Friday, October 23, 2009

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

The Road Hammers
Open Road Records
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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Shoutin’ Abner Pim Recordings
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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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

Cathy-Anne McClintock
37 Records

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review -- WILLIE MACK -- The Journey

Willie Mack
Aim Music

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- GREG WOOD -- Self Titled

Greg Wood

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JJ GUY -- Fiddler

JJ Guy

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DOC WALKER -- Go

Doc Walker
Open Road Recordings

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

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

Jennifer Jade Kerr
Golden Flame Records

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

Review -- SIGHTS & SOUNDS -- Monolith

Sights & Sounds
Smallman Records

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review -- GORDIE TENTREES -- Mercy Or Sin

Gordie Tentrees

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CHRIS VELAN -- Solidago

Chris Velan
Killbeat Music

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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

Dan Mangan

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
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BLUESTONE -- Bar Room Revelations


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

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

Review -- ENTER THE HAGGIS -- Gutter Anthems

Enter the Haggis

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

Review -- JOHNSMITH -- Gravity of Grace


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