Album Reviews

Steamboat: Rules



Steamboat is a seven-piece band with retro soul inclinations, made up of folks with serious cred as sessions players for luminaries like Sandro Perri and Alex Lukashevsky. So while the creativeness is potential, the musicianship is guaranteed. Not that they ever let that get in the way of the good times on this debut album. Guided by keysman and lead singer Matt McLaren, Steamboat kicks it with all the rollicking exuberance of a throw-together jam band.

McLaren’s vocal derives from Guess Who-era Burton Cummings, a perfect fit for the material’s Seventies bent. Shit gets really sublime when the clean and razor-sharp soprano pipes of  Maylee Todd kick in. The hot ticket here is “Don’t Try To Fool Me,”, the vocals in perfect complementary synch rididing atop a wicked catchy groove.

Helping keep the grooves deep and funky, bassist Mike Smith and axeman Nick Taylor, ably abetted by a dance-inciting passages from the horn section, coming together best on “Hey Marvin” and “Chains.”

Recorded at 6 Nassau Studios and Hallamusic in a co-production between the band and Jeff McMurrich (Fucked Up, Owen Pallett, Constantines), Rules emerges as an engaging collection of old school, ass shaking blue eyed soul.

Possibly the first wall-to-wall party animal album of the summer.

James Lizzard

Bill King - Gloryland (Tales From the South)


Acclaimed pianist, composer, photographer, musical director and producer - what more can you say about Bill King? You can say this new CD is his best recorded offering yet.
Pulling from his southern roots (King is actually American, but settled here in Canada) this CD is dedicated to his family and their heritage.

Bill King is respectful of his long line of Southern history. "Gloryland traces the roots of our family from the Ohio River, all the way down to Tennessee where my Dad was born, and the hills of Kentucky over through to Pennsylvania and to other parts of the South. This is where we spent our childhood, and the trips we made, visiting relatives and friends, and everything of that nature. The sound at that time was the Grand Old Opry, it was also Folk, Roots, Blues, some Jazz and a mixture of everything, a bit of 'mountain music', violins, fiddles, but that was all absorbed in this type of music."

Without going track by track (you have to listen to the whole CD to experience the musical journey) it is Bill King at his best. 'The Devil Has 666 Fingers', 'Gloryland' and 'One Blues Dress Hanging in the Wind' are my personal favourites. It is hard to chose favourites, though, as it really is a CD that should be experienced from beginning to end.

Bryan Adams ....... Still Wakin' Up the Neighbours!

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Story:  Don Graham

Canadian icon Bryan Adams hit the Air Canada Centre stage in Toronto as part of his 20 cities, 20 shows , 20 years tour on May 3, 2012, to a sold out crowd of adoring fans.

This is the first time in 20 years that Bryan Adams has toured his home and native land from coast to coast and it was obvious from his performance that he hasn't lost a step delivering his raspy, gutsy vocals in the same keys as he recorded them all those years ago. Adams is still playing the searing guitar solos that carried him to the top of his craft.

The 30 song set was an awesome reminder of just how many hits this guy had. The minute he strolled out onto the massive ACC stage the crowd belonged to him and he didn't disappoint. How rewarding for him to play to 20,000 folks who knew every word, every note of every song he played. Especially when he pointed out " I remember playing on Yonge Street in Toronto when the bouncer would walk me from the so-called "dressing room" to the stage where I would play for three people!"

Small Town Stories – Carli & Julie Kennedy

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They say good things come in small packages so ‘Small Town Stories’, part of the EP from the beautiful Kennedy twins, is no exception.

These native BC beauties have it all; talent, charisma and good solid songs. Carli reminds me of Nancy Wilson (Heart) with her solid rhythms on guitar and gutsy solos. Julie charms the sweet sounds out of her violin, and together their vocal harmonies bring it all home.

‘Country Life’ describes their own story, ’Already Miss You’  has you feeling that hungry feeling of romance, when you leave the person and just can’t wait to see them again, ’Come Away With Me’ says it all, ‘Front Row’ has great musicality and clever lyrics, but my personal favourite is the title track ‘Small Town Stories’ that truly captures the essence of living in a small town, and all the comfort and security that goes along with knowing your neighbours and the place you were born in.

These two dynamic artists, each with their own strength of talent, have offered a small glimpse of what a full CD will bring us in the future, but in the meantime, get online and get a copy of ‘Small Town Stories’. It is sure to turn into a collector’s item in the very near future.

Sandy Graham

Skydiggers: Northern Shores



On which these pillars of the Canuck alt-rock/roots community drop their eighth album to renewed interest. This 15-song collection stands as the most adventurous and varied of the group’s 20-year plus career, capturing the essence of their sound. Northern Shore sees the group mapping new musical territory, but it feels like home.

The album’s split between revisited older material that had been recorded but never released, renewed versions of older material and a batch of new tunes. Likewise, the recording process took place in Josh Finlayson’s home studio, Blue Rodeo’s studio The Woodshed in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario at The Tragically Hip’s The Bathouse Studio.

As the first new music since the 2009 release of their career retrospective, The Truth About Us, this one gave core members Ron Macey (bass), Josh Finlayson (guitar/vocals) and Andy Maize (vocals) a chance to dust off some back pages and reboot for the future.

Coloration comes via splashes of accordion and guitar effects that are to be expected plus moderne touches through the use of samples and beats. The material on Northern Shore includes two songs written by folkrocker-turned-politico Andrew Cash. Another flashback comes from brother Peter Cash, a founding member of Skydiggers, with an excellent guest turn on "Barely Made It Through."

Cancer Bats: Dead Set On Living


Distort Records

A friend dragged me out to Mississauga to see these guys two winters ago and they were awesome. So far, so good but as you know, that doesn’t mean the album will have the same punch and crazyass good stuff. I mean the feeling. Not only are they all great players but also they seemed to be cool dudes too, lots of interaction with the audience between and among songs.

So yeah, didn’t quite know what I was expecting from the album expect huge drum sound and wicked power chords. I’m not sure what old school hardcore is but my friends tell me these dudes do that and make it new. So that’s cool.

Turns out right off the top the album’s a burner. Opener 'R.A.T.S' gives a good sense of what’s to come, a hooky riff and singer Liam Cormier’s hair-raising vocal. Dude has two speeds, the demonic scream and a threatening sing/talk thing, which shows up on 'Bricks & Mortar' and 'Breath Armageddon'.

The lyrics are mostly about life as a Cancer Bat and dealing with dickheads and assorted villains, while keeping the power rock flag flying. With some death metal fantasy stuff in there too.
 Cancer Bats sound like they’re really having fun bashing out the tunes and it’s easy to hear why. They aren’t trying to invent anything new or show off any bullshit tricks; just kickass heavy rock, somewhere between metal and hardcore with even a little trash. Good for dancing too;  'Bastards' and 'Rally the Wicked' will amp up a mosh pit any night.

Max Layton 2 the Max

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Reviewed by Don Graham

Montreal born singer songwriter Max Layton is carrying on the tradition of troubadour, storyteller and singing poet in fine fashion. His 11 song offering, 2 The Max is a collection of Max Layton originals giving a glimpse into the life and times of a well traveled and experienced man. There are songs of joy, despair, humour and hope.

Listen to the lyrics of Always Been a Loner and you’ll get a brief biography of Max Layton’s life and travels while the poignant Give Me One More Chance is kind of like reading someone’s mail. Max was legally blind for a period of time and when armed with this knowledge while listening to this song, it’s easy to see how he is reaching out and grabbing this second chance he has been given. Reaching out to the max.

The production value achieved by producer David Woodhead is crisp, clean, understated and smooth. The rich tone in Max’s voice sits perfectly on the tracks laid down by Layton, David Woodhead and ‘anything with strings”whiz Bob Cohen on mandocello.

This CD collection is guaranteed to take back to the coffee house feel that bred some of the great folk artists of our time. Give a listen, you’ll be glad you did.

Lioness: The Golden Killer


New Romantic

Formed from the late controller.controller’s rhythm section of bassist Ronnie Morris and drummer Jeff Scheven plus vocalist Vanessa Fischer, Lioness debuted with a self-titled Ep, which spawned the hot single "You’re My Heart" and wicked Internet buzz. On it Lioness roared with diversity, range and a promising neoGoth rock sensibility. That was followed by a stream of remixes, which didn’t do much to advance the sound for but did build anticipation for the album.

Four years later, this is it and it’s as if the band’s back from poking about in clubland. Gone are the funkified backlines, hangovers from their CC past, replaced by angular, minimalist instrumentation, as the band embraces fully their spooky Goth side with arrangements like splintered crosses on which to hang Fischer’s vocals.

The album art lays it out hard and heavy, with Fischer doing that Witch Queen thing on the inner sleeve, hands placed on the exposed skulls of two obedient skeletons kneeling beside her. That said, her vocals totally back up the image, both a good and bad thing.

The Golden Killer opens with dirgelike instrumental “ Procession”, which leads not to a place of rest but to the gates of Hades as the fuzzed-out fury of “Toxic Heat” brings Fischer’s voodoo blues vocal into play, setting the tone as firmly in place as a dagger in the heart.

CATL: Soon This Will All Be Gone



Born out of turmoil and pain, T.Dot’s beloved barebones roots stompers have come up with a worthy testament to “keep on keeping on”.  About halfway through the recording of this album, drummer and co-founder Johnny LaRue quit the band. As the driving machine of the trio, LaRue’s was a big hole to fill. So, too soon for judgements on new guy Andrew Moczynskii’s contribution apart from holding steady.

The other two mmbers, co-founder/guitarist Jamie Fleming and organist/vocalist/shaker of percussive stuff Sarah Kirkpatrick, do an excellent job of preserving the Catl dynamic, Kirkpatrick in particular coming more to the vocal fore and doing a turn on the skins for  the rollicking “Gold Tooth Shine”.

In keeping with the Catl aesthetic, most of the album was recorded live off the floor, with more attention paid to layering and general production stuff this time around. Perhaps as a reflection of the circumstances surrounding its recording, this is a darker and less willing to make play nice album than 2010’s With The Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place.

They’re digging deep into Delta dirt for tales of sinsiter doings and reckless promises in a mix of originals and covers from seminal figures including Robert Johnson and Leadbelly. Delivered with a foot stompin’ glee and with the female presence adding a slippery sexy tension to Catl’s Delta roadhouse vibe, their crazed rip at psychobilly legend Hasil Adkins’ “Get Outta My Car” mirrors the album’s overall take no prisoners ‘tude.

Lenny Stoute

Boxer The Horse: French Residency



Right in step with a whiff of warm weather comes this lively update of shoegazer pop. Not the down tempo drone-y stuff but the edgy, angular spikey pop side of the genre. They’re also young enough to come over like they’re never heard this stuff before and get away with it.

The blessing in that is they feel no pressure to go full bore on each tune, leaving just enough space within each for the sound of a band figuring shit out. So while they get to drop the hammer on "Bridge To The USA", BTH also knows the value of the changeup with such as "Rattle Your Cage".

This is the second album from this PEI quartet and the kids manage the neat trick of keeping the youthful exuberance while shaping a deeper sound. Apart from lead singer Jeremy Gaudet’s penchant for channelling Pavement main man Stephen Malkmus on occasions like "Sentimental Oriental" and "Song For T-Rex", this isn’t really a recycling project. Although it must have been tempting, given axeman Isaac Neily’s dazzling display of tasty riffola and wicked hooks.

Instead, the arrangements indicate a band going after a heavier, though none the less, sunny brand of East Coast pop. Lyrics like: “It’s not impossible to reach nirvana, when you’re sleeping with pirhanas in Brazil.”, from album opener “Community Affair” support the vision nicely.

The band  has described their album of updated jangle rock as “ a fusion of ’80s alternative and ’90s lo-fi groups.”

That works for me. In a real good way.

Lenny Stoute

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