Reviews

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon

GUNN
Resonance Road

Independent

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon


DAVE BORINS
The Room Lights Up
Independent



Following 9/11 I predicted a shift in musical focus from disposable mindless pop to the tried and true introspective singer-songwriter genre that had all but disappeared in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s taken a decade for that musical shift to translate at street level. It’s wonderful to see single source blues, folk and acoustic roots music return in full force. 

I had the pleasure of catching a few tunes by Borins at the Free Times Café last year and was captivated by his story telling and stage craft. He’s an engaging singer who tilts toward the sun, giving uplifting arrangements to all his original material even if the subject matter isn’t necessarily happy. To his credit, he has waited to release his songs on CD over long stretches, patiently crafting original tracks and nurturing them in a live setting. With more than 300 shows to his credit in the last four years (in the Pacific Rim, South America and North America), his songs are suitably road tested.



Compact DISCovery



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DANIEL CASAVANT
Nine At The Time
Independent



Anglophones are painfully unaware of the huge culture gap that exists in this country. We live in our little urbane bubbles and listen to the music that is piped into our insulated worlds via America and, occasionally, through the watered down Anglo-CanCon equivalent. Rarely do we get to hear what’s happening in the Francophone universe. Fortunately, new talents like Chris Giannini, Jonathan Roy and Daniel Casavant slip across the imaginary cultural border and remind us why we all need to work harder at musical détente.  




Casavant’s Nine At The Time is a cross-section of his finest songwriting skill-sets which he’s used to great success in The Billboard Magazine World Song Contest, The Mountain Stage Newsong Contest 2008, The UK Songwriting Contest 2009 and Mike Pinder’s 2009 Songwars.




The album is book-ended by variations on a very tasty instrumental acoustic guitar theme; the abbreviated In Between and the lengthier Petit Brompton respectively.  This is folk guitar virtuosity at its finest.  Sandwiched in between these passages is a beef stew of styles and flavours.



Tasseomancy: Ulalume

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Out Of This Spark

Ok, here’s a genuine WTF moment. The Lightman twins have never made a secret of their obsessions with all things Goth and gauzy and gloomish. But at least as Ghost Bees, they could buzz at a melodic clip and somehow the vibe never got as downbeat as this miseryfest.

Renaming the act Tasseomancy seem to have given the ladies license to get down and wallow in Dirgeland and ‘self-indulgent’ doesn’t begin to cover it. But whatever. So let’s go take this thing on its own terms.

It owns no variety; plodding between grievous and forlorn, despair and melancholy with nary a relief in sight. It owns no standout track, even Heavy Sleep isn’t as heavy as you’d think. It owns no clarity of vision and this is reflected in the murky production.

It owns oblique lyrics of menace aplenty and Ashkelon and The Darkness Of Things deliver on their promise but after all the buildup, they’d have done well to drop in a tale of dark bloodlust in a rural environment. Just for a touch of the warm’n’fuzzies.

It also owns a handful of impressive vocals riffs, within the dronified context, and the Lightmans’ commitment to the material can’t be faulted. The album’s titled after an Edgar Allen Poe poem that probes with searing eyes at the mysterious death of a beautiful woman. If only they’d taken the poem to heart and thrown some mystery in the mix, as the one thing a project such as this shouldn’t be seen as is predictable.

Hennie Bekker: Spectrum

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Independent

This anthology album offers fourteen wonderfully inspirational and diverse tracks from eleven of Hennie Bekker’s most memorable albums. It is rewarding in so many ways and delightful to travel for a time with the genius of instrumental music that is Hennie Bekker, an award-winning, multi-platinum-selling musician, master composer and arranger.

A classically trained pianist, Bekker was raised in Zambia and one finds the symphonic, haunting and captivating African rhythms throughout his work. In 1987 he immigrated to Canada, producing a string of progressive and popular hits thereafter. In 1997 ‘Astroplance’ won a Juno Award for Best Dance Recording. He is a master of innovative musical technology.

If you decide, as you should, to take this journey, you will find yourself in a Spectrum of music. It highlights a variety of soundscapes from inspiring (Spring Rain) mysterious (Temba), progressive (Moving On), evocative (Awakings), romantic (Summer Breeze), African (Amani), emotive (Mirage), introspective (Reverie), meditative (Spa) to ethereal (Dreaming) and compassionate (Essence of Romance).  Each track is a gentle and beautiful improvisation with an emphasis on pause and tranquility. Sublime.

The Toronto-based Bekker usually works with a core group of musicians from that city which includes guitarist Greg Kavanagh, drummer Bob DiSalle and keyboardist Rob Gusevs, all of whom appear on the album.

Feist: Metals

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Arts & Crafts Productions


Much has been made of what a sharp changeup this is for Feist but really, she didn't have much of a choice. Just a little past the whimsical ingénue thing so wave goodbye to 1-2-3-4 and with the smell of BSS bridges burning, nothing to do but sharp left with the rubber peeling. All the way out of town.


Which is pretty much how she lays it our on the stately and album-definitive The Circle Married the Line ("I'll head out to horizon lines/ Get some clarity oceanside"). The back to nature theme underlies the opus like good loam from which springs a richly personal narrative that can explode in lines  like Cicadas and Gulls  ‘The land and the sea/ Are distant from me/ I'm in the sky."


Ok so far it’s reading like small-town girl hits bigtown fame and scares herself back to the land. Except when Feist flies back to the land she lands in Paris, France to craft songs that could have sprung from Paris, Ontario.


Girl’s also on the run from a flamed out relationship, a component which imparts a decided edge to the cosy and settled vibe centre stage.It likely accounts for the pared down production in which the familiar lip-gloss veneer is stripped off in favour of accents and texturisers.

Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon




KITTIE 
I’ve Failed You

Kathryn Calder: Bright and Vivid

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F.U.M.

This solo sophomore album from hipster chantoosie Calder is a big step towards establishing her own tone as a solo artist. This is on account of she arrived on most folk’s radar as singer with The New Pornographers and had that to get out from under. All along, she’d been writing songs that wouldn’t fit with TNP’s aesthetic so a solo album was inevitable.


It dropped in 2010 and Are You My Mother? was the stylistic mishmash in search of a core that was, in a way, to be expected. It did serve an important purpose in establishing that Calder could take meaningful steps away from TNP and in the direction of her own voice, so there was a sense of good things to come. If the debut was the expected, this one exceeds expectations.


First to be sent to the showers the stagnant melancholia which was the dominant vibe of the opener, replaced with an inclusive cherry pick among genres suitable to Calder’s honeyed vocals.
Next off, the earnest, at times timid and sketchy production values. In its place, vast washes of sound and layer upon later of subtly subverted instrumentation and a deft hand with using voice as instrument. It’s not yet the definitive Calder album but it’s full of signposts to how she intends on getting there.

Tia McGraff - Diversity

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Independent

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

Dan Mangan: Oh Fortune

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Arts & Crafts

Whoa, this is the kind pf abrupt u-turn can put a career in the ditch. Y’all remember Dan Mangan of Polaris Music Prize-nominated album Nice, Nice Very Nice fame and consequent international touring. Sunny of disposition and sounding all Left Coast cuddly bear doing songs about robots needing love and fun roads taken.


If you’re hung on that Dan Mangan, bad news. This is not him. That dude’s outa here, leaving this Dan Mangan in his wake to make sense of it all.


Which is precisely what the album does not do. For Dan’s run out of easy answers and sunny asides and he’s looking down the cold steel barrel of success. In that spot, the man’s loaded with sharp questions and armed to cut to the quick.


The music’s still as minimalist clever but there’s way more instrumentation deployed and the carefully layered arrangements are inspired, all in the service of the dark side.


“Where did I go? What is this sorrow?” Dan Mangan asks on Jeopardy, the album’s existential closer and with song titles like Almost As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any help At All  and Regarding Death And Dying the bitterness is guaranteed and that’s fine. Although more of it might have gotten over more effectively had more sarcastic humour been involved.

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