Reviews

Shad Live at Massey Hall

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Submitted by Lee Fraser
Photo Credits: Live at Massey Hall Series

This is not your parents’ Massey Hall. Now in its second season, “Live at Massey Hall” is a series that features up-and-coming Canadian artists in the iconic venue.  Not every episode converts the centenarian into a throbbing night club, but that was certainly the case when Shad headlined on Friday, March 27. The tip off was when the programming director took to the stage pre-show to say something to the effect of ”Things can get a little crazy at shows like this, so we’re asking that you please keep the centre aisle and the front of the stage clear for the camera crew.”

The evening got under way with Zaki Ibrahim. After an intro by her guitarist, the lights came up as the percussion and vocals grew louder;  Zaki stood before us in a stunning dress, singing in French.  After only one number, people in the audience were exclaiming “Wow.”  The show that Zaki Ibrahim presents is aurally, visually and emotionally stunning.

Whitney Rose: Heartbreaker of the Year

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Submitted by Lee Fraser

This is a love story.  It’s a love story in three parts, about a girl and a city and chance encounters.  On April 21, Whitney Rose will release her second album on Cameron House Records.  Its ten tracks of alternating rollicking good fun and utter heartbreak.

Whitney Rose grew up in a small town on Prince Edward Island.  The type of small town where everybody knows each other, and in Whitney’s case, everybody adored that little girl that loved to sing.  Two generations of nurturing and encouragement are the first part of this love story.  Whitney grew up belting out Patsy Cline and Connie Francis;  it’s no wonder that she developed a talent for writing country songs.  The right mix of genes and influences gave her the ability to write engaging lyrics and develop clever song structures.

But artists with big ideas don’t stay in small towns for very long.  Barely out of school, Whitney packed it up and took that giant leap to move to a city with more opportunities.  She was lucky enough to find herself ensconced in the supportive nest of the Cameron House.  Not only were there opportunities to exhibit her talents, but there were also fabulous musicians to play with, a welcoming audience and management that was on the same page.  Whitney fell in love.

Mike Greene & Youssef Remadna: Take It On

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a good album. Mike Greene has been around a while. A US bluesman, he now lives and records mostly in France, so largely goes unnoticed elsewhere, which is a pity.
‘Take It On’ is a solid sounding CD. A bit of good old R&B, with a nicely produced- never over-produced – feel and some good old-fashioned simplicity in the arrangements, a simplicity that almost belies the craftsmanship of the entire package.  Greene’s guitar work is perfectly pitched, with a mix of acoustic, slide and electric touches that ably drive the album along. Remadna plays strong support guitar with mighty fine Harp that genuinely grabs the attention.

Kicking off with the old Willy Dixon classic, ‘I’m Ready’, the 13 tracks flow through ‘Come Back Baby’ – an oft overworked gem, here hit just right – to Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and Dylan’s little known ‘From A Buick 6’. Along the way the duo take in some JB Lenior with a rolling take on ‘Mojo Boogie’ and Chris Thomas King’s ‘John Law Burned Down The Liquor Store’.

The album is self-produced and recorded at Greene’s home studio in the South of France.  The vocals are shared between the pair, whose voices mesh well, producing a gritty feel reminiscent of that early nineteen-sixties R&B sound. At times, I found myself thinking of early Stones, with guitar work echoing Keith Richards as a young lad.

Dik Banovich: Acoustic Roots & Blues

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Banovich is mostly a Scot with an unlikely name for a member of the tartan clan. Originally from Chicago, he moved to Scotland as a kid, living in the industrial heartland, home of some of the most interesting music, in Glasgow before moving North to live in the Highlands where he was a notable figure in the burgeoning folk music world. Now based in France, he is a festival stalwart in his adopted land.

This offering is his second release and echoes his first love for both acoustic folk-roots and blues music. Fretwork is always interesting, punchy and positively strong, with material ranging from Gary Davis covers to Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie and one of England's, sadly, often overlooked guitar masters, Wizz Jones.

The recording is a home produced effort with a few flaws that are easily overlooked and in no way affect the overall quality of Banovich's very fine vocal delivery and jangling guitar-work. Just listen to his picking on Wizz Jones' 'Black Dog' and you'll be a toe-tapping, head-nodding fan of this guy and his music, for sure.

With no overdubs or studio over-mastering, this is an album that genuinely grips and grabs the attention with ease. Always beautifully melodic - a showcase for his sensitive picking - it also hits the spot throughout. Highly recommended release.

www.dikbanovich.fr

Chris Staig and the Marquee Players The Shack By the Tracks

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Submitted by Don Graham

Every once in a while a CD comes by that is a pleasant surprise and such was the case with Chris Staig and The Marquee Players album “Shack by The Tracks”. This latest of five solo recordings released by Chris is chock full of great tunes and grooves. You’ll hear a little of The Band, Little Feat, some Beatles, Blue Rodeo and even a little eearly Flying Burrito Brothers.

Hannah Aldridge Razor Wire

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Razor Wire is just that. Slicing, sharp lyrics and production from a very fine young, US modern Country-Americana singer-songwriter. Aldridge has a fabulous, crisp and clear voice with bags of strength and soul at its heart.  Most of the ten tracks here are self-written and she is generously backed by a storming studio-crew with all the push and power of the Nashville sound behind her.

At times there's a strident melancholy in some of the compositions, reflections of a darker side of life and a visceral eye for life's tragedies and pain. On others, the rallying cry of redemption and release sparkle brightly, like Aldridge's vital and vibrant voice.

The daughter of a seasoned Muscle Shoals and Nashville veteran songwriter/producer - the late Walt Aldridge, she was virtually born to be a musician. Any other métier would have been unthinkable really. Initially a classically-trained pianist, she took up guitar and studied sound-engineering at University in Tennessee, before turning her attention to the art of writing songs and performance.

Razor Wire is her debut offering and within its bounds she delivers a character full and carnal collection of memorable melodies and lusty lyrics. Clearly a Nashville newcomer to watch out for, Aldridge has the power to surprise and satisfy.

www.hannah-aldridge.com


Laurence Jones What's It Gonna Be

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Submitted by Iain Patience

The latest, third, release from young, hot-shot British rock-bluesman, Laurence Jones is a true cracker. A wonderful album of searing guitar work coupled with some deft lyrics that have a stamp of confidence and maturity about them that simply belie his relatively tender years and must speak volumes of what might yet lie tantalisingly in store for the years ahead.

All eleven tracks are solid, full of positively pounding guitar riffs, runs and licks that echo many of his personal early influences - Walter Trout (whose band he has already played with); old Slowhand Clapton; Albert Collins and Rory Gallaher. There are also shades of Stevie Ray Vaughan there, I'm sure.

Jones featured heavily in last year's blues charts with his own album, 'Temptation' (gathering accolades worldwide) and his participation on German record company Ruf's talent showcase album 'Blues Caravan 2014'. There's no doubt this guy has a warm, wonderful musical future ahead of him, with praise coming from his musical peers, the media and a growing army of global fans.

When you take Jones' lyrics, great fretwork and add a powerful, mature voice to the mix, you end up, as here, with a genuine bit of quality.  On one track he is joined on support vocals by Scot, Sandi Thom, and on another by New York siren, Dana Fuchs. Both lend a strength and purpose to the project. A highly recommended release.

www.laurencejonesmusic.com

Shoutin' Red: Introducing

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Submitted by Iain Patience

'Introducing' is exactly that, an intro to a new kid on the Scandinavian blues block.  From Sweden, Felicia Nielsen, aka Shoutin' Red, is a new, young performer with a debut release that marries traditional 1930’s acoustic blues with a few standard traditional folk songs to provide this 12-track album.

Red is already gaining prominence in the vibrant Swedish blues scene with festival appearances and gigs and with this interestingly, fresh release should also now reach a wider blues audience beyond the Baltic.

Tracks covered include Tom Dickson's 'Labour Blues'; When the Levee Breaks'; 'Hesitation Blues'; Willie McTell's classic 'Statesboro Blues'; 'Millman Blues' from Bily Bird; 'Crazy Blues' by Perry Bradford - a good, strong opener here - and John Hurt's 'Frankie and Albert'.

From the very off it's apparent where the moniker 'Shoutin' originates, as Nielsson's voice hammers out the lyrics alongside some fine, well aimed acoustic guitar-work. At times, the vocal delivery is reminiscent of Rory Block, another fine blues-woman with a strong voice and positive presence.  And while Red's fretwork has yet to reach the heights of Block's picking, there is clearly scope and time for development in that department.

The Dexterous Music of Jay Pollock

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Submitted by Lee Fraser

By reading his social media feeds or listening to his banter, Jay Pollock comes across as that odd guy that nobody really “gets” but everyone likes. He has an off-kilter, astute sense of humour and draws your attention to every day scenarios in a different light. It is as though he somehow occupies an uncommon vantage point, one that lends itself to collecting observations on politics, choices and the future.

Pollock is a young musician with musical roots – his father is a world champion Scottish bagpiper– who keeps himself immersed in the Toronto music scene. He has independently produced quite a unique album, titled “Sunflower”, and had it engineered by Grammy nominee, Jeremy Darby. Recorded with Lowell Whitty, the drummer from the jazz-funk band Heavyweights Brass Band, and the adept and quirky bass player, Ben Huband, this album is a remarkable ensemble effort. Pollock has a talent for stringing together notes and chords that are best highlighted by strong bass lines and melodic percussion.

The song-writing incorporates observations told via imaginative rhyming couplets and inspired plays on words: "Siamese twins have peculiar grins, we're all wondering why they're smiling". The songs range in style; “All Aboard” has a beat reminiscent of a German beer hall, while the bridge of “Mistaken Identity” has the boogie beat of an 80’s disco hit.

Jorma Kaukonen: Ain't In No Hurry

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Submitted by Iain Patience

A new release from Jorma is always welcome and eagerly anticipated by his legion of fans worldwide.  'Ain't In No Hurry' is a typically laid-back bit of work with Kaukonen's trademark, spicy guitar-work and gripping, gritty vocals both working full tilt.

As usual these days, he's joined by his old buddy from Jefferson Airplane rock-star days, and Hot Tuna Bassman the incomparable Jack Casady together with Tuna Mando-man, Barry Mitterhoff. As a result, there is a clear Tunaesque feel and aim to the album. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams also feature in the stew to good effect.

Eleven tracks include standards like 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out'; Thomas Dorsey's wisecracker, 'The Terrible Operation' and a splendid take on Yip Harburg's classic old perenniel, 'Brother Can You Spare a Dime'.  Woody Guthrie's seldom heard/recorded 'Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me' also earns its place. Most of the remainder come from Kaukonen himself.

The theme of the album, explains Kaukonen in the sleeve notes, is his thanks for a relatively peaceful, eventful and affluent musical lifestyle that now spans some fifty-plus years.  Nowadays, he feels relaxed and content, with no need or pressure to rush around or experiment. Like a jigsaw puzzle, his life and music merge as one with tangential support from his oldest and most trusted musical buddies.  This is very much an album of the kind that we've come to admire and expect from a genuine acoustic blues master.

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