Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review -- BENT -- Super Heavy Double Insulated

SUPER HEAVY DOUBLE INSULATED
Bent
Indie
7.5-out-of-10

I am continually impressed with the quality of music coming out of Saskatoon. It’s obvious the city has a vibrant music culture which is taking full advantage of the current technologies allowing bands to more easily record to take their music past the local clubs.
Add Bent to that list.
Super Heavy Double Insulated is Bent’s second disk, but appears the first to get a serious push by the band, including being the impetus for the creation of the band’s website. Check it out at www.quadrant.net/bent
Musically, this band is in the current rock pocket, where they show a good understanding of using energy to get their music across to the listener.
Reuben Coleman is the band’s lead vocalist, and he leads the energy, and exhibits a vocal style that fits the music to a ‘T’.
Scott Pilling and Mike Semchuk add guitar work, which of course is the foundation of the style. Brennan Risling on bass and Derek Bachman on drums, provide the backbeat, and give the music the pacing to have listeners keeping time.
The disk has a dozen cuts, and Bent does a good job of hitting the road running here, and maintaining things from the start of the album through to it close, not always an easy thing for a band showing such energy in their music.
While the disk as a whole is very solid, a few cuts edge above the rest. The top cuts include Practical Casting, Livestock Warning, and Kill the Bees.
This is definitely a band and a disk worth connecting with. Grab it, you will like it.
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- INEZ -- Singsoulgirl

SINGSOULGIRL
Inez
Letsemot Records
9-out-of-10
Wow! When I tossed Singsoulgirl in the player, I was immediately surprised, and it was a very good surprise.
True Love, the first song immediately let’s the listener know Inez is for real. What a voice.
Inez reminds me a lot of Mariah Carey, including at least a passing resemblance. The real similarity though comes in voice and music.
Inez is a Sto:lo, Ojibway and Metis artist, from British Columbia, whose bio at www.inezmusic.ca states she grew up “playing the fiddle with her Metis grandfather and learning the traditional Sto:lo dancing and singing from which her music has evolved.”
What an evolution. This is about as far from Metis fiddle as you can get. Now that is not a bad thing. While I can enjoy fiddle music, it would be a shame had Inez never set down the fiddle and bow and picked up the microphone. This girl deserves to be front and centre. Her voice truly demands it.
It would be hard to imagine Inez on stage singing as she does on this disk, and not have every eye in the place glued to her every move.
As you might gather from the CD title, Singsoulgirl is a soul effort, although it’s modern soul, with that sort of R&B, hip hop undertone.
The disk earned a cart load of recognition at the recent 2009 Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards including; Best Album Cover, Best New Artist, Best Pop Album, and Single of the Year.
The disk also earned a 2009 Western Canada Music Awards nomination in the Aboriginal category (won by Eagle & Hawk which will be reviewed here in the coming weeks).
I particularly like how Inez incorporates her First Nations roots in some of the songs, most notably Stick Game Jam. A great touch.
Inez does it again on Ready 1-2.
This is one of those disks that impressed me from the very start, and held me attention. I’ll listen to this one again and again. Pick it up. Inez is for real.
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- AMY NELSON -- I'm Just Me

I’M JUST ME
Amy Nelson
Indie
6.5-out-of-10
Amy Nelson falls into that category of contemporary country, which sadly is the new soda pop flavour for country radio consumption.
It is too bad Nelson had chosen a different country vision. She has a very nice voice, the kind that at times, such as on That Hat, reminds a touch of Reba.
The music though is sort of that poppish country that offers up a beat you can tap your toes too, but you won’t remember a song a month from now when the next ‘radio ready’ country CD comes your way.
There are times Nelson ascends above the average here. If I Can’t Have Tomorrow is easily the best song here, and likely the one radio will never play. That says a lot.
What Nelson does do here is offer up a six pack of songs that for the most part should have today's country music directors drooling. They all really fit radio, with the possible exception of the aforementioned If I Can’t Have Tomorrow.
The title cut (I’m Just Me), Every Time I Wear These Boots and That Hat are radio hits of the week.
Nelson scores high for her vocals, but the music is too bubble gum country for me -- the taste wears off pretty quickly.
Give this gal some meatier music, something where the lyrics have something to say, and you’d have a nine.
As it is, the content, and the fact she offered up only six songs on a debut, the disk you have a lifetime to accumulate materiel for, and I was simply left wanting more, more songs, more ‘real’ memorable music.
Nelson’s voice shows tons of promise, but it’s largely unfulfilled promise here. You’ll feel good after a listen, but you won’t remember why for long.
Check out this Regina-based artist at www.amynelson.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- RIDLEY BENT -- Buckles & Boots

BUCKLES & BOOTS
Ridley Bent
Open Road Recordings
9-out-of-10

If you like country music, and you haven't heard of Ridley Bent I suggest you stop reading this review and head out and buy Buckles & Boots right now.
Bent is one of those intriguing country performers, in that he is largely a throwback to an earlier era in country, yet he mixes in a sort of urban country savvy that makes it fresh.
Bent mixes early John Anderson with Corb Lund, yet copies neither, so the result is purely good Bent country.
In terms of country, the music has an older swing feel, although at times Bent twists in some modern elements to keep it unique.
This British Columbia artist is also great at changing tempo on material. He can slow it down with a hurting song with the best of them, as is the case with Cry.
Arlington is another slower number, one which is arguably the best cut among the 11 here, although to be honest, this is a very strong effort from start to finish.
Then he shifts up with Heartland Heartbreak, with a cooking upbeat cut.
While Bent can up the tempo, he never goes so far that you start to think its rock from the 1970s disguised as today’s country. This guy knows what country is, and he sticks to that.
When you listen to this outstanding CD you will understand why Bent was nominated for Best Roots Artist at the 2009 Canadian Country Music Award, and won seven BC Country Music Awards.
Mark this one as a must if you like country. They don’t get much better than this.
Check it out at www.ridleybent.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- CASEY STONE -- Rock Garden

ROCK GARDEN
Casey Stone
Indie
8-out-of-10
Casey Stone is a performer whose style doesn’t classify well. The reason is obvious why too. At times Casey Stone has been a country performer, and at times a rock gal. With Rock Garden she is sort of caught showcasing elements of both.
Lyrically, and for the most part, this is a very good rock-influenced album. Cuts such as Tenacious and Randy’s Song are clearly rock, and very good rock at that.
At the same time, there are just a few times when Stone’s country background shows through on the album, for example it infiltrates the fringes of the lead cut She’s A Believer. It’s back on But Now You're Gone as well.
Rock Garden also has a decided level of maturity to it. That isn’t surprising considering Stone has been involved in music for a number of years, having actually recorded a rock effort in the 1980s under the same name. She was also the voice of the band Eva Gold.
With Rock Garden Stone has brought her considerable experience to the forefront penning most of the songs here.
I particularly like how she is willing to let her new songs go where they want to go.
Beloved clocks in at 6:05, Randy’s Song at 5:11 and But Now You’re Gone at 5:27. Not really radio format, and kudos for Stone for not paring them back to suit radio. They are great as is.
The maturity is also seen in her song selection beyond her self-written songs. She ends the disk with the Gordon Lightfoot classic, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and it is a great rendition. Again, Stone is commended for doing her own thing.
This is a CD that impressed me for its honesty. You feel as if Stone is singing songs because they are part of her, and that she would be singing them whether anyone was listening, or not.
In this case, believe me, you are glad you are listening.
Be sure to check it out at www.caseystone.ca
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE BETTER WORLD -- Broken Memories

BROKEN MEMORIES
The Better World
Indie
7.5-out-of-10
The Better World is a rock trio out of New Jersey that has a sound that should earn them a solid following.
The band is fronted by vocalist and guitarist Matt Coban, who is joined by Justin Miskowski, also on guitar and Elli Rothenberg on drums.
Broken Memories, is a six-song sophomore disk for the band. I must say I wish they had opted for a full-length effort. That’s a good thing, in the sense I like what The Better World has done on the six songs here. There should be more.
Of course we might expect a slick effort here given the industry experience they brought into the picture to help with Broken Memories.
“The Better World teamed up with Grammy award-winner Jason Corsaro (Soundgarden, Buckcherry) to record Broken Memories,” explained their spot on Myspace (www.myspace.com/thebetterworld). “Mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, U2, Creed), Broken Memories captures the intensity of the Foo Fighters and the heart-felt melodies of 3 Doors Down and Lifehouse to form a powerful, hard-hitting album of shout out loud rock songs.”
Foo Fighters and 3 Doors Down are pretty lofty comparisons, but The Better World does a solid job of living up to them.
There is certainly a 3 Doors Down ‘feel’ to the title cut, and it is also likely the best of the solid six tunes here, although it’s close with the slower-paced Counting the Days.
The lead cut, Only One will also win fans for the disk.
Definitely a band to watch and a disk that bodes well for them breaking big.
Check them out at www.thebetterworld.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- JOEL FAFARD -- Three Hens Escape Oblivion

THREE HENS ESCAPE OBLIVION
Joel Fafard
Indie
9-out-of-10
Joel Fafard is a name you can trust in terms of music.
This Saskatchewan-born musician has always managed to impress when I have had the pleasure of reviewing his work. His 2007 release ... And, Another Thing rated a 9-out-of-10 and Rocking Horse in 2003 was equally appreciated.
Three Hens Escape Oblivion, besides being a really cool name for a disk, maintains Fafard’s stellar instrumental guitar work.
Yes folks this is an instrumental effort, and be glad of it. When the music is this good you really do not need lyrics getting in the way of enjoying what Fafard is doing.
Fafard plays guitar, resonator guitar (such a nice effect) and banjo on the album, and is ably supported by Gilles Fournier on double bass and Richard Moody on viola and violin.
The trio blends seamlessly.
Fafard also pens all the tunes here with the exception of three older traditional cuts. The guy can write music, and he performs it with a relaxed style that is endearing.
It is interesting how he combines his own work with the traditional, such as on Chalant/Cluck Old Hen. Chalant is his own effort, whereas Cluck Old Hen is traditional. The two blend into a tune which will stay with you for a while. It just gets into the system and makes you feel good.
Fafard does the same thing blending his Theo’s Song with the traditional Angeline the Baker for arguably the second best cut on the CD.
Of course picking a best cut is a challenge here since I really love this disk start to finish. Fafard is as good a musician in terms of his body of work as I have had the pleasure to review from Saskatchewan. This latest disk only reinforces that view for me.
Mark this disk a must have.
Make sure to check it out at www.joelfafard.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- DON MODDERMAN -- Garden

GARDEN
Don Modderman
Indie
7-out-of-10
Don Modderman is one of those artists you have probably never heard of, and that is truly a shame.
The Regina-based musician is very talented, offering a variety of music, including being a member of the fun Celtic band Crofter’s Revenge whose debut Ghost Ship was reviewed here in July 2008.
Garden is a solo effort from Modderman, and is significantly different from the Celtic genre.
On this disk Modderman highlights his versatility. While you may best remember what you hear on Garden for Modderman’s flute work, he also offers us accordion, bass and keyboards. The key is a multifaceted instrumentalist for sure.
The disk starts out with a beautiful instrumental piece; Life is a Journey. It might be the best of the songs here.
From there, the music falls into that intriguing realm where it simply is not easy to classify.
Modderman goes on extended musical explorations on Garden. Not one song clocks in at under four-minutes, and three eclipse six. The length allows the artist to do some interesting instrumental efforts, adding vocals to the seven songs which follow the instrumental opening.
At times, the music sort of has a 60’s soft rock feel, such as on the title cut. You could see it played at some peace rally at an American college.
On other cuts the music has a more folkish feel, such as with Back In Time.
The strength here is the instrumental work. The vocal work however, doesn’t always match the same level.
For example, I love the flute work on the title cut, the vocals, not so much.
This is a disk I would love to hear minus the vocals, as a clean instrumental effort. I think it would come across as an overall stronger recording.
As it is, it’s still an interesting musical effort to roll out of Regina, give it a listen.
Check it out at www.croftersrevenge.ca/DonModderman
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review - RIK REESE & NEON HIGHWAY -- Mama Raised A Good Boy

MAMA RAISED A GOOD BOY
Rik Reese & Neon Highway
Indie
8.5-out-of-10
Rik Reese is something of a country music throwback, and that is a good thing.
When I first listened to Mama Raised a Good Boy I was thinking how much of the music would have fit nicely on a country CD from around the time of Dukes of Hazzard, the TV show, not the junky movie. The CD’s title cut would be a good alternate theme song for that good ole series.
Certainly Long White Line would have fit in on the soundtrack of a show such as Movin’ On from the mid-1970s.
There was more of a true country soul to country music back then, and Reese and his band generally manage to recapture that spirit.
There is certainly an element of Waylon in Rik Reese, and I would be amazed if the good old country boy isn’t one of this Maritimer’s influences. Yes I did say Maritimes, the band comes out of New Brunswick, proving country comes from a state-of-mind, not a postal code.
There isn’t much here not to like. Reese can sing, and the music is a nice mix. There are the upbeat fun cuts; Ain’t Lookin’ For Me and Headin’ Down to Memphis, which you want to turn up the volume on as you cruise the highway.
They can also slow it down. Old Black Train is the best cut on the disk.
All For Me slows things down as well, and really has the Waylon going on.
Just My Luck is a definite radio hit cut too.
A very good country disk, well worth searching out.
Check the disk out at www.neonhighwayband.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE RAMBLERS -- Bad Boys of Blues

BAD BOYS OF BLUES
The Ramblers
Independent
5-out-of-10

It never hurts to start a blues CD with some harmonica work if you want to catch the ear of this reviewer. Now I recognize The Ramblers weren’t going after my ear in particular, but I loved Eric Farran’s blues harp work to open Sex Boogie, the lead cut on Bad Boys of Blues.
From the opening cut The Ramblers offer up a mix of material here.
Burn Out, the CD’s second song again had some nice harmonica work, and I might add the use of French vocals was an interesting, and unexpected twist, although the band does hail from Montreal.
Then they hit the listener with Hey Kitty Kitty. The music is good, but the vocals on this one were lacklustre at best.
Generally speaking the vocals are the weak spot here.
While all the members of The Ramblers; Cliff Stevens, Dany Spallone and David Scott MacLean, have vocal credits, most of this CD is bad.
The Country Foot Stomping Song is an example. Ouch!
When the band switches to French, as on C’est en Famile, it helps, in-part because French is a more lyrical language, and because as an English listener it’s different enough that you pay attention a bit more.
Of the English language songs, Struggle is the one that climbs a bit above mediocrity.
This CD is moderately interesting in terms of the music, a few nice harmonica breaks interspersed along the way, but the vocals simply relegate this effort to the second tier,
There are far better recordings out there.
Check it out for yourself at www.theramblers.org
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- JASON GREELY -- Self Titled

SELF-TITLED
Jason Greeley
Royalty Records
8-out-of-10
If you are a fan of Canadian Idol, you may recall the name Jason Greeley, a top-four finisher from 2004.
Well Greeley is back in the spotlight with a new CD.
Greeley, who hails from Alberta, is showing his western roots on this disk, going full bore country. The good news, this sure seems to be where he feels most at home.
Darn this guy can sing country folks.
In a world where country of late has not generally impressed, especially the solo performers, Greeley kicks it hot and solid.
The lead cut Born That Way was a little, well let’s say a bit too radio for me.
But, Usually, the second song put Greeley in the groove, and from there he found his country stride. There is enough radio here, to get airplay, but there is a bit more to the sound too.
Goodbye Jersey is very solid. I like it.
Around for a Reason did it for me too. Greeley is making a fan as he goes here.
Get A Life is solid too, and Live Our Lives really cooks.
There are a couple of miss steps along the way; Slammin Doors is a little annoying in its style, but as a whole Greeley shows a lot here.
Greeley does pen a few of the songs here, including Slammin Doors and Born That Way, neither being among the best here, so that side of his game needs some polish.
But, vocally, there is a lot of lustre to his work.
This is a country effort well worth searching out. Check it out at www.jasongreeley.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- SOULS IN RHYTHM -- Funklore

FUNKLORE
Souls In Rhythm
Stripey Zebra Music
9-out-of-10
Souls In Rhythm is a band out of Calgary with a sound you might not expect of a city that is often thought of as the cowboy capital of Canada.
This band is a few country miles from country, but it’s worth traversing those miles to listen to their music.
Souls In Rhythm is a funk/soul squad, and while that may deem geographically out of place in Calgary, one listen and you won’t care where they are from, you’ll just be glad you were along to listen to their sweet vibes.
Of course the band is developing a rather solid resume, winning the CBC Showcase Competition, a finalist in the Alberta-wide Big Break Songwriting Competition and winning Calgary’s Last Band Standing Performance Competition.
Scott Henderson, is SIR’s keyboardist, as well as supplying vocals, and frankly he could be fronting a funk group of Detroit. The guy has the voice that fits the genre, soft, melodic, engaging.
Of course engaging is critical to funk. If this music doesn’t get you involved in the feeling of the genre, it fails. SIR gets and ‘A’ on that test of their music.
Caleb Roddick, on bass, Spencer Cheyne on drums and Craig Newnes on guitar round out the four-man band.
There are 11 songs here, and quite frankly there is not a weak effort from the opening Girl Work through the final cut Heaven, So I Can Life With Myself.
The disk is so solid picking a best song really comes down to putting the 11 titles in a hat, and drawing one out. The Same, I Release Me and I Got This end up being just a smidgen ahead of the rest.
This is a super disk. Find it. It is a winner from start to finish.
Check out this great band at www.soulsinrhythm.ca
-- CALVIN DANIELS

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

Review -- THE HIGGINS -- Real Thing

REAL THING
The Higgins
Open Road Records
7-out-of-10
The Higgins are one of those family units which keeps popping up in the world of music, more often in the vein of Celtic, although there is no shortage of sibling bands on the country side of things either.
In this case the unit is Kathleen, Eileen and John Higgins.
As you might expect the Real Thing is all about the harmonies. It really comes down to being the gals powering the music here. Kathleen and Eileen dominate, with their voices in perfect sync. John is sort of an underlying element which adds some depth to the music, but rarely gets to step into the spotlight himself.
The music is at its best based on the tight harmonies. It really is enjoyable to hear two voices which come together some seamlessly.
In time though it would be nice to see John brought out of the shadows a bit. As it stands this is a female album, and as a family unit they could add another element by using John as a counter balance.
Musically, this is a disk that is completely geared to today’s radio. Every song is fashioned with a hook that radio programmers seem to look for as the first element they want to hear to add a song to the playlist.
As a result the lyrics aren’t particularly memorable. They are modern country, designed for today, forgotten tomorrow.
The one exception is Factory Girl, the only song not likely to make radio, and it’s only 1:42 long, but its the truest effort here.
Now while the music is radio-ready, there are still songs here it’s hard not to like.
I Got No Time (For a Little Boy), is a song where The Higgins seem to get a bit of emotional fire going, and it shows.
Then there is Flower Child, a single release which fits radio like a glove, but the song comes across as one where The Higgins know the song is a tad superficial. The harmonies are tight, but the emotion isn’t embodied like it is in the aforementioned efforts.
This is radio-ready country, which means hits galore. In the future though I hope The Higgins add a bit more emption to their music.
Check them out at www.higginsmusic.com
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SIMON FISK TRIO -- Unless

UNLESS
Simon Fisk Trio
Plunge Records
8-out-of-10
Regular readers will be familiar with the name Simon Fisk. This guy is a prolific Canadian jazz musician, who finds himself in the recording studio often. Vague Hotels with Simon Fisk / Chris Gestrin / Jerry Granelli was reviewed here in January of this year, and back in 2007, Fist You and Yours.
Fisk is a bassist who has the ability to not just lay the foundation on which a piece is based, but to truly carry a song forward with his stylistic approach.
With his trio he is supported perfectly by the piano work Gestrin who lays down the body of the music here. The piano is generally front and centre, although Fist on bass not surprisingly adds some girth to the music.
Granelli provides the underlying heartbeat with his generally under-stated, but effective drum work.
This is active, swirling jazz, the type which takes the listener’s mind on wonderful trips through a maze of images the music creates. No where is that more true than in the piece Freedom Suite which clocks in at more than 10-minutes, and during that time leads the listener on a merry chase of thoughts and images.
Fisk has written all the material here too, showing he has a wonderful understanding of jazz as a musical paintbrush.
This is another enjoyable effort from a jazz artist who is becoming a definite favourite. Check out the trio at www.simonfisk.com.
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LUKE RYALLS -- The City

THE CITY
Luke Ryalls
Pining for Our Records Records
9-out-of-10
When Luke Ryalls started playing harmonica on Swing Low, the lead cut on The City, I was immediately captured -- yes harmonica is a weak spot for me.
Still the harmonica work on the lead song caught my attention and got me focused on what Ryalls was doing as a musician.
On Myspace Ryalls slots himself into the acoustic/pop world, which means at times there are flavours of country, and in his case a lyric-writing style which obviously borrows much from the world of folk.
Ryalls, who comes out of Saskatoon, has been the singer in The Fjords for years, but this new release is his first solo effort.
Again his Myspace spot explains, “He picked up his old acoustic guitar, set up a studio in his creaky living room, and created The City, an intimate and intense record full of sparse, haunting ballads, thumping, grandiose landscapes, and sparkling, rootsy sing-alongs.”
All right that description might be a touch flowery, but the idea of haunting music certainly fits. That is just how I would describe The Snow Road, which I believe is the best song on the CD.
The same moodiness carries on through Halcyon Summers, which again is a wonderful piece.
Ryalls keeps the music simple, his acoustic guitar carrying the spotlight almost exclusively throughout. His voice borrows from the school of Dylan in its approach. Those two elements speak highly of what he is doing here.
Yet, the true strength of the music here lies in the lyrics. Ryalls is a poet who writes so that the mood of the song is transferred to the listener easily. You feel this guy’s music, and it says a lot about a musician when he can share the feelings which fire the music.
Standing Beside Us is one of the songs where the emption transfer is most easily appreciated. Blazer is another emotional gem. Both are simply excellent.
A definite disk to search out. Check it out at www.myspace.com/lukeryallsmusic
— CALVIN DANIELS

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada