Reviews

11 STEPS
: 11 Steps


11 Steps

Independent

THE JOYS - Adventures In...

Joys

E1 Entertainment

The Joys have been critical darlings in Southern Ontario for years, with three previous albums charting high on College Radio, winning a Jack Richardson Award for ‘Best Female Fronted Band’, and selling 15,000 CDs from the stage which earned them a gold record (in a country that now has trouble giving them away). That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a typical struggle.  Fortunately for The Joys, the masses still want to rock, especially points east and west.

“Adventures In…” comes via Winnipeg where producer Dale Penner (Nickelback, Econoline Crush, Holly McNarland, Matthew Good) has helped The Joys craft a substantial rock album for hungry audiences in the ever shrinking CanRock nation.

Guitarist-vocalist Sarah Smith has continued the tradition of great female rock vocalists. Gone are the outdated 1980’s Lee Aaron metal cliches and Janis Joplin’s idiosyncratic edginess found on 2008’s “Unfold” although one track does meld the best of both singers - “High” could be a cousin to Joplin’s “Move Over” if it had appeared on Aaron’s debut album.

Thankfully, Smith reveals a bigger range with hints of Darby Mills, Holly Woods, Ann Wilson (Heart) and Alannah Myles on barn-burners like the first single “Hard Makin’ Money”, “Bury You”, and “Outta My Head”.

TERRY DRAPER
 - Stranded


Terry Draper’

Terry Tunes

If Terry Draper’s former band Klaatu were, in fact, the Beatles as the media claimed back in 1977, then Draper would represent George Harrison: a late bloomer with a back catalog of post-band material that recalls the orchestrated melodicism and lyrical vision of his equally prolific band mates.

1997’s “Light Years Later” was a prog-rock house-cleaning of reserved Klaatu material while 2001’s “Civil War…And Other Love Songs” was released, unfortunately, to a post-9/11 world where ‘War’, even as a historical talking point, made commercial success wishful thinking.

“Stranded” marks Draper’s third official stand-alone solo release. And in the decade since his last, he has grown into a wiser, older musical sage.

“(If I Could) Change The World” (featuring the Porin String Quartet and The Dr. GW Williams Secondary School Stage Choir),  “Turkish Delight” (complete with tour guide rap), the lilting “Go On”, the Rudi Valee-esque “Abigail”, “Be Here Now” (with Zen interjections), the Moody Bluesian power ballad-turned-history lesson “I Was There”, “Call The People” (the true stand out ‘hit’ on this CD) and the title track are straight up signature pieces in Draper’s arsenal of dense, lengthy and lyrically engaging productions.

David Krystal - View From The Inside

David Krystal

Fat Angel Records

David Krystal’s debut album may, on the surface, seem like another entry by an indie artist in the musical brass ring sweepstakes,  but Krystal comes to the table confident with 20 years of performing and writing music for TV, films and jingles to his credit. To wit, the public knows him anonymously as the guy that created the Tim Horton’s jingle ‘You Always Have Time for Tim Horton’s’.

‘View from the Inside’ is the first CD in a planned trilogy of albums under the banner  ‘Songs of Hope & Sorrow’. Krystal presents us with an introspective sleepy album of mood altering modern blues, jazz, troubadour and singer-songwriter styles revolving around his proficiency on acoustic guitar and piano.

The bluesy styled “Missing You” – which could easily be set alongside anything by Jason Mraz or John Mayer on soft-A/C radio  - the poppy, 1970s Boz Scagg’s era California funk of “Addicted” and the spiritually uplifting, New Orleans/Allan Toussaint horn accompanied “Like Yesterday” book end slower, mellower material that seem to be Krystal’s forte.

His comfort level shines on songs that evoke the contemporary sexy mood music of the upwardly mobile and yet recall that same lost art originally made iconic by the likes of Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Van Morrison among others. “Wipe Away” is a smouldering “New York State of Mind” lounge tear-jerker while “Waiting For Love” enlightens and gives the audience, if not Krystal himself, a re-assurance of hope for the lovelorn.

Jamie Flegg 
- Life Science


Jaimie Flegg

independent

Jamie Flegg is quickly building himself a niche fan base playing and performing what can only be described as acoustic-based reggae rap. His debut album “Life Science” skims the surface of a repertoire that has allowed him to pack up and leave the centre of Canada’s musical universe – Toronto – and go to what is shaping up to be Canada’s new music hotbed – Calgary (!!) – where opportunities appear to be following him constantly.

The kings of Canadian white acoustic ska, Bedouin Soundclash, recognized his talent and took him along on a tour. The lead off track on the CD, “Take You Home”, follows the Top40 groove of their “When The Night Feels My Song” but evokes more of Bobby McFarrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” lyrically and emotionally.

“Love & Stars” and “Drivin’ Down The 401” have been deceptively front-end loaded on the album to fool listeners into thinking Flegg is a new country artist (“Drivin’ Down the 401” in particular is driven by a locomotive snare shuffle), the reggae rap persona gets the full reveal starting with “Girl On My Mind”.  From this spot onward the album clearly defines Flegg’s clever hybrid of styles and his aptitude for a melody especially on “Life for A Ride” and the title track “Life Science” (which is ironically listed on the album as the BONUS track!).

Friends Of Jack: Friends Of Jack

Friends of Jack

Independent

Call it the revenge of Nashville but these days, if you’re serious about putting out a top-notch album and you’re from Canada, best thing is to bust ass to Nashville and cut it there. The end result coming out of this marriage of Canuck authenticity and Nashville breeding is a highly desirable, radio-friendly sound, one that fits the populist appeal of Friends of Jack like a tight black tee shirt.

Friends of Jack is brothers Darryl and Chad John, cousin Paul John, and long-time friends Kevin Connors and Steve Drake. They were all born in Newfoundland and are now residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta. A body might say they’re caught between a rock (Newfoundland) and a hard place (boomtown Fort Mac) and something of this sensibility gives the album its edge.

From the opening swampy, Keith Richards referencing riff of “Cool Me Down”, you get the sense this band has got serious honky tonk credentials. If that don't send the message, the very next track, “The Real Deal” lives up to its title with swaggering blues-rock guitars balanced nicely by plaintive country vocals

When the boys slow it down, it’s all about the vocals selling softer sentiments, as in the lovely “ I Owe You One”. and the close-order harmonisations peak on the gorgeously Gospel-inflected ‘Have You Really Thought It Through”.

As tight as the harmonies are, the beating heart of the songs depends on the close order interplay between guitarists Darryl and Chad John and the mix does both the acoustic and electric passages full justice.

LAMONT JAMES
: Poppies


Lamont James

Monster Records

Despite doing thousands of gigs as a touring sideman for most of his career, multi-instrumentalist Lamont James has settled down to create a debut album that harkens back to AM Radio’s Sunshine Pop era. The genre was defined by light, bouncy and almost naïve music whose acts – Vanity Fare, Edison Lighthouse, 1910 Fruitgum Company, and Ohio Express – were studio concoctions.

Lamont comes from the less contrived and more honest power pop fields farmed by the likes of The Association, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Big Star and even Burt Bacharach.

That isn’t to say the songs are complete throwbacks to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, only that they recall a time when men wearing their hearts on their sleeves were considered sensitive poets and not some Metrosexual gender/genre bending marketing shill. The first six songs – “Today”, “Sorry”, “Beat Sauce”, “Sun Brings You Home”, “Song of You”, and “Maisie” could easily be a faultless Power/Sunshine Pop EP on its own. However, Lamont breaks out of the confines of straight up pop and begins experimenting with the genre on the description defying “Kauzendux” and the preciously short atmospheric guitar piece “Traveler” followed by the Pink Floydian “Sunday” featuring a speech from Sir Ralph Richardson called “Frost At Night” as counterpoint to Lamont’s psychedelic mantra “…what a wonderful world”.

NADJA
: Everything’s Going My Way


Nadja

MP3 Disques/Select

A problem with the current batch of over-souling Divas like Adele and Alicia Keyes is that they are genetically modified caricatures of the Ladies of Soul distilled through modern lenses. Someone with the talent of Nadja lives and breathes Motown, Hitsville and wears proudly the tradition of Dinah, Ella, Billy and Aretha by always putting the song, and not necessarily the performance, first.

“Everything’s Going My Way” is a straight up R & B record like the ones Barry Gordy used to make – if Gordy had been working in 48 channels of stereo. Though Nadja doesn’t write the material on the album she immediately lays claim and brands the lesser-known songs like the single “Oh! No!” “Love Is Leaving Me”, “Baby I’m Lonely”, “Baby You”, “Wish To Unwish” and the title track with her own style. These tracks all evoke Motown’s finest pop moments.

Her voice often bursts with multi-range hints of Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Shawne Jackson, Liberty Silver and Diana Ross. To that end, there is a rather pedestrian version of The Supreme’s “Baby Love” where “Love Child” or “Reflections” may have suited Nadja’s breadth as a singer a little more snuggly.

Where Nadja truly, and blatantly, excels at separating the girls from the Divas is in her interpretation of standards like the breezy “Ya Ya”, the anthemic  “The Impossible Dream”, Dorothy Moore’s iconic “Misty Blue” and the soul wrenching “At Last” which is easily the single best performance on the CD.

GRAHAM GREER
: Graham Greer

Graham Greer

(independent)

Following the slow dissolution of Graham Greer’s Polygram Records act The Barstool Prophets in 1999, it took him another four years to shake off the sting of being label-less and create a new identity for himself as solo act Moonlight Graham. But without a firm publishing commitment or scads of cash to take it back to the major label level, he remained virtually unknown and resigned himself to that of local performances in and around Cornwall, Ontario. It has taken twice that long to raise a family and gain the confidence back by honing his craft as the illuminating singer-songwriter he truly is.

His self-titled sophomore release – co-produced by Greer, long-time friend Todd Huckabone and Texan Joe Hardy (ZZTop, Colin James) - finds Graham mature in song and wise in experience – having beaten doors down to widen his audience appeal as a performer and a songwriter. With it comes worldly introspective lyrics in the form of “Wire-Walker” (which received ‘Honorable Mention’ at the 2009 New York Songwriters Circle Contest and at the 2010 Nashville Songwriters Association Song Contest) and the sagely “Bring Me Fire’ (which won 2nd place at the 2010 Ottawa regional Virgin Radio Star Songwriting Contest. )

The remainder of the material, including stand-outs like “Buttercup” and “Love Song”, are twists on the traditional boy-meets-girl lyrical trope and Graham adds his own satirical viewpoint on relationships – past and present.

http://www.grahamgreer.com

Jaimie Vernon

PAUL MYERS
: "A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio"

Paul Myers

(Jawbone Press)

Paul Myers is a professed pop music junkie and his love for the genre allowed him the luxury of recording music of his own while growing up in Toronto (like his critically acclaimed band The Gravelberrys) and to write about it as a fan. His previous books have included biographies of Canada’s The Barenaked Ladies and British musical émigré Long John Baldry.

In Myers’ latest biography he tackles the studio work of International Jack-of-All-Trades Todd Rundgren – and not Rundgren's personal life - through an unprecedented overview of 40 years of recording, production and technological innovation that has impacted the likes of not only the major stars whose careers were launched by his pop music acumen – Meat Loaf, XTC, The Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Grand Funk, Sparks, Hall & Oates, The Tubes, Bourgeois-Tagg, and Alice Cooper – but other aspiring one-man operators like Prince. Many know Rundgren from solo works like “Hello, It’s Me”, “I Saw The Light” and the uncharacteristic party anthem “Bang On The Drum” and/or his performance based bands Nazz and Utopia, but few know his behind-the-scenes career which Myers extensively dissects and analyzes with surprising objectivity here.

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