Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review -- SANDMAN VIPER COMMAND -- Everybody See This

Sandman Viper Command

Coming to music fans out of Burlington, ON., Sandman Viper Command is Rob Janson, Daniel Reardon, Aaron Harvey and Matt Damon Meyer.
"In the beginning, the four best friends who make up the ambitiously named outfit (Rob Janson, Aaron Harvey, Dan Reardon, Matt Meyer) locked themselves up for days in their parents' basements practicing and refining demos, only emerging when they had stumbled upon the most perfect blend of garage pop/guitar fuzz rock this side of the border has heard in a long time. It's this obsessive compulsiveness in their music that pays off huge on their independently released debut, Everybody See This," details the band's bio on MySpace.com
Well I might not suggest this music, and frankly very little music in general is perfect, but within its genre Sandman Viper Command does it pretty well.
Among the dozen cuts here the best is Using Everybody. A solid song with a hook to catch you.
For the most part the band does a credible job of catching the listener's ear.
It's not necessarily the lyrically deepest music on the planet, but I doubt the band was looking to make political statements, or to create rock anthems with the release of this disk.
What they have is a highly listenable album save for one weak spot that being Dial M, a song which drags and has something of a repetitious drone to it.
Overall worth a listen even though Sandman Viper Command is not likely to become a household name based on this release.
Check it out at www.myspace.com/sandmanvipercommand
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 20, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RAY ELLIOTT BAND -- Good Prairie Folk

Ray Elliott Band

I am often pleasantly surprised by CDs which originate in Saskatoon. Other Canadian cities; Calgary, TO and Winnipeg might have a bigger reputation than the City of Bridges, but when you hear someone such as the Ray Elliott Band you realize the gap is far less than most probably think.
When preparing for this review I popped to the band's page on MySpace.com and noticed where it asks the band to describe who they sound like Elliott has, "I guess maybe on a really great day I would say Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Blue Shadows, Blue Rodeo."
All right that's pretty heady company. Three of the listed performers are household names in music, at least in Canada, and while the Blue Shadows are less well-known a review of 'Lucky To Me' from years back is still fondly remembered by this reviewer. So I wasn't truly expecting Ray Elliott to live up to his own comparison.
Well the good news is that he reaches for such lofty heights. On a cut such as Hard Scrabble Year he makes it.
Then there is the opening Johnny Canuck, a song which could be a new Canadian folk/country standard.
Of course Bluenose is an East Coast hit which could have come from Great Big Sea and been an automatic hit.
And he doesn't miss a beat on cuts such as I Count the Days, Redwood Giants or Man on the Porch.
Overall this is a gem folks. Find it. Buy it. Enjoy it.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/rayelliottband
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 20, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO -- Juggernaut

Brownman Electryc Trio

The Brownman Electryc Trio are a treat if you like jazz. Their recent show at the ANAVETs in Yorkton was likely the best jazz I have heard live in Yorkton, and that means in more than a couple of decades.
Now I will grant you Yorkton is not a jazz hotspot, so the number of shows over that 20-years is sadly very limited, but that in no way lessens what this trio did that night.
Brownman himself did a great job of explaining his own interest in taking familiar jazz standards and twisting them with latin undertones, R&B and hip hop, creating something that while comfortable because they were known pieces, were also fresh and exciting because of the bold new treatments.
On Juggernaut Brownman uses the same sensibilities. He is a creative man with the trumpet, and it shows. Jazz by nature is usually rather free form, often explorative. Brownman follows that tradition but always the music seems to have been thought out. He is taking some roads less traveled, but you know he's at least looked at the map before hand to get an idea of where he's going, and how best to get there.
Of course the trip is often a leisurely one. There are only six songs on Juggernaut, but there's still nearly an hour of suburb jazz.
Red Clay, the last song meanders through Brownman's creative mind for some 15 minutes. It's an excursion which really let's him be the creative artist he desires to be.
Brownman is joined by electric bassist Tyler Emond and drummer Colin Kingsmore on the disk.
I have to add the CD comes with copious liner notes, a throwback to the past, which is a nice touch, and the cover art is stunning. In talking to Brownman it was learned the artist was found through an online contest, which is a modern marvel of interaction via the 'Net.
Overall, just great. Buy it.
Check it out at www.brownman.com
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 6, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SEVEN YEAR RIOT -- Self-Titled

Seven Year Riot

Seven Year Riot must have read my mind in turns of hard rock when they headed to the recording studio to do this disk. I like heavy metal ... to a point. Once the vocalist feels the need to scream into the microphone I turn off in terms of interest.
But driving guitars and heavy rhythms are just fine, and that's exactly what you get with Seven Year Riot, well at least until they turn it down and give you a pretty rock number like Autumn Rain, which is a great cut. It's a strong vehicle for the vocals of Justin Forsyth.
Forsyth is joined by Jim O'Neil on guitar, Jarrod Oglan on bass and Jess Azer on drums in this Windsor, ON-based unit.
Of course they can crank it way up too and still hit the sweet spot. Stitched and Mended is great, and Headcase plane rocks.
Now yes, the CD comes with a parental advisory for explicit lyrics, so be warned, although on the comparative scale this is rather modest. Of course as we see on TV every show comes with a warning these days.
This is an exciting debut from a great new voice on the Canadian rock scene. Grab it and hold on.
Check them out at www.myspace.com/sevenyearriot
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 6, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE MOUNTAIN & THE TREES -- I Made This For You

The Mountain & the Trees

Jon Janes is what can best be described as a modern folk minstrel who performs his solo act under the somewhat strange The Mountain & the Trees label. Yes I know it sounds like a band, but when on the road, and his tour schedule is a busy one, he is on stage alone with his guitar.
From Newfoundland, The Mountain & the Trees has a sound reflective of his minstrel lifestyle. There is the feeling of a lot of road dust on many of his songs. You get the feeling of nights in the backseat of cars, the floor of friend's living rooms, and cheap hotel rooms, this guy didn't sleep until he had taken the time to scratch out a song on some small picture of life he had seen that day.
The results are childhood memories in Fear of Ghosts, love in Crossing Crows, and small town realities in Goodbye Little Town, the latter could be an anthem for a generation of young people living in small communities across this country.
Now while The Mountain & the Trees performs solo, as he did recently at 5th Avenue Cup & Saucer in Yorkton, on the CD he has several musicians adding their talents to various cuts, and even some added vocals too. That's a good thing. The sound is certainly fuller on the disk.
That said a soloist can survive on the road far easier than a band, so it is easy to understand why The Mountain & the Trees has made the touring choice to go it alone.
Back to the recording, if you like life vignette, folk with what feels like free form poetic lyrics, this is it. The Mountain & the Trees has a knack for making songs which come across as photographs of a moment in time in life, the musicians, or the listeners. He may have lived it, or merely observed it, but there is an element of realism here because the listener can relate.
Very well done.
Check him out at www.myspace.com/themountainsandthetrees
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 30, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- KERRI SENKOW -- Self-Titled

Kerri Senkow

Kerri Senkow,is really an interesting musical story.
When you get to know most musicians they relate stories of piano lessons at age eight and performing in church or school projects from an early age. Rare are singers which come to the craft after their teen years, but that is the path Senkow took.
"I've always wanted to be on a stage and perform since a child, but never started performing until I was 20," she recently told Yorkton This Week. "I started out in front of Regina Liquor Stores as a way to make money between jobs and found the response to be encouraging. In September of 2009 I took it beyond a few coffee shops and stores and was booking steadily and since made it my career."
Senkow is somewhat unique in regards to coming to music older than most do.
"I started playing guitar at age 19 with no musical background," she said. "Within two weeks of having no idea what I was doing, I had already begun writing my own songs."
So when Senkow's five-song EP disk arrived, it was one which admittedly was of guarded interest.
The CD is solid if not spectacular.
If you think about it being Senkow's first effort, and that she has limited experience, especially on the song writing side of things, the material comes out in a brighter light. A song like Washington is actually hauntingly beautiful, and shows just what Senkow can achieve. There is a slightly Evanescence quality to the song and that is high praise in my book.
That said, the rest of the disk lacks anything to grab you, and struggles to hold form. Graduation 2004 has a sort of country vibe when Senko sings, and more rock when a male gust picks it up. The harmonica work adds to the country flavour. The song is a miss-matched mishmash. On a five-song effort one bad apple is a very bad thing.
The remaining three songs are fine, although there is a sameness to the material that if it were to continue on a full CD would lead to monotony.
But, back to in experience. If she can build on a song like Washington, forget country even exists and stretch herself a few times, her next disk might be a pleasant surprise.
Check her out at www.reverbnation.com/kerrisenkow
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 30, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JUSTIN LACROIX BAND -- Le Gauche et le Droit

Justin Lacroix Band

Justin Lacroix is a Winnipeg-based artist who performs in both English and French, his bilingual roots used to good effect on Le Gauche et le Droit.
Lacroix's website notes "The show is bilingual. But wait! This is a good thing. Since French and English come naturally to them, embracing both languages as they surface allows a true expression of the soul."
I have to say when you hear Lacroix doing French cuts such as En vélo and De plus, soul is a rather appropriate word in terms of describing the feeling of the music.
Le Gauche et le Droit is Lacroix’s second recording. It follows a solo bilingual recording (Boogieman-2005) which has sold 2000 copies to date, not bad for a Prairie indie disk.
The website also suggests the Lacroix band takes a rather natural approach to its music. "To play music the way it comes to you is how music should be made. This statement embodies the Justin Lacroix Band’s approach. Whether the style is folk, rock or funk, the band creates meaningful arrangements to offer heartfelt songwriting as a craft and labour of love. Highlighted by a tight-knit rhythm section, imaginative guitar riffs and sweet 3-part vocal seduction, the live show is authentic and uplifting."
Lacroix, who will perform at 5th Avenue Cup & Saucer in Yorkton March 25, does a nice job of making his bilingual music accessible. He mixes in the French pieces allowing them to be enjoyed musically without becoming tired since there is a language barrier for a listener such as myself.
One to check out for something different.
Check him out at www.justinlacroix.com
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 16, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- OHAMA -- Earth History Multiambient


All right, let's preface this with a note that I think I learned something with Tona Walt Ohama's Earth History CD, I am not a particularly big fan of what the artist terms electronic synthpop.
Now maybe I am missing something here, but what I end up hearing is rather bland, repetitious music which might find a home in an occasional elevator music loop.
A case in point is the opening song on disk #1, entitled Hello, appropriate when you consider the word 'hello' is probably used a hundred-plus times in the near five-minute song.
OMG isn't much different with "Oh My God" used over and over and over and … well you get the idea.
I can see the Alberta musician cringe, but this is very much an acquired taste.
When Ohama goes strictly ambient on Earth and Rebirth it’s better, although by then I had basically lost interest.
Now if you like this sort of music then Earth History is a good value, as a three-disk set. But, if you don't like it, it just extends the tedium.
Check it out at www.facebook.com/pages/Tona-Walt-Ohama
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 16, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- LAUREN MANN AND THE FAIRLY ODD FOLK -- Stories From Home

Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk

Lauren Mann has one of those voices that tends to sparkle no matter whether a song has an upbeat, catchy sound, or whether she slows things down with a sadder tune. It's just a pretty voice which is a pleasure to listen too.
And, on her full CD debut Stories From Home, Mann certainly draws the listener in quickly. Lost in the Sound is the lead cut, and it's one of the best offerings on a very solid 11-song effort.
Stow Me Away contends for top honours as well, along with Lady in the Yellow Dress and Let's Go Into the Unknown.
The music is clearly folk at its heart, although one can see the influences of Mann's jazz training, and the reality of modern pop, adding brush strokes to the material.
"This album, Stories From Home, is a different sort of album," said Mann, who recently performed at 5th Avenue Cup & Saucer in Yorkton. "It's a collection of songs that I wrote and recorded over the past few years, some on my own, and some with a friend in Calgary who had a studio in his basement."
The finished product is very good, and Mann is rightfully happy with it.
"I think that “Stories From Home” is good as a self-produced and mostly self-recorded album," she said. "I’m proud of the songs, and I’m happy with how it turned out ….
"It’s also a good starting point to continue with. I think that writing those songs has helped me develop lyrically and musically as a musician, and I hope that development will be seen on future recordings."
This is a disk which should find a broad fan base as it has appeal in material and style which really does cross the barriers of age.
Check her out at www.laurenmannmusic.com
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 9, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JACQUIE DREW -- Red Hot Candy Heart

Jacquie Drew

Born in Nova Scotia Jacquie Drew moved west with her family at a young age where she took classical piano and grew into a career in not surprisingly country music given her new home in Calgary.
The Rolling Wind was Drew's debut disk back in 2008, and now Red Hot Candy Heart arrives on the scene.
It is interesting how some songs remind of others. Drew's Cowgirl That I Am is country, but I am reminded of Sonny & Cher's I've Got You Babe. Yep a strange connection, but there is something of the old TV show hit in the country song.
So how is the overall package of Red Hot Candy Heart?
With the title I had expected more of a southern, roadhouse-style country, but this is a rather mellow country effort. Stylistically Drew has a bit of a Crystal Gayle-thing going on. She doesn't exactly blow you away the way Gayle repeatedly did, but there are aspects of their vocals they hold in common.
There are times Drew goes in a bit of a different direction. Neither Would I is a song with a hint of jazz, and much closer to the pop line than the rest of the effort. In that regard it may be the most "marketable" song here, although in terms of country it is a bit of the square peg in a round hole too.
Cleaning Lady is a heavily jazz influenced cut, and that is good, or bad, depending on your country vision.
Generally Drew is solid, although she lacks the 'wow-factor'. The material and her voice are both fine, although remembering it a week from now may not be easy.
Check her out at www.jacquiedrew.com
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 9, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JASON McCOY -- Everything

Jason McCoy
Open Road Records

In terms of Canadian country few names are bigger than Jason McCoy, who has had success as both a soloist and the mega-popular Road Hammers.
Well McCoy is back with a new CD, Everything, which hit the shelves March 1. He will be on the road in support of the new disk with a cross Canada tour, which will include a stop at the Painted Hand Casino in Yorkton March 18.
With the new disk McCoy shows that as a veteran of the country scene he knows the genre and country radio well.
That should not be a surprise since McCoy is a two-time CCMA Male Vocalist of the Year, and three-time CCMA Songwriter of the Year (SOCAN Song of the Year), for Born Again in Dixieland, Ten Million Teardrops, and Rocket Girl.
The experience means McCoy can write and sing a country song that has radio all over it, and he does just that with I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right, I’m Only In It For The Country Girls, and Little Bit Of Lovin’.
But McCoy is at his best when he shifts in down a gear (had to make a trucker reference with his Road Hammer fame).
The title song is a slower cut and I expected it would be the best of the CD when I first heard it. It's that good.
However, it comes in at second best pretty quickly after listening to Louisiana Law, a beautiful ballad, one with a rich storyline in the same vein as Seven Spanish Angels, and frankly just as good. This is the cream on this CD.
McCoy does not take any risks here. It's straight forward, modern country. It's made for radio. He goes from the toe-tapper, top down, running down the dirt road on a hot summer day song, to the kind of slow song you can hold your gal close with on the dance floor.
The risks are not taken, but then again what McCoy does simply works. There isn't a weak spot on the disk. This is a veteran showing off all he knows about making his way in modern country. Nicely done Mr. McCoy.
Check it out at www.jasonmccoy.com

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 2, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- NIKTEX -- The Power Of Yang


So you're a regular reader, and you know I tend to like music which pushes into new areas. There is something compelling about the effort to blend music in different ways.
That is the reason I was immediately intrigued by Niktex, a collaborative effort joining Nikole Texidor and Manjinder Benning.
The pair work at mixing electronics and Indian instruments into folk and jazz. The result is actually quite beautiful.
Texidor herself has a beautiful voice which would easily carry either jazz, or folk. It is the vocals which you immediately notice, and like -- a lot.
Benning adds the refreshing instrumentation, cajan, tabla, cast iron pan, to which Texidor at times tosses in her own efforts on cabasa, gourd and glockenspiel. The diversity of music here truly adds to the depth of the overall effort.
The song Irrationalities is one which truly shows the strength of the collaboration, and is one of the best songs here.
This is one of those CDs which will have a tough time finding a radio spot, but that is not a bad thing. It generally means the music simply doesn't fit the cookie cutter motif too well.
In this case ignore radio, and buy this disk direct. This is a fresh take on folk / jazz, and a totally enjoyable listen.
Check it out at www.niktexmusic.com

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Mar 2, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada