Album Reviews

A Tribe Called Red

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Independent

This album, now available as a free download, gets the sound of this gifted trio down just right. While the communal energy of their live gigs cannot be trapped, the recorded format allows for an appreciation of just how diverse a motherlode A Tribe Called Red is mining.

These three Ottawa area First Nations DJs: DJ NDN, DJ Bear Witness and DJ Shug, have been staging their conceptual Electric Pow Wows on a monthly basis for some time. They act as a showcase for Aboriginal DJ talent and what A Tribe Called Red dubs ‘contemporary urban Native culture’.

As laid out on the album, this refers to a sound inclusive of hip hop, Jamaican dance hall, electronica of many hues, new soul and First Nations traditions. That it all hangs together has to do with the drum, the universal sound of heartbeat, as set up in the opener,  "Electric Pow Wow Drum", which opens with the familiar "heartbeat" of the Big Drum.

Big respect to this crew for not just sampling the original music piecemeal. Instead it’s presented as is and it’s up to the technology to make the merge happen.

Which happens more often than and not and which makes this, among many other noteworthy things, one helluva great dance party album.

ZEUS: Busting visions

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Arts & Crafts

Ok, so retro-rock’s the current thang, nobody rocks harder than The Sheepdogs or gets down deeper than Alabama Shakes. Still, gotta like what this T.Dot foursome’s doing with their take on it. First off, they have the chops and have been road dogs long enough that the squirrel-ass tightness is a given.

The debut ‘Say Us’ had all that zingy big-hair guitars sound and all the tons ‘o’ drums you could want but it didn’t sound properly gelled. Like it was just a phase they were going through.

With Busting Visions, no question this is where they live, and all the Beatlesque boo birds be darned. Nothing wrong with fooling with the formula if you can come up with such as  “Hello Tender Love” and  “Messenger’s Way”.  So while there’s nothing new here, there’s much that’s strangely familiar and comes wrapped in positive roock’n’roll associations. Even the classic heartbreak rock of  “Let It Go, Don’t Let It Go” ends up hurting so good and everywhere, catchy hooks and sweet pop harmonies are scattered like Easter eggs.

Baseline, Rob Drake, Mike O’Brien, Neil Quinn, and Carlin Nicholson have delivered a solid classic-derived album from a band confident enough in their strengths to sidestep cheap irony and get on with the rock’n’roll.

Lenny Stoute

John K. Samson : Provincial

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Independent

On which John K. Samson cements his rep as a major narrative songwriter and underlines his importance to The Weakerthans. Not that there’s anything here that’ll startle a Weakerthan's fan but there’s enough so’s you know this is not another Weakerthans workout. Known for being sharply observational without going judgemental, the boy sure can split a hair. Check the way he deals with his love/hate relationship with hometown Winnipeg in "One Great City."

Elsewhere it’s all about the dichotomy of leaving in and leaving out as laid out by a guy with a longstanding rep as a lyrical powerhouse in the indie/folk community.

"Provincial" is Samson at his relatable best on the topics of wanderlust, isolation, spiritual elation and the chance of getting back to where you’ve never been. At one time or another everyone's felt excluded like the teacher in "The Last And", angry like the student in "Master's Thesis" or jammed up like the character in "Heart of The Continent".

Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere

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Nettwerk

Here’s the fifth album from Great Lake Swimmers and as per usual, ringmaster Tony Dekker has shuffled the deck. This time the team’s a quintet and for the first time, the songs were recorded in a traditional studio. Just as the group’s changed with each album, so did the recording locations. These have included an abandoned grain silo and on an archipelago of islands straddling the U.S.-Canadian border and the results have always been suffused with their environment. Maybe that’s why their first outing in a ‘real’ studio sounds stiff and mannered.

The material is lively enough; introducing flourishes of country and bluegrass into Dekker's roots/ folk and uptempo arrangements abound. Were it not for slow burners like "Cornflower Blue" and "The Knife" you could call this GLS’s ‘party album’.

The title track, driven by blasts of electric guitar and classic Dekker lines like "Rocks jump and jitter”/"The weather breaks, the spirit shakes, and something switches on." is a highlight and  "Think That You Might Be Wrong" and  "The Great Exhale" likewise get it right. But elsewhere, not so much; on "Fields of Progeny" and "Ballad of a Fisherman's Wife", it feels like they’re holding back and unsure of the material.

Just read a review where this same vibe is described as responsible for making this one Great Lakes Swimmers’ most mature and polished album yet.

So spin this one and make your call.

James Lizzard

The Sheepdogs: Learn & Burn

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Independent

Slavish copying or inspired recreation?  That’s the question this album from Saskatoon’s shaggiest quartet inevitably raises. The thing’s a complete throwback to the glory days of Seventies classic rock, delivered straight up, no chaser and no apologies.

So yeah, it’s great for playing Spot The Reference; among the easier ones to spot are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, Allman Brothers, here a Beatles, there a Pink Floyd, ‘most everywhere a whiff of The Guess Who.

This band conjures up the soul of period rock’n’roll not only in intent but in their flawless exzecuition and attention to detail. They aren’t trying to reinvent or resurrect anything; they’ve thrashed the barriers between old and new.

This is what separates them from contemporaries like Kings of Leon and The Black Keys and what will carry them far. It’s already taken them from Saskatoon to boat cruising with Kid Rock to three Juno nominations (Best Single, Best Album, Best New Group) on Sunday’s show.

No point in getting into highlights here, as if you’re into this kind of thing, there’s not a false note to be found. Myself, I liked the cheekiness of “Catfish 2 Boogaloo” and the Zeppelinesque strut of “ I Don’t Know”.

Just like The Band revived American Southern Gothic for the American market, The Sheepdogs have to know this stuff’s gonna to go over large in the U.S. even without that Rolling Stone cover.

This way to the bank y’all.

James Lizzard

Dizzy G: Wild Women

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Indpendent

This un’s all about da blooze, playing 'em, living 'em, loving ‘em, served up with affection and humour by a seasoned road warrior.

The dude known as Dizzy G has done his time in the bar wars, regularly heading out from his Moncton base to spread the love. While the Dizzy G band is currently a quartet, Da D-Man turned to a handful of special guests to flesh out the more high-spirited of the album’s 13 tracks.

Of high spirits there is no lack, likewise with that good ol’ Canadian homeboy humour.

F’r instance there’s the title track, a shakeass blues rock boogie for all the wild women we’ve lusted after, been awed by and sometimes thrashed by. Made funnier by the 58-second follow-up, ‘The Hangover’, a snippet of the wild women’s morning after during which someone threatens to kill a dog.

Overall, this is part beer drinking party and part slow blues for the ladies. If there’s a theme here it’s observations on the bar life from a working musician’s perspective.

Makes sense then that it opens with the bar band’s workhorse, 8-bar blues. “G Spot” comes out in shufle time with sparkling guitars riding atop and a squaking harmonica keeping it rootsy.

Dizzy’s guitar skills are more advanced than the vocal chops but that’s only occasionally problematic and only delete-worthy on “Endless Life”.

Big props to the dude for introducing us to vocalist Charnelle Armstrong who gets it all perfect on “ I Can’t Remember”, working smoothly with the squalling, strident guitars.

Yukon Blonde: Tiger Talk

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Dine Alone Records

It’s been four years since Yukon Blonde released their first EP, Everything in Everyway, to critical attention. That was followed by the full-length self titled debut which stayed prertty much in the same room as Everything…In that time,the Kelowna, B.C’s . shaggy rockers have taken their sound all the way to Australia and Japan, with good results.

Which show up large on Tiger Talk; namely the band sounds more familiar with the ways of anthemic rock and the overall sound is more ‘live’. Guitars are louder and more gritty, the bass is heavier, the drums more precise and muscular. Vocals and harmonies remain as commercially appealing as ever; the Blondes are savvy enough not to stray too far from what works.

So you like their choruses? The ones on “My Girl” and “Stairway” veer close to drunken last call singalong, sure to please fratboys everywhere. Same vibe but out of the bar and into the stadium with the swerve driving guitar riffage on “Radio” and  the harder-edged “Sweet Dee”. All wrapped in the brilliant silks of the band’s Seventies rock sensibility. As Yukon Blonde become better known, the sword’s double edges loom sharper.

Go for the harder side, stack up that fan base and make it on their own or stay in the commercial mainstream with a shot at becoming the next Nickleback. But in a better  way. Especially when it comes to a road trip album.

James Lizzard

The Shins: Port of Morrow

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Sony Music Canada

The sacking of two long-standing members doesn’t  appear to have made much of a diff in The Shins sound on this their first for major label bosses Sony Music Canada.

Except for the quirky soul of the title track, this is clever-smart artrock, marrying lead Shin James Mercer’s startling non sequiters to melodic altrock. Not the most original splice but it does conjure resonances of some of the best of 80s UK indie rock. On that front, the best are the anthemic "40 Mark Strasse" and the dark jingle-jangle of "Simple Song" But there’s more to this collection than that and it has a lot to do with the absence of keyboard player Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval, fired by Mercer after the band's 2007 tour and bassist Dave Hernandez who was turfed at some point during the recording of the album. Those bridges it seemed, need to be burnt in order for Mercre to take The Shins from the spiky altrock of Oh, Inverted World to the hook savvy, mainstreamy sound on this ‘un.

Gone too are the teen and twentysomething angst and misapprehensions which kept The Shins in four albums so it makes sense Mercer is more interested in grown up songwriting and matching subject matter. Full credit, he manages the transition with style and a sense of entitlement, dropping lyrics like  "Every single story is a story about love”/"both the overflowing cup and the painful lack thereof" on 40 Mark Strasse, and a top class chorus you won’t soon forget in “For A Fool”.

Goddo: Bowness Hall

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Calgary

As the lights went down in Calgary’s Bowness Hall, the capacity crowd screamed with delight, hundreds of arms raised as Goddo’s opening notes filled the air. This was a rock show, the standard set long ago by Greg Godovitz, Gino Scarpelli, and Doug Inglis. The fans knew right away that they were at a rock show, and they were about to experience a classic Goddo performance.

This is the first time in thirty years Goddo had hit the stage in Western Canada. Cow Town is now where Godovitz proudly calls home.

” After having not played Calgary in thirty years I was a bit concerned about how we would do.  A capacity and very vocal audience certainly allayed any concerns I might have had. I'm pretty sure it won't be another thirty years before we return.  I hope not anyway”, says Godovitz.

He also advised on one social media site to “lock up your grandmothers”, while promoting the band’s return to the west. For those following the Goddo camp, you knew beforehand that this was going to be a special evening for both Godovitz and the band.

With no signs of letting up at the mature age of sixty, the boys came out with guns blazing. Goddo gave a solid two-hour show, with an unparalleled ebb and flow to their performance; all three were in their finest form. Guitar hero Gino Scarpelli worked the crowd into a frenzy with his trademark licks, Doug Inglis provided an intense showcase of his drumming prowess, and Greg Godovitz was particularly intense – solidifying the notion that this was his house, that he meant business.

Bishop Morocco: Old Boys

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Arts & Crafts


This Toronto duo has doubled its membership for this second release and in the process, twisted up their sound. Founding members James Sayce and Jake Fairley recruited Ian Worang on guitar and Jon McCann on drums and the new line-up has helped the band to branch out stylistically. As a press release dutifully notes, Old Boys downplays the Factory Records influence in favour of a "thicker, more contemplative sound."

On this six-song EP, it sounds like a reinvention of shoe gazing with a Gothic twist. The New Wave influence is still there but it’s darker and more introverted. That the mashup doesn’t always work shouldn’t take away from the band’s further adventures in this direction.


The best tracks, especially  "City Island" and "Bleeds" lean on atmospheric guitars to underline the Goth gloom. Some others, "Colonial Man" and the title track are too literal in their reading of the Goth fusion and are kinda hard to get excited about.


Overall, even though they don’t grab ahold of everything they reach for, I like the direction they’re going in and by the full-length album; they should have gotten it right.


James Lizzard

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