Album Reviews

Brian Dunn: tvs and radios



Vocally and thematically, Dunn’s coming from a space between a pair of Bruces, Cockburn and Springsteen. Like that pair, on this album Dunn’s loking at vanishing technologies with affection and nostalgia. The good news is he’s got the gravel and the ear for the stadium rumble. Not so good is the creeping sense of sameness which shows up around track 5. Sure there are some fast songs and some slow songs but within  those parameters a little more shuffle would have been nice.

Dunn’s foray into ‘new’ country is more like old time country rock, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Coupled to a sense of quality recordiing and a commitment to roots authenticity (recorded in Sudbury) the album has its power moments.

Album opener “Winnipeg” comes out swinging with horns, rattling percussion and keyboard flourishes, and ends up stagggering under the weight of all that. Much better in that regard is “Mexico” featuring  rumbling drums, heavy electric riffage from Dunn and a hoarse, convincing vocal. Which stomps the spit out of the similar-sounding and immediately folllowing “tvs”.

Best on the flipside of that would be slow-burning “Slow Learner”, a well-crafted song which plays to Dunn’s immediate strengths as player and singer. Plus it has the sweetest line on the album; “Christ, you’re a hard love.”

Justin Bieber: Believe



Check it as da Beeb takes his first steps out on the slippery yellow brick road to adulthood, hopefully with career intact.So cue slick arrangements, transitional lyrics and the standard mix of comfy ballads and club bangers.

It’s a soft shuffle onto the glory road laid out for the other Justin, when Timberlake had to make the transition from teen idol to cougar bait. It had to be soft, as befits any testing of the waters, especially as the Beeb’s pipes still have that kiddie warble.

Likewise with the lyrics, which handle the burgeoning sex thing via the most PG of sentiments, studded with wistful looks and hopes to “touch your body”.

While on the surface it might seem a slam-dunk, the Bieber posse did a savvy job with this most important stepping-stone of an album.

From the brand-buffing guest stars,  Ludacris (“I love everything about you / You’re imperfectly perfect”), Big Sean (“I don’t know if this makes sense, but you’re my hallelujah”), Nicki Minaj and especially Drake, whose contributions are likewise warm and fuzzy as the ones quoted, this thing’s designed to hug and kiss Bieber’s teenycore audience. Both only as friends, ‘kay?

In this regard, “Maria” stands out like a cold sore on Selena Gomez as the only ‘adult’ track on the album. It’s crafted as a slapdown to the woman who accused Bieber of fathering her child in 2011 and comes off as an opportunistic rip on “Billie Jean.” This one leaves a sourish aftertaste and probably won’t see singlehood.

Rush: Clockwork Angel



So you’re one of the biggest prog rock bands on the planet and have been so for a long time. Long enough to cut 18 albums and sell zillions of units. By now no one looks to you for something new; they come for the hits and the musicianship, for the magical memories of nostalgia.

So for album Number Nineteen why not put out something sounding like it might have come out at your peak; bombast, bigass production, impenetrable lyrics and all.

This is exactly what the dudes of Rush, Peart, Geddy and Lifeson have done, dropped an album which amplifies all the quirky stuff and steadfast vision that put them on the radar back in the day, not to mention the throwbackin’, balls-to-the-wall playing which evaluated them to their current exalted status.

‘Clockwork Angel’ sounds like the work of a much younger band, a much less famous band, almost the sound of a band demanding to be heard. That’s probably the biggest surprise here and it shows in shorter, tighter songs and muscular musicianship.

Clockwork Angels is reportedly a concept album involving a repressive force known as ‘The Watchmaker.’ As usual, you have to get into it and dig out Peart’s narrative fingernail by fingernail. It’s a minefield of poetic mazes of rhyme, alliteration, metaphor and allusion, filled with references to “angels,” “prayers,” and “miracles.” Concept aside, these words sound important to the very soul of the project and Lee delivers them with subtlety grace and the deep understanding only possible between brothers in arms.

Andre Williams & The Sadies: Night And Day


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 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.

Sills and Smith No Way In No Way Out

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Electric eclectic folk rock is one way to describe the textured sound of the new CD by Ottawa based duo Sills and Smith. The fifteen song collection is a musical and lyrical journey deftly produced by multi talented and multi instrumentalist Jonathan Edwards. Recorded at Edwards’ Corvidae Music in Ottawa is a ‘thinking man’s” CD ,with introspective , probing and thought provoking lyrics backed by airy, creative tracks of acoustic, slide and electric guitars, bass, drums and keys.

All tracks were written by Frank Smith, Jeremy Sills and Jonathan Edwards with all the lyrics written by Frank Smith. Smith handles the vocals and Sills plays guitars, acoustic and electric and vocals while Edwards plays guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.

JAPANDROIDS: Celebration Rock



There’s something very right with the universe when the best snot rock record in ages is put out by a couple of dudes pushing 30. That would be singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, collectively known as Japandroids.and with Celebration Rock they’ve delivered an aptly titled, fundamental rock album that stands tall in the genre.
How’d they do it?

By putting out an album almost exactly the same as the one that blew up for them, only better. Same number of songs, same fuzzed out noise pop, same impassioned vocals, with a running time just ten seconds longer than the debut.
Just the one major change and it’s way for the better, the songs are written from personnae viewpoints, they’re not just about life as a Japandroid, grippng though that is.

The Vancouver based duo broke out in 2009 via the rousing noise pop of debut album Post-Nothing the success of which was a surprise to all concerned. See, after years of treading water, Japandroids figured to hit 'delete' after the release of Post Nothing. Instead, they found themselves suddenly Pitchforked and Blendered into indie stardom.

Aengus Finnan: North Wind

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Aengus Finnan North Wind is available through Borealis Records, whose slogan is ‘The Best in Canadian Folk Music’ and Aengus Finnan truly fits that description.

A charming CD, that has all the Celtic criteria in every song; getting the stories across mixed with fabulous ‘kitchen party’ musicians on the well mixed and produced tracks. Born in Dublin, Ireland then raised in Canada, Aengus Finnan has the unique way of drawing you into his songs and making them come alive.

Track # 1 ‘Rollin’ Home’ captures the pictures of backroad trips with the live movie rolling by your window. You can almost smell the Canadian countryside, with wheat and corn and idle cows and horses in the fields. ‘Ruins’ continues along that vein of thought with the comment on the CD liner saying “If You Ate Today….Thank a Farmer.” ‘Swing Boys Swing’ was inspired when Finnan walked along an overgrown railroad track and the ghosts of workers long gone could be heard saying “Swing Boys Swing, God Speed Your Hammers.” Tackling a traditional and adding some lyrics, Finnan has done a great rendition of ‘Lost Jimmy Whelan’, a young shanty boy who drowned in the 1878 log drive at King’s Chute near Pembroke, Ontario.

‘My Heart Has Wings’ is a love song and ‘Apple Blossom Tyme’ is a young lad’s first memories of Canada, chasing after summer workers on trucks, hoping to get a dropped apple or two. ‘Sandy’s Story’ is one that will take you back to a time when tales were told in front of fireplaces and families kept the stories going.

COLD SPECKS: I Predict A Graceful Expulsion


Arts & Crafts

Al Spx started showing up on stages in the T.Dot last year behind major hype and packing a soulful, idiosyncratic vocal style to back it up. This was well in advance of the retro soul revival currently underway and the artists now known as Cold Specks caused a major splash with her hard to pin down and often raw style.

Simultaneously she could sound old time rickety and blues gal from outer space; she could reconcile the beautiful with the strident, as brilliantly demonstrated on  “Steady”.

Nor does the songwriting lack in ambition or scope. From the intimate and soul bearing to the anthemic and soul searing, the is the music of intent.“”Holland” has a subtext relevant to the black experience in Europe, where Cold Specks made its initial impact,  “Blank Maps’’ with its refrain of “I am, I am/A goddamn believer” is a grabber, anthemic one moment, down to the ground the next, “Winter Solistice” weaves Gospel into a modernist soul setting.

She’s a skiiled lyricist, adept at layering unstated meanings with highly evocative imagery but it’s the voice that makes it all happen. A singular thing with few contemporary reference points, it echoes all the way to the Delta and Odetta, Leadbelly and “Mississippi Goddam” seen through a modernist, indie prism. Or to put it another way, both Feist and Nick Cave are gonna  love this.

Call it Goth Soul and you’re not far off the mark.

Lenny Stoute

The Royal Crowns Volume 3


The Royal Crowns, Toronto’s favorite roots/rockabilly/party band, recently held two nights of a CD Release party, and the place was packed in anticipation of this much awaited new offering titled simply: Volume Three.

Original members guitarist-singer Danny Bartley,(former member of Shotgun Shack and the Razor Backs) and drummer-singer-professional wisecracker Teddy Fury (former member of the seminal rockabilly band the Bopcats) recruited Jason Adams in 2010, fellow pomade aficionado from Buffalo NY on the upright bass, and the rejuvenated swing/surf/rockabilly/country/roots band sprung into their third decade raring to go. With Volume One and Volume Two behind them, this band has enough creative to release a baker’s dozen if they should chose to do so.

Suzanne Nuttall: I See Wild Horses (Indie)

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Suzanne Nuttall, formerly of the band Bare Bones, has released her first record as a solo artist. The self penned ‘I See Wild Horses’ is the song Suzanne has chosen to introduce herself with and what a great choice this turned out to be. It has all the hooks necessary to get your attention and then to hold it, as she weaves her way through the complicated, and at times disturbing, path of self discovery, all done with an emotional and heartfelt vocal.

Her years in Bare Bones have served her well and she is now ready to embrace her solo career and find a niche she is comfortable with and that will allow her to connect with her audience with her honest direct songs.

Nuttall, who cites early Motown and soul music as  her big influences, plans on releasing a series of singles, “ Just like they did in the sixties!” she said while explaining her concept. (An album will be released containing the singles at a later date.)

‘I See Wild Horses’ is available on iTunes, and CD Baby, as an acoustic version and a full band version, which features some excellent musicians including guitar whiz Bob Cohen.

Give this tune a listen, it will draw you in and make you want hear it again and even more importantly, you’ll want to hear what else this soulful songstress  from Montreal has to say!

Well done Suzanne, looking forward to hearing your next recording.

Don Graham

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