Album Reviews

CD Review: Invitation – Bernie Senensky

Bernie Senensky

By Bill McDonald

“Invitation” is the latest addition to the Bernie Senensky discography. And, a great addition it is.
In this trio recording, with Gene Perla on bass and Ben Riley on drums, Senensky delivers his trademark compelling melodic lines with the seemingly effortless creativity. In their rhythmic and soloing contributions, Perla and Riley dovetail perfectly.

“Invitation” (P.M. Records, www.pmrecords.com) is a mix of standards and original compositions. Senensky brings his insightful melodic interpretations to chestnuts such as “Old Folks”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and “Young and Foolish”. The trio also shines on two personal favourites – the title track, “Invitation” and the haunting “My One and Only Love”.

In sharing the umbrella with these classics, Senensky’s personal compositions intertwine perfectly. From the opening energy of “Come to Me”, and “Blues for E.J” (his tribute to the late jazz legend, Elvin Jones) to the closing bebop “Bud Lines”, Senensky’s compositional talents shine brightly. One other original contribution from bassist Perla, “Bill’s Waltz” also highlights this CD.

FINE CANADIAN FORCES: Hebrew Lessons

Fine Canadian Forces

Independent

Here’s a collection that’s just a lot of loopy , goofy fun. Fine Canadian Forces is multi-instrumentalist Jordan Fine of much indie cred and a fondness for using the loop pedal in constructing his Modern Jazz, Noise Rock, Neo-Pop sound collages.


Fine sticthes together intricate sonic adventures backboned by repitition, both of the melodic and vocal nature. The lyrics tend to be looped variants on either funny or cryptic one-liners likely meant to illustrate where the piece is ‘coming’ from.


While all this may sound ultra-hipster and like, too cool, Fine is too clever for that, and manages to keep the furthest out excursions of interest to even the most casual listener. Dude really uleashes his compositional chops however, when he turns his hand to rearranging pop standards.


This type of thing usually falls prey to the desire to re-invent the wheel, ending up re-imagining the original until all traces are virtually wiped clean. Fine pulls it off via clever song choices and an approach which challenges the original while keeping a firm hold on its choicest bits.


While  Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.walk proudest in their new clothes, they’re stand back and take notice pieces.


Much better in its sly way is the Gospel-tinged reworking of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love’ which is simultaneously elevating and hilarious, courtesy of a stone-cold deadpan vocal.

BIG SUGAR: Revolution Per Minute

Big Sugar

Bread And Water

So Gordie Johnson relocates to Texas and the reggae groove on Big Sugar gets deeper? Maybe Gordie was missing the band’s early years in the T.Dot when they first started mixing up electric blues with reggae grooves.

This first Big Sugar album in 8 years sure sounds like it.

Last year Gordie Johnson took time out from his country-metal project Grady to play a clutch of show with a hastily reunited Big Sugar. The experience was sweet enough to entice the crew back into the studio for a ‘reunion’ album, a concept that doesn’t often end with the best results.
Revolution Per Minute is not one of those. Instead, it’s everything you’ve ever liked about Big Sugar and more.

The Davey Parker Radio Sound: In A Land of Wolves and Thieves

Wolves

Unsigned

Parkdale’s newest countrified garage darlings have been busy making a name over the last year on the strength of their live show. Time for that debut album then and as such things go, this one isn’t bad.
For genre fans, this crew falls somewhere between Rockit 88, Catl and the Johnny Max Band. They come armed with dual guitarists/lead vocalists. Graeme Jones and Jason Fitzpatrick and a fondness for psyche rock and garage psychedelia 

While their playing styles are sufficiently different to make both necessary, the similarity between the voices of Jones and Fitzpatrick means some songs are never gonna be all they can be. Case in point, ‘Southern’ eases along on a grabby melody and an easygoing time signature but would have benefited from a more engaged vocal.

Same with the lyrics; you’d think a band which takes it’s name from a Dylan lyric (Check  ‘Trust Yourself’). would work a little harder on the narrative.
The times when the garage band aesthetic and a decent narrative come together are numerous enough to forgive the stumbles. Overall, the set does a decent job of conjuring up the boozy dance party that is a Davey Parker Radio Sound live show. Personal fave track ‘I Tasted Your Love’, is every bit as yummy sticky as it sounds.


James Lizzard

HANDSOME FURS: Sound Kapital

HANDSOME FURS

Sub Pop

The world-travelling duo of  Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry who make up Handsome Furs are undeniably handsome and quite possibly furry. Both these qualities manage to find their way into this worldbeat techno pop sound and help save the act from their worst 80s selves.
Debut album. Face Control hit hard on both sides of the ocean, its tales of cold and desperate love struggling with synth passages that just wouldn't play it straight, sounded fresh and confident.
 
Overnight success only served to push them further off the beaten path. If the debut was Eastern-European inspired, Sound Kapital does very well by Southeast Asian and Chinese inflections, Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the sounds of those places which impact the Furs; what’s here can be read as the sound of the Furs interpreting the visuals and ambient noises of those cultures.

Worked over by Boeckner and Perry, the ever-flowing neon nightscapes, energy and street noises of Manila, Bangkok and Beijing are the jumping off points for Sound Kapital.
The tinny synth jangle is just right for suggesting the ringing of thousands of bicycle bells. In most cases, the songs are all about the electronica with Boeckner’s guitar used mainly to highlight and accentuate but rarely lead.

Lindi Ortega: Little Red Boots

Linda Ortega

Last Gang Records

Things are tight for alt-country female singers in the T.Dot at the moment, if only because there are so many good ones around. This makes it all too easy to overlook up and comers, especially if they don’t have big label support behind them, or Tweeter Nation on their side.

So do yourself a favour; don’t overlook Lindi Ortega. The Toronto native’s been building a fan base in the West End’s hipsterville for the last two years, working up a strong live set along the way.

Little Red boots does a great job of replicating Ortega kicking these tunes live, with all the fire that implies. Up tempo opening track "Little Lie" sounds fresh off the floor, Ortega coming with a countrified vocal then smoothly switches gears for the pop-centric  "When All the Stars Align".

You want geetar hooks? She brings ‘em large especially on “Jimmy Dean”, the title rack and the killer “Blue Bird”, the for-sure charter here.

For the closer, Lindi drops a bigass Patsy Cline-ish vocal on “So Sad”, the perfect amalgam of heartache and defiance, the twin themes defining most of the tunes in the set.

So the overall sound? Lucinda Williams and Neko Case getting drunk in Waylon Jennings studio. Or as the lady herself said;” A roadside motel love affair between old school outlaws and country darlings.’

James Lizzard

SAM ROBERTS BAND: Collider

Collider

Universal

Remember when Sam Roberts was gonna be Bruce Springsteen? Then the bottom fell out of the straight-ahead rock’n'roll market with the advent of the new prog rock (Arcade Fire, The Dears, Patrick Watson), Sam’s last pair of albums landed with a lack of impact.

This one should go far to restore Sam’s star in the heavens of cool.

Much is made of Collider as a return to roots but it's very rhythm oriented in enough places to beg that question. Also, in recent interviews Sam’s been going on about his deep interest in South and West African music of all genres. that he’d been listening to lately,

I guess the rootsy parts would be the easy peasy wide-screen sprawl, the guitar dominance and Roberts’s organic style of song writing. The new stuff’s in the grooves and the way Roberts is now constructing songs around their rhythm pulse. Dude’s writing groove rock, referencing back when Radiohead were a guitar band. 

It isn’t all changeups though; the fanbasers will drool on ‘Longitude’ whose searing layered guitars bring knives to this tale of a politely imploding relationship. Land of Talk vocalist Elizabeth Powell shows up to elevate the things in a duet with Roberts. And Streets of Heaven’ with its Springsteenian title delivers on that promise with solid rock riding on smacking bass lines.

One Hundred Dollars: Songs Of Man

One Hundred Dollars  Cover

Outside

If this is how One Hundred Dollars deals with the sophomore jinx, they should get out and court all other jinxes. Songs Of Man is a ten-song collection of alt-country, which raises the genre bar with both music and lyric.

The production is attentive and sympathetic; most of the effects focus on enhancing and showcasing Simone Schmidt's gravely, haunting voice. Essential, as the band tackles some heavy current issues and hers is the means to do so without coming over all judgemental.

“Black Gold’ looks at the price paid by the Fort McMurray oil workers, far from home and loved ones and beset by all the temptations money can buy. The elegant and sweetly melodic “Where the Sparrows Drop” focuses on a young couple separated by war and what longing and need can do to the strongest bonds. The music’s a mix of either traditional acoustic (Aaron’s Song’) or countrified rock (‘Waiting For Another’) and the band handles either approach with confidence and a love of playing.

It’s all liberally sprinkled with quirky arrangements and surprising time changes to keep things interesting. If they don’t do the trick, Schmidt’s winning ways with the bitter and the sweet will. Check the way she undercuts the classic country tropes of ‘Everybody Wins’ with caustic tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Snailhouse: Sentimental Gentleman

Snailhouse Cover

Forward Music

Here’s yet another artist from the musical Petri dish that is Montreal except this one is no next new thing. Instead, as member of Wooden Stars and as a soloist Mike Feuerstack has been making music professionally for 15 years.

So why haven’t you heard of him before? Likely because when it comes to public acclaim for thoughtful, intelligent music, he’s closer to Ron Sexsmith than Justin Bieber.

It continues to be a slim market for roots Canadiana, which is the vague slot this collection most comfortably fits. The overall landscape here is atmospheric, broody, downtempo, questioning, with occasional outbursts of Beatlesque pop (‘Great Storyteller’ ‘Daydream’). You’ll be needing to look elsewhere for wicked hooks and bigass choruses. But when it comes to nuanced, introspective tunes, dude has his ducks in a row. 

The title track deserves is central place as touchstone for many of the other songs, a masterful evocation of yearnings with no place to go until maybe tomorrow. ‘Every Day’ is one such as Feuerstack opens up virtually acapella until instruments slowly fold into the weave leaving us with a track that would have fit perfectly on John Cale’s Paris 1919. 

Not everything here reveals its all at first glance and there’s a suspicion this album’s the kind that grows on a body with repeated listening. Come May 24, you’ll be able to test the theory when Sentimental Gentleman drops in Canada.

James Lizzard

Malajube: La Caverne

Dare to Drive

Dare To Care 

The first time I ever heard of these guys was when I stumbled into El Mocambo in Toronto one night and there were some hot, sweaty French guys rocking out on stage. They could do it too; hooky power rock with lotsa grunge garage riffs and loud, loud, loud. So after a while I could hear properly and ok, now I was primed for their English song. Which was gonna be the next one, right? No? Not the one after that either? So I just gave up waiting and danced till somebody Jaegered my Voivod t-shirt.

Since then I’ve seen them every chance I get and they still don’t sing a lick of English and it never really mattered. Because you don’t need to rock out in both official languages. Malajube proves either one will do. 

Which I’m thinking makes them a sweet choice for Canada’s Band now that The Tragically Hip is past it. Maybe les garcons were thinking the same thing in the studio with La Caverne, as it’s their most ambitious work yet. A little more pop than usual, kinda experimental, kinda Euro movie soundtracky and always with the good hook or two close to hand. 

They used to sound kind of like fellow Montrealers Parlovr but this album sounds more like The Dears but without the girl. Oh yeah, except for “Sangsues” which is all anthemic and Arcade Fiery. 

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