Reviews

Jesse Winchester + Hugh’s Room = Magical Night of Music & Memories

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Review: Don Graham

Hugh’s Room, packed house, Jesse Winchester, an acoustic guitar and great songs. That’s a combination for an entertaining evening that doesn’t come around often but when it does it’s magical.

I remember seeing JESSE many years ago in a smoky bar in Montreal with a full band and a loud, although appreciative, crowd singing along and clapping in time, sort of!

Hugh’s Room, which has to be THE best listening room in Toronto, great sound and sightlines, was a completely different atmosphere with this performer on stage.  The run of shows was three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. I was fortunate to go the show with my good friend and guitarist Bob Cohen, who toured with Winchester years ago and knows him better than most.  We went on the Sunday thinking it would be less crowded and give us a better opportunity to “spread out” and watch and listen. However Sunday night was also packed, not an empty seat in the house.

Lioness: The Golden Killer

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New Romantic


Formed from the late controller.controller’s rhythm section of bassist Ronnie Morris and drummer Jeff Scheven plus vocalist Vanessa Fischer, Lioness debuted with a self-titled Ep, which spawned the hot single "You’re My Heart" and wicked Internet buzz. On it Lioness roared with diversity, range and a promising neoGoth rock sensibility. That was followed by a stream of remixes, which didn’t do much to advance the sound for but did build anticipation for the album.


Four years later, this is it and it’s as if the band’s back from poking about in clubland. Gone are the funkified backlines, hangovers from their CC past, replaced by angular, minimalist instrumentation, as the band embraces fully their spooky Goth side with arrangements like splintered crosses on which to hang Fischer’s vocals.


The album art lays it out hard and heavy, with Fischer doing that Witch Queen thing on the inner sleeve, hands placed on the exposed skulls of two obedient skeletons kneeling beside her. That said, her vocals totally back up the image, both a good and bad thing.


The Golden Killer opens with dirgelike instrumental “ Procession”, which leads not to a place of rest but to the gates of Hades as the fuzzed-out fury of “Toxic Heat” brings Fischer’s voodoo blues vocal into play, setting the tone as firmly in place as a dagger in the heart.

CATL: Soon This Will All Be Gone

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Independent

Born out of turmoil and pain, T.Dot’s beloved barebones roots stompers have come up with a worthy testament to “keep on keeping on”.  About halfway through the recording of this album, drummer and co-founder Johnny LaRue quit the band. As the driving machine of the trio, LaRue’s was a big hole to fill. So, too soon for judgements on new guy Andrew Moczynskii’s contribution apart from holding steady.

The other two mmbers, co-founder/guitarist Jamie Fleming and organist/vocalist/shaker of percussive stuff Sarah Kirkpatrick, do an excellent job of preserving the Catl dynamic, Kirkpatrick in particular coming more to the vocal fore and doing a turn on the skins for  the rollicking “Gold Tooth Shine”.

In keeping with the Catl aesthetic, most of the album was recorded live off the floor, with more attention paid to layering and general production stuff this time around. Perhaps as a reflection of the circumstances surrounding its recording, this is a darker and less willing to make play nice album than 2010’s With The Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place.

They’re digging deep into Delta dirt for tales of sinsiter doings and reckless promises in a mix of originals and covers from seminal figures including Robert Johnson and Leadbelly. Delivered with a foot stompin’ glee and with the female presence adding a slippery sexy tension to Catl’s Delta roadhouse vibe, their crazed rip at psychobilly legend Hasil Adkins’ “Get Outta My Car” mirrors the album’s overall take no prisoners ‘tude.

Lenny Stoute

Boxer The Horse: French Residency

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Independent

Right in step with a whiff of warm weather comes this lively update of shoegazer pop. Not the down tempo drone-y stuff but the edgy, angular spikey pop side of the genre. They’re also young enough to come over like they’re never heard this stuff before and get away with it.

The blessing in that is they feel no pressure to go full bore on each tune, leaving just enough space within each for the sound of a band figuring shit out. So while they get to drop the hammer on "Bridge To The USA", BTH also knows the value of the changeup with such as "Rattle Your Cage".

This is the second album from this PEI quartet and the kids manage the neat trick of keeping the youthful exuberance while shaping a deeper sound. Apart from lead singer Jeremy Gaudet’s penchant for channelling Pavement main man Stephen Malkmus on occasions like "Sentimental Oriental" and "Song For T-Rex", this isn’t really a recycling project. Although it must have been tempting, given axeman Isaac Neily’s dazzling display of tasty riffola and wicked hooks.

Instead, the arrangements indicate a band going after a heavier, though none the less, sunny brand of East Coast pop. Lyrics like: “It’s not impossible to reach nirvana, when you’re sleeping with pirhanas in Brazil.”, from album opener “Community Affair” support the vision nicely.

The band  has described their album of updated jangle rock as “ a fusion of ’80s alternative and ’90s lo-fi groups.”

That works for me. In a real good way.

Lenny Stoute

Floor Stomping Ska, On A Friday Night

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Stomp Records 17th Anniversary Show in Toronto April 13th 2012
Concert promoted by Collective Concerts

Review: Ian Robertson
Photos: Michell Foran

As I was walking up to the Opera House, around 10:05 p.m.,  I knew I was unfortunately too late to see the first 2 opening acts Ghetto Blaster (Toronto Punk/Ska) and The Beatdown (Montreal Soul/Ska). I was hoping I wasn't too late to see Big D & The Kids Table. This would be my third time seeing them live so I knew they would be putting on an amazing show as well with the headliners, The Planet Smashers. I was dealing with the tedious task of getting past the door security when I  heard the music beginning to play, which made me anxious to get in and get to see the band.

As soon as I walked in close enough to see the stage, I heard David McWane (lead singer of Big D & The Kids Table) say, "as you may have already guessed, we are Big D & The Kids Table from Boston", then the band went directly into "Myself" (off their second Album Goodluck) which made myself as well as everybody else that loves Big D, excited because most bands (that have made eight albums)  don't usually play their older songs. Dave later explained they were doing their set in chronological order.

A Tribe Called Red

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Independent

This album, now available as a free download, gets the sound of this gifted trio down just right. While the communal energy of their live gigs cannot be trapped, the recorded format allows for an appreciation of just how diverse a motherlode A Tribe Called Red is mining.

These three Ottawa area First Nations DJs: DJ NDN, DJ Bear Witness and DJ Shug, have been staging their conceptual Electric Pow Wows on a monthly basis for some time. They act as a showcase for Aboriginal DJ talent and what A Tribe Called Red dubs ‘contemporary urban Native culture’.

As laid out on the album, this refers to a sound inclusive of hip hop, Jamaican dance hall, electronica of many hues, new soul and First Nations traditions. That it all hangs together has to do with the drum, the universal sound of heartbeat, as set up in the opener,  "Electric Pow Wow Drum", which opens with the familiar "heartbeat" of the Big Drum.

Big respect to this crew for not just sampling the original music piecemeal. Instead it’s presented as is and it’s up to the technology to make the merge happen.

Which happens more often than and not and which makes this, among many other noteworthy things, one helluva great dance party album.

ZEUS: Busting visions

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Arts & Crafts

Ok, so retro-rock’s the current thang, nobody rocks harder than The Sheepdogs or gets down deeper than Alabama Shakes. Still, gotta like what this T.Dot foursome’s doing with their take on it. First off, they have the chops and have been road dogs long enough that the squirrel-ass tightness is a given.

The debut ‘Say Us’ had all that zingy big-hair guitars sound and all the tons ‘o’ drums you could want but it didn’t sound properly gelled. Like it was just a phase they were going through.

With Busting Visions, no question this is where they live, and all the Beatlesque boo birds be darned. Nothing wrong with fooling with the formula if you can come up with such as  “Hello Tender Love” and  “Messenger’s Way”.  So while there’s nothing new here, there’s much that’s strangely familiar and comes wrapped in positive roock’n’roll associations. Even the classic heartbreak rock of  “Let It Go, Don’t Let It Go” ends up hurting so good and everywhere, catchy hooks and sweet pop harmonies are scattered like Easter eggs.

Baseline, Rob Drake, Mike O’Brien, Neil Quinn, and Carlin Nicholson have delivered a solid classic-derived album from a band confident enough in their strengths to sidestep cheap irony and get on with the rock’n’roll.

Lenny Stoute

John K. Samson : Provincial

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Independent

On which John K. Samson cements his rep as a major narrative songwriter and underlines his importance to The Weakerthans. Not that there’s anything here that’ll startle a Weakerthan's fan but there’s enough so’s you know this is not another Weakerthans workout. Known for being sharply observational without going judgemental, the boy sure can split a hair. Check the way he deals with his love/hate relationship with hometown Winnipeg in "One Great City."

Elsewhere it’s all about the dichotomy of leaving in and leaving out as laid out by a guy with a longstanding rep as a lyrical powerhouse in the indie/folk community.

"Provincial" is Samson at his relatable best on the topics of wanderlust, isolation, spiritual elation and the chance of getting back to where you’ve never been. At one time or another everyone's felt excluded like the teacher in "The Last And", angry like the student in "Master's Thesis" or jammed up like the character in "Heart of The Continent".

Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere

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Nettwerk

Here’s the fifth album from Great Lake Swimmers and as per usual, ringmaster Tony Dekker has shuffled the deck. This time the team’s a quintet and for the first time, the songs were recorded in a traditional studio. Just as the group’s changed with each album, so did the recording locations. These have included an abandoned grain silo and on an archipelago of islands straddling the U.S.-Canadian border and the results have always been suffused with their environment. Maybe that’s why their first outing in a ‘real’ studio sounds stiff and mannered.

The material is lively enough; introducing flourishes of country and bluegrass into Dekker's roots/ folk and uptempo arrangements abound. Were it not for slow burners like "Cornflower Blue" and "The Knife" you could call this GLS’s ‘party album’.

The title track, driven by blasts of electric guitar and classic Dekker lines like "Rocks jump and jitter”/"The weather breaks, the spirit shakes, and something switches on." is a highlight and  "Think That You Might Be Wrong" and  "The Great Exhale" likewise get it right. But elsewhere, not so much; on "Fields of Progeny" and "Ballad of a Fisherman's Wife", it feels like they’re holding back and unsure of the material.

Just read a review where this same vibe is described as responsible for making this one Great Lakes Swimmers’ most mature and polished album yet.

So spin this one and make your call.

James Lizzard

The Sheepdogs: Learn & Burn

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Independent

Slavish copying or inspired recreation?  That’s the question this album from Saskatoon’s shaggiest quartet inevitably raises. The thing’s a complete throwback to the glory days of Seventies classic rock, delivered straight up, no chaser and no apologies.

So yeah, it’s great for playing Spot The Reference; among the easier ones to spot are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, Allman Brothers, here a Beatles, there a Pink Floyd, ‘most everywhere a whiff of The Guess Who.

This band conjures up the soul of period rock’n’roll not only in intent but in their flawless exzecuition and attention to detail. They aren’t trying to reinvent or resurrect anything; they’ve thrashed the barriers between old and new.

This is what separates them from contemporaries like Kings of Leon and The Black Keys and what will carry them far. It’s already taken them from Saskatoon to boat cruising with Kid Rock to three Juno nominations (Best Single, Best Album, Best New Group) on Sunday’s show.

No point in getting into highlights here, as if you’re into this kind of thing, there’s not a false note to be found. Myself, I liked the cheekiness of “Catfish 2 Boogaloo” and the Zeppelinesque strut of “ I Don’t Know”.

Just like The Band revived American Southern Gothic for the American market, The Sheepdogs have to know this stuff’s gonna to go over large in the U.S. even without that Rolling Stone cover.

This way to the bank y’all.

James Lizzard

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