Album Reviews

Skydiggers: Northern Shores



On which these pillars of the Canuck alt-rock/roots community drop their eighth album to renewed interest. This 15-song collection stands as the most adventurous and varied of the group’s 20-year plus career, capturing the essence of their sound. Northern Shore sees the group mapping new musical territory, but it feels like home.

The album’s split between revisited older material that had been recorded but never released, renewed versions of older material and a batch of new tunes. Likewise, the recording process took place in Josh Finlayson’s home studio, Blue Rodeo’s studio The Woodshed in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario at The Tragically Hip’s The Bathouse Studio.

As the first new music since the 2009 release of their career retrospective, The Truth About Us, this one gave core members Ron Macey (bass), Josh Finlayson (guitar/vocals) and Andy Maize (vocals) a chance to dust off some back pages and reboot for the future.

Coloration comes via splashes of accordion and guitar effects that are to be expected plus moderne touches through the use of samples and beats. The material on Northern Shore includes two songs written by folkrocker-turned-politico Andrew Cash. Another flashback comes from brother Peter Cash, a founding member of Skydiggers, with an excellent guest turn on "Barely Made It Through."

Cancer Bats: Dead Set On Living


Distort Records

A friend dragged me out to Mississauga to see these guys two winters ago and they were awesome. So far, so good but as you know, that doesn’t mean the album will have the same punch and crazyass good stuff. I mean the feeling. Not only are they all great players but also they seemed to be cool dudes too, lots of interaction with the audience between and among songs.

So yeah, didn’t quite know what I was expecting from the album expect huge drum sound and wicked power chords. I’m not sure what old school hardcore is but my friends tell me these dudes do that and make it new. So that’s cool.

Turns out right off the top the album’s a burner. Opener 'R.A.T.S' gives a good sense of what’s to come, a hooky riff and singer Liam Cormier’s hair-raising vocal. Dude has two speeds, the demonic scream and a threatening sing/talk thing, which shows up on 'Bricks & Mortar' and 'Breath Armageddon'.

The lyrics are mostly about life as a Cancer Bat and dealing with dickheads and assorted villains, while keeping the power rock flag flying. With some death metal fantasy stuff in there too.
 Cancer Bats sound like they’re really having fun bashing out the tunes and it’s easy to hear why. They aren’t trying to invent anything new or show off any bullshit tricks; just kickass heavy rock, somewhere between metal and hardcore with even a little trash. Good for dancing too;  'Bastards' and 'Rally the Wicked' will amp up a mosh pit any night.

Max Layton 2 the Max

Max Layton - 2 The Max.JPG

Reviewed by Don Graham

Montreal born singer songwriter Max Layton is carrying on the tradition of troubadour, storyteller and singing poet in fine fashion. His 11 song offering, 2 The Max is a collection of Max Layton originals giving a glimpse into the life and times of a well traveled and experienced man. There are songs of joy, despair, humour and hope.

Listen to the lyrics of Always Been a Loner and you’ll get a brief biography of Max Layton’s life and travels while the poignant Give Me One More Chance is kind of like reading someone’s mail. Max was legally blind for a period of time and when armed with this knowledge while listening to this song, it’s easy to see how he is reaching out and grabbing this second chance he has been given. Reaching out to the max.

The production value achieved by producer David Woodhead is crisp, clean, understated and smooth. The rich tone in Max’s voice sits perfectly on the tracks laid down by Layton, David Woodhead and ‘anything with strings”whiz Bob Cohen on mandocello.

This CD collection is guaranteed to take back to the coffee house feel that bred some of the great folk artists of our time. Give a listen, you’ll be glad you did.

Lioness: The Golden Killer


New Romantic

Formed from the late controller.controller’s rhythm section of bassist Ronnie Morris and drummer Jeff Scheven plus vocalist Vanessa Fischer, Lioness debuted with a self-titled Ep, which spawned the hot single "You’re My Heart" and wicked Internet buzz. On it Lioness roared with diversity, range and a promising neoGoth rock sensibility. That was followed by a stream of remixes, which didn’t do much to advance the sound for but did build anticipation for the album.

Four years later, this is it and it’s as if the band’s back from poking about in clubland. Gone are the funkified backlines, hangovers from their CC past, replaced by angular, minimalist instrumentation, as the band embraces fully their spooky Goth side with arrangements like splintered crosses on which to hang Fischer’s vocals.

The album art lays it out hard and heavy, with Fischer doing that Witch Queen thing on the inner sleeve, hands placed on the exposed skulls of two obedient skeletons kneeling beside her. That said, her vocals totally back up the image, both a good and bad thing.

The Golden Killer opens with dirgelike instrumental “ Procession”, which leads not to a place of rest but to the gates of Hades as the fuzzed-out fury of “Toxic Heat” brings Fischer’s voodoo blues vocal into play, setting the tone as firmly in place as a dagger in the heart.

CATL: Soon This Will All Be Gone



Born out of turmoil and pain, T.Dot’s beloved barebones roots stompers have come up with a worthy testament to “keep on keeping on”.  About halfway through the recording of this album, drummer and co-founder Johnny LaRue quit the band. As the driving machine of the trio, LaRue’s was a big hole to fill. So, too soon for judgements on new guy Andrew Moczynskii’s contribution apart from holding steady.

The other two mmbers, co-founder/guitarist Jamie Fleming and organist/vocalist/shaker of percussive stuff Sarah Kirkpatrick, do an excellent job of preserving the Catl dynamic, Kirkpatrick in particular coming more to the vocal fore and doing a turn on the skins for  the rollicking “Gold Tooth Shine”.

In keeping with the Catl aesthetic, most of the album was recorded live off the floor, with more attention paid to layering and general production stuff this time around. Perhaps as a reflection of the circumstances surrounding its recording, this is a darker and less willing to make play nice album than 2010’s With The Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place.

They’re digging deep into Delta dirt for tales of sinsiter doings and reckless promises in a mix of originals and covers from seminal figures including Robert Johnson and Leadbelly. Delivered with a foot stompin’ glee and with the female presence adding a slippery sexy tension to Catl’s Delta roadhouse vibe, their crazed rip at psychobilly legend Hasil Adkins’ “Get Outta My Car” mirrors the album’s overall take no prisoners ‘tude.

Lenny Stoute

Boxer The Horse: French Residency



Right in step with a whiff of warm weather comes this lively update of shoegazer pop. Not the down tempo drone-y stuff but the edgy, angular spikey pop side of the genre. They’re also young enough to come over like they’re never heard this stuff before and get away with it.

The blessing in that is they feel no pressure to go full bore on each tune, leaving just enough space within each for the sound of a band figuring shit out. So while they get to drop the hammer on "Bridge To The USA", BTH also knows the value of the changeup with such as "Rattle Your Cage".

This is the second album from this PEI quartet and the kids manage the neat trick of keeping the youthful exuberance while shaping a deeper sound. Apart from lead singer Jeremy Gaudet’s penchant for channelling Pavement main man Stephen Malkmus on occasions like "Sentimental Oriental" and "Song For T-Rex", this isn’t really a recycling project. Although it must have been tempting, given axeman Isaac Neily’s dazzling display of tasty riffola and wicked hooks.

Instead, the arrangements indicate a band going after a heavier, though none the less, sunny brand of East Coast pop. Lyrics like: “It’s not impossible to reach nirvana, when you’re sleeping with pirhanas in Brazil.”, from album opener “Community Affair” support the vision nicely.

The band  has described their album of updated jangle rock as “ a fusion of ’80s alternative and ’90s lo-fi groups.”

That works for me. In a real good way.

Lenny Stoute

A Tribe Called Red



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


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



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



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

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