Album Reviews

Friends Of Jack: Friends Of Jack

Friends of Jack

Independent

Call it the revenge of Nashville but these days, if you’re serious about putting out a top-notch album and you’re from Canada, best thing is to bust ass to Nashville and cut it there. The end result coming out of this marriage of Canuck authenticity and Nashville breeding is a highly desirable, radio-friendly sound, one that fits the populist appeal of Friends of Jack like a tight black tee shirt.

Friends of Jack is brothers Darryl and Chad John, cousin Paul John, and long-time friends Kevin Connors and Steve Drake. They were all born in Newfoundland and are now residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta. A body might say they’re caught between a rock (Newfoundland) and a hard place (boomtown Fort Mac) and something of this sensibility gives the album its edge.

From the opening swampy, Keith Richards referencing riff of “Cool Me Down”, you get the sense this band has got serious honky tonk credentials. If that don't send the message, the very next track, “The Real Deal” lives up to its title with swaggering blues-rock guitars balanced nicely by plaintive country vocals

When the boys slow it down, it’s all about the vocals selling softer sentiments, as in the lovely “ I Owe You One”. and the close-order harmonisations peak on the gorgeously Gospel-inflected ‘Have You Really Thought It Through”.

As tight as the harmonies are, the beating heart of the songs depends on the close order interplay between guitarists Darryl and Chad John and the mix does both the acoustic and electric passages full justice.

LAMONT JAMES
: Poppies


Lamont James

Monster Records

Despite doing thousands of gigs as a touring sideman for most of his career, multi-instrumentalist Lamont James has settled down to create a debut album that harkens back to AM Radio’s Sunshine Pop era. The genre was defined by light, bouncy and almost naïve music whose acts – Vanity Fare, Edison Lighthouse, 1910 Fruitgum Company, and Ohio Express – were studio concoctions.

Lamont comes from the less contrived and more honest power pop fields farmed by the likes of The Association, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Big Star and even Burt Bacharach.

That isn’t to say the songs are complete throwbacks to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, only that they recall a time when men wearing their hearts on their sleeves were considered sensitive poets and not some Metrosexual gender/genre bending marketing shill. The first six songs – “Today”, “Sorry”, “Beat Sauce”, “Sun Brings You Home”, “Song of You”, and “Maisie” could easily be a faultless Power/Sunshine Pop EP on its own. However, Lamont breaks out of the confines of straight up pop and begins experimenting with the genre on the description defying “Kauzendux” and the preciously short atmospheric guitar piece “Traveler” followed by the Pink Floydian “Sunday” featuring a speech from Sir Ralph Richardson called “Frost At Night” as counterpoint to Lamont’s psychedelic mantra “…what a wonderful world”.

NADJA
: Everything’s Going My Way


Nadja

MP3 Disques/Select

A problem with the current batch of over-souling Divas like Adele and Alicia Keyes is that they are genetically modified caricatures of the Ladies of Soul distilled through modern lenses. Someone with the talent of Nadja lives and breathes Motown, Hitsville and wears proudly the tradition of Dinah, Ella, Billy and Aretha by always putting the song, and not necessarily the performance, first.

“Everything’s Going My Way” is a straight up R & B record like the ones Barry Gordy used to make – if Gordy had been working in 48 channels of stereo. Though Nadja doesn’t write the material on the album she immediately lays claim and brands the lesser-known songs like the single “Oh! No!” “Love Is Leaving Me”, “Baby I’m Lonely”, “Baby You”, “Wish To Unwish” and the title track with her own style. These tracks all evoke Motown’s finest pop moments.

Her voice often bursts with multi-range hints of Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Shawne Jackson, Liberty Silver and Diana Ross. To that end, there is a rather pedestrian version of The Supreme’s “Baby Love” where “Love Child” or “Reflections” may have suited Nadja’s breadth as a singer a little more snuggly.

Where Nadja truly, and blatantly, excels at separating the girls from the Divas is in her interpretation of standards like the breezy “Ya Ya”, the anthemic  “The Impossible Dream”, Dorothy Moore’s iconic “Misty Blue” and the soul wrenching “At Last” which is easily the single best performance on the CD.

GRAHAM GREER
: Graham Greer

Graham Greer

(independent)

Following the slow dissolution of Graham Greer’s Polygram Records act The Barstool Prophets in 1999, it took him another four years to shake off the sting of being label-less and create a new identity for himself as solo act Moonlight Graham. But without a firm publishing commitment or scads of cash to take it back to the major label level, he remained virtually unknown and resigned himself to that of local performances in and around Cornwall, Ontario. It has taken twice that long to raise a family and gain the confidence back by honing his craft as the illuminating singer-songwriter he truly is.

His self-titled sophomore release – co-produced by Greer, long-time friend Todd Huckabone and Texan Joe Hardy (ZZTop, Colin James) - finds Graham mature in song and wise in experience – having beaten doors down to widen his audience appeal as a performer and a songwriter. With it comes worldly introspective lyrics in the form of “Wire-Walker” (which received ‘Honorable Mention’ at the 2009 New York Songwriters Circle Contest and at the 2010 Nashville Songwriters Association Song Contest) and the sagely “Bring Me Fire’ (which won 2nd place at the 2010 Ottawa regional Virgin Radio Star Songwriting Contest. )

The remainder of the material, including stand-outs like “Buttercup” and “Love Song”, are twists on the traditional boy-meets-girl lyrical trope and Graham adds his own satirical viewpoint on relationships – past and present.

http://www.grahamgreer.com

Jaimie Vernon

DEE LONG: 
“LifeAfterLife”

Dee Long

(Dee Long Music)

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer  Dee Long continues his 45 year musical trajectory by re-inventing not just himself on his seventh solo disc…but his songs.

After a decade in the internationally celebrated mystery band Klaatu (the media thought they were The Beatles reunited) and another decade as a solo artist with Bullseye Records, Dee has decided to revisit his most successful Klaatu songs and re-design his solo material for a modern ear and, hopefully, a younger audience.

With the shine and sparkle of high definition stereo and authentic drum loop samples programmed by Long himself, he fleshes out unrealized song demos from the dawn of the early 1970s like “1, 2, 3, 5”, “Silver Ocean”, “Mexico”, “Collision Course” and “Whatever” and his mid-career solo tracks such as “Never Go Back” and “I Cry Out” that suffered at the hands of dated 1980’s production are finally given their due. But, it’s the Klaatu songs that benefit the most from being polished and put into a modern context.  Fan favourites like “Mister Manson”, “I Can’t Help It”, “Older”, and “Hanus of Uranus” (under its original title) are all here plus, arguably, his greatest song - “Little Neutrino” - featuring help from Canadian session drummer Randy Cooke and co-engineered by Grammy award winner John Jones.

THE TREWS: 
“Hope & Ruin”


Trews

(Bumstead/Universal)

With career that is five albums deep, The Trews have begun to grow comfortable in their own skin. “Hope & Ruin” is a shuffled deck that would seem schizophrenic from any other act. In this round, the band sounds its most Canadian which comes honestly from the production & co-writing influence of The Tragically Hip’s Gord Sinclair. Guitarist/vocalist Colin MacDonald gets to show the world what the Hip might sound like with an articulate and accessible lead vocalist on tracks like “One By One”, “If You Wanna Start Again” and the introspective “Dreaming Man”. Sinclair, meanwhile, gets to show how The Trews sound like with more dynamics and atmosphere.

But first they must mine the familiar in songs like “Stay With Me”, the Dave Rave co-written new single/video “The World, I Know” and the throw-back Celtic ditty “Love Is The Real Thing”. Nothing against these tracks per se but the beacons of light start with “Misery Loves Company” – a blistering speedy power pop manifesto that is only a few beats per minute short of going off the rails while the title track hints at the Trews’ contemporary thermometer by incorporating a timely Arcade Fire gang chant; the brilliant lyrical ode to bands that haven’t lived up to their fans’ expectations called “I’ll Find Someone Who Will” leaps out of the speakers on the back of Jack Syperek (bass) and Sean Dalton (drums);  “People of the Deer” is the lone Trews trademarked rock anthem “hit” as guitarist John-Angus MacDonald gets his Hendrix on.

HOODED FANG: Tosta Mista

hooded fang

Daps

Almost a year to the day, multi-membered popsters Hooded Fang have dropped their follow-up album. It’s a good one and bound to win them new fans, since the debut album’s too cool for the crew’s title Album, guaranteed it wouldn’t do much standing out.

As a result, not as many people heard that collection of catchy and clever pop confections as should have. So here’s the Fangers chance to do it all over again and they have.

A little deeper this time, nods and snarls to the dark side of romance, most notably “Clap”, but overall the loose, jammy vibe is intact, enabling them to deal with some tricky subject matter and keep smiling

Big ups for the 180 turn on the cover art, going from retro-minimalist lettering on the debut to imagistic Lucha Libre masks rendered in vivid detailing but still staying within the cartoonish parameters set by the debut cover.
The musical style has undergone significant revision. It sounds like it was recorded on vintage lo-fi equipment with a raw and organic feel and a distinctly surf guitar undertow.

The album moves out at a brisk pace, clocking in at a sizzling22 minutes and change, packing seven songs and the “Big Blue” series of instrumental interludes. The danger therefore and it does come down in places, is that songs bleed into each other but the ‘Big Blue’ interludes serve as breathing spaces and sets up nicely for the next sonic blast.

Saidah Baba Talibah: (S)Cream

Scream

Last Gang/Universal

Just in time for Toronto’s Caribana comes this kickass, stomping, soul shaking funk/rock throwdown. It’s in the genes of Saidah Baba Talibah, daughter of jazz and blues legend Salome Bey, that her take on R&B is steeped in the roots of the genre which allows for a lot more hard rocking and psych jamming than current forms.

Given her rep for powerhouse live performances, the challenge had to be to get all that energy and intensity on the record. The way forward was to go with variety, the many flavors–including rock, funk and soul, as an introduction to just how many different ways she can light up a song.
Largely alternating between fiery funk rock and sultry downbeat numbers, the range, command and interpretive skills of the lady are impressive. While ‘Place Called Grace’ bangs like nobody’s business ably abetted by Donna Grantis’ wicked guitar work, a more mainstreamed version of Talibah treats us to the standout ballad “High,” in which she breaks down her bad habit for a certain sugar man.  In the same pocket is the sultry “No More,” and this time she’s so done with being done wrong it won’t be happening anymore.

Overall, a catchy mix of the now and the then in soul music. Occasionally raw, ebullient, sassy and seductive, (S)Cream is everything Talibah’s many fans have been hoping it would be.

Saidah Baba Talibah brings the album out to play at Harbourfront for a free show Fri.Jul.29

James Lizzard

The Sweetness: What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?

The Sweetness

Independent

This first release from a Toronto/Austin mashup group raises the bar for harmonic percussive folk. Sure there’s such a genre. Toronto solo artists Chloe Charles and Sam McLellan and Austin’s Aly Tadros and Douglas Jay Boyd came together in downtown Memphis, Tennessee during this year’s Folk Alliance International.The chemistry was instant and the mutation into a band seemingly inevitable.

Each accomplished individually, singer-songwriter Chloe Charles and composer/session musician/double bassist Sam McLellan, singer-songwriter Aly

Tadros and singer-songwriter/percussionist Douglas Jay Boyd  join forces as The Sweetness and launch their debut album “What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?”

The result is infused with the freshnes of a band together but a few weeks before the album was cut.. Rich four-part harmonies and heavy cajon-driven backbeats echo, lush harmonies soar atop eerie rhythm patterns.

Elsewhere, mind-entrancing, double-tracked she-vocals slink around spooky settings for gaunt and edgy folk-blues. Don’t let the band name fool you, this is one crew way into getting beyond the merely quirky into darker and unsettling territory.

And with Chloe Charles’ range and Aly Tadros’ haunting tones they’ve got the vocal flexibility to carry the heaviest of moods.

James Lizzard

Austra: Feel It break

Austra

Domino/Paper Bag

This bracing antidote to flirty summer fun never really had its day in the sun on original release. Hoping to redress that, we'll get the big ups out of the way. Feel It Break is intelligent, quirky, broody synth pop, Goth guitar rock with a dance club sensibility and the soaring vocals of opera-trained underground diva Katie Stelmanis. With its forceful production and stronger emphasis on rhythm Feel It Break may piss off Austra fans that cling to the ethereal sounds of debut album Katie Stelmanis. There's some of that here but there's so much that's unexpected also.

When first single "Beat And The Pulse" dropped last year, it was thought to be an experimental one-of; instead, it was the sign of things to come and with Feel It Break, those things have arrived full force.

Dark electronic and searing, histrionic vocals are reminiscent of Fever Ray and early Kate Bush but this Katie brings her own high-drama operatic nuances to the proceedings.

Stelmanis' childhood experience with the Canadian Opera Company is evident as she delivers lines that are alternately delicate and booming.

Hard at work behind the voice, Austra the band are keeners for high-gloss, stacatto coldwave vibes closer to Nine Inch Nails than anythng contemporary. It's retro, it's futuro, it's epic and you can dance to its ofttimes dark subject mater.

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