Reviews

Red Dirt Skinners Live In Aberdeen

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Submitted by Iain Patience

The fourth release by this interesting, UK award-winning UK duo, Sarah and Rob Skinner, is a 'warts and all' take on a live performance recorded summer 2014 at a gig in a small blues club in Scotland's self-styled oil capital, Aberdeen.

This is not easy to classify, though it's clearly traditional and rootsy for the most part. The music spans many genres. It includes blues, jazz, country, Americana and arguably even pop, with a well conceived and delivered version of David Bowie's old early hit, 'Space Oddity.'

Rob Skinner plays rhythmic, strongly strummed guitar throughout, driving the music along with a fine sense of pace and energy, though at times, I found the guitar a bit thin, possibly due to the mastering, the strings used or the guitar itself. Who knows exactly, though one thing's certain, it's not down to this guy's forceful playing.

The other half of the band, Sarah, shares vocals, writing credits on many tracks and plays a fine soaring and sympathetic Soprano Sax with punch and style. Her jazzy flourishes are enjoyable, slipping in and out of the mix comfortably and confidently.

The fifteen tracks that make up this recording include standards like 'Cornbread, Peas and Black Molasses' from the Americana end of the spectrum, through Bowie's major pop contribution of ole Major Tom to Robert Johnson's classic 'Hot Tamales.'

The Red Dirt Skinners will be touring Canada with dates lined-up in Alberta in Spring2015 and Ontario a few months later,  in Summer 2015.

A very fine album; interesting, varied in tempo and type, worth discovering.

www.reddirtskinners.com

Iain Patience

David Vest: Roadhouse Revelation

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a positively rollicking-good album from a Canadian keyboard master. Bluesy in parts, jazzy at times, full of thundering, driving barrel-house keyboard chops and flair, 'Roadhouse Revelation' is just that, a genuine revelation.

All but two of the eleven tracks here were written by Vest, and the arrangements include Vest on Keyboards, Piano and Organ. Throughout, he is sensuously supported by Gary Kendall on Bass, Mike Fitzpatrick on percussion and Teddy Leonard on guitar, who adds some decidedly tasty, tempting licks to the mix.

Hank Wiliams' classic 'Ramblin' Man' is given a sound airing, and Vest's vocals carry all of the the material covered here with comfort, ease,  and bags of oomph when needed.

From the opening chords of 'Freight Train Rolling - a crackling bit of fine rolling, juke-joint piano  - to the closing track, the mellower, 'Pretty Things For Anne', Roadhouse Revelation pulses with feeling and style in equal measure. A very fine bit of work that will have you reaching for the replay button time and time again.

www.davidvest.ca

The Suitcase Brothers A Long Way From Home

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a debut recording from a couple of Spanish Brothers, Victor and Santos Puertas. Originally from the Barcelona area, where Harp player, Victor, is still based, guitarist Santos now lives in Texas, where this album was recorded and produced.

With 14 tracks, it's a fine introduction to a new, young outfit with a firm footing in the murky blues world. Tracks include many standards from the likes of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Louis Jordan and JB Lenoir's knock-out, 'Talk To Your Daughter.'

The brothers share the writing credits on many numbers including the closing title track, easily one of the best in the mix.  Overall, this is a solid first effort from a duo that clearly knows their stuff. Two positive US Harp maestros Jerry Portnoy and Paul Oscher - both previously with the legendary Muddy Waters' band back in the day - also guest on a few tracks, bringing well-grounded, soulful experience and confidence to the production.

This is a rollicking bit of thirties-inspired and influenced acoustic ragtime-blues, ranging across Piedmont, Delta and Chicago styles with a rare assurance. An excellent first release, for sure.

www.suitcasebrothers.com


Lisa Lystam Family Band When Money's Runnin' Out

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Another debut release here, from a new, young kid on the Scandinavian blues block.  And it's a cracker. Eleven tracks, mostly self-penned (or in collaboration with buddies) this first album has a great groove going.

Rocky in parts, always rhythmic and clean and clear, the Harp and guitar work is poised and pure while Lystam's vocals are driving and powerfully delivered. Percussion by Patrik Thelin is perfectly pitched, propelling the whole stew deliciously forward throughout, with some rolling, ringing keyboards and piano included.

This is a fabulous album from a young lady we're bound to hear much more both from and of in future years. The writing is mature and wholesome, as you might expect from a Swede. 'When The Money's Runnin' Out' is one of those offerings that creep up, grow on you, and grow and grow the more it's listened to.  Anyone looking for melodic blues-rock with a fully rounded sound and a fresh feel should give Lisa Lystam a listen.

www.lisalystam.se

Iain Patience

Jim Keaveny Out Of Time

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Keaveny is a young Texas-based American already gathering accolades in his homeland where he has been likened to Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie and even Dylan. Not bad for a relative newcomer. To my mind this album has shades of early John Prine at times. It's one of those discs that simply grow on you; the more you listen, the more there is to enjoy.

“Out Of Time” is Keaveny's fifth self-released recording. It's a fine showcase for a powerful, young and ambitious musical talent and should propel his career nicely forward on a wider stage.

Keaveny describes himself as a country/folk singer. What is evident here is a strong ability as a melodic writer and player with an identifiably Americana background. In short, this is a remarkably good, enjoyable, strong album from a guy due to tour UK and Europe in early 2015. On the basis of this offering, he is certainly a guy to catch if you can.

www.jimkeaveney.com

Iain Patience

Elliott Brood Work and Love

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Ten years in and the Men In White remain secure in their position at the very top of the Canuck roots rock heap. A Juno for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year’ll do that for ya. In the US, Mumford & Sons and The National were busy messing with the roots sound, to great critical and commercial acclaim. Against that landscape, when Elliott Brood showed up down there, tour work aplenty was to be had.

From out of the constant touring outside Canada comes Work and Love, a thematic album, rife with reflections on the passing of time and milestone transitions.

Among the latter, the band’s move from their trademark bluegrass altcountry into full on roots rock, cemented by the presence of local guitar god Ian Blurton as producer, which accounts for the trademark wall of screaming guitars all over the album. The banjos, mandolins and acoustics are still in the mix, but not the major ingredients.

Fresh, at times unexpected touches come from stellar guests horn player Michael Louis Johnson, pedal steeler Aaron Goldstein and a one-of from bassist John Dinsmore. As unexpected is how the guys tackle subjects that could make for a miseryfest by dressing the songs in bracing roots rock with no room for feeling sorry about anything.

‘Taken’ is the primest example, lyrically riffing on a lost teenage love on the way to a bleak future, and managing to be both sad and uplifting along the way. Lead off tune ‘Little Ones’ could have drowned in nostalgia for the passing of youth. Instead, the energetic playing and anthemic lyrics ("We should all stay little ones and never be bitter ones”) transform the piece into a battle hymn. “Jigsaw Heart,” teeters on the edge of the so-so until that bigass chorus and massed guitars show up.

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.

www.smither.com

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.

For more information visit www.cayusemusic.com

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.”

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