Album Reviews

Compact DISCovery


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.


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


Jaimie Vernon

The Time Capsule

Compact DISCovery


Compact DISCovery

Jaimie Vernon

Go Go Girl In A Modern World

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



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

Carole Pope.jpg

Jaimie Vernon

Carole Pope

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.

Compact DISCovery


Jaimie Vernon


A remastered edition of The Diodes’ third studio album “Action/Reaction” has been in the works since 2000. But rather than just tossing it onto the market and hoping the world’s collective memory would fuel quick sales, the band and its primary archivist/manager Ralph Alfonso set about rebuilding the franchise first.

The key was reminding the public what they’d forgotten about the Diodes. Firstly, they were the first Canadian punk act signed to a major label (CBS) and to that end Alfonso pressured the label’s corporate descendents to re-issue the band’s first two albums as a 2-for-1 CD as a means to gauge interest.

Compact DISCovery


Jaimie Vernon

Resonance Road


Compact DISCovery


Jaimie Vernon

The Room Lights Up

Following 9/11 I predicted a shift in musical focus from disposable mindless pop to the tried and true introspective singer-songwriter genre that had all but disappeared in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s taken a decade for that musical shift to translate at street level. It’s wonderful to see single source blues, folk and acoustic roots music return in full force. 

I had the pleasure of catching a few tunes by Borins at the Free Times Café last year and was captivated by his story telling and stage craft. He’s an engaging singer who tilts toward the sun, giving uplifting arrangements to all his original material even if the subject matter isn’t necessarily happy. To his credit, he has waited to release his songs on CD over long stretches, patiently crafting original tracks and nurturing them in a live setting. With more than 300 shows to his credit in the last four years (in the Pacific Rim, South America and North America), his songs are suitably road tested.

Compact DISCovery


Nine At The Time

Anglophones are painfully unaware of the huge culture gap that exists in this country. We live in our little urbane bubbles and listen to the music that is piped into our insulated worlds via America and, occasionally, through the watered down Anglo-CanCon equivalent. Rarely do we get to hear what’s happening in the Francophone universe. Fortunately, new talents like Chris Giannini, Jonathan Roy and Daniel Casavant slip across the imaginary cultural border and remind us why we all need to work harder at musical détente.  

Casavant’s Nine At The Time is a cross-section of his finest songwriting skill-sets which he’s used to great success in The Billboard Magazine World Song Contest, The Mountain Stage Newsong Contest 2008, The UK Songwriting Contest 2009 and Mike Pinder’s 2009 Songwars.

The album is book-ended by variations on a very tasty instrumental acoustic guitar theme; the abbreviated In Between and the lengthier Petit Brompton respectively.  This is folk guitar virtuosity at its finest.  Sandwiched in between these passages is a beef stew of styles and flavours.

Tasseomancy: Ulalume


Out Of This Spark

Ok, here’s a genuine WTF moment. The Lightman twins have never made a secret of their obsessions with all things Goth and gauzy and gloomish. But at least as Ghost Bees, they could buzz at a melodic clip and somehow the vibe never got as downbeat as this miseryfest.

Renaming the act Tasseomancy seem to have given the ladies license to get down and wallow in Dirgeland and ‘self-indulgent’ doesn’t begin to cover it. But whatever. So let’s go take this thing on its own terms.

It owns no variety; plodding between grievous and forlorn, despair and melancholy with nary a relief in sight. It owns no standout track, even Heavy Sleep isn’t as heavy as you’d think. It owns no clarity of vision and this is reflected in the murky production.

It owns oblique lyrics of menace aplenty and Ashkelon and The Darkness Of Things deliver on their promise but after all the buildup, they’d have done well to drop in a tale of dark bloodlust in a rural environment. Just for a touch of the warm’n’fuzzies.

It also owns a handful of impressive vocals riffs, within the dronified context, and the Lightmans’ commitment to the material can’t be faulted. The album’s titled after an Edgar Allen Poe poem that probes with searing eyes at the mysterious death of a beautiful woman. If only they’d taken the poem to heart and thrown some mystery in the mix, as the one thing a project such as this shouldn’t be seen as is predictable.

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