Album Reviews

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. 

Swollen Members: Dagger mouth

Swollen Members

Suburban Noize

No question it’s a hard road back for Mad Child, ‘cause that hillbilly heroin called oxycontin will put you in the cold, cold ground. Nuff credit to his brothers in the band that they hung with their man all through the valley of quitting that shit and the three-year hiatus involved. 

If y’all haven’t seen it yet, check out the DVD of retrospective album Ten Years of Turmoil to witness Mad Child’s struggle and the band’s dedication to holding steady.

On the one hand, Dagger Mouth is a powerful distillation of all the early elements which have taken the band to its heights. The vivid imagery, the sharp-edged rhymes, the edgy arrangements and Rob The Viking’s pinpoint production are here in full effect.

This time around, all that is subordinate to an atmosphere of foreboding and menace, which Mad Child’s bravura delivery must battle hard to overcome. Or at least fight to a draw.

Dudes are aware of it too. Just check these lines from ‘War Money’; “ I’m a Bluenose, green-eyed, thoroughbred, purebred, double threat, split personality."  Given what Mad Child’s come through, he’s entitled and full marks to him for owning up as a warning to others.

Imaginary Cities: Temporary Resident

Imagine

Hidden Pony 

Experimental soul pop, you say. And coming out of Winnipeg? Gotta check this if only for inadvertent humour content. Well, the laffs are on us as this unlikely combination of Marti  Sarbit's old school soul singer’s voice and a suitcase full of electronic effects often approaches something quite different. 

Ably abetted by the duo’s other half, multi-instrumentalist Rusty (Weakerthans) Matyas, Sarbit moves confidently around Metric-sounding hooky altrock (‘Temporary Resident’) technosoul (‘Say You’) and downright dance tunes, rarely taking a false step. 

"Cherry Blossom Tree" is a pristine example of Nineties slowburn altrock, with its slow and stately build up up to a mind-searing crescendo, sure to make for an attention-getting single.

Some of the song structures and arrangemenst are not so assured however, ‘Purple Heart’ and ‘Manitoba Bossa Nova’  in particular coming over half-baked , as if the pair tired of the songs brefore they arrived at a satisfactory conclusion abd just kinda let then run out.

Could that be because the album is something of a rush job, coming hot on the heels of the announcement  Imaginary Cities will be opening for alt legends The Pixies for their entre North American tour?

Steve Dawson: Nightshade

Nightshade

Black Hen 

Every now and then, when not busy producing other artists, Steve Dawson finds time to drop an album of his own material. This one’s number five and if you’ve never heard the man’s work, it’s as good a place to introduce yourself as any.

Dawson deals in a revival style of roots Americana, somewhere between the stripped down r’n’b of Catl and the full-on swamp grooves of Rockit 88. Though a little darker in tone than previous outings, Nightshade doesn’t slip into American Gothic if only on account of the sparkling playing, slick production, Dawson’s tale-spinning skills and a certain West Coast charm.

‘Course, he’s a well lauded string bender and on Nightshade he works out on acoustic, electric, steel, national and Weissenborn guitars, the last named known for their rich bottom end. Along for the ride are Vancouver genre stars Chris Gestrin, Keith Lowe and Geoff Hicks. Singer Jill Barber and backups Jeanne Tolmioe and Alice Dawson bring feminine warmth and fine harmonies to the proceedings 

A good thing as Dawson’s delivery tends to lean heavily on the laidback and languid. This fits most of the material but ‘Torn and Frayed’, a tense tale of a relationship on the point of exploding and the title track, a cowboy movie-type tale of a desperate man on the run, could have used a more intense take.

That aside, the rest adds up to a fine collection of rootsy blues that could garner greater mainstream attention for Dawson.

Dirty Beaches: Badlands

Dirty Beaches Badlands

Zoo

While Alex Zhang Hungtai is adamant that Badlands isn’t his alternate soundtrack for the 1973 flick of the same name, he does cop to an attitudinal similarity Both projects offer a skewed, deconstructed take on pop culture, eyes firmly fixed on that point on the horizon where art blends into life. Except in this case, it’s his dad’s life.

‘Dirty Beaches’ Hungtai’s mashups have gained him a global following and this one won’t disappoint. The framework’s primitive rockabilly, Cinema Noir riffs, fuzzed-out artpunk and alienated dissonance a la The Fall. Being that this is DB’s first album to get a wide release, he’s eased off the noise some, dropping in surprisingly crooner-like vocals to fill out the vibe. It’s all nicely grounded by the dirty, lo-fi production dude steeps everything in.

As befitting a showcase album, this is Dirty Beaches at his most accessible, with the Presleyesque rattle and shake of ‘Sweet 17’, the Phil Spectorish ‘A Hundred Highways” and the full-on croon of ‘True Blue’ providing easy points of entry. But it wouldn’t be a DB joint without its share of uncompromising black holes, in this case the instrumentals ‘Black Nylon’ and ‘Hotel’ which will piss you off and leave you WTF, especially if you don’t dig John Cage.

MAE MOORE: Folklore: Poetical License

Mae Moore

Having gone back to the land ten years ago, pop singer Mae Moore now returns to music in a mood as mellow as you’d expect from an organic farmer on B.C.'s Gulf Islands.

And with likely very different expectations too. The likeable melodies and pop-centric style, which drew Juno nominations, chart hits and a spot on the movie Top Gun’s soundtrack is absent here. 

In its place, the title says it all. Moore came out of the university folk scene and returns to her roots here bringing a worldly sensibility, which informs without being overwrought. New to the mix is a greater confidence in messing about with jazz elements, especially in the arrangements.

When the brass and strings come in, it’s more likely through a side door, reinforcing the jazz/folk meld and bringing to mind that other famous painting, folk jazzing Lady of the Canyon.

Ok, the dulcimer doesn’t help in setting her apart; what does is that Mooré’s vocals is less idiosyncratic than Mitchell’s, in a good way

The production is tasteful, the arrangements inclusive, the environmentally centered lyrics often served with a twist of wry. Check ‘ When Constellations Align’, a tune about a love so large it takes the Milky Way to serve as appropriate canopy 

E-City-“Beyond the Dawn"

E-City

Label: Wizard Records  Indie

 

The first thing that grabs you on the first cut “Pages” is the crispness of the drums, then the guitars kick in, and finally the strength of the vocals. Reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane, and sometimes Jim Morrison, with guitar licks that mirror The Allman Brothers, any rock fan would love to have this  CD for their collection.

 

The second cut starts off with “Lonesome Midnight Train”, a sassy show-off guitar solo that has memories of Hendrix in it, which is certainly not a bad thing. “Down in the Delta” once again shows off the talent of drummer Pat Saraceno, with interesting rhythms that augment a great rock song.

 

‘Keep The Traffic Movin’” has a swampy, guitar riff intro, and strong vocals, while “One More Blues” goes in a whole other direction, with that John Mayall feel. “Sea Of Despair” speaks for itself about the loss of love and feeling lost and trying to find your way back ‘home’. “Riding a Wave” takes you back to the rock feel this band does best, with great mixtures of drums and guitar. 

 

“Can’t Blame the Fool” has a more melodic feel than the other tunes, with a Santana-like rhythm  and great background vocals ‘answering’ the lyrics. “Blondie” is the most commercial tune on the CD, although there isn’t a tune on this CD under 4 minutes. The ten tune offering ends “Soundtrack”, a haunting instrumental that truly shows off the musicianship of this trio.

 

Donna Greenberg - Mav’rik Crosses Boundaries by Boldly Jumping Genres!

Donna Greenberg

Toronto, Ontario.  Donna Greenberg, the Canadian singer, songwriter and lyricist is enjoying rave reviews from the UK to the USA, for Mav’rik, her second CD. Mav’rik is an eclectic mix, boasting of 12 original songs composed by the chanteuse herself. 

 

Mav’rik crosses boundaries by boldly jumping genres -- salsa, lullaby, Celtic folk, tango, jazz, swing and bossa nova, all in one album…and the radio industry is responding. Latin, jazz, country and gospel stations are playing her songs and singing her praises! Greenberg’s recent accolades include being named Jazz Vocalist of the Month on Bob Birch Radio in England and Montreal radio station, Planète Jazz’s Discovery of the Week. Diana Broomfield compared her to singer Julie Andrews on WDGP Radio Maryland in America. 

 

Mav’rik showcases Greenberg’s heartfelt, yet powerful lyrics in four languages with haunting melodies, brought to richness with consummate musicians, producer and musical director, Jordan Klapman’s arrangements and the orchestrations of Tony Quarrington. 

 

Andrea Ramolo: The Shadows And The Cracks

Andrea Ramolo

Thorniac/independent

 

Toronto’s Andrea Ramolo isn’t one for staying still too long. When on the road, which is often, she plays between 250-300 dates a year. Having cut her teeth on the folk scene playing with the likes of Jim Cuddy and Fred Eaglesmith and released a folkified debut album (Thank You For The Ride), it’s no surprise that the followup is something very different.


The album art’s a good indicator. The New Age girl in the floral print running through the meadow from ‘Thank You For The Ride’ is now all tattered jeans, skimpy undershirt holding up a lantern in a dark barn, almost daring you to come in.


Hot, real hot and totally in step with Ramolo’s new Joplinesque persona,  stompin’ and heavy breathing all over the tracks on ‘The Shadows and The Cracks’. Produced by Tim Thorney, who’s been this way before with Alanis Morissette, the album’s a good mix of radio-friendly alt blues rock and tunes designed to spotlight the lady’s pipes, nicely curated by Thorney who comes up with a mix that’s now-sounding enough to dodge the retro bullet.


The standard guitar, bass, drums and keys line-up keeps the rock moving along at a decent clip and backing vocalist Cindy Doire ups the flavour ante whenever she’s on the mic but it's all about Andrea and how she sells the tunes. And sell ‘em she can. 


The Dears: Degeneration Street

The Dears

Pheromone Records


You know the music’s gonna be spit hot when a band proudly takes the ‘comeback album’ tag. With Degeneration Street , The Dears have delivered a album which not only marks a stunning comeback but is quickly building online consensus as the best album the Montreal sextet have ever done.

 


With original guitarists Patrick Krief and Rob Benvie back on the team and collaborative songwriting in effect, there’s fire and urgency afoot.It’s as if The Dears were tapping into their younger, more ferocious and chance-taking selves. It’s all there in the blazing opening trio of tunes, “Omega Dog”.,5 Chords” and “Blood”, lotsa jagged guitars, dense drumming and Murray Lightburn’s vocals, dripping with reverb and delight. 


As he demonstrates on “Omega Dog" the old school soul falsetto is still intact  as is the chance-taking thing. 


“Thrones”, for instance, could have gone horribly wrong going with its New Wave-ish instrumentation and open-faced lyrics but by tune’s end it’s grown into something more rough’n’ready, matching the feel of the rest of the material.


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