Album Reviews

I Am Not Neil Young-The Musical

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The Black Swan
Toronto

While we all love Neil Young, it’ s safe to say he’s not the first artist that comes to mind when the idea of a musical based on his work is floated. Much better is the idea of a musical based on the life of someone who spent his life living the music of Neil.


A thing like that can make you rich, can steal your soul, can mess up your sense of identity, can get you a whole new one.


All that and more is covered like a Hudson’s Bay blanket in I Am Not Neil Young-The Musical, directed by Don Lamoreux and starring Frank Wilks.


Oh yeah, and there’s the music; 7 songs of Neil Young’s, 2 of Steven Stills’ and 6 originals from Wilks.


As he says in the intro,” This is a story about transformation. But who will be transformed? You and or me?” And yeah, if you close your eyes while he’s singing it’s hard to tell it’s not Neil on the wail.


Opening with ‘Mr. Soul”, Wilks lays out the road map of his 30 odd years wild ride which took him from the Toronto bar circuit to audiences of fifty thou plus in the US, from hard scrabble Bully Hill to the stratospheric heights of Buffalo Springfield Revisited, from Frank Wilks to ‘Neil Young’.

Orchestral Zepp Rocks Danforth Music Hall

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Story: Bill Delingat

The old brownstone lady on the Danforth, the Music Hall at 147 Danforth Ave, had her lights turned back on Saturday night as Q107 presented the dazzling Orchestral Zeppelin concert featuring Michael White and the White, along with the Symphony of Rock Youth Orchestra In 2008 the Music Hall was named the “Arts Centre of the Year” for venues under 1500 seats and is also the venue of choice of Arcade Fire.

Bend Sinister: On My Mind

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File Under Music

This Vancouver garage crew drew plenty of buzz when their debut album Stories of Brothers, Tales of Lovers dropped in 2008. There appear to be issues of momentum with the band as they weren’t heard from again until 2010’s EP Spring Romance.

As with the debut, the songs got a great reception and Bend Sinister promptly expanded their tour sked and avoided the studio.
Which brings us to the current cookie, another five-song EP, making it a legit followup to Spring Romance. But still no word on a full-length album. The great news is that the overall musicianship, always impressive,  has been honed to razor sharpness by all that touring. As a result, every song here gets the full treatment and none suffer for it.

As per usual for this crew, the album opener “Give It A Rest” is a blazing, anthemic, big-chorused thing which builds from a simple piano riff. No surprise it’s the EP’s first single and you’ll likely be hearing Dan Moxon singing “So give it a rest/So give it a rest now man.” leaking out  of car windows lots once the weather gets warm.
Next up and likewise as catchy is “Got  On You My Mind” , powered by a driving piano riff backed up by riffalicious drums, a dead cool call and response vocal and shiny, sharp pointed axe riffs with a whiff of Cheap Treak about them from James Blood (aka Joseph Martin)

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

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