Monday, August 24, 2009

Review -- ELEPHANT STONE -- The Seven Seas

THE SEVEN SEAS
Elephant Stone
Independent
8-out-of-10

There is a duality to Elephant Stone's The Seven Seas. That is to say the music here seems drawn from two quite diverse worlds.
Let's start with the best aspect from this Montreal-based band.
There are a number of cuts here where Elephant Stone highlights instrumental efforts, and those efforts are an excellent blending of soft rock and the traditional sounds of India. Quite intriguing musically.
That said, it is the fifth song, Blood From A Stone before we hear this wonderful sound.
The initial songs on the disk are quite different. They are the songs where Elephant Stone adds vocals, such as the Bombs Bomb Away. The song starts the album, and the listener immediately begins to think of 1960's British rock. The band itself calls their style powerpop, which I suppose works for listeners that have no connection back to the 1960s, but my graying hair shows I am old enough to recall that era musically. It has the same general pacing, and the lyrics are reminiscent of an era where rock was very much a music of social protest.
How Long follows, and again you hear the same root elements at play here.
The first four songs hold to the same pattern, before shifting to the Indian sounds that are so compelling.
Elephant Stone does a nice job of the retro-rock-influenced material too. The problem is that it is quite divergent from the Indian-influenced instrumental sectors of the album.
Generally such divergent paths would be quite upsetting to this listener. I like an album that stays the course, or at least makes somewhat expected twists and turns.
These two styles don't really seem to connect. That said the connection here is likely Stone Elephant lead singer Rishi Dhir.
Yet, at the end of the CD I am still left feeling quite satisfied.
It is probably a case where the rock numbers are that softer 60's style, which at least leaves the leap to the ethnic-influenced instrumental rock is on the same continent, even if it is on seemingly opposite sides of a mountain range.
The two sounds are decidedly different, both being solid in their own right. The divergence is a bit extreme, yet I am still satisfied as the listener.
Well worth a pick-up because Stone Elephant does what they do very well.
Check them out at www.elephantstonemusic.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 19, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- MIKE EVIN -- Good Watermelon

GOOD WATERMELON
Mike Evin
Independent
5-out-of-10
Mike Evin starts this CD with a song entitled Great Pop Song, which talks about hearing a great pop song, and then feeling like sitting down and playing.
Well I rather doubt anyone will be listening to this disk and having those feelings.
The second cut; We Should Dance, has a line about being hard to find a song to groove to today. Musically this one is catchy. Vocally, sorry, Evin just doesn't stand out.
This is one of those CDs where you go 'OK it's just that OK'. It is however in no way outstanding, nor particularly memorable.
If you have any sort of music collection, it's hard to imagine the listener finding anything here which would get this particular disk out of the case for a second time. There are just far too many better CDs out there for that.
It's not really that any one aspect of the CD fails dramatically, although the lyrics are generally superficial. They are all ways poppy, without a lot of substance, although that tends to be the story of a lot of pop.
It just comes down to the fact Evin never transcends the general term of this CD being just 'OK'.
Check it out at www.mikeevin.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 19, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JULIE DOIRON -- I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day

I CAN WONDER WHAT YOU DID WITH YOUR DAY
Julie Doiron
Endearing Records
7-out-of-10
I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day by Julie Doiron is one of those disks that frankly confuses the heck out of me as a reviewer. I am sure most music listeners have thrown a disk on the player, listened to the music and finding their brow furrowing questioningly as it progresses, as you mentally ask yourself, 'am I liking this?'
In this case as I came to the end of Doiron's work, I had not really formulated a definitive answer to that seemingly basic question.
Doiron plays music in the same general genre as performers such as Diana Z and Pamela Pachal, who have both played at gigs in Yorkton over the past 12-months. Both I'd put a bit ahead of Doiron, but that might be a case of hearing them live giving me some bias in their direction.
This CD is one that grows on the listener. Doiron's vocals and lyrics both sneak up on you in a sense. There isn't that immediate Wow! factor yet you suddenly find yourself appreciating both.
I will admit a couple of songs into the first listen I wasn't sure I cared for this CD is any great fashion. By its end came a realization that this is a disk that had greater depth that initially recognized.
It helped that the third song Lovers of the World has a killer intro that suddenly grabs your attention.
From the third song on, the CD seems to pick up momentum, with songs such as Tailor, Blue and Heavy Snow all very good efforts.
It may be that Doiron's vocals are just rather sweet and subtle, or it might be the lyrics that win you over. In the end it doesn't matter what the catch was, but the CD ends up working.
Check it out at www.juliedoiron.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 19, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PAPERMOON -- Only During Thunderstorms

ONLY DURING THUNDERSTORMS
Papermoon
Endearing Records
8-out-of-10
Well there is no denying Papermoon has a sound which stands out just a bit from the norm, and that is simply because of the lead vocals of Allison Shevernoha. She has a voice you will remember even after hearing the lead cut Cambridge Canal.
Of course this Winnipeg-based band has a decidedly female tilt to it, with Nikki Taylor adding piano and back-up vocals and Leslie Oldham mirroring that contribution as well on the CD.
The female vocals generally give a rock band a different feel from the average and in the case of Papermoon they put up a definitely memorable sound because of Shevernoha and company.
In some regards I am reminded of Lulu from the movie To Sir With Love when I listen to this CD, partly because of Shevernoha's voice, and in-part for the style of music.
As for being a rock band, Papermoon is on the softer side of the spectrum for sure, but then again they are certainly in the mileau, but remember the thoughts of Lulu.
The lyrics and the music are generally toe-tapping, light, fun, generally enjoyable.
Remember this is not rock with walls of guitars and crashing drums. Yet there is a definite energy being generated here.
There are several songs here that are certainly a nice fit for middle-of-the-road radio, including The Space Where Your Paintings Once Hung and People Were Talking But Now They Are Forgetting.
Overall this CD works for me. It may be the female vocals that just give it a bit different sound from most bands, but hey it works. You will need to enjoy softer rock for Papermoon to work for you, but if you do, then this is a must pick up.
Check them out at www.papermoon.ca

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 12, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DUKE ROBILLARD -- A Swingin Session

A SWINGIN SESSION
Duke Robillard
Stony Plain
9.5-out-of-10
Duke Robillard is a music industry on to himself. This guy must live in a studio with his guitars. He appears on literally dozen of recordings, sometimes as guest, often as the lead.
An accomplished blues guitarist, this time around Robillard offers up his guitar work to bring us a CD packed with good ole' swing time music. Swing is the music that sandwiches somewhere between jazz and blues, and Robillard handles it with his usual relaxed, and practiced style.
When it comes to guitar work, at least in terms of blues, swing and jazz, Robillard takes a back seat to very few. He can flat out play, and on A Swingin Session he proves that yet again.
Generally Robillard lets his guitar do all the talking on a CD, but here he also lends vocals on some of the cuts, such as the upbeat Deed I Do which leads off the CD.
Now most of us tend to think swing is a completely upbeat music, but on occasion Robillard slows it down. There is an absolutely mournful lead-in to The Lonesome Road, which intros to a number that then shifts up a gear in terms of swing music, but stays a tad more sombre based on the lyrics. It is a perfect counterpoint number for this CD. At a time of 6:39, it's also a cut where Robillard let's himself go musically, and the guitar work is just so fine.
Of course a number of songs here go over five-minutes, so you know Robillard is experimenting just a little.
Them That Got is a favoured cut for me, but that may be because it is perhaps the most blues-leaning swing number here, and I of course love the blues.
I have lost track of how often I have reviewed a Robillard CD over the years, but I can tell readers this guys seldom disappoints in terms of what he creates musically. He is a consummate musician who has honed his craft well.
A Swingin Session is no exception. If you like swing music at all, then this is an absolute must have.
Check it out at www.dukerobillard.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 12, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LIVING IN THE BOOM TIMES -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Living In The Boom Times
Independent
6.5-out-of-10
Living In The Boom Times is a band offering up country music, well sort of country music. I'd term it sort of post-modern country.
This is not the homogenized country coming out of Nashville these days, so that is generally a good thing.
As a sound Boom Times owes more to someone like Ian Tyson, although this is still a fair step from Tyson too. There is a more modern, almost pop/rock twist to the music which makes this a little hard to classify.
The band is fronted by the vocals of Tim McCashin. His voice fits a country-ish sound, although it comes across a bit static at time. The vocals all sort of blend together.
When the band does add in back-up vocals, such as with the song Bez, they have a sort of 'echoey' feel that doesn't quite work for me.
There are some powerful cuts here lyrically, in particular Boy from Ontario, a song that begs for listeners to fully digest the words. Without a doubt the best cut here.
To the band's credit they do offer up 15 songs, including two versions of the title cut, the main one coming it at over seven minutes, and the CD then ending with an acoustic version.
There are some interesting efforts here, powered generally by compelling lyrics, and enhanced by the post-modern country influences.
Definitely one to look at if you like unique takes on country music.

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 12, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- VOLCANOLESS IN CANADA -- The Way Forward

THE WAY FORWARD
Volcanoless In Canada
Independent
9-out-of-10

I suspect Volcanoless In Canada will always be a band that I will listen to with something of a jaundiced ear.
As a journalist I've been covering this band for some time now since both Mitch Lysak and Joel Hryniuk are from Yorkton.
As an occasional music judge, I've also got to review these guys on stage a view years back. The band actually finished second in the competition to the Foam Lake-based Go. Had they had the material from this new disk that day it is likely the order of finish would have been different.
The Way Forward is a major step forward for Volcanoless musically, and that is saying something, since their debut album was excellent in its own right.
But, that initial disk came out quite some time ago, and in the ensuing years, Volcanoless has become more mature and worldly in their music. That I suppose is only natural considering the band has toured a ton since the first disk was struck, including several weeks in Britain, a tour which obviously influenced these guys as it pokes its head through in the music on the latest effort.
The disk starts off with Make Up Your Mind, a solid cut and from there Volcanoless stays high energy throughout.
And, therein lies the true secret to what makes Volcanoless as good as they are. This band is about energy. You can hear it in the guitar work of Levi Soulodre, Hryniuk and Lysak, and of course the base work of Enver Hampton, and more important in the lyrics of the band. This is of course guitar-powered rock, yet the band never lets the guitar work overshadow the vocals, and that is a major plus, because they can write songs.
The best songs here are pretty simple to select, pick any of the 11, and you are going to be right. That said, I particularly like House of Souls, Shedding Skin, Just Tell 'Em Ye Alrite, Mexican Circus and A World Soaked In Gold.
If there is any justice in the music world, this in the disk which should launch Volcanoless onto much larger stages. This CD is about as good as it gets in terms of content.
Just an excellent job. Buy this disk now.
Check it out at www.volcanolessincanada.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 5, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE WEATHER STATION -- The Line

THE LINE
The Weather Station
Independent
8-out-of-10
When I sit at the computer keyboard ready to write a review, and I find myself sitting back scratching my chin looking for the words to describe a particular CD, it's either a good thing cause I'm blown away by the music, or a bad thing that I am confused by what I am hearing.
The Line from The Weather Station might be that rare combination where it's a case of both.
This Toronto-based band proclaims itself a folk/experimental group when you check out their Myspace spot (http://www.myspace.com/theweatherstationband). I was immediately intrigued by just what that might mean.
The CD starts off with a short piece called The Waltz, which is a whole lot experimental, a fair bit confusing, and definitely not the best choice for a lead-in cut. Just too out there, even as just a short little intro cut. Too many might never get past that one to hear the enticing material to follow.
For example, Coming To Town really impressed me. Here is a song that has a bluegrass feel to it, yet smoothly transitions into segments that are near metal in their approach. That's a pretty sweet trick to pull off, but The Weather Station pulls it off.
East is just a plain good song. It is arguably the best here, but that might be because it is the most traditional in terms of being folk as most of us think of folk.
That is not what The Weather Station is about though. This is a band which plays folk, but never reads the manual in terms of what makes folk – well folk. Instead, they use folk as merely a base and then layer on anything that they feel fits, and that often means some rather unusual approaches to music.
A case in-point is the cut March. Throughout there is a clear folk heartbeat, yet The Weather Station layers on some intriguing musical elements to create a particularly interesting example of what they mean by experimental.
When it comes to the experimental, there is a sort of techno intro to The Hunter as a prelude to a song that has a very Celtic feel to it. Quite interesting.
The music here is also powered very much by the haunting quality of lead vocalist Tamara Lindeman's vocals. That haunting quality is particularly evident in a cut such as Caterwhaul.
She writes all the songs too, showing she is one very talented lady in terms of music.
With the exception of the short intro cut, this is a CD I highly recommend. It really shows just what can be done with a very old musical style (folk) to give it a fresh new face. An intriguing effort that should not be overlooked.

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 5, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HOSPITAL BOMBERS -- Footnotes

FOOTNOTES
Hospital Bombers
Saved By Radio
6.5-out-of-10
The Hospital Bombers are an import from the Saved By Radio label. Footnotes was actually released by this Amsterdam, Holland-based band a coupe of years ago, but is now getting a Canadian push.
So what exactly is being imported here?
Well the label website (http://www.savedbyradio.com/rel_hospitalbombers.htm) has it flagged as Stadium Folk – which is something I'm not exactly sure about.
You have to listen really hard here to catch where the folk comes into the music. This is more sort of a soft rock, that at times has a British pop element, well European I suppose.
The music is generally happy, poppish, none to inspiring. It's the kind of music that if you throw it on the player you end up sort of bopping along too, but once the disk ends, the music fades pretty quickly. There's just not a lot here that would entice repeated plays. Then again, if the CD were to make it back to the player, you'd go, 'hey this is OK'.
So, the question becomes, is a CD that is OK worth shelling out cold hard cash for? Frankly I think there are far better bands here in Canada with CDs for sale. This is an import that just doesn't offer enough in terms of memorable music to recommend.

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 5, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RICHARD GROULX and The CO-ACCUSED -- One Man Solidarity

ONE MAN SOLIDARITY
Richard Groulx and The Co-Accused
Independent
6-out-of-10
I had an opportunity to interview Richard Groulx and had answer to a series of questions before hearing One Man Solidarity. So, I was intrigued to see just what he had come up with in terms of music.
“The style of music I play is most easily described as Americana,” he said. “It's a broad term that means I borrow from any style that was born in the North American tradition (blues, rock, folk, country). I like something from all of these different styles, and you can hear on the album that one song will be specifically rock or specifically folk.”
All right, as I check through the list, I rather like all the genres he mentioned, although I have a slightly more folk-based view of what I would term Americana, folk mixed with country/bluegrass.
So I wanted to see how he mixed it all together?
Then I got to a quote that had me concerned. Groulx said, “stylistically, 'One Man Solidarity' is a mish-mash. I admit that. It was intentional. I wanted to show that I was capable of doing it all and I wanted to see what got the most positive feedback.”
Anyone who reads these reviews regularly probably knows I like a CD to hold together stylistically.
This one ventures pretty widely, along the way creating some descent material, like the title cut, missing completely with Petty Too, and frankly leaving me wondering how efficient a calling card effort this CD is as a debut.
The problem is simple, I can't recommend it for fans of folk, since it is at best only folk-influenced. It's not blues, although there are blues riffs wrapped into a couple of cuts. Mandolin gives a country feel in another sport or two along the way.
The Real Me is more a rock song, as is Final Goodbye, albeit a love song version off rock.
This is a CD that would be a radio programmer's nightmare, since knowing where to fit it in is determined song by song. That generally doesn't work.
As a listener, I tend to listen to CDs based on what genre best fits my mood. This one would be hard to pull out since Groulx changes pace a bit too much.
Musically, I like what Groulx and The Co-Accused do.
Vocally, Groulx still needs some polish at times, but it is a debut too.
Check it out at www.myspace.com/richardgroulx

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 29, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ROSS TAGGART / KEN LISTER / CRAIG SCOTT -- Presenting The Ross Taggart Trio

PRESENTING THE ROSS TAGGART TRIO
Ross Taggart / Ken Lister / Craig Scott
Cellar Live
9-out-of-10

Oh, now if you want to just relax with some straight forward, piano-fronted jazz, and really that is one of the best options for jazz, then The Ross Taggart Trio is a near must to search out.
Taggart is not a new name in terms of Canadian jazz, but this is the first time he has led a trio as a pianist. Hopefully, it will not be his last.
Taggart has a relaxed, comfortable style at the ivories, and that is reflected in the music here,
The opening Ella's Walk is infectious.
Lament For Someone is like a memory, at time clear and bright, at other times more bathed in soft shadows,
Along the way Taggart is complemented well by Ken Lister on bass, and Craig Scott on drums. Both take a backseat to Taggart's lead, but they also make the music fuller and more complete.
That is really noticeable since Taggart wraps up the disk with a solo effort on Lady of the Lavender Mist, and while a piano of course can carry a tune, I wish Lister and Scott were on board for this one too.
Cellar Live has a reputation for coming out with memorable CDs, that often introduce new combos. In this case it is a combo that meshes together perfectly.
Jazz lovers, this is one you must have. Check it out at www.cellarlive.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 29, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Royally Sparked

ROYALLY SPARKED
Various Artists
Sparks Music
8-out-of-10
Royally Sparks is a fine introductory sampler to the music from the Sparks Music label.
The CD is a thick 16-song effort, highlighting various bands from the label.
Spiral Beach kicks off the DC with New Clouds Hot Clouds, which has a super beat that is quite simply infectious. A great song to lead into what is generally a very good CD. For the record, this is also the best cut here.
Spiral Beach also provides Rocket Fuel to the mix, which is not nearly as good a cut, in fact it's likely the weakest effort here, although Cheeky Snaps by The Two Koreas vies for that dishonour too.
So what follows.
There is the folk-hearted, slower paced Union of Concerned Scientists from The Priddle Concern, that is at least quirky. The same band's Believe What You Want to Believe is another definite disk highlight.
The techno-influenced Old Times Were Good times from Son of Dave that has a near gospel/blues feel twisted with the techno flavour. A nice combo that gets you into the rhythm of the music in a hurry.
The Two Koreas check in with Return to Oslo and Cheeky Snaps.
Nathan Lawr and The Minotaurs gives the CD Footsteps, and Righteous Heart. Footsteps is a rather nice song that has been reviewed here previously on the band's own disk.
Key Witness, Jay Sparrow, and Yonder also contribute. Yonder's Let You Down really cooks too, and Sparrow's Chopper is hauntingly beautiful.
For what is essentially a label compilation disk, Royally Sparked holds together amazingly well. Sparks Music obviously has a 'sound' it looks for in its artists, a modern pop/rock sound from bands willing to play music just a little outside the mainstream, where it's still fresh.
Give this one a listen, but be forewarned, it might leave you looking to buy the entire library of Sparks Music performers. Check it out at www.sparksmusic.com

-- CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 29, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada