Reviews

Ruthless Ones: Ruthless Ones

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Independent

Powerful stuff from this young ska/punk outfit with loads of energy and promise. Ruthless Ones are Ian Robertson (gtr, vcls), Evgeni Varakin (gtr, vcls), Elliot Siebert (bass, vcls) and Nik Robe (drms), and all those voices are very necessary for the group’s shout along choruses.

Stylistically, they draw from ‘White Riot’ era Clash for the socio-political stance and West Indian rhythms and from Stiff Little Fingers for the teen energy and the scalding guitar breaks. Within those parameters, Ruthless Ones manage to find space to experiment with nuance and texture.

While “Natty Treble” is a classic slice of old school Oi punk, “Walls” is completely in the punk now, with its nods to metal and garage influences. Given that this isn’t a genre known for intricate arrangements, the band’s ability to flip the script saves the album from sounding too much all the same.

While the musicianship is just fine, Robertson’s up from the guts lyrics sets Ruthless Ones apart. Loosely themed around a young man’s coming of age struggles in the urban world; “Long Run” goes down the bleak road of teen angst, “Nobody Knows” checks on communities within the communities we think we all know and “Big Eye” is a clever breakdown on how Big Brother has become just another commodity on the greed market, which Robertson implies, is a much scarier prospect than ol’ Big Brother hisself.

Jeanine Mackie Band: Live At The Drake

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Submitted by Don Graham


After watching the gifted Jeanine Mackie perform for a few nights at the Beaches International Jazz Festival Street Fest, what better way to listen to her at home than a live recording? And that’s exactly what I did. ‘Jeanine Mackie Live At The Drake’ is an 11 song offering of classic R&B and Soul classics. Making a live record can be a daunting undertaking but Ms. Mackie and her band of brothers pulled it off in topnotch fashion. Having just watched her performance and then listening to the live CD, I was impressed with how much the band and Jeanine sounded exactly the same on record as they do live. That is a true testament to the talent assembled for this project. The band consisting of the guitar magic of Bob McAlpine, the keyboard mastery of Matt Horner, the solid bass of Bryan Stoher, the soulful saxophone of John Johnson and held together by the driving drums of Al Cross and percussion of Arturo Avales- these are some of Toronto’s finest players. It’s the type of ensemble that a pure voice like Jeanine Mackie deserves and needs to show it’s full quality. A perfect marriage of band and vocals.


The set includes a great version of Junior Walker’s Shotgun, and a funky version of Bill Withers’ Use Me. Dionne Warwick’s Walk on By is another highlight, Aretha’s Respect and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On shine as well.

The River’s Edge Steve Rivers

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Submitted by Don Graham


Steve Rivers is part of the new breed of young country artists emerging on the scene today. It’s country music, but with an edge. That doesn’t mean it’s pop or mainstream, it’s more like a cross between Creedence Clearwater, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers and Hank Sr.


Splitting his time between Nashville and Ontario, the Canadian native is working hard to carve out a place for himself in the ultra competitive country market. When asked what sets him apart Rivers says ” Hopefully my songs and my stage show. We try every night to give the folks their money’s worth and try and write what’s in my heart, and in the show we try and make the crowd  feel like they are a part of the show.”

Kelly Joe Phelps: Brother Sinner and the Whale

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Black Hen Music

There’s more than a whiff of weirdness around this album. After a decade of adamantly refusing to play his signature slide guitar, the ramblin’ man of the Pacific Northwest chose this collection of songs to return to his bottleneckin’ roots.

While Phelps has always been a deep running river, song titles like “I’ve Been Converted” and “Talkin To Jehovah”, delivered without a sliver of irony, signal spiritual doings afoot in the Phelpsian world.

To get the job done right, KJ returned to longtime collabo Steve Dawson in Vancouver’s The Henhouse Studio for this squirrel ass tight collection.

This is the other kind of summer album, the one with the dust in your throat and sweat in your eyes and the road ahead shimmering silver in the heat is really no escape.

It’d be easy to tag it as Phelps goes Gospel, if it were not for the fact he remains one of the finest finger pickers about and that alone informs every song he touches in very specific ways. Very much a case of the singer not the songs.

Fans are already calling this his best work ever, high praise when you recall previous efforts have made fans of U2’s The Edge and Steve Earle, to mention but two. The new songs are beautifully crafted acoustic gems, layered with nuance and so captivating melodically the message is often lost in the music.

PURITY RING: Shrines

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4AD

“Cut open my sternum and pull/my little ribs around you," Megan James intones with sweet and heartfelt warble. And lives there a man, woman or small furball dog you can’t tell one end from the other who could resist such an invitation? If so, wouldn’t want to be that especially as this is but one facet of the many diamonds in Purity Ring’s setting.

The Edmonton-born electro freak rock oddballs, featuring  James’ vocalising while Corin Roddick plays an instrument shaped like a tree of lights, on relocating to Montreal found a sympathetic environment for their eccentric, highly textured style of music.

On Shrines, Purity Ring’s muchly hyped major label debut, the duo do not disappoint. PR sounds settled into its groove, making it easier to step out experimentally via wordmangling lyrics and lurching, woozy, vaguely familiar pop melodies. James drops some impressive lyrical changeups that woujld have wowed James Joyce, only hinted at in song titles such as “Belispeak”, “Lofticries” and “Obedear” which clearly set her head and creamy shoulders above the rest of the freak pop field.

Of interset too is that many of these tunes carry enough triggers to make the transition to club bangers, making for a potentially grabby live show.

Meantime, slap on the headphones, get down with Purity Ring’s death disco for bolgheads and get reaccquainted with your sense of wow wonder.

Shrines drops July 24 with a cross-country tour already in progress.

James Lizzard

Beauty and the Beast Delivers the Goods

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Submitted by Amanda M. DaSilva

Sitting in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, in downtown Toronto, I was anxiously anticipating the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. I remember the Disney video so well, and couldn’t wait to see how it translated into a stage play.

Brian Dunn: tvs and radios

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Independent

Vocally and thematically, Dunn’s coming from a space between a pair of Bruces, Cockburn and Springsteen. Like that pair, on this album Dunn’s loking at vanishing technologies with affection and nostalgia. The good news is he’s got the gravel and the ear for the stadium rumble. Not so good is the creeping sense of sameness which shows up around track 5. Sure there are some fast songs and some slow songs but within  those parameters a little more shuffle would have been nice.

Dunn’s foray into ‘new’ country is more like old time country rock, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Coupled to a sense of quality recordiing and a commitment to roots authenticity (recorded in Sudbury) the album has its power moments.

Album opener “Winnipeg” comes out swinging with horns, rattling percussion and keyboard flourishes, and ends up stagggering under the weight of all that. Much better in that regard is “Mexico” featuring  rumbling drums, heavy electric riffage from Dunn and a hoarse, convincing vocal. Which stomps the spit out of the similar-sounding and immediately folllowing “tvs”.

Best on the flipside of that would be slow-burning “Slow Learner”, a well-crafted song which plays to Dunn’s immediate strengths as player and singer. Plus it has the sweetest line on the album; “Christ, you’re a hard love.”

Justin Bieber: Believe

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Universal

Check it as da Beeb takes his first steps out on the slippery yellow brick road to adulthood, hopefully with career intact.So cue slick arrangements, transitional lyrics and the standard mix of comfy ballads and club bangers.

It’s a soft shuffle onto the glory road laid out for the other Justin, when Timberlake had to make the transition from teen idol to cougar bait. It had to be soft, as befits any testing of the waters, especially as the Beeb’s pipes still have that kiddie warble.

Likewise with the lyrics, which handle the burgeoning sex thing via the most PG of sentiments, studded with wistful looks and hopes to “touch your body”.

While on the surface it might seem a slam-dunk, the Bieber posse did a savvy job with this most important stepping-stone of an album.

From the brand-buffing guest stars,  Ludacris (“I love everything about you / You’re imperfectly perfect”), Big Sean (“I don’t know if this makes sense, but you’re my hallelujah”), Nicki Minaj and especially Drake, whose contributions are likewise warm and fuzzy as the ones quoted, this thing’s designed to hug and kiss Bieber’s teenycore audience. Both only as friends, ‘kay?

In this regard, “Maria” stands out like a cold sore on Selena Gomez as the only ‘adult’ track on the album. It’s crafted as a slapdown to the woman who accused Bieber of fathering her child in 2011 and comes off as an opportunistic rip on “Billie Jean.” This one leaves a sourish aftertaste and probably won’t see singlehood.

Rush: Clockwork Angel

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Roadrunner

So you’re one of the biggest prog rock bands on the planet and have been so for a long time. Long enough to cut 18 albums and sell zillions of units. By now no one looks to you for something new; they come for the hits and the musicianship, for the magical memories of nostalgia.

So for album Number Nineteen why not put out something sounding like it might have come out at your peak; bombast, bigass production, impenetrable lyrics and all.

This is exactly what the dudes of Rush, Peart, Geddy and Lifeson have done, dropped an album which amplifies all the quirky stuff and steadfast vision that put them on the radar back in the day, not to mention the throwbackin’, balls-to-the-wall playing which evaluated them to their current exalted status.

‘Clockwork Angel’ sounds like the work of a much younger band, a much less famous band, almost the sound of a band demanding to be heard. That’s probably the biggest surprise here and it shows in shorter, tighter songs and muscular musicianship.

Clockwork Angels is reportedly a concept album involving a repressive force known as ‘The Watchmaker.’ As usual, you have to get into it and dig out Peart’s narrative fingernail by fingernail. It’s a minefield of poetic mazes of rhyme, alliteration, metaphor and allusion, filled with references to “angels,” “prayers,” and “miracles.” Concept aside, these words sound important to the very soul of the project and Lee delivers them with subtlety grace and the deep understanding only possible between brothers in arms.

Andre Williams & The Sadies: Night And Day

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Outside Music


On which the great funky one reunites with the Canuck kids who brought him a new career and further evidence they did the right thing.


The year was 1999 when The Sadies hooked up with a more or less clean Williams for the Red Dirt album, his first with the Toronto alt-country stars. While the album didn’t sell a ton it introduced Williams to a whole new audience of players and fans, leading to collabs with The Dirtbombs, Morning 40 Federation, The Diplomats Of Solid Sound, and other garage/punk/blues/soul acts.
The sessions for Night And day commenced in 2008 and the initial signs didn’t look good. At that time, Williams was in his seventies and dealing with legal troubles as well as substance abuse issues. Eventually the sessions were put on hold while he worked through his legal problems and cleaned up.


It took years, but when Williams and The Sadies finally hooked to finish the album, the difference in Williams’ demeanour and state of being was, as they say, "night and day."
Which kind of describes the way the album is structured; the first half loose and gritty, the back end tracks cleaner and more coherent, “One-Eyed Jack” and “I’ll Do Most Anything For Your Love,” as strong as anything Williams has put out.

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