Album Reviews

Sultans Of String Isabel Bader Theatre Toronto

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

This one had all the high energy and exhilarating music to be expected from the World Music music quintet abetted for the occasion by vocalist Rebecca Campbell. There was motivation to take it all up another notch in the fact the band was premiering their first Christmas album to the hometown folks. So what really happened was an adventurous musical trip around the world, with Christmas as the backdrop, with a passport stamped for 2017 Juno Award-nominated Sultans of String deliver an exuberant performance featuring impressive genre originals, world-music-inspired classics, and seasonal favourites.

From fiery fiddle tunes to a Caribbean sleigh ride, this show had it all, for young, old and midrange too. The classics were represented by this “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring," "The Christmas Song" a “Feliz Navidad” ska party, a Turkish twist on “Greensleeves." The wondrous to watch Cuban percussionist Rosendo Chendy made "Little Drummer Boy" his own, creating overlapping textures with the cajon.

The mood is properly set by the beguiling air of "Turkish Greensleeves", so by the time they get to "Sing For Kwanza," "Himalayan Sleighride" and the edgy "A Django Christmas," the word's out this isn't one of those Christmas shows.

Cold Specks Mod Club Toronto

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

This gig was a coming out of sorts for Ladan Hussein, the show where she dropped her stage monikers of Cold Specks and Ali Spx for her birth name. It was also the one where she dropped the organic instrumentation of her previous albums for a pair of synths and the occasional electric bass.Hussein started her set by lighting incense and a candle in a gold-gilded vase. “Scent is stronger than sound,” she said as the sweet fragrance wafted throughout the venue. “It holds memories." Then plunged into newest release Fool's Paradise, an experimental, textured work that, lacking much in the way of hooks except for set closer "Exile," is all about the voice.

Which is why it seemed odd that in many places, where a powerful resolution was called for, songs like "Void' just seemed to drift away. Maybe it was the stress of touring, having just got back from Europe but the large midsection of the show sounded she was in her own bubble, not really working the songs.

Still and all, the solid fanbase, friends and many family members who made up the crowd were into the personal stories and deep doom vocals they had come for but a casual listener might have liked some rhythm in the recipe. Or maybe it comes with doom soul itself. as Hussein herself remarked during an intro. “All sad songs,” she said. “I don’t know, I can’t help myself.” Then joked about 2018 being the year she bails on doom soul and takes on pop music to “make some money.”

Jonathan Cavier Blue Room Remix

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Submitted by Jason Hillenburg

Jonathan Cavier’s 2017 album Blue Room will likely finish out the year surrounded by the same atmosphere greeting its initial release – as one of the year’s best all-around effort regardless of genre. This likelihood, however, doesn’t persuade Cavier to stand pat. Great albums are never finished, only released, and Cavier has opted for revisiting his album in collaboration with engineer Nico Essig for a full remix that casts his sophomore effort in a different light through adding previously unreleased songs, reworking his already fine vocals, and twisting the overall sound in another direction. Essig, with a CV including artists Katy Perry and Paul McCartney, has wreathed Cavier’s material in a robust and thoroughly modern sound that accentuates his musical and vocal strengths. The new material doesn’t upset the original album’s balance but, instead, ratchets up the intensity of the release and allows different sides of Cavier’s musical character to get their day in the sun.

Kelly McGrath O Holy Night

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Submitted by Laura Dodero

The wont of popular music performers to produce seasonal material celebrating the Christmas season is a tradition reaching back several decades and, typically, works as a ploy to print money by preying on people’s sentiments. Some offerings strike us as self-consciously crafted confections playing on popular tropes, but there are some efforts that come along each year notable for their musical creativity and unbridled honesty. Kelly McGrath’s latest single “O Holy Night” joins the ranks of the latter thanks to its pure-hearted theatricality that highlights the scale of McGrath’s vocal talents and the wise arrangement she chooses to move this tune along. Rather than tossing a bunch of needless musical tinsel onto the recording, McGrath chooses to take a much more minimalist approach certain to connect with audiences and the sparse musical accompaniment adorning the song is expertly applied and doesn’t betray even a hint of self-indulgence.

Kevin Fisher Beer Me

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Submitted by Pamela Bellmore

The dozen songs on Kevin Fisher’s debut 'Beer Me' have outstanding confidence in the way they come across despite being clearly comical in nature. He’s recruited a first-class cast of collaborators to bring the music to life and they come through on each of the twelve cuts with hard-edged gravitas that acts as a counterbalance of sorts to the comedic elements Fisher brings to bear through the words and vocal delivery. His extensive experience writing successfully for acts like Uncle Kracker and Sara Evans proves he can write every kind of tune you would imagine and it’s freeing to hear Fisher take the listener through twelve essentially silly songs without a moment of self-consciousness and just reveling in the moment. Beer Me is a fun ride from the start and we’re in good hands from the first song with an album that has no audible lulls.

Cameron Blake Fear Not

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Submitted by Laura Dodero

Fear Not, the second studio platter from Cameron Blake, will likely end up being one of the defining releases in Blake's musical career. You can't accuse him of aiming low. Blake's dozen songs on Fear Not make use of a supporting cast numbering nearly fifty musicians to take on the theme of fear. The songs, in a variety of contexts, explore the subject without any sentimentality or straining for effect. They succeed in a major way, thanks to his focus on the reality of this subject rather than just some grab bag of tropes and easy drama. It's autobiographical, or at least that suggestion is there, but Blake has a sharp interest in the lives of others outside his sphere that's reflected in his personal journey. The greatest artists often bring those things that drive their daily lives into their art and it's, invariably, a beautiful experience. Blake brings that experience to its near zenith with Fear Not.

The Mighty Bosscats: God Bless America

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a simply lovely album from a UK outfit with a blues-cum-Americana outlook, feel and beauty. Fronted by guitarist and songwriter Richard Townend, the band is tightly controlled with hints of seventies US, West Coast, Laurel Canyon sounds and sensibilities.

In many ways this has a Knopfleresque feel but, having been listening to this outfit for some years now, it is surely time to shrug aside that sort of thinking. Maybe, and probably inevitably, Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits have been influences and interests back in the past, but Townend has clearly slipped off that yolk and moved on with his own distinctive style and delicious delivery.

Townend is a mighty clever lyricist, a guy who can work a theme and run a rippling roll of fretwork and melody to match the thinking. The result is a genuinely individual and engaging musical take and outlook. I must confess to being a fan and advocate of this band and its music. With ‘God Bless America’ it seems evident that they have moved ahead, running onto a new path of irresistible modern, top-notch music, always with a blues edge at heart but aided by a keen eye towards the  Americana future. This is a true delight, an album to savor.

For more on Richard Townend and The Mighty Bosscats visit https://www.richardtownend.com/

Severine: Not Obsessed

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Submitted by Stephen Bailey

The imagination and depth of feeling that goes into realizing “Not Obsessed” make it much different than the average pop song. Severine’s single has the potential to break out in a big way commercially, but she takes no compromises to position the song in such a way. “Not Obsessed” comes off as an intensely personal lyrical and musical statement. Her youth is no impediment to projecting confidence and Severine’s vocal performance simmers with atmospherics and a satisfying emotional range. Severine was born in the United States initially, but her French-born parents soon decided to return to France and she grew up in an environment that promoted her musical development. The song’s subject matter isn’t necessarily remaking the wheel, but it’s equally impressive how Severine has established such a unique voice for speaking on familiar themes and subjects.

Flatt Lonesome Silence In These Walls

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Submitted by Joshua Stryde

The six members of Flatt Lonesome have grown a lot as individuals, band mates, songwriters, and musicians in the four years since they first appeared on the scene with a self-titled debut. This distinctive and retro-minded outfit has spent much of the early part of their run pay due deference to the rich history of country music, but these last four years has also found them expanding their purview to include increasingly sophisticated arrangements, more and more original material and discovering a wont for pushing the boundaries of the form while still loyally adhering to its expectations. There’s a lot of entertainment value spread out over these twelve tracks, but there’s also a feeling of life well lived that goes into these performances and they will likely strike a chord deep within listeners. Silence in These Walls is Flatt Lonesome’s best effort to date and sets the bar high for their future releases.

Caveboy Release New Single ‘New Touch’

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Submitted to Cashbox Canada
Photo Credit Ryan Lague

Recently in Toronto, Montreal's Caveboy blew the roof off at the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class Showcase - demonstrating their innate power to command a crowd with their live performance. Sneak previewing their brand new track, New Touch - OUT TODAY, the trio had the audience grooving from the first beat of this tasty jam.

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