Concert Reviews

Jeanine Mackie Band: Live At The Drake


Submitted by Don Graham

After watching the gifted Jeanine Mackie perform for a few nights at the Beaches International Jazz Festival Street Fest, what better way to listen to her at home than a live recording? And that’s exactly what I did. ‘Jeanine Mackie Live At The Drake’ is an 11 song offering of classic R&B and Soul classics. Making a live record can be a daunting undertaking but Ms. Mackie and her band of brothers pulled it off in topnotch fashion. Having just watched her performance and then listening to the live CD, I was impressed with how much the band and Jeanine sounded exactly the same on record as they do live. That is a true testament to the talent assembled for this project. The band consisting of the guitar magic of Bob McAlpine, the keyboard mastery of Matt Horner, the solid bass of Bryan Stoher, the soulful saxophone of John Johnson and held together by the driving drums of Al Cross and percussion of Arturo Avales- these are some of Toronto’s finest players. It’s the type of ensemble that a pure voice like Jeanine Mackie deserves and needs to show it’s full quality. A perfect marriage of band and vocals.

The set includes a great version of Junior Walker’s Shotgun, and a funky version of Bill Withers’ Use Me. Dionne Warwick’s Walk on By is another highlight, Aretha’s Respect and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On shine as well.

Fraser and Friends

Allan Fraser.jpg

Story: Don Graham

Allan Fraser (one half of the iconic folk duo Fraser & Debolt of the 70’s) appeared last night at Donald Quan’s Musideum in downtown Toronto. The folk/rock icon was accompanied by a stellar lineup of A Team sidemen, Bob Cohen on guitar, David Woodhead on bass, Joel Axler on piano and special guest, fiddler, Ian Guenther. Guenther was a big part of the Fraser & DeBolt album on Columbia Records. The reunion resulted in an amazing evening of music and memories.

Fraser & DeBolt were the springboard Fraser needed to get his music heard by the masses. After showcasing as an opening act to Tom Paxton at New York’s famed Fillmore East, the duo was signed to the giant label Columbia Records. They recorded their debut album in Toronto with Craig Allen handling the production and fiddle whiz Ian Guenther accompanying them. The album was a critical success getting rave reviews in the New York Times, Maclean’s Magazine and the Los Angeles Free Press among others.

Allan and Daisy, capitalizing on the momentum, created by the first album were soon back in the studio recording the follow up ‘With Pleasure’ album. The pair stayed busy and in 1974 they were chosen to represent North America in The International Song Festival in Sopot, Poland. Fraser & DeBolt broke up not long after that and although they never quite made it as big as predicted, forty years later there is still a buzz about them and the songs.  More importantly there is still a buzz about Allan Fraser.

Alain Perez/Ignacio Berroa: Lula Lounge


Toronto [photo:Alain Perez]

The canny folk at Lula Lounge placed this heavyweight double bill on a weeknight, confident of a full house and the fans didn’t disappoint. Good for the watchers, not so much for the dancers, as the dance floor is sacrificed to table seating when the joint’s this packed.

This said something about the divide on the evening's bill of Perez and Berroa. It was split along generational lines, which also lined up with the danceable and the listenable, the contemporary and the classical.

Cuban-born multi-instrumentalist Perez, 29, now lives in Spain and is a major figure on the European Latin scene, known for his fearless explorations in forging a new direction.

On this occasion, his instrument was the melodic bass and abely assisted by fiery pianist Robi Botos and the percussive drive of Mario Allende, both T.Dot indie stars, Perez put on a bass clinic that was at once brain tickling and ass-shaking, if the booties at the bar aching to get on the floor were any indication. Working an evocative and rich tenor, the boy’s a fluid performer and a charismatic babe magnet. He’s also a crafter of complex, contrapuntal and catchy tunes like “Sabor de mi Rumba” which exemplified Perez’s emerging sound and brought his showmanship to the fore as he departed from the recorded version by turning the choruses into an audience singalong Perez left to a storm of applause and there wasn’t a one of us barbirds that didn’t want to hear more. Be nice if next time he came around there was a dance floor to get down to the sound.

LulaWorld 2012 Launch



Lula Lounge Toronto

[photo: Rebecca Hennessy and Marcus Ali blow up the Lula.]

The buzz was palpable among the loungers outside the Lula Lounge. The media dog and pony had just ended and as that crew scurried off, the slick dudes and the chickas, gays and hipsters were arriving for an evening of getting down to the new world sounds for which the club is famed.
The double bill was a clever study in percussive contrasts between the organic polyrhythmic tunes of Toronto’s Drumhand and the mutant electronic, sample-heavy constructs from Guelph sextet Eccodek.

Openers Drumhand benefit from great visuals. The brass section features six feet several Marcus Ali on sax, flute and assorted wind and tiny, feisty trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy. When the pair gets to wailing side by side, a body can’t help but smile. Stage right was occupied by master percussionist Steve Mancuso and an array of things that shake, rattle, roll and rasp from a fistful of countries, making it look like the house band for National Geographic was setting up. Then there’s Larry Graves’ hand and foot work on the Gome drum, an oddly compelling visual.
Dealing mostly off current album Moving Still, Drumhand unleashed a tight barrage of intricately constructed dialogues between brass and percussion featuring layers of rhythm and galvanizing sax and trumpet riffs.

Jesse Winchester + Hugh’s Room = Magical Night of Music & Memories

Jesse Winchester.jpg

Review: Don Graham

Hugh’s Room, packed house, Jesse Winchester, an acoustic guitar and great songs. That’s a combination for an entertaining evening that doesn’t come around often but when it does it’s magical.

I remember seeing JESSE many years ago in a smoky bar in Montreal with a full band and a loud, although appreciative, crowd singing along and clapping in time, sort of!

Hugh’s Room, which has to be THE best listening room in Toronto, great sound and sightlines, was a completely different atmosphere with this performer on stage.  The run of shows was three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. I was fortunate to go the show with my good friend and guitarist Bob Cohen, who toured with Winchester years ago and knows him better than most.  We went on the Sunday thinking it would be less crowded and give us a better opportunity to “spread out” and watch and listen. However Sunday night was also packed, not an empty seat in the house.

Floor Stomping Ska, On A Friday Night


Stomp Records 17th Anniversary Show in Toronto April 13th 2012
Concert promoted by Collective Concerts

Review: Ian Robertson
Photos: Michell Foran

As I was walking up to the Opera House, around 10:05 p.m.,  I knew I was unfortunately too late to see the first 2 opening acts Ghetto Blaster (Toronto Punk/Ska) and The Beatdown (Montreal Soul/Ska). I was hoping I wasn't too late to see Big D & The Kids Table. This would be my third time seeing them live so I knew they would be putting on an amazing show as well with the headliners, The Planet Smashers. I was dealing with the tedious task of getting past the door security when I  heard the music beginning to play, which made me anxious to get in and get to see the band.

As soon as I walked in close enough to see the stage, I heard David McWane (lead singer of Big D & The Kids Table) say, "as you may have already guessed, we are Big D & The Kids Table from Boston", then the band went directly into "Myself" (off their second Album Goodluck) which made myself as well as everybody else that loves Big D, excited because most bands (that have made eight albums)  don't usually play their older songs. Dave later explained they were doing their set in chronological order.

Elliott Brood at The Phoenix Concert Theatre


Toronto ON

It’s said that back when they first started U2’s mastery of their craft was such they could turn a club into a stadium. Elliott Brood pulled off that neat trick in reverse, managing to change the cavernous Phoenix Concert Theatre into a jammy campus pub, replete with low hanging fog of weed smoke.

Exactly the accessories needed to frame the enthusiasm for the transplanted Toronto road warriors’ homecoming.

The sharp-dressed alt-country trio returned from a Western Canada tour in a triumphant mood, coming on at once both relaxed, sharp and more on the case than ever. This was demonstrated early on when Casey Laforet’s guitar rig went sideways and couldn’t be righted. A less experienced crew would have hesitated but after taking it around one more time, banjo picking Mark Sasso smoothly assumed lead duties and drummer Steve Pitkin dropped it down a couple of notches for a downright tasty semi-acoustic workout.

Once Laforet’s probs were ironed out, it was pedal to the neo-hoedown metal as the full house of Brood fanciers grooved out on everything thrown their way, even the still newish material from current album Days Into Years.

Valdy Danced That Old Dance Once More


Story:  Sandy Graham

On a windswept, rainy night in Toronto, the inside of the legendary Hugh’s Room was warm and comfortable, with a sold out crowd for the one night appearance of Canada’s folk treasure, Valdy.  A cultural emissary, Valdy is one of Canada's trusted spokespersons, and a seasoned performer to boot.  Nearly thirty-seven years of relentless concert touring have made his show a disarming and practical blend of respect for the audience and charming stage performance.

With two 40 minute sets that just sailed by, the crooning folksinger had the crowd in the palm of his hand, singing all his hits and some future hits as well, from his upcoming CD, set for release sometime in 2012. Valdy understands that people have come to be entertained; he tailors each of his shows, as many as two hundred a year, to suit the audience at that specific venue.

He sang all the songs the crowd requested of him and as all good folksingers do, asked them to sing along to hits like “Play Me A Rock ‘N’ Roll Song, Simple Life, A Good Song, Peter and Lou, Yes I Can, Dirty Old Man, Renaissance” and added an impromptu version of "Farewell to Nova Scotia." (Valdy even brought a song up to current speed with the new addition to the verse of "A Good Man", changing “I have a family and you have a mother” to “I have a family, then another”.

Tia McGraff - Diversity

Tia McGraff - Diversity.jpg


From the moment you hear the first song on this incredible CD you’ll be hooked! ‘Angry Eagle’, written by McGraff, is an emotional, timely song that speaks of the uncertainty and hard times the world is currently experiencing.  Because it’s such a strong song, musically, lyrically and performance wise, it makes you want to hear what else this talented singer/songwriter has to say. And she doesn’t disappoint! Songs like ‘Lavender Tea’ are so intimate that you feel like she is singing just to you and makes you want to get to know her better. The harder edged ‘Radical Road’ shows another side of her personality and how well she works with talented husband/producer and sometimes co-writer Tommy Parham. ‘Tumbleweed’ is another excellent track but having said that, there isn’t a weak track on this CD.

The production work of Parham is also top notch, with some co-production help from McGraff. The Port Dover, Ontario native McGraff and the Colorado born Parham have found that magical blend. Great separation on all the tracks and a keen belief that the singer is the most important part of track, Parham has obviously grasped the idea that ‘less is more” in some cases, most notably on ‘Lost Souls, Left Luggage.’

Tia McGraff is a songwriter’s songwriter and with a voice like liquid honey, a singers singer.

Pick up a copy of this CD and prepare to make a new friend in Tia McGraff. You’ll be glad you did!

Don Graham


Marshall Dane Running Stop Signs CD Cover.jpg

This is one of those artists that you just gotta  know gets ‘it’.  The CD release, ‘Running Stop Signs’ has  all the components that make up Marshall Dane; cocky lyrics, romantic tunes, quirky and funny, while showing off a really great singer/songwriter entertainer.

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