Jon Ben Berger Life Is Beautiful

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a debut offering from a veteran singer-songwriter and guitarist of some note. An American, Berger has for many years been resident in Stockholm, Sweden, where this album was produced by another US Swede and veteran musician, Brian Kramer.

Berger penned all of the eleven tracks here, which are well-paced and reflect his personal philosophy in spades. As an intro, he affirms his belief that….'Life is really beautiful….But it doesn't give it up easily.'  At its core this album has a stirring, strident, ringing rhythmic pulse that grabs the attention from the outset and carries you with it to the close of play.

The essence of a live performance at a casual but intimate gig shines clearly and brings weight to the project, with Berger's pulsing rhythmic Jumbo Guild guitar roaring ahead throughout. With the late, great Richie Havens as a personal mentor (Berger was with Havens at his legendary opening performance at Woodstock back in 1969) it comes as no surprise to find the same sense of driving rhythm at the core of this CD. Indeed, the closing track, 'Look Up To The Havens' is a pun-inspired tribute to the great man himself and echoes strongly Berger's lasting love and admiration for his mentor and friend from his early days in New York's Greenwich Village.

A damn fine debut and an album that shines and sings out loudly.

Kyle Carey: North Star

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Submitted by Ian Patience

This is truly a beautiful album. Every track is serenely imagined, performed and pitched, leaving a lasting impression of tranquility, melody and beauty. A second release from a US singer-songwriter with strong Scottish influences at her heart, North Star is an album that merits discovery for anyone with an interest in traditional Scottish roots music and/or modern Americana.

The twelve tracks included are virtually all, save one, written by this young folkie, a gal with an extraordinary pedigree: From New York, Carey travelled North on a Fullbright Fellowship to study Scottish Gaelic and traditional fiddle in Cape Breton, Canada, before pitching up on the Isle of Skye on Scotland's battered Hebridean coast to pursue her passion, a love for Gaelic culture, language and song. The result is this wonderful release which Carey christens appropriately, perhaps, 'Gaelic Americana'.

The strands she weaves together encompass modern country/Americana, Irish-American traditional roots and Scottish-Gaelic traditional music and lyricism. Somehow, she succeeds in putting her own stamp on this unusual mélange to produce an album of haunting original music steeped in a timeless traditional vat of bubbling beauty. This is music that comes from deep traditions but with a reverent twist of modernity that adds appeal and emphasis.

White Cowbell Oklahoma Mixto Sixto

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Fifteen years of Southern fried rockin’ from stages and flatbed trucks all across the nation and judging by Mixto Sixto, this T.Dot based crew of rowdy rogue rockers inna mariachi state of mind be still caaarazzzy after all those years. As you suspected, Mixto Sixto is the band’s sixth album and, as befitting its anniversarial status, it’s special in that WCO intended to put out an album "showcasing the road-honed latest line-up, sounding exactly the pulverizing way we sound live."

The approach is kinda like the dudes stroll into a genre bar, strap on and put that genre through the White Cowbell Oklahoma treatment. Loosey-goosey classic rock doesn’t sound any better than "Kansas City Pity," the psychedelic heavosity of “Keep It On the Rail" does exactly that with an almost tender ferocity and a nice shot of greasy old-school blues on "I'm Screamin' for It", referencing “This Cracker,” from the Bombadero album. WCO shows respect for the sources with a couple of sparkling, boogie spattered covers, Deep Purple's "Speed King" and closing out with Frank Zappa's "Magic Fingers." 
 both sounding weirdly at home with the original material.

Ruthless Ones: That Static

Ruthless Ones Courtesy of Shane Parent Exclaim.jpg

Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Toronto proto punks Ruthless Ones are back and the good news is they haven’t mellowed any. Ok, maybe just on the one song, but from lead singer Murry Robe’s shout out “Ok, one two three four here we go” and the first blast of fuzzed out guitar which intros “Andante”, there’s no question which band this is. The four tracks making up That Static show evidence of the crew’s growing melodic capabilities, with accompanying  improvement in the musicianship and dynamics.

The four piece debuted last year with a 10-track burst of punk that was classic in both the musical sense and the socially conscious ‘tude which informed the material. Both come back in That Static, bigger and bolder.

The sizzling “Andante” is followed by “3 Day Tale”, a living on the edge number with jittery guitars and ominous bass rumblings on which Robe goes deep lyrically and uncovers DNA linking “3 Day Tale” to seminal hip hop track “The Message” Dial back the music and check where the kid’s going on this one. So’s not to leave anyone out, it’s also tres danceable. The production here from Chris (Blue Peter) Wardman weaves a claustrophobic atmosphere, intensifying the mood of the song.

Shad Live at Massey Hall

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Submitted by Lee Fraser
Photo Credits: Live at Massey Hall Series

This is not your parents’ Massey Hall. Now in its second season, “Live at Massey Hall” is a series that features up-and-coming Canadian artists in the iconic venue.  Not every episode converts the centenarian into a throbbing night club, but that was certainly the case when Shad headlined on Friday, March 27. The tip off was when the programming director took to the stage pre-show to say something to the effect of ”Things can get a little crazy at shows like this, so we’re asking that you please keep the centre aisle and the front of the stage clear for the camera crew.”

The evening got under way with Zaki Ibrahim. After an intro by her guitarist, the lights came up as the percussion and vocals grew louder;  Zaki stood before us in a stunning dress, singing in French.  After only one number, people in the audience were exclaiming “Wow.”  The show that Zaki Ibrahim presents is aurally, visually and emotionally stunning.

Whitney Rose: Heartbreaker of the Year

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Submitted by Lee Fraser

This is a love story.  It’s a love story in three parts, about a girl and a city and chance encounters.  On April 21, Whitney Rose will release her second album on Cameron House Records.  Its ten tracks of alternating rollicking good fun and utter heartbreak.

Whitney Rose grew up in a small town on Prince Edward Island.  The type of small town where everybody knows each other, and in Whitney’s case, everybody adored that little girl that loved to sing.  Two generations of nurturing and encouragement are the first part of this love story.  Whitney grew up belting out Patsy Cline and Connie Francis;  it’s no wonder that she developed a talent for writing country songs.  The right mix of genes and influences gave her the ability to write engaging lyrics and develop clever song structures.

But artists with big ideas don’t stay in small towns for very long.  Barely out of school, Whitney packed it up and took that giant leap to move to a city with more opportunities.  She was lucky enough to find herself ensconced in the supportive nest of the Cameron House.  Not only were there opportunities to exhibit her talents, but there were also fabulous musicians to play with, a welcoming audience and management that was on the same page.  Whitney fell in love.

Mike Greene & Youssef Remadna: Take It On

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a good album. Mike Greene has been around a while. A US bluesman, he now lives and records mostly in France, so largely goes unnoticed elsewhere, which is a pity.
‘Take It On’ is a solid sounding CD. A bit of good old R&B, with a nicely produced- never over-produced – feel and some good old-fashioned simplicity in the arrangements, a simplicity that almost belies the craftsmanship of the entire package.  Greene’s guitar work is perfectly pitched, with a mix of acoustic, slide and electric touches that ably drive the album along. Remadna plays strong support guitar with mighty fine Harp that genuinely grabs the attention.

Kicking off with the old Willy Dixon classic, ‘I’m Ready’, the 13 tracks flow through ‘Come Back Baby’ – an oft overworked gem, here hit just right – to Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and Dylan’s little known ‘From A Buick 6’. Along the way the duo take in some JB Lenior with a rolling take on ‘Mojo Boogie’ and Chris Thomas King’s ‘John Law Burned Down The Liquor Store’.

The album is self-produced and recorded at Greene’s home studio in the South of France.  The vocals are shared between the pair, whose voices mesh well, producing a gritty feel reminiscent of that early nineteen-sixties R&B sound. At times, I found myself thinking of early Stones, with guitar work echoing Keith Richards as a young lad.

Dik Banovich: Acoustic Roots & Blues

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Banovich is mostly a Scot with an unlikely name for a member of the tartan clan. Originally from Chicago, he moved to Scotland as a kid, living in the industrial heartland, home of some of the most interesting music, in Glasgow before moving North to live in the Highlands where he was a notable figure in the burgeoning folk music world. Now based in France, he is a festival stalwart in his adopted land.

This offering is his second release and echoes his first love for both acoustic folk-roots and blues music. Fretwork is always interesting, punchy and positively strong, with material ranging from Gary Davis covers to Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie and one of England's, sadly, often overlooked guitar masters, Wizz Jones.

The recording is a home produced effort with a few flaws that are easily overlooked and in no way affect the overall quality of Banovich's very fine vocal delivery and jangling guitar-work. Just listen to his picking on Wizz Jones' 'Black Dog' and you'll be a toe-tapping, head-nodding fan of this guy and his music, for sure.

With no overdubs or studio over-mastering, this is an album that genuinely grips and grabs the attention with ease. Always beautifully melodic - a showcase for his sensitive picking - it also hits the spot throughout. Highly recommended release.

Chris Staig and the Marquee Players The Shack By the Tracks

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Submitted by Don Graham

Every once in a while a CD comes by that is a pleasant surprise and such was the case with Chris Staig and The Marquee Players album “Shack by The Tracks”. This latest of five solo recordings released by Chris is chock full of great tunes and grooves. You’ll hear a little of The Band, Little Feat, some Beatles, Blue Rodeo and even a little eearly Flying Burrito Brothers.

Hannah Aldridge Razor Wire

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Razor Wire is just that. Slicing, sharp lyrics and production from a very fine young, US modern Country-Americana singer-songwriter. Aldridge has a fabulous, crisp and clear voice with bags of strength and soul at its heart.  Most of the ten tracks here are self-written and she is generously backed by a storming studio-crew with all the push and power of the Nashville sound behind her.

At times there's a strident melancholy in some of the compositions, reflections of a darker side of life and a visceral eye for life's tragedies and pain. On others, the rallying cry of redemption and release sparkle brightly, like Aldridge's vital and vibrant voice.

The daughter of a seasoned Muscle Shoals and Nashville veteran songwriter/producer - the late Walt Aldridge, she was virtually born to be a musician. Any other métier would have been unthinkable really. Initially a classically-trained pianist, she took up guitar and studied sound-engineering at University in Tennessee, before turning her attention to the art of writing songs and performance.

Razor Wire is her debut offering and within its bounds she delivers a character full and carnal collection of memorable melodies and lusty lyrics. Clearly a Nashville newcomer to watch out for, Aldridge has the power to surprise and satisfy.

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