Reviews

Rhythm Express Black Woman

Rhythm Express Black Woman.jpg

Submitted to Cashbox Canada

In searching for a signature song that most represent the core values and musical direction of the Rhythm Express band  they were fortunate to come upon ‘Black Woman,’ a hauntingly beautiful piece written as a tribute to the mothers of past times by Ms Judy Mowatt of the I-Threes in Bob Marley’s Wailers.  It became a source of strength and pride to black women around the planet.
Aretha Franklin touched the world with her 70s recording ‘Young, Gifted and Black.” The same applies to the woman at the centre of the Rhythm Express whose earthy, soulful vocals and complimentary guitar playing revitalizes and renews the call to address the misgivings and hardships placed on black women in every region of the globe.

The Rhythm Express is a diverse reggae/Ska, soul band made up of artists all ages and ethnic backgrounds.Bill and Jesse (Dubmatix) King produced the recording at Inception Sound with the incomparable engineer Michael Haas. Both Kings are award winning producers and artists and have a long history in roots music. Bill King is pianist and organist in the Express.

The Weeknd: Kiss Land

The Weeknd Kiss Land

XO/Republic

If House of Balloons was fantasy, Kiss Land is reality. Not surprisingly, having got what he wished for (bigass success) Tesfaye’s finding it doesn’t necessarily taste any sweeter. Consequently, the line between persona and person are way blurred.

As we’ve recently endured a stream of ‘fame is such a drag’ songs, a few here may sound a touch played out. With only that sweet and desperate falsetto giving them any interest.

We get it, that it’s like asking a Delta bluesman to lighten up but would it hurt dude to mess around some old school beats upon occasion? Actually, he does try that out on the jittery, jumped up ‘Wanderlust’ and it works just fine but doesn’t really fit the prevailing vibe. Could be an interesting signpost to Tesfaye future though.
So while it appears AT did spend some of the record company coin rolling around in Rolls and such, as befitting the high-rolling persona of the songs, he also dropped a lot on the sonics, giving even the most languorous tracks some heft.

You’d never guess this to be a sophomore album, so pervasive the lyrical confidence and vocal persuasiveness. This is courtesy of Abel Tesfaye’s self-confessed self-obsession, so that there was never a chance that this would be anything but a linear and thematic follow-up to the debut.

Gowan – One Kilt One Name

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Submitted by Sandy Graham
Photo: Paul de Burger

Going to a Gowan solo concert is definitely one for the bucket list. On Sunday October 13, 2013 the ‘Strange Animal’ with a ‘Criminal Mind’ came back to his hometown to play a solo concert at a sold out venue. All proceeds were donated to a good cause, McDermott House, a charitable organization started by longtime friend and fellow entertainer, John McDermott.  Held at the prestigious Glenn Gould Studio, located in the CBC, In Kilt Tonight was truly a night to remember.

Dancing on His Own Ground Photo Credit Andrew ClowaterDancing on His Own Ground Photo Credit Andrew ClowaterThe show was a one man band, other than the fact he honoured his Glaswegian heritage by having a group of Highland dancers run through the aisles to Scotland the Brave, decked out in kilts and leather jackets.  Meghan Bold, of the Bold Step Dancers said, “That is what happens when celtic dancers team up with a legendary rocker who happens to originally be from Scotland.  We were honoured to dance for such a talented Canadian icon, and all for a good cause McDermott House. It goes down as our coolest show ever.”

Sills and Smith The Glorious Ache

Sills and Smith The Glorious Ache.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

Sills and Smith, Frank Smith and Jeremy Sills, have released the much anticipated follow up to their 2012 release ‘No Way In, No Way Out’.  Both were recorded at Corvidae  Music in Ottawa, Ontario and produced by studio owner Jonathan Edwards. But if you’re looking for a similar album to ‘No Way In No Way Out’, think again.

‘The Glorious Ache’ is a rock and roll, folk fusion unlike anything you’ve heard before from these guys. Edward’s production has kicked the tunes into overdrive and has the boys moving confidently into the passing lane. The long ethereal intro to the opening track ‘Hold On Tight’, is an opportunity to get yourself strapped for this 15 song adventure.

‘Ready, Set, Go’ bites and demands your attention leading into ‘Be Careful’ a warning to be strong in this world not built for the weak. ‘Advice Not Taken’ and ‘Parachute Love’ are accented by Edwards stinging guitar work and tightly woven harmonies. There’s something early British invasion style sans the syrupy love song lyrics, about this group.

Tia McGraff Break These Chains

Break These Chains Tia McGraff.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

Canadian singer /songwriter Tia McGraff’s new body of work is maybe her finest to date. Sometimes by album number 5 an artist becomes complacent, satisfied with rehashing and redoing their past work. Same old wine in a  different bottle. Fortunately Tia has not fallen into that trap. She continues to grow and expand her talents as a songwriter and as a fine singer. McGraff has that quality, naturally, that singers strive for; believability. She sounds like she means every word she sings without being over the top. In other words the emotion in the song is genuine. That’s because Tia has learned in her songwriting to sing of what she knows and can feel,which produces the honesty in her delivery.

The opening cut, "Nighthawk" sets the mood for the 12 song collection and is a perfect lead in to the masterful “Reckonin’” and acoustic masterpiece, very southern backwoods feel, warning of the reckoning that’s coming to us all. Partner Tommy Parnham, who produced the album in conjunction with McGraff, uses his understated harmony vocals to their full potential. A perfect blend.

There is not a weak track on this album and there is a thread that runs through the whole collection. It sounds like McGraff and Parnham sat in a cabin far away from the plugged in and  busy world of the 21st century and wrote the whole album completely focused and unbothered by outside distractions.

Maestro Fresh Wes 25th Anniversary Performance at Massey Hall

Maestro Fresh Wes and Michael Williams

Submitted by Michael Williams
Photo Credits: Thom Payson

Back in the day, when Michele Giester and I created “Rap City” and “Soul in the City”, our dreams were to support Canadian artists in creative careers that entertain, educate and inspire Canadians and the world. Maestro is the realization of that dream fulfilled. On Saturday, September 21 the godfather of Canadian hip hop, Maestro Fresh Wes and Friends, celebrated the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking career with a stellar performance at Massey Hall. I was honored that Maestro asked me to introduce him and open the show.

Maestro and Friends was epic; the Best Hip Hop show I have seen in years. I supported many of the performers from the beginning of their careers.  I felt like a proud father. There was so much talent on the stage and at the center of it was Maestro. Maestro called in help from Lights, Rascalz, K-os, Sakrates, Dj Grouch, DJ LTD, Kish, Saidah Baba Talibah, Daneo, Divine Brown, Kardinal, Rich Kidd, Suzka, Shumaka, Shad, The Trews, Classified and more.

Andria Simone: Good Lovin’

Andria Simone Good Lovin'

Artist-tree Music

Last year’s Nothing Comes Easy EP served notice that a major young soul talent was staking out her turf. She’s Andria Simone and the large expectations that debut EP engendered are realised here.

Stepped in deep Phily soul and sweet Motownesque melodies, Simone comes on snarling and crooning through 11 briskly executed orginals and a sweetly touching take one Neil Young’s ‘I Believe In You’.

Which the title echoes the album’s themes of  self-empowerment and self-appraisal. Big ups to Simone and producer Greg Kavanagh for delivering weighty sentiments without going over all preachy, courtesy of some cleverass arranging.

More steel magnolia than riot girl, Simone sounds and writes like a soul wise beyond her years, tackling and dealing with the effects of grevious family illness (‘Change’), the value of struggle (‘Nothing Comes Easy’) and ‘You’re No Good For Me’ is exactly about that.

Whether letting loose with the searing caterwaul of ‘Operator’ or getting all jazzy-bluesy rueful on ‘Only a Thought’ , Simone delivers the vocal goods every time with the confidence of an artist assured of her progress. Like, it can only get better.

Lenny Stoute

Deer Tick Negativity

Deer Tick Negativity.jpg

Arts & Crafts

The last album to come from this crew, 2011’s Divine Providence, spawned divisive debate among fans as to whether it was an unhinged masterpiece or a self-indulgent stick in the eye.

Negativity harbors no such ambitions or train wreckery. The wide screen approach has been narrowed down to a tight focus on nouveau post-rock executed with an energy and tension reminiscent of the power play that was the Born on Flag Day album.

At times, the band still seems in a don’t give a shit mood, coming up with promising song structures which somehow sound unfinished in that way as if they got bored with working on it and just brought it to a hurried close. as in ‘Thyme’. If ‘Pot of Gold’ is something of a throwback to Providence with its Black Sabbath ‘homage’, it works contextually balanced against the closer, ‘Big House’.

Mary Gauthier: Live at Blue Rock

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Independent

Roots/folk fans’ll tell ya this one is long overdue. With six albums worth of material to draw from, Gauthier’s fashioned a set list which does a fine job of capturing the essential Gauthier experience. Essential because it ain't all about the songs of Mary Gauthier so much as the sensibility which conjures them, which accounts for the presence of three tunes from Canuck Fred Eaglesmith, a like-minded hard road poet.

Gauthier’s subject matter and intense delivery are most often pitched in the key of black in songs with such titles as “Your Sister Cried”, “Blood Is Blood” and “Karla Faye, dedicated to a hard road and murdering woman who wound up on Death Row.

Described by some as a ‘truth teller’, a 19th century term for narrative songwriters who functioned as a news medium in their day, Gauthier writes about challenging and scarifying topics reflective of her early life, and makes them universal with a strong sense of minimalist elegance.

For this set, she’s backed only by fiddle and percussion framing enough for Gauthier’s richly textured and oft mesmerizing voice. At this point, big ups to producer Patrick Granado for his clear as country water work here, while keeping all the tiny, effective touches of fiddler Tania Elizabeth and percussionist Mike Meadows in the mix.

For those new to Gauthier, this is an excellent place to start as it’s pretty much a ‘greatest hits’ collection. For the rest of us, the takes here on “I Drink”, Eaglesmith’s “The Rocket” and the spine-tingling “Blood Is Blood” are alone worth it.

Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko-Case The Worse Things Get

Anti

Taking a smart lead in the longest title of the year race, Case is back with her most personal opus to date, an action-packed rage of pain. Hardly the work you’d expect from an artist who’d lost her dearest Granny and both parents since the release of 2009’s Middle Cyclone and as a result, was plunged into deepest depression. So call this one an explosion out of depression, an escape from all that and Case’s most pointedly autobiographical album yet.

Songs are shorter, tighter, and packed with wicked emotional and sonic payloads. From the steely minimalism of "Afraid" through the gnawing pain of "Calling Cards" to the acoustic, ironic “I’m From No Where”, Case’s versatile voice paints each in its truest colours, often with a dab of self-deprecating.

To say it’s all killa, no filla is an understatement, so any singling out of highlights is a strictly personal thing. Still, it’s hard to ignore the rage and resentment powering "Man", wherein Case tackles the noton of being caged by the societal expectations of femininity, with M.Ward’s lead guitar buzzing like an angry hive of killer bees as Case gets to shredding with lines like, "Fat-fingered bullies were no match for me/ I still taste them in my teeth."

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