Album Reviews

COLLEEN BROWN: Dirt

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Independent

There’s much to be said for sticking with what you know and that’s the point of Dirt, the third album from this Edmonton singer/songwriter. Or Nickleback for that matter. Except that Brown puts a whole lot more effort into updating her folk-pop. It helps that she has the vocal range to stretch out into jazz and get all soulful, as the material demands.

The lady put us on notice with the well deserved re-release of Foot In Heart last year and this ‘un builds on that like Mike Holmes. There’s muscular rhythm patterns aplenty backing up a melodic assertiveness, which allows for more humour to quirk up the introspection.

Which is just about where the going gets tricky as the edgy, jazzified readings of "Happy Love Song" and "Singing in the Garden" in particular conjure echoes of boho-era Joni Mitchell. Thankfully that’s effectively balanced by Brown’s club girl tendencies like bringing horny horns to the up tempo workouts of "Good Girls” and the ultra-grabby "Fight!Fight!Fight!"

Plus she has the range and inclinations to do that type of tune justice, something that’s setting her further apart from the current crop of femme singer/songwriters.

A little more slip slidin’ in the lyric writing and Colleen Brown be coming at you even harder.

James Lizzard

KATHLEEN EDWARDS: Voyageur

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Maple Music

Here’s an item that’s everything the Internet buzz says it is. Part She & Him romantic, part jagged little thrills, Voyageur is a whole other trip for Edwards. As in roller-coaster ride of breaking up, breaking out, new love and reaching for far horizons.

The reigning redhead queen of Canuck country/roots rock came at this album fresh from the break-up of her five-year marriage to guitarist Colin Cripps, which may or may not have triggered a period of intense soul-searching and creative reassessment.

This could easily have set up as the ‘divorce’ album but Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon’s involvement in the project changed all that. The Grammy-nominated, high-voiced neo-folk singer/songwriter initially came on board as a writer/producer but his involvement with all aspects of the album as well as with Edwards deepened considerably.

Listed as co-producer Vernon’s influence is all over the project; stylistically, lyrically and in the production approach. Given that he was working with the usual folk/roots instrumentation, Vernon did a great job of keeping the essence of Edwards’ music intact while bringing other dimensions into the picture. The result is a very good thing indeed and those dimensions make it possible for Edwards to stretch her vocals into surprising and rewarding areas. Check how tall she stands dueting with Norah Jones on album closer ‘For The Record’.

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon

Skullians
Pure
Independent

Growing tired of the Britneys, the Beyonces and the Beibers? How about settling in with a bona fide walk through old school 2nd generation punk from The Skullians? Their 10 track sonic assault is a welcome reprieve from the sterile, faceless, groove less, melange that is 21st Century corporate pop music. I'm not talking about a retro flashback here, either.

The Skullians' 'Pure' is hip and happening and 'now' and could easily have been recorded in my living room yesterday. It's immediate and in your face. It would make a good companion disc to Pickering's Swindled who released 'It's Only Peace That You Want...' last year. Where Swindled tread the political spectrum, The Skullians are all about life in the not-so-fast lane.

The album kicks off with a rolling 'n' ruckus anthem in "Doomsville" about the crushing negative cloud permeating the news and the world in general. It's 1:11 of pure, unfettered energy. "Welcome to...welcome to...welcome to....Doomsville/Population US!!" Singer and guitarist Evan delivers the message with aplomb.

Bad Vibrations: Black Train

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Independent

This Halifax trio comes with a heavy East Coaster street rep built on the solid work of singer/guitarist KC Spidle, ex-of Dog Day and it does not disappoint. The lineup’s completed by Evan Cardwell on bass and the mighty Meg Yoshida on drums. Put ‘em all together and they conjure up the kind of baleful noise you’d expect from a band called Bad Vibrations. Y’know, the grinding, deathcore guitars, rib shaking bass and massive drum assaults.

There’s all that and there’s something else going here, namely a ripping homage to early speed metal and the NY punk scene from which it derived. This is a sinister, heartfelt, swerve driving sound, outtakes from a time-warped, meth-fuelled mashup involving Anthrax and The Ramones

Buckle in and brace yourself because there will no soft entries here and precious little downtime.  Opening track ‘Losing Time’’s brief intro and headlong plunge is a good indicator of what you’re in for, given that most tracks  clock in between two and three minutes. With the notable exception of  “Growing”, a showcase  of raw axe power from Spidle coming in just under the two-minute mark.

Come for the dense death metal, stay for the burning speedcore.

James Lizzard

Sacred Balance: Sacred Balance

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Independent

Montreal’s Pouya Hamidi and Toronto’s Chloe Charles both have heavy reps within their scenes as avant composer and edgy vocalist respectively. So yeah, quirky expectations were afoot from the moment Sacred Balance formed, although some wondered just how quirky a band named after a sombre work by enviro-activist David Suzuki could get.

So yeah, we gotta be looking at more than electrobeat trance pop. Best news here is that this stuff isn’t as balanced as the title suggests but has its own shade of reckless cool.

The opener is a thing of flair and promise, primal drum stomp, dissonant chords with a delirious femme chorale floating atop, and plenty of fuzz toned guitars to keep it grounded in its Montreal anarcho-pop roots.

Track two is even more pop-giddy but kept from floating off by Hamidi’s sinuous and claustrophobic keyboard/programming work and a slippery rhythm section.

Track three is a highlight, a set piece for the wrecked and wistful cabaret style vocalising of Chloe Charles set against the most shamelessly baroque right outa Phantom of the Opera organ riffs. Abruptly, she’s outa there and sailing into the cosmos on a soundtrack from a lost Lost In Space episode. Funny shit, all very retro-futuristic and it works as edgy trance, if that’s a thing.

The next track starts promisingly enough with mournful violin atop swirling synth patterns and then quickly strolls onto Norah Jones turf and hangs there, content to leave the atmospherics to the instrumentation. Mark this one as a ‘time out’ and move on.

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon

It’s that time of year again when we count our blessings and look into our wallets and realize we haven’t purchased all the music we wanted this year. I’m adverse to year-end ‘best of’ lists because it presumes the reader has the same taste in music as the music reviewer. So this week I will run down highlights from the whole year as my column is only a few months old and I didn’t get to investigate all the Canadian pickings that were available. For those that have been following along, I thank you and for those just tuning in here’s what you missed.

THE BILLBOARD Top200

Never in the history of Billboard Magazine’s Top200 album chart have four Canadian artists dominated the Top5 simultaneously. Depending on the day you look at the numbers we’re seeing these CDs rallying for a position at #1: Michael Bublé (“Christmas”), Justin Beiber (“Under the Mistletoe”), Nickelback (“Here and Now”) and Drake (“Take Care”) [as of this writing Bublé controls #1]. To put this in perspective one must understand that these artists are competing against the unstoppable force that is Adele, Rihanna, Lady Gaga,Taylor Swift and the ‘Glee’ soundtrack stateside.  Bubbling under on the remainder of the chart is Justin Beiber’s previous releases “My World 2.0” (at #89) and “Never Say Never: The Remixes” (at #111), and Celine Dion’s and Sarah McLachlan’s Christmas album re-entries.

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon

DONE ON BROADSTREET
The Time Capsule
independent

Compact DISCovery

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Compact DISCovery

Jaimie Vernon

LAURIE BIAGINI
Go Go Girl In A Modern World
Independent

Each new Laurie Biagini release is met with Christmas Day anticipation. Especially if you like Christmas on the sun-soaked, sand-filled beaches of Santa Monica in July. Her last album, ‘A Far Out Place’, married the groovy harmony and musical stylings of The Beach Boys and other California surf artists from a female perspective. ‘Go Go Girl in a Modern World’ takes the next leap with a broader range of 1960s authentic sounding AM power pop.

Taken at face value it seems a rather odd musical marriage coming from an exotic Italian musician from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. But when you hear the craftsmanship in the songs, you’d swear Biagini grew up on Venice Beach and spends her days, the breeze whipping through her hair, riding the Pacific Coast Highway in her car. In fact, the song “My Little SUV” gives us a modern re-tooling of classic car songs like “Little GTO” and “Little Honda”. You just want to ride along as she throws her cares to the wind.

The title track, “Go Go Girl in a Modern World”, is self-referential in that Biagini knows she’s out of step with current musical trends. Nowhere else are you going to find tips of the hat to The Ad Libs’ and the Mamas & Papas in one song – “I Ride on the Train” successfully melds the groove of “Boy From New York City” with M & P’s “Creeque Alley”. She also tips her hat to both Mamas & Papas and Lovin’ Spoonful on the baroque shuffle of “Summertime”.

Open Hearts Society: Love In Time

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Independent

Right off the top, the best collection of songs about tilting at windmills since Don Quixote dropped his debut album.
A pair of musicians Chris Brown and Eric Schenkman tried going home again to Wolfe Island only to discover turbines in the mist and folks getting all confrontational about the enviro-damage or not.

So they do what musicians do with most everything; they write a collection of songs about the situation, recruit a frontline activist with a pleasing midrange and a killer smile named Sarah McDermott, hustle up some heavy hitters for a backline and out of the kitchen comes Love In Time.

Nine songs written and recorded at the old Post Office on Wolfe Island, inspired by Mother Nature and Human Nature. in collision, primarily over the issue of wind turbines in a rural environment. While it’s not a singles as such album, given the pedigree of the principals, most famously Spin Doctors and Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, there will be hooks on such as the title track and “Freedom”. But the strength of this unit is in its ensemble performance, which is reflected in a song structure that doesn’t allow for much in the way of solos.

With such smooth close –order playing and the rich harmonies and variety of voices, you don’t miss ‘em much and frankly, tunes like “Only Home” and “Pass The Buck” couldn’t be improved upon in any style.

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon



Carole Pope
Landfall
Independent


Up until the late ‘70s Canadian female artists were represented by Middle of the Road sweetness-and-light or Country cross-overs like Anne Murray and Carroll Baker; most were phenomenal vocalists, but not artistic trailblazers.

Then punk kicked at the darkness until it bled razorblades and women became empowered enough to lead from the crotch. Several rallied to be Queen of the Outrage like Michaele Jordana from The Poles, The B-Girls, and The Curse.

But it took Carole Pope (fronting the band she co-founded with Kevan Staples called Rough Trade) to marry subterfuge with commerce and create the groundwork for sexual revolution and equality in an industry dominated by the good ole boys.  Hell, King-of-the-Canadian Playboys Greg Godovitz of Goddo was so intimidated by her he wrote her a song.

And as the next wave came and went, Jane Siberry, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Dalbello, Pope took no quarter. A relentless string of hits through the ‘80s has left her views on sex, religion and the body politic unrivaled in the mainstream [yeah, I’m pointing at you Madonna and Lady GaGa]. 

Even with Rough Trade long gone, Pope has continued pushing her own envelopes through the last two decades, including a warts-and-all autobiography. So here we are six years after her last ambient/trance/urban/rock solo effort, ‘Transcend’, and it can be said that she has not capitulated.

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