Chris Smither Still On The Levee

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Is Chris Smither the cleverest lyricist out there today? Probably, and as this 50 year retrospective double album suggests, he has been for the past half century.

With 25 tracks, each a current, modern reinterpretation of his own original songs, Still On The Levee is a marvellous effort featuring many of his signature songs; Lola, Leave The Light On, No Love Today, Seems So Real, and the rocking Love You Like A Man - famously covered by Bonnie Raitt - are all squeezed into the mix.

Strong on Smither's trademark guitar picking and rhythmic foot stomping shuffle, these fresh arrangements of his huge back-catalogue also include more keyboard covers than is usual, bringing a positively refreshing sound to many of the old familiar tracks.

Smither is hard to categorise. There's always a light blues edge to him while his lyrical skills are intelligent, witty and erudite. Americana roots and country are clearly part of his genetic make-up.  For those yet to meet or hear the man, this splendid album serves as a great introduction to Smither and his music.

Tim Williams: Blue Highway

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is an all-Canadian release from a true master, an acoustic bluesman of some significance. Williams, from Calgary, Alberta, picked up best Solo and best Duo performer at this year's International Blues Challenge awards in Memphis, a remarkable feat; recognition by a jury of his blues music peers that this guy can sure pick that ole guitar.

From the opening title track, 'The Blues Highway', this album positively rips along. Around half the compositions come from Williams himself with others including 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' and other traditional blues standards like 'I'd Rather Be The Devil.' There's even a cracking take on Stephen Foster's  sensitive, seemingly ever-pertinent  'Hard Times.' Williams also includes an interesting diversion with the Hawaiian-sounding, slack-key 'The Lei Vendor's Song.'

Recorded at the Broom Closet studios in Calgary, Williams, who majors in Guitar, Mandolin and Washboard, is joined on second-guitar by Kay Bass, Steve Marriner on Harp, Howard Chapman on Accordion, Allistair Elliott, Trumpet and Kevin Belzner, Snare. It's a blend that works wonderfully, capturing the essence of a live performance in-house while finding sufficient space to allow all the musicians to breathe and show their skill. This album is a true delight.

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Ellen Doty Gold

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Ellen Doty is a soulful vocalist and songwriter from Calgary, Alberta with a world-class voice and a classic sound. Citing influences from legendary singers like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald to modern artists like Michael Buble and Norah Jones, Doty’s music is an organic blend of traditional jazz and easy-listening pop. Doty has recently released her much-anticipated debut CD ‘Gold’. The album is currently in the top ten on several jazz charts in Canada including CFBX (Kamloops), and CFMU (Hamilton). The record features ten of Ellen's original compositions, as well as one song by Toronto songwriter Kyle Zavitz. Her co-writers include Oliver Miguel, Josh Crowhurst, Kyle Zavitz, Conrad Good, and Danny Michel.

Doty's six-song EP “That’s Love” was released to a sold-out crowd of four hundred eager fans in Calgary last May followed shortly after by a crowd-funded fifteen-city Western Canada tour. Following an exciting year that included performances in Los Angeles, an award for outstanding soloist at the 2013 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, a Banff Centre Artist Residency, and countless rave press reviews, Doty was awarded a grant by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for her debut album that she has co-produced along with LA engineer Steve Dierkens and well-known sax player Oliver Miguel.

Sills and Smith Etched

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Submitted by Don Graham

Sills and Smith have released their 4th studio album , Etched , as is their modus operendi  the evolution continues.  Like the river you stand in is not the river you walk in, the boys creative energy flows constantly and never at the same speed  but their forward direction stays the same. They continue their quest to reach the “sea” and won’t stop until they get there. This time they have switched producers and studios in their search for their true sound.

The boys, Jeremy and Frank explain their band this way, “The core band is Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith, who write the songs and we  handle all the vocals. For the fourth studio album we used a new producer Phillip Victor Bova (Bova Sound) who has worked with a who's who of Canadian folk/rock artists including David Wiffen, Ian Tamblyn and classical pianist Angela Hewitt. Phil and our drummer Bruce were in Richard Thompson's band when I saw Thompson in Ottawa about 20 years ago. There were 8 contributors to this recording. Phil played bass, T. Bruce Wittet drums, Kevin Breit electric guitars and mandolin, Don Wallace electric guitars and dobro, RoddyEllias electric guitar and nylon string acoustic guitar, Raphael Weinroth-Browne cello. Jeremy played acoustic guitars, piano and crystal bowls. So this group of 8 is the studio band, with the other 6 augmenting what is rooted in a two person project. Jonathan Edwards (Corvidae Music) was the producer and multi-instrumentalist on our first three albums.”

Brian Kramer Full Circle

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This CD, from US-born, Sweden-based bluesman, Brian Kramer is already one of my personal favourites of the year.  With all the material written by Kramer, and an excellent cast of supporting musicians providing back-up, it hits the spot for me with its soulful guitar-work and laid-back ragtimey-blues feel.  Since its arrival, I’ve been listening to it on an almost daily basis.  And, unlike some others, it never seems to become boring or simply background noise. It’s a really rewarding album, never jaded, that can be listened to time after time.

‘Full Circle’, in short, is an excellent little album. Themed around Kramer’s quarter century as a pro player and his US Big Apple roots, It sure resonates with me with its laid-back rhythm and material that ranges from Ragtime-Blues influences to Brian’s beloved and sensitively picked Steel Guitar work.  His electric playing is also showcased with a fine bunch of backing musicians including Chuck Anthony on guitar, Mats Quarfordt on Harp, another Swedish based US player, Bert Deivert, Steel Mandolin, and some very soulful backing vocals from Maria Blom, Isabella Lundgren and Fanny Holm. At times the groove here is reminiscent of the late JJ Cale, with its deceptively laid-back melodies and clever lyricism.

Kramer, for many years provided back-up guitar to Eric Bibb, both on the road and in the studio, and has also worked with Junior Wells and Taj Mahal, among many others in the USA. He was a peripheral part of the Greenwich Village traditional US music scene, busking in Washington Square for nickels and dimes in the late sixties/early seventies., and gigging in bars and clubs throughout New York as he gained a toe-hold in the exploding blues music business.

‘Full Circle’ is a marvellous album that gives great, genuine pleasure and is well worth a listen for anyone who loves the blues.

Stars No One Is Lost

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Pop went Stars on 2012’s The North and had so much fun in the process they decided to stay with it and amp it up to even giddier heights on this one. Recorded above a former gay disco in Montreal, No One Is Lost is Stars’ blatant invitation to get down and shake it loose in the shadow of doom. No surprsie then that some of these ghosts from the now-dead club crept into the album. So what we have here is ‘indie dance music’; got the beats and the handclaps down (“A Stranger”) but still in thrall to the angst and the dramatic statement.

Which is plainly laid out in the seven-minute rave-up of an opener, “From the Night”, whose manifesto goes something like, no matter how boring or empty your dayside life is, night time is the right time to change all that up. Which, for Torquill Campbell, is very stripped down and direct. Best of the odes to party are “Movie Score” and “Are You OK?” with all kinds of au courant electronica and sparkling percussion driving them forward. But while da boogie is in full effect, the emotional underpinings are more their usual fatalistic outlook than any newfound optimism. That there are no certainties, love will break your heart, the world is running down, change is the only constant and how much constant change can a person handle?

The dueling duets of Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are an essential ingredient in the Stars’ sound and given the album’s milieu, the pair don’t hold back from embracing the melodrama, especially on the innuendo-driven “You Keep Coming Up” and the hell-bent glitter of the title track with the killer line, “ Put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies.”

Campbell still wants to have it both the romantic and the outrageous ways so we get the slow grinders “Turn It Up” and “What Is to Be Done?” just to remind us they’re not done with the romantic thing yet. In spite of it all, Stars really do want to raise your spirits and get you dancing.

Lucinda Williams Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

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Submitted by Iain Patience
Cashbox Magazine Europe

A glorious 20 track, double album from the queen of Americana. Most double albums have an inevitable feeling of too much weak material, superfluous padding, about them. Not this one, a jam-packed elemental tour de force from start to finish.

Williams is on top form throughout, her gritty voice and guitar shored up by quality writing, at time withering lyrics, and gnawing raw emotion.  We're all familiar with her style and unique - often dark - view of life, love, relationships and vision. 'Down Where The Spirit Meets the Bone’ is no exception, but with more than a hint of redemption in the mix. Williams says of this release, it is an expression of her 'optimism.' Not a description often attached to her usual, stripped-bare emotive take on life and love.

Tony Joe White  and Jakob Dylan both feature together with strong support from multi-instrumentalist/producer  Greg Leisz, Bill Frisell, and a couple of former Elvis Costello sidemen, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Danny Faragher. The production is perfectly pitched and assured with such a great studio team onboard.

This has to be one of those sadly all too rare things, an absolutely essential album.  Is it country, is it Americana, is it blues?  It's all of those things and much, much more. Possibly the essential release of the year.

Eric Andersen You Could Have Heard a Pin Drop

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Submitted by Don Graham

Eric Andersen’s return to Hugh’s Room was a fascinating night of legendary songs, newer songs destined to become legendary and triumph.

When I arrived at Hugh’s Room for Eric Andersen’s performance, the room was already buzzing in anticipation of seeing and hearing this American icon who was there at the beginning of the explosion of music in New York’s Greenwich Village.  He was introduced by Jane Harbury who was once a waitress at The Riverboat in Toronto where Eric played and sang in the 1960s. The moment he was introduced and made his way to the stage the room fell quiet, eerily quiet. That’s how much respect this man got from this audience of fans and people just wanting to be transported back to a simpler time. But this was not a nostalgia show. Unlike some veteran performers Eric Andersen didn’t just sing his classic songs from the 60’s (although he could have easily done a whole evening of that) but rather did some current material. He even had a song called The “Plague” where he referenced the current Ebola scare in Dallas Texas. “You guys are following that right?”

From the first words out his mouth when hit the stage you knew you were in for an interesting evening, As he climbed up on the stage and put on his guitar he stood by the mic, in the soft lighting, looking very ethereal and said, quietly “ Can you walk behind Niagara Falls? “ Somebody yelled out “Yes!”  Eric said, “How far back can you go?” The answer, “ About 200 feet.” Eric stared out at the crowd and said “I’m going to be thinking about that all night.”  The crowd was all his from that moment on.

Matt Woosey Wildest Dreams

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Radar Music Records
Submitted by Iain Patience
Cashbox Magazine Europe

The latest release from young UK acoustic singer/songwriter, Matt Woosey, 'Wildest Dreams' is another positive triumph. Woosey's previous two offerings, 'On The Wagon' and the EP 'Hook, Line & Sinker', were both excellent. It was hard to see how he could follow through with his next release. But Woosey has pulled it off again; indeed, he has done it in spades. Another simply stunning ten-track CD full of his instantly recognisable guitar work and fabulous songs, a seamless fusion of Americana and raw down-dirty blues.

This guy just gets better and better, stronger and stronger, and is clearly extraordinarily talented. This has to be the main contender for 'album of the year'.

The maturity of the song-writing and playing skills on display belie his age; this is one dude who is certainly going places fast.
If you buy only one album this year, make it Woosey's "Wildest Dreams'.

Mary Flower When My Bluebird Sings

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Bluesette Records
Submitted by Iain Patience

Mary Flower says of this latest album, that it marks a departure from her usual  style, normally a ragtime-blues acoustic driven mix of blues standards and self-penned tracks. And yet, that solid background shines through here with wonderful, crisp and clear guitar work matched by a mellow voice that seems to improve steadily with age, like a good wine or a fine malt. All titles here were written by Flower and she plays both standard acoustic and slide guitar with strength, sensitivity and soul throughout the mix. From the opener, 'So Far Doin' Alright' she shimmies on to a more typical ragtimey theme with 'Ragtag Rag'. 'Sashay My Way' is a cracking, walking  boogie  piece and the closer, 'Atchafalaya' is a beautiful, rhapsodic piece of playing, reflecting and echoing the genesis of this release which was recorded down in New Orleans a few months ago. For me, Mary Flower is probably the finest female acoustic ragtime-blues picker out there, so it goes without saying, this CD is recommended.

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