Album Reviews

The Matinee: We Swore We’d See the Sunrise

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Light Organ

Album number three from this Vancouver roots-rockin’ quintet offers up more of the same and better. It bears the stamp of a ‘breakout’ album, utilising loads of studio time and two producers to showcase what the dudes do best; guitar powered, harmony heavy, very accessible no-frills roots-rock, with the requisite dashes of Americana.

The song narratives hold up for the most part, being as they’re essentially tales of the road life. The album title references a line in the song “L’Absinthe.”, a true life account of one night of surreal craziness in Quebec, as is the claim for first single “Young & Lazy.” That one’s interesting in that it’s the most pop inflected tune here but not the only one. Not surprising as pop will still get ya more radio time than rootsy stuff.

Another signifier of the group’s commercial ambition is roots Americana icon Steve Berlin, who knows how to get acts as diverse as REM and Los Lobos airtime. The seven Berlin-produced soings layout sparkling guitar passes against swampy backbeats courtesy of bassist Mike Young, who shines like a Southern fried diamond on “Sweetwater” and “Let Her Go”. The lilting ballad “December Slumber” packs textural heft courtesy of tasty pedal steel passages.

The fretwork feaks get theirs via sparkling and inventive work from axeman Matt Rose, especially on “Long Way Home”, “This Town.” and the house shaking “The Road” Ditto for admirers of vocalist/lyricist Matt Layzell , here tempering the barroom yowl with melodic warmth and a willingness to step outside the lines.

Ra Ra Riot: Beta Love

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Arts & Crafts

In which Ra Ra Riot look to shake off the enduring influence of departed cellist Alexandra Lawn by leaping feet first into the wunnerful world of synthesizers. It’s not an entirely successful adventure but it does have its moments.

Opener “Dance With Me” lays the new deal on the line with its liberal use of synths wherever possible and abrupt time changes. Without much melody to lean on, it’s promptly buried by the one-two album centerpiece of “Binary Mind” and “Beta Love”, the most upbeat songs on the album, with sharp enough guitar runs and virtuoso violin to fight back against the sea of special effects. We’re talking bleeps, buzzes, chirps and squeals sprayed like drive by gunfire at every track. Worst offender “What I Do For U”, which unfortunately references nothing but the lettering from Prince.

The title track is one of their best songs ever, with vocalist Wes Miles daring to walk the falsetto high wire, with just the barest touch of auto-tune, keening out lines that end in ‘beta love’, going a notch up the register with each repetition. A brilliant thing and a hard look at what Ra Ra Riot can become.

Then all of a sudden, the music dies. Gone is danceability, welcome to electro-shoegaze, inna downtempo style. Supposedly there's some robotic theme to the songs, which works better, as lyrical rather than musical inspiration. There’s a godawful lot of dissonant banging and clanging and not at all in a good way. We’re looking hard at “That Much.” but it’s not the sole offender.

Tom Levin: Tooth and Claw

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Submitted Don Graham

Swedish singer/songwriter Tom Levin has released a new 13 song collection of original songs Tooth and Claw and it’s a gem. You can hear why Levin was voted "AC Male Artist of the Year" in the USA (New Music Weekly Award) in 2006. The win was a bit of a surprise since the other nominees where John Mayer, James Blunt and Daniel Powter.

Tom grew up in the southern parts of Sweden and in Stockholm. His teenage years brought him to Alaska, where he lived as an exchange student. It was here that his vocal talents were first discovered.

Andria Simone: Nothing Comes Easy

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Artist-tree Music

This six-song calling card from a 24-year-old voice of raw power and retro inclinations benefits hugely from the involvement of JUNO Award winning producer/multi-instrumentalist Greg Kavanagh. The essential challenge, to bring Andria Simone’s old school r'n'b style to the modern finishing school. That he pulls it off for the most part owes much to his formative years playing r’n’b in Detroit, where he acquired an easy familiarity with the genre.

Given that she co-wrote five of the tracks here, the standpoints are very personal and the arrangements structured to show off the stylistic range. The in-yer-face "Do What I Want" comes from Simone’s full-on feminist way,” Shame" is vintage Southern-fried soul that could have come off a Stax album "Nothing Comes Easy" is a Gospel-tinged, while "Change" is as soul-baring a ballad as you can get.

What with Adele et al stomping all over the r’n’b template it takes some doing for a new soul voice to stand out. The wise guys involved here have seen to that by employing an old school backing band complete with horn section, Hammond B3 organ and female backing vocals to punctuate and colour every nuance and inflection.

Decked with pristine, vocal-showcasing production, this is the sharpest, and sharpest dressed soul belter statement of the season. If you doubt the power, check her YouTube take on Etta James "I Would Rather Go Blind" plus the dancin’ fools be wantin’ to bust their best MJ moves to most all of the album.

It’s Time to Shine for Krysta Scoggins

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Submitted to Cashbox Canada

Armed with an amazing voice, phenomenal songwriting skills and undeniable charisma, Canadian country star Krysta Scoggins is an upbeat powerhouse of musical talent!

Her new album titled “Shine” is set to release on  March 12, 2013  in stores and on iTunes and the Edmonton songstress couldn’t be happier to see her musical vision come to light. “I am so proud of this album!” Krysta says. “Every song has captured a piece of my heart to share. It’s a labour of love that is reflective of my musical journey.”

Last summer On Ramp Records announced the signing of Krysta Scoggins, which took place at the label’s head office in Nashville, Tennessee. One of Canada’s top Country brands with a very talented roster of artists, On Ramp is now the exclusive label representative for Scoggins and will oversee distribution with EMI Music Canada for her upcoming album Shine.

“We are thrilled to have Krysta signed to On Ramp.” says Louis O’Reilly, President of On Ramp Records. “She’s hard working and puts a lot of love and attention into her craft. Everything she does, she does well and that includes her music. We’re excited to be releasing “Shine”.

"I am so excited to be part of the On Ramp family.” Scoggins adds. “It’s a dream come true to work with such a professional team and to reach my fans with new music on a huge national level".

Chris De Burgh: Home

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Justin Time Records

It seems kind of unlikely but fact is Home is Chris de Burgh’s first ever acoustic album. Taking a page from Justin Bieber, Home is 14 of de Burgh’s most well-loved tunes, stripped down to their acoustic essentials.

The album was recorded over a week in Enniskerry, Ireland in Chris' own home studio, behind castle wall, during some of the worst June weather ever experienced – hurricane force winds, torrential rain and the occasional beautiful day. The mission was to lay out the romantic essence of the material, no daunting task given de Burgh’s rep as the UK’s most reliable bard of the lovelorn ballad.

As a result, the album has an overall homespun feel, an easygoing approach totally suitable to De Burgh’s mellow baritone.

Opener ‘Waiting For The Hurricane’, with its percussive underpinning, is the album’s most energetic track, while such as ‘Tender Hands’ and ‘Fatal Hesitation’ find Chris working  with the leanest of piano and guitar lines, relying on the power of the narrative and the vocal to sell it. Naratives don’t get more affecting than on ‘Love & Time’, a real-life tale of a long lost relationship, told over a lean and haunting piano riff.

As with any project of this type, some tracks work better than others; the good news is that most here do. The rocked-up ‘Fire on The Water’, from the standout 1986 album Into The Light, yields up new implications without losing intensity, as does companion piece ‘Sailor’.

Hayden: Us Alone

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Arts & Crafts

Hayden’s never been a light-hearted songwriter but this collection brings the sadness and regret in large bags. This likely means it will be warmly received by a fan base that’s been hanging on his sad songs for 20 years now.

Known for an understated sound and arm’s length relationship with melody, hooking up with hipster label Arts & Crafts didn’t seem the snuggest fit, seeng as how dude’s mnore like anti-Social Scene. Since you don’t go to Hayden for da new jam thing, fans will be happy to hear this collection is vintage Hayden; donwtempo, melancholic, stark, unnerving on occasion.

Keeping it real to a fault, the songs were recorded and produced in his home studio, playing all the instruments himself in the service of capturing a live, textured sound. With all that in mind, the bare bones get the occasional colourful flourish, such as the breakdown guitar riff on "Rainy Saturday", the funky organ on "Oh Memory.” and the synthified drum’n’piano line on opener ‘Motel’.

It’s all good and it’s all window dressing and dude brings it all back to Haydenesque earth with closeout track "Instructions," on which he outlines in graphic detail what’s to become of his physical remains upon his death. This happens over some of the album’s warmest and comforting music from a mesh of acoustic guitar, organ and piano.

Classic Hayden sure but full credit, he’s never stepped back from stepping forward to embrace the future.

James Lizzard

Elephant Stone: Elephant Stone

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Hidden Pony

On their 2009 debut, The Seven Seas,  Elephant Stone founder Rhisi Dhir set out to meld the sitar with shoegaze, indie pop and Sixties rock in search of a new sound which he labeled ‘Hindie rock’.

It worked for the most part but given the pedigree of the genres involved, also left room for a fair amount of lengthy fooling around.

This sophomore album sees that off.  Even though in essence it’s two albums in one, the ten songs here do their thing briskly and with concision. The one exception is centerpiece   “The Sea of Your Mind”, a nine-minute sitar-and-percussion workout that’s deserving of every second, with layered strings and Dhir’s quivery vocals enhancing the arrangement.

Since we’re doing ‘Hindie rock’ you know the sitar’s gonna be front and center, as on the debut. This time around it’s doing double duty, laying down textures to enrich guitar parts and well as soloing. A healthy hit of spirituality on the lyrics is also an important component of Dhir’s music and the songs here don’t disappoint, in particular ‘Setting Sun’ and ‘A Silent Moment’. Stuff may be spiritual but isn’t necessarily chill, as the psyche-rock blasts of ‘Heavy Moon’ and ‘Masters Of War’ (not the Dylan tune) attest.

The two albums break down roughly into a psyche-rock one and the other with lotsa sitar. The first flares with some shining moments from guitarist Gabriel Lambert, notably one ‘Heavy Moon’ and ‘Setting Sun’.

K-OS: Black On Blonde

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Universal Submitted by Lenny Stoute

One of the cooler things about K-OS is his innate skill at creating fresh stylistic mashups between hip-hop and roots rock. Judging by this album, that’s all behind him now as this sprawling 21 track double disc is split neatly between the hip hop and da rock and rarely doth the twain hookup here.

As if to lay it on the line, the title references Bob Dylan and Mos Def. 

The heavy cred K-OS maintains within the industry is reflected in the album’s guest list. Appearing at various points are Emily Haines of Metric, Sam Roberts, Sebastian Grainger of Death from Above 1979, Black Thought of The Roots, Gym Class Heroes’ Travie McCoy and Corey Hart (yes!). 

In discussing the album K-Os said ” Like Bob Dylan I felt trapped by my birth into the music industry as a hippy or folk hip hop singer, I'm kind of over that feeling, you know?  It's time to go electric and a song like 'NYCE 2 KNOW YA' is a celebration of that."

As with Dylan, the  ‘new’-electrified material is a mixed bag.  Are there moments of wankery and redundant riffage?  Sure but not as much as might be expected from a standout guitar player. Likewise, his distinctive voice is in full form on both sides of the hip hop/rock fence.

Andre Williams & The Sadies: Night & Day

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Outside Music

On which the great funky one reunites with the Canuck kids who brought him a new career and further evidence they did the right thing.

The year was 1999 when The Sadies hooked up with a more or less clean Williams for the Red Dirt album, his first with the Toronto alt-country stars. While the album didn’t sell a ton it introduced Williams to a whole new audience of players and fans, leading to collabs with The Dirtbombs, Morning 40 Federation, The Diplomats Of Solid Sound, and other garage/punk/blues/soul acts.
The sessions for Night And day commenced in 2008 and the initial signs didn’t look good. At that time, Williams was in his seventies and dealing with legal troubles as well as substance abuse issues. Eventually the sessions were put on hold while he worked through his legal problems and cleaned up.

It took years, but when Williams and The Sadies finally hooked up to finish the album, the difference in Williams’ demeanour and state of being was, as they say, "night and day."
Which kind of describes the way the album is structured; the first half loose and gritty, the back end tracks cleaner and more coherent, “One-Eyed Jack” and “I’ll Do Most Anything For Your Love,” as strong as anything Williams has put out.

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