Hennie Bekker: Spectrum

Hennie Bekker Spectrum CD Cover.jpg


This anthology album offers fourteen wonderfully inspirational and diverse tracks from eleven of Hennie Bekker’s most memorable albums. It is rewarding in so many ways and delightful to travel for a time with the genius of instrumental music that is Hennie Bekker, an award-winning, multi-platinum-selling musician, master composer and arranger.

A classically trained pianist, Bekker was raised in Zambia and one finds the symphonic, haunting and captivating African rhythms throughout his work. In 1987 he immigrated to Canada, producing a string of progressive and popular hits thereafter. In 1997 ‘Astroplance’ won a Juno Award for Best Dance Recording. He is a master of innovative musical technology.

If you decide, as you should, to take this journey, you will find yourself in a Spectrum of music. It highlights a variety of soundscapes from inspiring (Spring Rain) mysterious (Temba), progressive (Moving On), evocative (Awakings), romantic (Summer Breeze), African (Amani), emotive (Mirage), introspective (Reverie), meditative (Spa) to ethereal (Dreaming) and compassionate (Essence of Romance).  Each track is a gentle and beautiful improvisation with an emphasis on pause and tranquility. Sublime.

The Toronto-based Bekker usually works with a core group of musicians from that city which includes guitarist Greg Kavanagh, drummer Bob DiSalle and keyboardist Rob Gusevs, all of whom appear on the album.

Feist: Metals


Arts & Crafts Productions

Much has been made of what a sharp changeup this is for Feist but really, she didn't have much of a choice. Just a little past the whimsical ingénue thing so wave goodbye to 1-2-3-4 and with the smell of BSS bridges burning, nothing to do but sharp left with the rubber peeling. All the way out of town.

Which is pretty much how she lays it our on the stately and album-definitive The Circle Married the Line ("I'll head out to horizon lines/ Get some clarity oceanside"). The back to nature theme underlies the opus like good loam from which springs a richly personal narrative that can explode in lines  like Cicadas and Gulls  ‘The land and the sea/ Are distant from me/ I'm in the sky."

Ok so far it’s reading like small-town girl hits bigtown fame and scares herself back to the land. Except when Feist flies back to the land she lands in Paris, France to craft songs that could have sprung from Paris, Ontario.

Girl’s also on the run from a flamed out relationship, a component which imparts a decided edge to the cosy and settled vibe centre stage.It likely accounts for the pared down production in which the familiar lip-gloss veneer is stripped off in favour of accents and texturisers.

Compact DISCovery


Jaimie Vernon

I’ve Failed You

Kathryn Calder: Bright and Vivid



This solo sophomore album from hipster chantoosie Calder is a big step towards establishing her own tone as a solo artist. This is on account of she arrived on most folk’s radar as singer with The New Pornographers and had that to get out from under. All along, she’d been writing songs that wouldn’t fit with TNP’s aesthetic so a solo album was inevitable.

It dropped in 2010 and Are You My Mother? was the stylistic mishmash in search of a core that was, in a way, to be expected. It did serve an important purpose in establishing that Calder could take meaningful steps away from TNP and in the direction of her own voice, so there was a sense of good things to come. If the debut was the expected, this one exceeds expectations.

First to be sent to the showers the stagnant melancholia which was the dominant vibe of the opener, replaced with an inclusive cherry pick among genres suitable to Calder’s honeyed vocals.
Next off, the earnest, at times timid and sketchy production values. In its place, vast washes of sound and layer upon later of subtly subverted instrumentation and a deft hand with using voice as instrument. It’s not yet the definitive Calder album but it’s full of signposts to how she intends on getting there.

Tia McGraff - Diversity

Tia McGraff - Diversity.jpg


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


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.


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”
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


THE JOYS - Adventures In...


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”.

Syndicate content