is what I want to share with my listener.”
Sora's view of her own music is interesting, in that it shows the poet inside her. The view is descriptive. It is near lyrical.
That is what you get here, music that paints pictures. That comes from the heart.
As for vocals style, two names came to mind Loreena McKennitt and Enya. So it was interesting to read, again on Sora's website her view of her influences.
“I love so many different musicians and types of music, from Rachmaninoff to Enya, and it all has helped to create my music,” she wrote. “But as to style, I guess Loreena McKennitt is my greatest influence. I have loved her music from the very first note on the very first song I heard, many many years ago. She is an inspiration to me. She is the only artist in which I can listen to every single one of her CD's all the way through and love every song. Amazing! Other influences include Tori Amos, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan.”
I won't even try to select a best cut here. They are all just excellent, all written by Sora as well. This lady is an amazing talent. Check it out at http://www.soramusic.ca/
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CARVELLI -- The Movement

THE MOVEMENT
Carvelli
Independent
??-out-of-10

You will notice the question marks in place of an actual rating for Carvelli's CD The Movement. There is a reason for that. I simply do not how to rate this one.
I am not sure how this CD compares to others of a similar genre because this is a rap album, one of about only three musical styles which I avoid at nearly all costs, so I have almost zero experience with the style. I can assure you this effort hasn't changed my mind on that stance either.
That said I will give Carvelli credit. He is a Canadian of Italian descent, who is mixing his culture into his music. I am not sure there are a lot of Italian rappers out there, but Carvelli is fusing his culture and the musical style.
It's always impressive when a musician forges into an area the music has not substantially been before.
Like most rap, there is a beat here, and that's good, and the lyrics may well resonate with many listeners, but the rap style doesn't sell it to me.
Interesting for his approach, this remains a rap CD, and thus should likely only be sought out by fans of that genre.
Check it out at /www.carvelli.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CROP CIRCLE -- Come Inside

COME INSIDE
Crop Circle
Independent
7.5-out-of-10
Crop Circle is a rock band, plain, simple, straight forward, solid.
Come Inside is not the best CD of the decade, but you know what, it is a workman-like effort. Solid. There are no techno tricks here. Crop Circle just plays rock. A lot of bands try to be something more than that, and yet as a genre, few strike a chord more than straight rock, and Crop Circle remembers that. They play.
For example, the guitar work on He Said She Said is really at the heart of what rock is all about.
While not the best CD of the decade, Recent Stranger is a memorable song. It again speaks to the heart of rock, and could be on a CD from a band ranging from Trooper to Nickleback. That tells you how solid it is.
Come Inside slows down the pace a half step, but again is very solid. Catchy. It just works.
Hideaway has a moody intro, and a generally darker musical element, but again it is solid rock.
Crop Circle is Sean McCormick, who offers up the vocals, with Brian Garbet on guitar, Nathan Zadworny on bass, and Ben Darbey on drums.
Not totally blown away, but darn this CD grows on you. Really it is one of those CDs you will play far more often than you might initially expect. Well worth picking up.
Check them out at www.cropcircle.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ROMI MAYES -- Achin In Yer Bones

ACHIN IN YER BONES
Romi Mayes
Independent
9-out-of-10
Romi Mayes is one of those under appreciated musical gems which exist in Canada.
Hailing from Manitoba, she is a veteran of the Canadian music scene with a number of disks to her credit, including the 2006 release Sweet Somethin' Steady, an excellent CD I have enjoyed. It went on to earn Mayes a Western Canada Music Association award as Songwriter of the Year. And then there was the 2007 release Beverley Street: The Songs of David Essig by The D.Rangers and Mayes. Considering Essig is an icon in Canadian roots, that is a disk I would love to hear.
This CD is certainly one keeping with her past effort in terms of quality, starting with the title cut, which kicks off this CD. It is a song in the truest tradition of folk in that the lyrics tell a story, in this case a story of our country.
As good as the title cut is, and believe me it's very good, I can't call it the best among the 10 songs here.
If the Lord Don't Love You is the best of the bunch here. It is a deep, bluesy cut, where Mayes get down into the mood of the music and her voice simply fits the style. Very sweet indeed.
When Mayes turns to Mercy On Me, with some nice duet vocals with song co-writer Gurf Morfix, the pair come up with a definite winner as well. The pair really do combine well vocally. It is a combination I would have liked to have seen a bit more of on the album, since Morfix plays bass or guitar on all but one song here.
Tire Marks goes a bit more country, and honestly could be a hit on country radio if given a listen by programmers.
Mayes should be as well known as Anne Murray or Shania Twain or Jann Arden. Yes her style is different than each of these women, but at the same time, she's every bit as talented.
This truly is a CD to search out, excellent as it is from start to finish.
Check it out at www.romimayes.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 24, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHAD VanGAALEN -- Soft Airplane

SOFT AIRPLANE
Chad VanGaalen
Flemish Eye Records
8-out-of-10
Well, it doesn't take long to recognize that you are listening to something pretty unique when you start spinning Chad VanGaalen's Soft Airplane.
On the opening cut Willow Tree the vocals are about as high on the vocal charts as the male voice can go, reminding me of Tiny Tim. That is not meant as a reflection of style, only of the vocal range that is the catch on Willow Tree.
While it stands out for the high vocals, I was glad that on the second cut Bones of Man the vocals were down to a more normal range.
Hailing from Calgary, this is VanGaalen's third recording, and he is obviously a naturing artist in the sense that he has the technical aspects of recording well in-hand.
Musically, VanGaalen is an explorer, touching on a range of styles as he progresses through this CD. Cries of the Dead for example has a near 1960's British rock feel.
With Willow Tree there is the aforementioned high-pitched voice, as well as tossing an accordion into the instrumental mix, played by Matt Flegel.
Bare Feet On Wet Grip Tape is a song with an infectious beat that has a sort of art nouveau musical approach.
While there is a bit of a varied approach here, there are underlying stylistic elements which hold the CD together in a cohesive fashion.
VanGaalen is a musician who likes to push the edges of music, exploring, reshaping what is already there in ways to make them his own. He manages to do that in some rather creative ways here.
Yes this is a CD which will be an acquired taste for many, but I recommend you open your mind and go with VanGaalen as he explores. It's an interesting trip.
Check it out at www.flemisheye.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 24, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GABRIEL -- Cool Down

COOL DOWN
Gabriel
Independent
9-out-of-10
Cool Down is the slick new jazz album from Gabriel (Mark Hasselbach).
This guy is good, very good. There is a reason he was chosen to perform at the 2009 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards where he was nominated for Album of the Year and Wind Instrumentalist of the Year.
What makes Gabriel notable is his versatility. He plays trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, alto flute and piccolo on Cool Down. That's a pretty diverse array of wind instruments, and it gives the CD some nice variety in terms of sound.
Gabriel also brings in some nice support along the way. For example Rock Hendricks is featured on tenor sax on the CD's title cut.
On East Coast Warren Hill comes aboard to be featured with his alto sax and Victor Bailey is featured on bass and vox on the cut Check It Out.
With 12 cuts, every one of them in excess of four-minutes in length, Gabriel gives us lots to enjoy here too. That is a bonus when the music is as good as this is.
Overall, this is what I would term happy jazz. It's feel good, upbeat, yet relaxing music. The kind that calms and refreshes the listener. If you like jazz, you will love this CD.
Check this one out at www.gabrieljazz.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 24, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada