Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review -- VICTORIA BANKS -- When YOu Can Fly

Victoria Banks
On Ramp Records
Oh Wow! Victoria Banks has a voice which says star with every note. Impressive from the first strains of The Wheel, throughout the 11 cuts on When You Can Fly.
It only takes one listen to the disk to know this Canadian is special.
It’s no surprise to learn Banks’ debut album made her the most nominated female artist of 2009 with six from the Canadian Country Music Association; Female Artist of the Year, Rising Star, Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Producer of the Year.
Banks is a country singer, and is following in the footsteps of the best in Canada from Michelle Wright to Terri Clark. As good as those two ladies have been and are — I am a huge Wright fan — Banks may well be destined to be better than both. I’ve been at this review game a lot of years now, and I can’t recall a Canadian female singer who has impressed more with a disk than this lady.
What makes this disk even more outstanding is that Banks has had her hand in writing every song.
There are some killer cuts her including This Old Halo, Long Gone Train, the tile cut When You Can Fly, and Back to the River. All are worthy of radio play.
Jason Blaine adds male vocals on Don’t Leave the Leavin’ and it’s a great touch to the disk. He clicks nicely with Banks.
Now there is one hiccup here. The poppy little word play segments of Kiss Me are frankly annoying, and shave a half point off the overall rating. With such poise shown on the rest of the recording, it’s too bad she slipped into the silly cliches approach on this one.
Still one bump is not enough to not recommend this CD highly. Get in on the ground floor of a rising Canadian country star.
Check her out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LUKE RYALLS -- The City

Luke Ryalls
Pining For Our Records Records

Luke Ryalls calls himself an indie, acoustic, pop performer. All right, that about covers it.
Ryalls, who hails from Saskatoon, will be known to some as the long-time lead singer of The Fjords.
With The City, Ryalls has embarked on a solo path, offering up a disk with nine songs, all self-penned.
The music comes across as deeply personal. The songs are sung with an intimate passion borne of being close to the material.
You notice the intimacy and passion immediately on a song such as Cautious Eyes, one of the best on the album.
That said, Ryalls sings from deep within himself on every cut here. The vocals on Be The One are powerful. The Snow Road plays real. The list goes on.
The depth of the lyrics matches up nicely with the passion of Ryalls as a performer too. The words here are worth listening too — worth digesting — worth understanding.
Ryalls is a performer I’d love to see live in a small, intimate venue such as 5th Avenue Coffee. The songs come across as so personal on the disk, that the live connection would likely be quite electric.
This is certainly an impressive CD which deserves a larger audience. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed.
Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- DON ALDER -- Not A Planet

Don Alder
Don Alder has amassed a rather impressive musical resume. The British Columbia-based guitarist has six CDs under his belt.
Listen to Not A Planet, and you see why he has had musical staying power.
Alder is first and foremost a fine guitar player. He combines fingerpicking with simultaneous percussion on the soundboard for a full-fledged acoustic sound.
As far as the latest disk is concerned, Alder mixes fine instrumental efforts on songs such as The Wall and Sayonara.calm, (perhaps the CD’s best effort), with tunes where he incorporates vocals.
While Alder’s guitar work outshines his vocals, the mix still works well here. The vocal efforts are a welcome change of pace to the guitar driven cuts.
Showing his understanding of his own strengths as a musician, and in particular of understanding the guitar he is so intimate with, Alder has written all the material here.
I appreciate that on eight of the songs Alder has allowed himself the freedom to carry the music beyond four-minutes, and actually eclipses six-minutes on the aforementioned Sayonara.calm. The freedom of expression on the longer pieces demonstrates clearly a bonus here.
Overall, Not A Planet is an instrumental guitar-based CD that is extremely-well played. A definite one to search out for lovers of acoustic guitar.
Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BRAD JOHNER -- Lookin' At You

Brad Johner
On Ramp Records
There is certainly no one more synonymous with Saskatchewan country music than Brad Johner.
For a long-time he was one half of the Johner Brothers, a duo that criss-crossed the province doing shows for several years. If you were a country fan living in the province for much of the ‘90s it’s a sure bet you saw the brothers play.
Today Brad is a solo act. It is a path he embarked on in 2003, and what has followed has been an award winning career as the main man on stage.
Johner launched his solo career with the Juno-nominated Free album. The debut garnered wide acclaim for Johner including a 2003 Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Country Album, a win at the 2004 Canadian Independent Music Awards for Favourite Country Artist.
The accolades continued following his sophomore solo release Summertown Road, which earned Johner a Male Artist of the Year Award win at the 2007 Canadian Country Music Awards.
Lookin’ At You continues to show Johner is at the top of the country not just in Saskatchewan, but in Canada.
The latest release has some plain excellent country songs.
High is a beautiful number, which has one of those uplifting messages without being overly preachy. It’s simply about getting high from the everyday joys of life.
The title cut is a radio-friendly effort that works for me.
It should be noted there are a number of cuts here which radio will like. They also manage to maintain a ‘real’ country beat. Johner knows the roots of the music. He certainly tunes up modern country, but you can sense the heart of the music too.
That Wouldn’t Be Me could be the theme song for that country feel. It really speaks to being country, not simply singing it for the sake of finding a gig.
And, for all the parents who want to tear up remembering their daughter leaving home there is She’s Good To Go. Watch this one be a request show favourite.
Now let’s be honest here, you expect something by someone as veteran as Brad Johner to be a polished and professional. Lookin' At You is both of those things. It is also a darned fine collection of new country songs.
Mark this one as a can’t miss.
Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JOHNNY REID -- Dance With Me

Johnny Reid
Open Road Recordings
Johnny Reid has been gaining a following in country music starting back in 2005 with the release of Born to Roll and the 2007 follow-up Kicking Stones, also on the Open Road Recordings label.
Dance With Me is another step in Reid’s development.
This disk features the familiar grit-edged vocals which are something of a Reid trademark. The voice is one that is unique enough to set it apart from many in the country ranks these days, where many are attempting to simply mimic the ‘in sound’.
As much as Reid’s voice sets him apart from the usual country herd, it may not be for everybody either. I for one seem to waffle from one song to the next on how much I like his vocals.
The lead cut A Woman Like You misses for me based on Reid’s voice.
Then you hit a number like the title-cut Dance With Me, and I was just going ‘wow, I love the way he handles this song’. A slow love song, Dance With Me is a moving number that Reid handles masterfully. It helps too the instrumentation at times has a near classical feel, taking the song another notch up the ladder.
Brings Me Home is another slower tempo song that is a major highlight of the disk. Reid sings the slow ones with as much emotion as anyone in country today.
While there are times I personally am not the hugest fan of Reid, I totally admire that he really is cutting his own swath in country music.
There are times the music takes on a near blues, or jazz, feel. I’m not sure how country a song such as Let’s Take It Outside, but way to go Mr. Reid for selling something on the edge as country. The harmonica work is great too.
Ditto, Hey-O, which seems equal parts 1950s rock ‘n roll, and blues. Not sure it cuts as country, but who cares. It’s a fun, upbeat song that kicks some butt.
The fresh approach on several of the cuts, and the unique vocals Reid brings to the table certainly make this one an easy one to suggest anyone grab.
Check this one out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


The Grass Mountain Hobos
Bluegrass is sadly an increasingly rare musical treat. When a good bluegrass crosses the desk you have to just sit back and enjoy. Excuse me while I just soak in The Grass Mountain Hobos disk Zoot!
Ah! Yep, that’s bluegrass all right. Sweet!
Interestingly the band comes from Charlottetown, where you expect to hear Celtic-influenced East Coast folk.
Thankfully The Grass Mountain Hobos cut their own sound. The band’s website at suggests their sound is “a swing, bluegrass, blues, and folk infusion.”
All right, I see where they’re coming from with that description, but at its heart this disk is a bluegrass one.
Cuts such as Scrape the Paint, Hillbilly Fix and Zoot Suit are bluegrass through and through.
That said a song such as Graveyard Shift is more fully a folk song, telling the story of a worker coming home after a work shift to find their partner in bed with another. A great set of lyrics on this one.
If you’re looking for the swing influence, look no further than Kansas City Kitty.
The band includes; Josh Ellis on lead vocals and guitar, Peter Cann, guitar, Peter Webb, banjo, Thomas Webb, big bass bull fiddle, Thomas Kirkham, mandolin, and Gordie MacKeeman, fiddle. As a unit they come as smooth as good home brew, not that I’ve ever partaken in such spirits.
A must for lovers of bluegrass. Find this one.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review -- ELLEN KOLENICK -- Dear John

Ellen Kolenick

Readers of all things Yorkton This Week will recall a recent story on Ellen Kolenick’s new CD project, since she was raised in nearby Saltcoats. Now its time to focus in on the CD’s sound.
I’ll start by saying this lady has a beautiful voice. It would be wonderful if she had a venue to perform at here in the city to hear her up close and personal.
Kolenick’s debut disk is only seven songs, and regular readers will know I prefer a full disk rather than an EP, although I suppose seven songs almost puts it in between the two. Again the reason I like a full disk is if the music is good, the listener wants more, and when offering up a debut, make sure you offer up as much good music as is reasonable. Kolenick does a great job on the material here. Another four or five songs would just have added to the pleasure.
So what sort of music does Kolenick perform?
That is a question not easily answered, even by the performer herself. In the previous story she explained herself this way; “ I'm a singer/songwriter who plays easy listening, adult contemporary music - I call it, ‘dinner hosting, chocolate eating, wine sipping, bubble bathing kinda sound’.”
Therein may lie a problem for Kolenick in that I don’t recall many radio stations proclaiming they play that kind of music, nor do you find a section in a music store with that label. Just where she fits will be a challenge.
That’s too bad because there are some beautiful songs. Miss You is a wonderfully sad song, and Story of Us and Come Back Home are great cuts too.
Certainly a disk with a local connection worth seeking out. Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- QUARTANGO -- El Fuego

Justin Time

Is there any substitute for experience? Yes the question is a cliche, but in the case of Quartango, it begs to be asked since this quartet reaffirms that there is nothing like experience, even in the music business.
El Fuego marks the sixth recording by the quartet on the Justin Time label, and also celebrates their 25th anniversary. That speaks volumes for the Quebec-based group.
Quartango have an unabashed love affair with the tango going on, and that is reflected in the works here, but the music goes so much farther than a single ell-known dance step tune.
The four musicians here are; René Gosselin on double bass, Richard Hunt on piano, Douglas Schmidt on bandoneon (invented in Germany in 1855 that is essential in tango music), and Charles-Etienne Marchand on violin. As a unit the use the tango as a foundation over which they add elements of classical music to create amazing musical tapestries which are rich is flavours you would not necessarily expect when you start with the idea of a tango.
The word classical will scare a number of readers I am sure, but in this case don’t run. This is what I would call accessible classical. While of course significantly different in sound, the approach of Quartango reminds me much of the Canadian Brass. The vision of music that is classical, yet approachable seems to be central to both groups.
That certainly is the case here. El Fuego is light-hearted. It is music that is about passion and joy. Really what else could it be with the tango as its heartbeat.
A disk full of beautiful music with subtle nuances which seem to chase through the pieces like happy sprites at play.
This is a disk that really needs to be heard and appreciated.
Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SONS OF THE NEVER WRONG -- On A Good Day ... I Am

Sons of the Never Wrong
It doesn’t take a critic’s ear to hear and understand some bands are simply a cut above the norm. Sons of the Never Wrong are one of those bands.
The first clue really came before even spinning their latest disk On A Good Day … I Am.
The disk is on the Waterbug label, an American folk-centric with a well-deserved reputation for quality. This disk only reinforces that rep.
Sons of the Never Wrong are also a veteran unit in terms of American folk/pop, with this the trio’s sixth disk. That experience means crystal clear vocals, smooth harmonies and a beautiful selection of songs.
Sue Demel and Deborah Maris Lader are the female voices here, and there are times they remind a lot of the Wyrd Sisters, which for me heady praise since I adore the Wyrds. However, the Sons of the Never Wrong add another dimension with Bruce Roper giving them a male voice to compliment the female voices, and it adds depth to the music.
The trio adds piano, guitar, and at times banjo and mandolin, which sound like a bluegrass mix, but here it is far more modernist folk. In the end the label doesn’t really matter since it’s just plane excellent music.
Mention must also be made that at times the Kairos Quartet is on board adding yet another layer of texture to the music. That in itself is a nice touch, showing again the maturity of the Sons to expand their sound as needed.
The disk has 14 cuts, and mixes in another four short interlude cuts for variety, and quite frankly every one of them works.
The lyrics tell stories, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes whimsical, but always one you are glad the Sons took the time to share.
If you are even remotely a fan of folk, or just a lover of good music, this one should be marked as must have material. Totally fantastic.
Check it out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada