Reviews

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings: South

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FU:M
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Maybe it’s the cold, bleak weather, maybe too many dark nights of the soul in January but there are not a whole of toe-tappers on this cookie. It’s stark in production,  the instrumentation’s mostly acoustic and maybe too reliant on the vocals to carry the show. This is only a thing here, because in the past this crew have amply demonstrated their ways around clever arrangements, which can elevate a song.

On that front, there are a few numbers here that could have benefited from more panache. As Nick Cave has demonstrated, you can brood with style but lacking that agenda, there are times when stripped down just sounds tired, as if the dudes are drained from touring 2012’s brilliant and superbly executed Kings and Queens.

So what’s to like? Lots, with the opening pair of “North” and “South” being among the best, both working from an easygoing lope of a bass line by Johnny Dymond while lyrically  exploring opposite polarities. They also share a rueful tone of ‘things that might have been’ and full-bodied heartfelt vocals, both of which elements define the album. With Colin Linden, Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing manning the vocal mics, the power amd emotion  are guaranteed. Too bad so much of the emotions evoked are on the downside, with appropriate music.

Coeur de Pirate: Trauma

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Dare to Care Records
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Part covers compilation, part TV drama soundtrack, this album’s typical of the way our Quebec brethren manage to move their independent product forwards. Intended to accompany the fifth season of hit Quebec hospital drama Trauma, Francophone chanteuse Couer de Pirate (a.k.a. Béatrice Martin) opted for an all-covers soundtrack of her favourite English language tunes. Obviously, train loads of trust between Martin and the TV folk.

Teaming again with studio collaborator Renaud Bastien, who was along for Martin’s breakout album Blonde, the Pirate plays most of the instruments herself, particularly strong on guitars, piano and cellos on this quirky collection.

Martin gleefully rummages through most of recent pop history, cherry picking nuggets from Kenny Rogers, the Rolling Stones, the Libertines, Bon Iver, Nancy Sinatra, Patrick Watson, the McGarrigle sisters, Amy Winehouse and others.

The Pack A.D.: Do Not Engage

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Nettwerk
Submitted by Lenny Stoute


So here’s the reigning queens of West Coast garage skrunk getting all melodic and even trying to get your attention. Probably was inevitable once they signed to Nettwerk but you know you have the right album when co-creator Maya Miller noted: "Let's put it this way, I don't hate this album yet, and I usually hate them fairly quickly."


That’s because the thing isn’t a complete makeover, Nettwerk being canny enough to let ‘em alone with producer Jim Diamond, who’s work with White Stripes, Electric Six and the Dirtbombs makes him just the guy to fully engage with their jagged blues rock and sardonic sensibility.


The 11 songs include the previously released "Battering Ram" and "Big Shot.", fitting in this incarnation nicely besides the likes of "Creepin' Jenny" and "Stalking Is Normal."  Tunefulness aside, this collection is a long way even from 2011’s Unpersons, itself the first album ‘melodic’ enough to get the Vancouver-based duo on the radio. The songs are tightly written and executed with lo-fi precision which takes away nothing from the band’s ferocity while ushering in a whole new range of influences the likes of the Breeders, the Grifters and Superchunk.

Neon Windbreaker: New Sky

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We Are Busy bodies
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

This Toronto band broke out in 2012 with a debut album of grabby, post-melodic noise rock and have been busy building a following since. Along the way, the Windbreakers have embraced brevity in song writing to a degree unheard of in this year of the double album.

On New Sky, the ‘hard and fast’ approach peaks with five tracks clocking in at a brisk 8.4 minutes. It’s truly a ‘blink and you miss it’ avalanche of high-energy drumming, rough-edged rhythms and slashes of melody fighting for survival against the OTT vocals of firebrand front man Eric Warner. What the crew have here is a clutch of tunes that are unpredictable and searing without being chaotic or grating.

If there’s a peak track it’s “New Sky”, built on a strong melody with hints of The Pixies, bustling guitars and furious vocalising managing a nice balance between the moody and the totally pissed off. The rest of the album is all like that, except with less melodic emphasis. A personal fave is “Nails”, with Warner spitting the lyrics like they’re coming out of a nail gun for a minute and 34 seconds of raw aggression and power riffage.

Still and all, I’m left with the feeling that though there’s nothing wrong with any of the tracks as delivered here, it would have been interesting to hear “Nails” go on to sharper things and “Pink Suit” maybe filled out a little.

This ain’t Christmas tunage but it sure is Winter music in the way it gets the blood to rushing.

https://www.facebook.com/NeonWindbreaker

Skydiggers: Angels

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Latent Recordings
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Canrock vets Skydiggers have had a great year milking their 25th anniversary celebrations with a fistful of releases. So there’s no way they’re gonna let the Christmas shopping season get away untapped. Wise enough to know about less being best, they’ve confined themselves to five tracks of seasonal songs; two covers, two traditional songs and a surprise new offering.

The party kicks off with the seldom heard “2000 Miles” from The Pretenders, which allows Skydiggers semi-member singer Jessy Bell Smith to nicely update Chrissie Hynde’s original, behind Andy Maize’s lead vocal.The other covers the even more obscure “Christmas in Prison”, a John Prine heart wrencher, with Jessy Bell taking the lead in making your heart bleed.

Likewise, the trad tunes bring something fresh to the table. In the case of “Poor Little Jesus”, it’s a visit to a rarely heard Southern spiritual and with the seasonal classic “Good King Wenceslas, Maize gives it the soulman treatment atop altrock guitar lines. Pretty damn cool.

The quirky Skydiggers wit shines brightest with the inclusion of “Church Bells Ringing”, which is reckoned to be the first song ever penned by two sitting members of Parliament, NDP'ers Charlie Angus and Andrew Cash. It’s a heartfelt shoutout to the T.Dot, an everyman tussle between hometown nostalgia and bigtown bleak and the best Canuck Christmas song in ever so long, Tiny Tim.

Mike Janzen Carols

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Submitted to Cashbox Canada

As the Christmas season approaches, each year we once again look for our favourite CD’s in our collections or re-buy them at the still existing record stores. Cashbox Canada receives great product all year round but Christmas always sends some wonderful gems and Mike Janzen’s solo CD of Carols is one such gem.

Picking material for a CD like this is one that requires research. “With such a diverse catalogue to choose from, I always have enjoyed paging through the Oxford Book of Carols to both review songs I know and search for those more unfamiliar to me. This recording is the culmination of over a decade of such seasonal searching and is made up of my favourite sacred carols and other tunes.’

Once in Royal David’s City is beautifully presented with a lovely arrangement reminiscent of church services while Ding Dong Merrily On High is played with a rich presentation. Angels We Have Heard on High is unique, taking a traditional song and making it sound modern as with Little Town of Bethlehem.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds like a 1940’s swing version and truly a highlight on this offering.

Thou Who Was Rich Beyond All Splendour, The Sussex Carol, Lo How a Rose, I Wonder As I Wander are melodic and in a perfect running order. The Little Drummer Boy is a great jazzy version of the classic carol, and Sing Lullaby is so calming and a perfect fit.

Sultans of String: Koerner Hall

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Toronto, ON.
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Watching people stream out of the St. George Station and roll directly towards Koerner Hall as if on tracks was an indicator of just how far Sultans of String have come from their beginnings in the small clubs on the Danforth, to the magnificence of Koerner Hall.  Once the show started, they looked totally at home on a stage spacious enough to accommodate seventy-something people and leave lots of space.

Like many in the audience, I’d never seen the Sultans do their symphony thing, so the anticipation barre was way high. Doubly so for those who’d heard the songs from Symphony!, the band’s current release and centrepiece of the show.

The full house was to be treated to the songs on the album, as recorded, with full symphony Ork in attendance. With the orchestra in place and warmed up, the Sultans of String took the stage to a wave of applause and promptly launched into the sparkling, flamenco flavoured ‘Alhambra”, followed by "Rainflower Kitchen Party, a six minute romp through all sounds Celtic, then into “Josie, a virtuoso set piece for McKhool’s showcase of the many styles of ‘roots’ violin playing and onwards to the gypsy jazzy, guitar-powered “Emerald Swing”.

Ross Petty Returns with The Little Mermaid

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Submitted by Don Graham

Every year at Christmas time Ross Petty Productions has brought  their unique brand of family entertainment to the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. This year instead of the Brothers Grimm he has chosen Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid as his story of choice. Ontario’s O-Fish-Al Family Musical is the 18th year of his holiday production.

This is theatrical fun at its best; a fractured fairy tale.  The humour is aimed at the entire audience with enough grown up content to keep the adults attention and the humour that has kids laughing loudly and booing and hissing at Petty’s character, the evil  Ogopogo.

“I love it” says Petty who is a serious actor with some serious stage and screen credentials behind him, “I get to be a kid again, put on the mascara and  be the villain. The more they BOO me the better.”

The story has little to do with the Disney movie. Too high a cost for the use of the brand and more to do with the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale , which as a song and dance routine in the prologue says is completely “public domain.”

In typical Petty fashion, 18 crowd pleasing years and counting, the comedy content was topical and current, with thankfully very few Rob Ford references.  I think people are tired of hearing about him so we didn’t do much about him this year,” Petty said.

Winter Child – Ed Henderson

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Ed Henderson has had a diversified career, from performing with Leon Bibb and his brother Bill’s band Chilliwack, his work composing scores for theatre, documentaries and network television.  He has been commissioned to compose works for many including the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Elektra Women’s Choir, The Dance Centre, Canadian Music Centre, the Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra and musica intima.   He has been nominated for numerous awards and is the recipient of many including a Juno (Ancient Cultures, El Camino Real), Jessie Richardson and Dora Mavor Moore (theatre), Leo (TV score) and Cannes (TV score).

Winter Child is his new solo guitar release and hopefully radio is smart enough to embrace this on their seasonal rotation, as it is a refreshing offering of holiday music.

Carol of the Bells/That Bell Thing is a wonderful opening track reminiscent of Fernando Sor while The First Nowell brings back the spirit of Christmas long ago, memories and family.  Carol of the Drum incorporates The Little Drummer Boy with bassy, deep playing and an intricate jazz style.

The Child’s Dream feels like just that; with snowflakes and frosted windows, waiting for Santa to come.

Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabela is pleasant and easy to listen to while Blessed Child takes you back to the first track with the Spanish influence. O Come O Come, Emmanuel is a rich recording, with an ancient feel of times gone by and the title track Winter Child is a pretty tune with a jazz arrangement.

Sunset Blues Denis Viel

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Denis Viel is an artist from Quebec City who has been travelling for over ten years ‘doing the blues’ in his own style of deep blues, folk, country and world music.  Multi-instrumentalist, Denis Viel plays most of the instruments on his albums including guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, pedal steel and B3 Hammond.

The title track ‘Sunset Blues’ tells a great story of a Louisana style story while ‘Always Bad’ has a shuffle beat and an infectious track that makes you feel like you are actually sitting and watching this guy in a smoky bar.‘Take It Easy Take It Slow’ almost has a Paul Butterfield influence, right down to the great harmonica solo,  ‘Unrequited Love’ could be a blues number from the early 1920’s, ‘Westfalia Blues’ actually is a bit country rock, showing the versatile style of this singer/songwriter musician.

‘I’m Leaving You’ surprises you again with a rock ‘n’ roll shuffle much like early Downchild, ‘Driving Slow’ is a beautifully produced track, showing off the musicianship of this artist, ‘Fill In The Echo’ does the same while BFW shows off Viel’s adept vocals, reminiscent of Ry Cooder, while ‘The Offer’ is a comfortable jive blues tune, while the closing track ‘Life Is Good’ sounds like Leon Russell’s early day recordings.

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