Album Reviews

Cowboy Junkies: The Wilderness

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Latent Recordings

This final album of the 4 opus Nomad series serves as a fitting end piece being as it sounds the finest on all fronts of the four. As Michael Timmins said about the songs’ genesis and their relation to the album title, “ They’re about being lost in the wilderness of age, the wilderness of parenthood, in the wilderness of just trying to find meaning and substance, happiness and truth in one’s day to day life. They are about standing in the middle of it all, breathing in the cold air and still wondering.”

So, not so much with the warm and fuzzies then but it ain’t all cold stone soup either. Largely on account of Margo Timmins pipes, which project a languid, barely restrained sexuality even when the prevailing vibe is cold and distant. The chilly atmospherics of both the internal and external landscapes of the songs are left up to the band and since this is their thing, they don’t hold back.

It doesn’t get more potentially chilling than the opener “Unanswered Letter” written shortly after the suicide of Canadian singer-songwriter John Bottomley last April. Bedded by ominous sounding bowed bass rumbles and skitery percussion, it’s up to Margo Timmins to familiarise it just in time for the unlikely end passage where the band kicks in and rocks out and the thing becomes a hymn of defiance.

Karl Schwonik Jazz Ensemble with Remi Bolduc CD Release

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Karl Schwonik Jazz Ensemble with Remi Bolduc will be in Toronto as part of their CD Release Tour,
with   special appearance on Saturday March 10 at the CNIB Centre at 1929 Bayview Avenue.

1+4 is Karl Schwonik’s dream project as it brings together two of his favourite musicians, saxophonist Remi Bolduc and trumpeter James Davis. The project name 1+4 is a play on words, as Remi has his own project named 4+1. In this case, Remi is the 1 the teacher, and the band is the 4 the pupils. Remi is an unbelievable source of energy, talent and knowledge, and Karl is truly honoured to have him join the band, both on their recording and on this tour.

Signed to the Chronograph Records label out of Western Canada, Karl Schwonik has completed a tour of Jazz-In-Schools, appearing for most of February as a member of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp, with a presentation  ‘Edu-Tainment’, with up to 40 minute long sets as part of an educational,extremely interactive programme that encourags call and response, questions and sometimes the chance for students to play with the band.

Nikki Hornsby Just Wait

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Independent


Nikki Hornsby, the granddaughter of Columbia Records recording artist Dan Hornsby, whose recordings in the 1920’s and 1930’s included “Little Brown Jug”, “Oh Susannah” and other classic Americana songs, is carrying on the Hornsby tradition in fine fashion. “Just Wait”, the title track is a fine example of her song writing skills and is what she has done. Hornsby has been working at her craft for a long time having made her first recording in the 1980’s.


In the late 1980s Hornsby, who now resides in California, opened her own record label CJP-NH Records and began marketing her music and label throughout Europe and the USA.


Hornsby's songs were released for airplay on commercial radio stations in the USA, Europe, Spain and the "ACM Newsletter" as well as other print publications noted Hornsby’s song “One Way Ticket” as number one. During that same time “Hungry For Love”, Let Me Take You On A Dream” and “Hot Talkin’ Big Shot” received airplay in Northern Europe.


In 1988, following Hornsby’s releases of “One Way Ticket”, “Hungry For Love”, “Let Me Take You On A Dream”, “Hot Talkin’ Big Shot", she was named Female Singer of the Year in Scandinavia. In 1989, “Shoe String And A Prayer” charted Top 5 in the IRC (independent) country singles, as well as in the Cash Box Top 100 USA National charts.

Robert Graham: Storm In A Teacup

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Independent


This album’s sunny disposition makes for a nice fit with the Spring-ish weather currently in fashion. On this debut outing, singing piano man Graham, a transplanted Aussie now based in rural Ontario offers up 10 doses of tight, incisive pop rock, with some on the sunny side, some on the bittersweet.


Well schooled in narrative song writing as befitting a man who’s scored an Honourable Mention in the 2010 Billboard world song contest, Graham’s crafty about making his points without sticking them in your eye. He avoids sounding like generic pop by not so much bending the elements of the formula as blending them into catchy combinations.


That card’s dropped right off the top by opening the album with Gershwin’s melancholy ‘Blue Lullaby’, suggesting late late night’s slow drift into the jaunty early morning brightness of ‘Reaching You’


No great vocal heights scaled but the pipes do have the immense likeability of a fun loving pal or well-worn sweater. Graham makes a bigger impact when he goes a little harder, especially when the piece throws electric guitar into the attack. On that front, he gets stellar contribution from Teddy Kumpel, Dan Charbonneau and Eric ‘Da Doctah’ Schenkman, who collectively set fire to the funkalicious ‘In Love with a Girl’ and the fiery  ‘Living in a Coma’.

The Elwins: And I Thank You

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Independent


Toronto indie pop outfit the Elwins has been catching the buzz almost from the get go of their fledgling career. They debuted in 2008 with a self-titled EP of bouncy, hooky Sixties-inflected pop rock not a million miles form Sum 41 country that instantly found an audience. That and a string of well-received big name opening slots made their debut one of the year’s most anticipated in the pop head community.


It’s here, it’s now, it’s just what we expected and a wee drop more. That being the smash single ‘Stuck In The Middle’, which jacks up the bar to a wicked height that it alone attains.
Some fairly large names showed up for the birthing of the album, which was done in Seattle under the guiding hands of co-producers Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man) and Ryan Hadlock (Blonde Redhead, Islands, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks) with L. Stu Young (Prince, Sum 41) doing the mix.


The result is a more refined, hook-enhanced version of the EP’s sound with a more muscular dynamic courtesy of all that live gigging. It’s packed with bright sunshiny jams, jaunty rhythms and the vocals have a self-assurance just this side of bravado. And everywhere, fun, fun, fun.

So yeah, "Stuck in the Middle" is da bomb, but "Forgetful Assistance", "I Miss You and I" and "Sitting Pretty" are damn explosive too.


James Lizzard

Woodpigeon: For Paolo

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Boomps


For Paolo is the latest effort from Calgary’s Woodpigeon, aka mostly Mark Andrew Hamilton and on it, the listeners get everything they would expect from the harmony-rich band. They also get some very interesting arrangements featuring Hamilton getting down to the roots of songs and then tweaking the organics


The EP’s experimental bent comes right at you with the opening title track returning in stripped-down acoustic format to close out the album. An interesting and hypnotizing musical arrangement coupled with the band’s trademark vocal harmonies picks up right where their previous effort left off.


Between the two are four tunes hovering above the shaky line between vintage Woodpigeon and indie-pop experiments, of which ‘By Lamplight’ and ‘One too Many’ come off the best.
None get too far away from the smooth, clever indie pop that’s the band’s main cruise. That said, there’s enough balance here to please the fans and attract new ears. F’r instance, “Are You There God? It’s Me Mark” offers beguiling female backing vocals, fluttering violins, dramatic acoustic guitar runs and a decidedly Sufjan Stevens feel.


All in all, while it’s not a great departure, there is in this collection a sense of moving on to bigger soundscapes, larger songwriting canvases. Stay tuned.


James Lizzard

The Strumbellas: My Father and the Hunter

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Independent


This Toronto via Lindsay On septet’s debut album puts them right in the front rank of the post-Elliott Brood roots rockers. Granted it’s a shade more countrified, even bluegrassy than EB but like all the bands in this sub-genre, they bring the stomp to the hoedown.


There’s hollerin’, gangbuster choruses with that country thang and fleet-fingered fretwork aplenty.


So tracks like floor filling "Underneath a Mountain" and "Left for Dead”, utilising all those elements which make the band a live attraction, are to be expected.


Not so much are the poignant “Diane” and “The Bird That Follows Me”, on which the crew tone down the boogie and rely on nuance.


Still and all, The Strumbellas know what brought them to the party and Simon Ward’s touch with the good bluegrassy rock hooks are never far away and all over “Rhinestone” and “The Sheriff”.


One little thing; The Strumbellas love of playing together just jumps off the album. Consequently, while the songs address the genre’s trad subject matter such as sin, redemption, loving, losing, death and near-death, the execution too often trumps the content of certain songs.


The Strumbellas play a CD release show at The Rivoli in Toronto tonight (February 17th).


James Lizzard

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon


Kingdom Of Few: Kingdom of Few
Independent

Compact DISCovery

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Jaimie Vernon

The Soles
Broken Ghost EP
Independent

Once upon a time alternative rock was an actual counter-culture that wasn’t a genre bands aspired to just so they could fit a radio format. It was an underground cottage industry created by College radio in response to the bloated corporate pop and rock radio playlists owned and controlled by major record labels.
Back then record companies weren’t looking for cutting edge, genre bending guitar bands; they waited for College and University radio stations to find them first. When critical mass started turning airplay into record sales and indie record shops began selling out vanity vinyl pressings made in someone’s basement, alternative rock turned into an industry.  The progenitors of the early movement, out of no fault of their own, were R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, The Replacements and Sonic Youth. However, with the exception of R.E.M., labels soon found that underground popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into commercial success and they abandoned the ‘project’ almost as quickly as it began, to go back to their formula of slick, groomed, manufactured pop rock.

Six Volts: Fred Eaglesmith

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Sweetwater Music

Ramblin’ troubadour Fred Eaglesmith never met a roots music genre he didn’t like. Over the course of 18 albums he’s switched up styles seemingly every time he drops one. So it makes total sense that this ‘un, album 19, comes in the form of a Fred Eaglesmith sampler collection.

Every genre and roots subgenre he’s ever worked in is represented here; alt-country, stone cold folk, dry as dust roots, road songs, Gospel and it’s alter ego the murder ballad, all get their moments in the Eaglesmith sun and that’s a special place.

Backed by a full band, featuring quick pickin’ mandolin player Mike Zinger, and recorded with the group gathered around a single microphone, the sound is stripped down and warm, made edgy upon occasion by bursts of skronky electric guitar and made vital by Eaglesmith’s lived-in vocals.
Subject matter includes stories of the down and the downtrodden, cheating wives, truckers on amphetamines, singers, crazy women, nights on the town, days on the road and da country music life.

Highlights include but aren’t limited to the technically flawlessly constructed murder ballad. ‘Katie’, the Gospel-inflected “Cemetery Road”, a poignant road song ‘Stars” wherein he recollects, “We played like we were stars/Willie played mandolin and we thought it would never end.”

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