Cover Story

Barra MacNeils Keeping the Celtic Spirit

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Submitted by Bill King

Editor’s Note: 2014 marks over 27 years for the Cape Breton Island based family group, the Barra MacNeils, in an outstanding recording and touring career. This holiday season they are celebrating again with their yearly Christmas tour that takes them from the Pacific West to the Atlantic East coast. It all begins in British Columbia, taking in some dates in Ontario,then to the Atlantic East Coast to P.E.I.,New Brunswick and wrapping it up December 21st in Nova Scotia. The music, memories and magic that is the Barra MacNeils will be coming to Massey Hall on December 13, 2014 – one show only at 8 pm. For more on the tour visit: www.barramacneils.com.

Bill King: It was our 35th anniversary and we decide to celebrate in Cape Breton with stopovers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Prior to that, my partner Kristine and I were guests on Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition on CBC and made mention of our impending trip. That show carried to the far tip of Cape Breton Island where math teacher David Rasmussen and family overheard. Through a friend, they contact and invite us to spend a week with them in Bay St. Lawrence.

We flew to Halifax and spun our way down around Peggy’s Cove across the province to the base of Cape Breton Island, stopping to snap photographs along the way. We stayed in bed and breakfasts - no plan or time schedule.

Mimi O’Bonsawin New Music, Old Soul

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Submitted by Don Graham

Like a four leaf clover, Halley’s Comet or a blue moon, there are things in this world that come along infrequently and bring us joy when they do. A talent like Mimi O’Bonsawin is as rare as the above mentioned wonders. We get a lot of CD’s come across our desks at Cashbox Canada but every once in a while we get something with an off the chart wow factor. That was the case when the self titled Mimi album was first inserted into the office CD player here at Cashbox Canada.

Mimi O’Bonsawin is an old soul. The music she makes is on one hand familiar yet totally original and unique. Her voice belies her age (she’s a mere 20 years old) but the subject matter, tunes plus delivery suggests a much older, well-traveled woman but at times has the innocence of a child.

Mimi was born in Sudbury, Ontario  to Native Canadian/French Canadian parents when at a young age she became very interested in her native background, history and culture. “I was fascinated by the Native culture, so I decided to take courses to get more educated about it. It changed my life or should I say reaffirmed my purpose in life while influencing my songwriting.”  Mimi’s songs are not what you’d expect from a 20 year old but come from a place deep inside that truly reflects Mimi’s values and maturity.

Blue Room

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Submitted by Sandy Graham
Cover Photo Credit: Kevin Kelly

Eighteen years later and this band is still rockin’ the blues on the TO scene and beyond. Formed in 1996, Blue Room will celebrate their 20th Anniversary in 2016.  This is their fourth album and sure to join the other releases that have received international attention and radio airplay.

The core musicians of Blue Room are veteran live and studio players, featuring: Brian Neller's big, bluesy, passionate vocals; Fraser Lawrason’s solid bass lines and backing vocals; Paul Sanderson's soaring blues rock guitar; Norm Ryan's fluid and inspired saxophone; Pat Quinn's seasoned drum grooves. (Frank Watt started with the band and is a lifelong friend of all the musicians in the band and a musical colleague, but only Pat plays on this last CD)

Songwriting is shared by Brian Neller (vocals) and Paul Sanderson (guitarist) and this new offering will not disappoint fans who fell in love with Blue Room’s signature tune ‘Red Beans and Rice’.
Blue Room has a list of accomplishments that reads like a Juno nominee:
Finalists in the 1997 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search, runner-up in 1998, and second runner-up in 2000! Since 1997, the band has played in major blues venues around Toronto, including the Silver Dollar Room, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and Chicago’s. Sharing the bill with the likes of John Hammond and Jully Black, BLUE ROOM has also played the JVC Jazz Festival, The Beaches International Jazz Festival, First Night Toronto at the SkyDome, and Lloyd’s Blues Music Festival, featuring B.B. King, and Buddy Guy.

The band’s CDs have garnered airplay on over 40 radio stations in Canada, including CBC, Q107, CJRT, and internationally on hit top 20 CHR radio station, Radio Kaleidoscope in France, and received a 5 star rating (the highest) on Radio Halo in Holland.

Bands On The Run - It’s Gonna Get Loud

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Submitted by Don Graham

The Road Hammers, Doc Walker and Blackjack Billy on the same stage, on the same night? In 16 different cities?  In Canada?  Man, it is gonna get loud!  You don’t see this sort of lineup (three major bands touring together) very often. It’s not unusual to see solo acts sharing the bill but the band concept is a throwback to days of yore! Dick Clark and His Caravan of Stars in the 50’s and 60’s pioneered the concept. In the  70’s you could see combinations like Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After and Procol Harum together at The Fillmore East.  So being able to see two future Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame acts like the Road  Hammers and Doc Walker along with fast rising U.S stars Blackjack Billy is going to be one for the scrapbooks. Or today I guess it would be one for the memory sticks.

I had the opportunity to  sit down with some of the major players in this package show;  Jason McCoy of the Hammers, Chris Thornsteinson, Dave Wasyliw of Doc Walker and Noll Billings of Blackjack Billy over coffee in downtown Toronto to discuss the upcoming invasion of The Bands on the Run. Just having coffee with these guys is worth the price of admission. They were all pretty pumped about the possibilities to be had on this tour.

Victoria Banks The Road To Indigo

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Submitted by Don Graham

Victoria Banks is living the dream in Nashville, Tennessee, writing songs and making a good living at it. It’s been a long, hard road to get to this point in her career but if you give it enough time the cream will always rise to the top. Sitting with Victoria at the Gibson Shop in Toronto she is a picture of calm and confidence in her craft but with enough of the creative insecurity that all great artists have. “ A lot of folks think of songwriting as just something you sit and do. You pick up a guitar and a pen sitting at your kitchen table and a song comes to you. But actually I go to the office everyday and spend 8 to 10 hours writing and labouring over ideas and melodies.

It’s a lot of work and I’ve put 10 years into working at my craft” Victoria  signed her first publishing deal in 1998 where  she was a staff songwriter for Fame Music and  from 2002 to 2007 she was a writer for Full Circle Music  and as of 2007 she is writing for Nashville's Sony/ATV Publishing.

Born in Port Carling, (Muskokas) Ontario, Victoria’s  self-produced debut CD When You Can Fly was released on the On Ramp/EMI Canadalabel in April 2009. The CD earned her  a 2010 Canadian Indie Award nomination and six nominations at the 2009 Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs)  that included  Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, Single of the Year ("The Wheel"), Songwriter of the Year ("The Wheel"), Female Artist of the Year and Rising Star, making her  the most nominated female artist of 2009. The album's first single off the album "The Wheel," was a Top 20 song.

Victoria was named both Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter(s) of The Year at the 2010 CCMA Awards and was nominated in the Female Artist of the Year category again in 2011.

Giving Thanks For the Music

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Submitted by Don Graham

Music is probably something we all take for granted just because like water, the sky and the ground we walk on it’s always been there. And it’s everywhere. It’s on our T.V. shows, the nightly news,our favourite sitcoms. Look at a picture of the I Love Lucy show and you’ll hear the theme in your head. Mission Impossible, Mash, CSI.  And on and on.

They say that smell is the greatest memory trigger but I have to think music is a close second.  Hearing a song or melody can take you right back to the moment in time when you first heard it.

And evoke the same emotions you felt at the time. Powerful stuff. Remember the dances you went to as a kid and the  slow dance songs that allowed the timid boy to ask the girl of his dreams, or any girl for that matter, to allow him this dance?  I’ll bet if you think about it you can hear the tune and sing the words. Amazing Grace will nearly always bring sad memories of a passing and the subsequent grief and tears.

As Hugh Prestwood said in the  song he wrote for Trisha Yearwood “The Song Remembers When”.

Music was and is the voice of generations.  Originally created for the auditory pleasure of the masses it became much more as time moved on. In the days of the troubadours, messages and local news were conveyed by way of songs, putting the news to melodies and airs to sing to the kings and townspeople. Thus the folk song was born.

Time periods were defined by the music of the era. The roaring twenties with its flappers and the Charleston.  The war years of the forties with sentimental songs of missing loved ones who were called away to battle and songs of pride and patriotism. The rock and roll years of the fifties, Blue Suede Shoes and Elvis were rockin’ around the clock. The youth wanted something of their own and Elvis and all the other cats, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley gave it to them.

George Harrison A Box Set of Apple By George!

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Submitted by Don Graham

It seems we can’t get enough of anything Beatles, as a band, as solo artists, dead or alive the Beatles juggernaut keeps rolling along. And although George Harrison was usually limited to one song per album in the Beatles heyday, he had a productive solo career.

George  is releasing a boxed set of  8 discs  and an accompanying book celebrating his years on Apple Records 1968-1975. The set will be available as newly re-mastered individual releases and as part of a box set this fall. This release complements Harrison's 2004 release, The Dark Horse Years 1976-92, and will contain a DVD with videos and a never-before-seen, seven-minute film directed by Harrison's wife Olivia. There will also be a book with an introduction by Harrison's son, Dhani, who oversaw the releases with previously unpublished photos.

Whenever these sort of things are released, Beatle fan(atic)s will rush to buy them sometimes in their fourth incarnation, having previously purchased vinyl, cassette and CD, but also a new batch of fans, younger music lovers, is picked up in the publicity and hype surrounding the band and it’s legendary members.

Eric Andersen Songpoet

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Submitted by Don Graham

Cover Photo Credit: Carol Rothman

Thirsty Boots, Violets of Dawn, Close The Door Lightly When You Go and I Shall Go Unbounded, all classic and age resistant songs and all written by the same man, Eric Andersen.

In the sleeve notes of a compilation album titled "Violets of Dawn". Andersen is quoted as saying that "Leonard Cohen once came up to me and said 'I'm a poet and never thought of writing songs until I heard 'Violets of Dawn' and then I began to write songs.”Kris Kristofferson liked my sexy songs, my love songs...It helped him write the kinds of things he did in Nashville like 'Help Me Make it Through the Night". Nice!

“There were only a handful of us in the Village doing that at the time, writing our own songs. There was a lot of folk singers but not a lot of actual songwriters. But they started gravitating there. Joni Mitchell. Ian and Sylvia. Leonard Cohen for example started drifting in,” Andersen explained by phone from his home in Holland. Talking to Eric I felt like I was talking to a young man. There is an edge to his voice, a spirit that still burns bright even after 50 years of plying his trade. An intelligence in his answers, a thoughtful pause before giving his view on something. Not a weary bone in his body and despite the legacy of music he has already created, Eric is nowhere close to being done. He will always be a “seeker”. He is still writing songs, writing a book and has a documentary set for release this year titled ‘The Songpoet’.

Cosimo Matassa Out of the Shadows

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Submitted by Cashbox Canada and Sandy Graham

Cosimo Matassa, had a used-record business in New Orleans led him to sell new records, which led him to open a tiny studio that helped jump-start rock ’n’ roll.
As an engineer and proprietor of J&M Studios and Cosimo Recording Studio in New Orleans, Cosimo Matassa was crucial to the development of the New Orleans R&B, rock, and soul sound of the '50s and '60s. Little Richard and Fats Domino recorded some of their greatest hits at these studios, and major instrumentalists and producers like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint got key early experience there.

Matassa is not nearly as well-known as other pioneers of early rock production, like Sam Phillips of Sun Records, but in his way, he was almost as important. Matassa was originally in the jukebox and record retail business, starting his studio at the back of his shop in 1945. It was in the ten-by-twelve-foot J&M Studios that Fats Domino's "The Fat Man," one of the first New Orleans R&B classics and one of the first records of any sort to be retroactively classified as rock & roll, was recorded. In 1955, he moved to the larger Cosimo Recording Studio, and over the next decade, the flow of New Orleans R&B continued, with records by giants like Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey. He moved the studio again in 1966, although this failed by the end of the '60s. Matassa was also involved in Allen Toussaint's Sea-Saint Studios, which recorded acts like Paul McCartney, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, and LaBelle in the '70s, and was still in operation in the '90s.

Emilia’s Excellent Extravaganza

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood here in Toronto, with a brisk touch of excitement in the air. Bees are buzzing, acorns are falling and squirrels are squirreling. Across town at singer/songwriter Emilia’s house, the excitement is downright electrifying. Her voice comes over the phone as bright, pumped up and studded with the laughter of a 22 year old in love with her life. Emilia has every reason to be excited, given her recent career trajectory.

F’r instance, a recent flashpoint was the placing of "Young And In Love", a song from debut album "E" as part of the soundtrack for the upcoming feature film "After The Ball" starring Chris Noth (The Good Wife, Sex In The City, Law And Order), Portia Doubleday (Carrie), and Lauren Holly (Dumb and Dumber, Motive, NCIS).

“It was amazing to hear that, a total surprise as there was no forewarning. Up until I got the email, I had no idea anything like that was up. Then when I saw the movie, it was just awesome, totally exciting and so interesting to see how they used the song.”

She’s still humbly overjoyed at the critical reception given her debut album ‘E’, even before its official release, which comes Sept. 16. Tipsters across the spectrum are wowed by the range and fluidity of Emilia’s vocals as well as the song writing chops. Stylistically, the material genre hops subtly within vaguely defined pop, nu-dance and jazz boundaries. That she pulls it all off is another high-bar mark. Currently just a few credits off a Fine Arts degree with a major in music from York U., Emilia credits the formal training with her highly honed songwriting.

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