Reviews

The Strumbellas: My Father and the Hunter

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Independent


This Toronto via Lindsay On septet’s debut album puts them right in the front rank of the post-Elliott Brood roots rockers. Granted it’s a shade more countrified, even bluegrassy than EB but like all the bands in this sub-genre, they bring the stomp to the hoedown.


There’s hollerin’, gangbuster choruses with that country thang and fleet-fingered fretwork aplenty.


So tracks like floor filling "Underneath a Mountain" and "Left for Dead”, utilising all those elements which make the band a live attraction, are to be expected.


Not so much are the poignant “Diane” and “The Bird That Follows Me”, on which the crew tone down the boogie and rely on nuance.


Still and all, The Strumbellas know what brought them to the party and Simon Ward’s touch with the good bluegrassy rock hooks are never far away and all over “Rhinestone” and “The Sheriff”.


One little thing; The Strumbellas love of playing together just jumps off the album. Consequently, while the songs address the genre’s trad subject matter such as sin, redemption, loving, losing, death and near-death, the execution too often trumps the content of certain songs.


The Strumbellas play a CD release show at The Rivoli in Toronto tonight (February 17th).


James Lizzard

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon


Kingdom Of Few: Kingdom of Few
Independent

Six Volts: Fred Eaglesmith

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Sweetwater Music

Ramblin’ troubadour Fred Eaglesmith never met a roots music genre he didn’t like. Over the course of 18 albums he’s switched up styles seemingly every time he drops one. So it makes total sense that this ‘un, album 19, comes in the form of a Fred Eaglesmith sampler collection.

Every genre and roots subgenre he’s ever worked in is represented here; alt-country, stone cold folk, dry as dust roots, road songs, Gospel and it’s alter ego the murder ballad, all get their moments in the Eaglesmith sun and that’s a special place.

Backed by a full band, featuring quick pickin’ mandolin player Mike Zinger, and recorded with the group gathered around a single microphone, the sound is stripped down and warm, made edgy upon occasion by bursts of skronky electric guitar and made vital by Eaglesmith’s lived-in vocals.
Subject matter includes stories of the down and the downtrodden, cheating wives, truckers on amphetamines, singers, crazy women, nights on the town, days on the road and da country music life.

Highlights include but aren’t limited to the technically flawlessly constructed murder ballad. ‘Katie’, the Gospel-inflected “Cemetery Road”, a poignant road song ‘Stars” wherein he recollects, “We played like we were stars/Willie played mandolin and we thought it would never end.”

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon

EMMA-LEE: Backseat Heroine
eONE Music

Backseat Heroine is the sophomore release by Toronto’s Emma-Lee and by all accounts is a major departure from her 2008 debut Never Just A Dream that was a decidedly jazz-pop record that hinted at alt-country and blues. 
 
Backseat Heroine is a different beast altogether. The jazz elements have been abandoned (with the exception of the crooner “Bring Back Your Love”) and the alt-country gets a little more face time. “Not Coming By” recalls The Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins in its quiet passages but those don’t last long as the song turns into a rollicking competitor for Blue Rodeo’s less somnambulistic ‘rockers’.

COLLEEN BROWN: Dirt

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Independent

There’s much to be said for sticking with what you know and that’s the point of Dirt, the third album from this Edmonton singer/songwriter. Or Nickleback for that matter. Except that Brown puts a whole lot more effort into updating her folk-pop. It helps that she has the vocal range to stretch out into jazz and get all soulful, as the material demands.

The lady put us on notice with the well deserved re-release of Foot In Heart last year and this ‘un builds on that like Mike Holmes. There’s muscular rhythm patterns aplenty backing up a melodic assertiveness, which allows for more humour to quirk up the introspection.

Which is just about where the going gets tricky as the edgy, jazzified readings of "Happy Love Song" and "Singing in the Garden" in particular conjure echoes of boho-era Joni Mitchell. Thankfully that’s effectively balanced by Brown’s club girl tendencies like bringing horny horns to the up tempo workouts of "Good Girls” and the ultra-grabby "Fight!Fight!Fight!"

Plus she has the range and inclinations to do that type of tune justice, something that’s setting her further apart from the current crop of femme singer/songwriters.

A little more slip slidin’ in the lyric writing and Colleen Brown be coming at you even harder.

James Lizzard

KATHLEEN EDWARDS: Voyageur

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Maple Music

Here’s an item that’s everything the Internet buzz says it is. Part She & Him romantic, part jagged little thrills, Voyageur is a whole other trip for Edwards. As in roller-coaster ride of breaking up, breaking out, new love and reaching for far horizons.

The reigning redhead queen of Canuck country/roots rock came at this album fresh from the break-up of her five-year marriage to guitarist Colin Cripps, which may or may not have triggered a period of intense soul-searching and creative reassessment.

This could easily have set up as the ‘divorce’ album but Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon’s involvement in the project changed all that. The Grammy-nominated, high-voiced neo-folk singer/songwriter initially came on board as a writer/producer but his involvement with all aspects of the album as well as with Edwards deepened considerably.

Listed as co-producer Vernon’s influence is all over the project; stylistically, lyrically and in the production approach. Given that he was working with the usual folk/roots instrumentation, Vernon did a great job of keeping the essence of Edwards’ music intact while bringing other dimensions into the picture. The result is a very good thing indeed and those dimensions make it possible for Edwards to stretch her vocals into surprising and rewarding areas. Check how tall she stands dueting with Norah Jones on album closer ‘For The Record’.

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon

Skullians
Pure
Independent

Growing tired of the Britneys, the Beyonces and the Beibers? How about settling in with a bona fide walk through old school 2nd generation punk from The Skullians? Their 10 track sonic assault is a welcome reprieve from the sterile, faceless, groove less, melange that is 21st Century corporate pop music. I'm not talking about a retro flashback here, either.

The Skullians' 'Pure' is hip and happening and 'now' and could easily have been recorded in my living room yesterday. It's immediate and in your face. It would make a good companion disc to Pickering's Swindled who released 'It's Only Peace That You Want...' last year. Where Swindled tread the political spectrum, The Skullians are all about life in the not-so-fast lane.

The album kicks off with a rolling 'n' ruckus anthem in "Doomsville" about the crushing negative cloud permeating the news and the world in general. It's 1:11 of pure, unfettered energy. "Welcome to...welcome to...welcome to....Doomsville/Population US!!" Singer and guitarist Evan delivers the message with aplomb.

Bad Vibrations: Black Train

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Independent

This Halifax trio comes with a heavy East Coaster street rep built on the solid work of singer/guitarist KC Spidle, ex-of Dog Day and it does not disappoint. The lineup’s completed by Evan Cardwell on bass and the mighty Meg Yoshida on drums. Put ‘em all together and they conjure up the kind of baleful noise you’d expect from a band called Bad Vibrations. Y’know, the grinding, deathcore guitars, rib shaking bass and massive drum assaults.

There’s all that and there’s something else going here, namely a ripping homage to early speed metal and the NY punk scene from which it derived. This is a sinister, heartfelt, swerve driving sound, outtakes from a time-warped, meth-fuelled mashup involving Anthrax and The Ramones

Buckle in and brace yourself because there will no soft entries here and precious little downtime.  Opening track ‘Losing Time’’s brief intro and headlong plunge is a good indicator of what you’re in for, given that most tracks  clock in between two and three minutes. With the notable exception of  “Growing”, a showcase  of raw axe power from Spidle coming in just under the two-minute mark.

Come for the dense death metal, stay for the burning speedcore.

James Lizzard

AMERICAN IDIOT - KNOCKOUT MUSICAL BURSTS WITH PASSION!

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Guest Journalist: Julia Rytell

NOT only fans of the band Green Day will love this show!  It is a compact and artfully staged musical, showcasing the talents of some amazing young rising stars along with live music from a 6-piece band (and the cast members at times as well). Visual vitality and meaning is added to the music with this interpretation; a true musical, for very little is said, most is sung.

Director Michael Mayer’s script for Green Day’s American Idiot music, with lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, introduces three young male characters who leave the suburbs for city life to fall into different paths.  Johnny (Van Hughes), electrifies the stage with his frustrations, vices, and confused emotion. He has the most presence and energy of the three; constantly in motion. Will (Jake Epstein) sinks into torpor on the couch for most of the production with a bottle for comfort, unwilling to deal with his girlfriend’s pregnancy, rising from time to time to unleash a sorrowful but glorious voice. Tunny (Scott Campbell) takes another route and joins the military, losing a limb in the service, which brings us a hospital scene with a moving, very sweetly sung and cutely executed soldiers’ quartet, followed by a dreamy morphine-induced aerial dance with the Extraordinary Girl.

Sacred Balance: Sacred Balance

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Independent

Montreal’s Pouya Hamidi and Toronto’s Chloe Charles both have heavy reps within their scenes as avant composer and edgy vocalist respectively. So yeah, quirky expectations were afoot from the moment Sacred Balance formed, although some wondered just how quirky a band named after a sombre work by enviro-activist David Suzuki could get.

So yeah, we gotta be looking at more than electrobeat trance pop. Best news here is that this stuff isn’t as balanced as the title suggests but has its own shade of reckless cool.

The opener is a thing of flair and promise, primal drum stomp, dissonant chords with a delirious femme chorale floating atop, and plenty of fuzz toned guitars to keep it grounded in its Montreal anarcho-pop roots.

Track two is even more pop-giddy but kept from floating off by Hamidi’s sinuous and claustrophobic keyboard/programming work and a slippery rhythm section.

Track three is a highlight, a set piece for the wrecked and wistful cabaret style vocalising of Chloe Charles set against the most shamelessly baroque right outa Phantom of the Opera organ riffs. Abruptly, she’s outa there and sailing into the cosmos on a soundtrack from a lost Lost In Space episode. Funny shit, all very retro-futuristic and it works as edgy trance, if that’s a thing.

The next track starts promisingly enough with mournful violin atop swirling synth patterns and then quickly strolls onto Norah Jones turf and hangs there, content to leave the atmospherics to the instrumentation. Mark this one as a ‘time out’ and move on.

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