Album Reviews

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.

Western Avenue

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Submitted by Don Graham

Take of little bit of Lady A., add some Little Big Town, stir some well-crafted songs into the mix add a generous amount of rich vocal blend and you have a great sounding band with a real shot at making their mark. Western Avenue, a trio from Central Ontario, has all those elements and more.

The trio, consisting of Nikki English, Keith Robertson and Matt Williams have released their debut CD to the world and what a fine first effort it is!  The six pack, (it has seven tracks but one is an acoustic version of Track #2 so it qualifies as a six pack) is an ear grabber from beginning to end.

Together since 2007, they met when Robertson and Williams were hired to back up English and as Williams says “As soon as we started jamming, it was evident we should keep doing it. The way that our voices blended together when we started singing, just the three-part harmony, we could tell we were on to something special.”

The three part harmonies are a key to the unique sound that is Western Avenue but the material is what will set them apart from the herd. All songs are originals by the three members and three of tracks are co-written with country songwriter Dave Woods.

Bison B C: Lovelessness

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Metal Blade

Fans of animalistic metal into bands like Mastodon and Goatwhore are gonna love Bison B.C. Lovelessness is six all killer no filler tracks of sludge stoner metal given a muscular makeover that pushes against the genre’s sluggish parameters. In doing that, this third outing finds its way into swampy sludgepunk territory

It’s a genre given that Metal Blade bands don’t fool around and this album is heavy as love. It comes with a distortion-heavy analog throwback sound which raises fears of bouts of poinmtless jamming. That does come about but it’s mostly restricued to the long-winded "Blood Music". The song is not without interest though, as it managse to conjure deep vintage acts like Kyuss and Hawkwind along the meandering way.

"Last and First Things" is more like it, building from an electro sample into a rising rumble of tribal drums courtesy of new stickman Matt Wood, to provide a powerful backdrop for kicking the guitars into sonic overdrive. Also in the same spirit,but leaner and meaner is album standout "Clozapine Dream". This one’s a neat showcase for the speed riffage of guitarist/vocalist James Farwell and hints at his time with metal fusion act S.T.R.E.E.T.S., There’s something of that sensibility, in a slower tempo, on  "An Old Friend". Staying with the classic template but pushing at the edges, blowing the sound outward.

Aidan Knight : Small Reveal

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Outside Music

Adian Knight’s writing straddles the line between short story and song lyric. although given the interwoven elements and connective interludes. Small Reveal reads more like a novel.

His is a very intimate style; both the words and instrumentation work to takes you inside the tunes, to share his eavesdropping viewpoint. That said, arguably the finest track here, “Margaret Downe.” is the harrowing narrative of a miscarriage and its effect of the lives of the near-parents. Knight delivers a piece that is highly emotional, articulate in its agony and so surgically precise it’s like he’s going all autobiographical.

Dude can turn a phrase on a dime. At times, the melodies can be sparse unto unfinished, the guitars less than involved. These were much more in evidence on 2010’s Versicolour and the boy’s learnt from that experience.

For one thing, Aidan Knight is now a band and consequently, there’s much more sound this time around; synth washes, horn hits, and slick guitar licks, both acoustic and electric. Even a flugelhorn and a Wurlitzer show up for the understated party.

While there’s a strong representation of harrowing material, it’s not all Knight and dread. Tunes like opener ‘Dream Team’ and the delicious ‘A Mirror’, told from a female perspective, allow Knight to stretch out and play with his lighter side, without losing serious emo dude cred.

The album’s more of a step forward than a followup and that’s a very good thing.

Lenny Stoute

Jaffa Road: Where The Light Gets In

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Independent


Here’s a band with a stirring sound in the grand tradition of T. Dot World Music. This ain’t just whistling ‘Soul Makoussa’ either, as over the last pair of decades, Toronto has carved out an international rep as the incubator of a style of World Music all its own.


Jaffa Road is the now generation of that legacy and with this second album, continues to do it proud. The sophomore release finds the quintet spreading out the boundaries of the multi-culti sound laid out in the Juno nominated debut, Sunplace.


There’s a road trippy vibe around the album; the roads it goes down being exotic and at times seem to appear as needed, against a sonic landscape at once electro-contemporary and oud-ancient, dub wise and classically klezmer.


Mapped out by bandleader Aaron Lightstone’s intricate arrangements, fronted by the evocative vocals of Aviva Chernick and given spectacular colorations by saxist Sundar Viswanathan, bassist Chris Gartner and percussionist Jeff Wilson, this album amplifies and digs deeper into the grooves laid down on the debut. The result is the uptempo tracks, notably "Sim Shalom" and  "Hamidbar Medaber" dance themselves into uncharted territory and find it to their liking.


The atmospheric, jazzed-out showcases for Chernick’s chops are still here for those fans but the mood is primarily celebratory. Plenty to like about that.


Lenny Stoute

Old Man Luedecke: Tender Is The Night

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True North


Somewhere between foot-stompin’ Tom Connors and a banjo pluckin’ Gordon Lightfoot lies the world of Old Man Luedecke. It’s a warm and cozy place in the Country where seldom is heard a discouraging word. Lotsa kickass banjo plucking though, on both the Appalachian and Countrified sides of the fence, igniting tunes that can start mellow and go melodically nuts.


So OML is not into re-inventing the wheel but he has some new subject matter to burn rubber on. For one big thing, the ramblin’, gamblin’ troubadour’s now a dad and new Juno winner, the kind of things that’ll bring a body in from the cold. That’s the meat on the bone here; the reflective observations of an outsider now pretty much all the way in.


In keeping with the new Countrified focus, the album was cut in Nashville with a slick production aesthetic, which augments the songs and pushes OML’s bluegrass chops to the fore. The killer track here is ‘Song for Ian Tyson’, which melds Canadian prairie country with Nashville grooves.


If that’s not change enough, the thing’s got a heavy Biblical component, which at times drowns Luedecke’s native wit and humour in its earnestness. We’re talking about ‘Long Suffering Jesus’ and ‘Jonah and the Whale’ in particular.

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