Reviews

Tia McGraff - Diversity

Tia McGraff - Diversity.jpg

Independent

From the moment you hear the first song on this incredible CD you’ll be hooked! ‘Angry Eagle’, written by McGraff, is an emotional, timely song that speaks of the uncertainty and hard times the world is currently experiencing.  Because it’s such a strong song, musically, lyrically and performance wise, it makes you want to hear what else this talented singer/songwriter has to say. And she doesn’t disappoint! Songs like ‘Lavender Tea’ are so intimate that you feel like she is singing just to you and makes you want to get to know her better. The harder edged ‘Radical Road’ shows another side of her personality and how well she works with talented husband/producer and sometimes co-writer Tommy Parham. ‘Tumbleweed’ is another excellent track but having said that, there isn’t a weak track on this CD.


The production work of Parham is also top notch, with some co-production help from McGraff. The Port Dover, Ontario native McGraff and the Colorado born Parham have found that magical blend. Great separation on all the tracks and a keen belief that the singer is the most important part of track, Parham has obviously grasped the idea that ‘less is more” in some cases, most notably on ‘Lost Souls, Left Luggage.’


Tia McGraff is a songwriter’s songwriter and with a voice like liquid honey, a singers singer.


Pick up a copy of this CD and prepare to make a new friend in Tia McGraff. You’ll be glad you did!


Don Graham

Dan Mangan: Oh Fortune

danman[1].jpg

Arts & Crafts

Whoa, this is the kind pf abrupt u-turn can put a career in the ditch. Y’all remember Dan Mangan of Polaris Music Prize-nominated album Nice, Nice Very Nice fame and consequent international touring. Sunny of disposition and sounding all Left Coast cuddly bear doing songs about robots needing love and fun roads taken.


If you’re hung on that Dan Mangan, bad news. This is not him. That dude’s outa here, leaving this Dan Mangan in his wake to make sense of it all.


Which is precisely what the album does not do. For Dan’s run out of easy answers and sunny asides and he’s looking down the cold steel barrel of success. In that spot, the man’s loaded with sharp questions and armed to cut to the quick.


The music’s still as minimalist clever but there’s way more instrumentation deployed and the carefully layered arrangements are inspired, all in the service of the dark side.


“Where did I go? What is this sorrow?” Dan Mangan asks on Jeopardy, the album’s existential closer and with song titles like Almost As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any help At All  and Regarding Death And Dying the bitterness is guaranteed and that’s fine. Although more of it might have gotten over more effectively had more sarcastic humour been involved.

CD REVIEWS-COMPACT DISCOVERY!

Evan Miles

Story: Jaimie Vernon

Since the ubiquitous homogenizing of the music industry post-Napster, there has been a raging debate about the need and/or demand for CDs. After putting out the call in the last two months for CDs to review in this column, I am happy to report that the demand is still there; in fact,  a CD manufacturing associate of mine reports that independent CD manufacturing is still GROWING (the only downturn has been in the number of re-prints  of artist titles over the long-term). Needless to say, I’m swamped with product. We hereby present a slight reformatting of my weekly reviews to include news about Canadian music releases as well.

EVAN MILES “Conductor”
(independent). 
I initially struggled with the packaging on this release - there’s no website address on the sleeve and the MAPL logo incorrectly indicates that the music and lyrics are Canadian but the artist and the producer are not [note to all aspiring musicians: these details are important!]. However, I was pleased to discover this 6-song EP is a slick acoustic workout with sparse but tasty arrangements that teeters between demo and commercial release.

 The songwriting is spectacular and thought provoking on tunes like “Before Rock Was Dead”, “Here We Are” and “Found You”. These hook-driven tunes have the potential to draw a wider audience as they fall into Bruno Mars territory. Miles’ vocals seem a little plaintive in spots, but there’s no denying his passion. 

SEAN KELLY: Where The Wood Meets The Wire

Sean Kelly

Opening Day/Universal Music

It's exciting to watch an artist mature and evolve as we have with guitarist Sean Kelly. He's progressed from  the salad days of T-Rexian glam rock via his band Crash Kelly, side project 69 Duster (with Images In Vogue's Dale Martindale) and Guns 'n Roses' Gilby Clarke, to being the bassist with Canadian heavy metal act Helix and, more recently, touring guitarist for Nelly Furtado.

While most rock musicians get their formal training emulating the music of their heroes, Kelly received his in classical guitar from Eli Kassner (student of Segovia). So the concept of a rock guitarist making his solo debut on classical guitar isn't that far removed from Kelly's roots. This is Classical album number three for the young guitarist, having released a Christmas album and "The #1 Classical Guitar Album" as warm-ups.

On 'Where The Would Meets The Wire', Kelly takes a cue from Liona Boyd's more pop-oriented approach to the classics by augmenting traditional classical solo workouts (Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe", Sanz's "Pavane" and Mertz's "Nocturne") with full instrumental arrangements on pieces like Sanz's "Espanoleta" and Barrios' "La Catedral' suite using modern devices such as programmed backing tracks and keyboards courtesy of co-producer Craig McConnell.

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.

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