Monday, April 24, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRIS ANTONIK - MONARCH



Antonik and crew bring a huge electric approach to these grooves, with major blues volume on each cut. The core group of Antonik on guitar, drummer Chuck Keeping, bassist Guenther Kapelle and Jesse O'Brien on keys don't hold back, most songs played with intensity from start to finish. Even on the so-called fantasy-blues-western, "Love, Bettike", Antonik's guitar pierces throughout.


That intensity is mirrored in the lyrical theme on most of the cuts as well, examining the end of a relationship, and how to find the strength to forgive and move on. This isn't finger-pointing or laying blame, but rather how to get past that for everyone's health, found in the cuts "Forgiveness Is Free", "The Art of Letting Go" and "Gold Star". While it's great advice on the surface, all that extreme guitar work is letting out the emotion behind the story. And that would be the blues.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RON SEXSMITH - THE LAST RIDER



After years of using big-name producers (Mitchell Froom, Steve Earle, Bob Rock) and their studio crews, for his 14th album, Sexsmith does the most obvious thing, and goes with the familiar. For the first time, he's used his long-serving and loyal road band (the "Eh Team"), and co-produced along side drummer Don Kerr, who has plenty of credits in that field on his own. Works for me; it's saying that there's nothing wrong with what Sexsmith does with his music, no magic formula that needs to be added to break through to more ears. He writes tight, sophisticated pop songs, always with wonderful melodies, with the cleverness of the great '60's and '70's hitmakers. I don't know why there aren't more of us mad fans out there, but c'est la vie. These musicians already know how to make this type of music well, so just let them go ahead and make more.


Sure enough, The Last Rider is full of those delicious moments, Sexsmith never satisfied with an easy melody. Over 15 tracks (and a worthy bonus cut on the double vinyl set), he runs the gamut, from wistful ballads to the surprising energy of first single, "Radio". That one explains so much; "Back when my whole world was the radio." We know where he got his taste for hooks, and the whole band piles them on in more and more inventive ways. Meantime, he continues to give us new ways to look at the normal; "Upward Dog" personifies the yoga position ("Upward dog, always taking the high road"). What's new for this album is a little bit more synthesizer which does tend to sweeten things a bit. I might like a little more guts, as the album is top-heavy with love songs, but I'll trade that for the pop glory he puts in each song.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JERRY LEGER - NONSENSE AND HEARTACHE



Two albums in one from Leger, Nonsense the first and Heartache the other. They really are different approaches, the first being an electric wild blues set, the second a singer/songwriter album with an acoustic core, the two sides of Leger.


Produced by Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), the gang went for the rough-and-ready approach, recording everybody playing together as a live unit in the studio. The Nonsense album has a real Highway 61 Revisited feel, bookended with a couple of epic tracks, "Coat On The Rack" and "She's The Best Writer You've Never Heard Of." The groove is loose, the guitars raunchy, and Leger lets his voice get raw when needed. I actually don't think it's nonsense though, there are some powerful and unique images here, as heard in the above two titles, and others such as "Baby's Got A Rare Gun" and "The Big Smoke Blues."


Heartache features acoustic guitar and piano, lap steel, fiddle, upright bass and brushes on drums, plus more harmonies. These aren't all ballads, but more country-flavoured numbers with an Everly Brothers/Buddy Holly feel on some, Western mystery on others ("Another Dead Radio Star"). When he does get quiet, as on "It Don't Make The Wrong Go Away," he employs powerful language that intensifies the impact. The only problem with these albums is trying to decide which to play first.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SHERYL CROW - BE MYSELF



I guess I can't fault Crow too much for making a country album last time out in 2013. She's lived in Nashville for several years, so when in Rome...and, she is from Missouri. Plus, I'm sure she was told by pretty much everybody that the only way to sell actual albums was to do standards, Christmas carols or go country. She quickly found out that it also involved selling your soul to the devil, or in this case, country radio programmers, and that experiment is over.


When you look at it, what do we know her for? Big pop-rock hits with catchy chorus, and a bit of ironic wit. She did have a fine streak of those hits from 1993 to 2005, starting with Tuesday Night Music Club and including later smashes such as "Soak Up The Sun" and "My Favorite Mistake." The thinking is a return to those days, and she's brought in a couple of the collaborators from those times, including sound-shaping engineer Tchad Blake, and co-producer and co-writer Jeff Trott. Those aren't the Tuesday Night Music Club people, but the ones from the next couple of albums, the folks that helped with "If It Makes You Happy," "Everyday Is A Winding Road," etc.


And I'm all for it. I think she's always done well with those smart rockers, she knows how to make them groove, and it's fun stuff. She'll throw in a ballad to break things up every few songs, but the core stuff here is songs made of wry observations that you can dance to. Now, she's added a little maturity to the mix too, stuck between still feeling young, but not quite connecting with that age group: "Hangin' with the hipsters/is a lot of hard work/How many selfies can you take/before you look like a jerk." Crow has a few things to point out about cellphones and self-absorption, and in general is getting a little cranky about young people and the Age of Kardashian. I like that too. We need more cranky parents.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ALEJANDRA RIBERA - THIS ISLAND



Ribera's third album is a stunning combination of her enchanting vocals and captivating melodies, all packaged in timeless, fresh productions. Her songs defy easy description, skirting the fine lines of jazz, pop and Latin, each one an adventure as they unfold. Each song on This Island is subtle but intense, the dynamics being the key, whether from her soft, controlled singing, acoustic arrangements or the colouring of marvellous strings and horns.


It's a collection that's hard to pin down as well, as it seems to exist in the cracks and spaces rather than obvious forms and planes. It's mostly in English, although there are verses in French and Spanish. There's no time stamp anywhere, or an obvious place (other than a mention of Montreal and snow, where she is based). There are no blacks or whites, the songs are never bright or dark, It's not even dreamy really, there's no hazy feeling, all the vocals and instruments have clarity. It's just simply gorgeous, intriguing, unique.

Monday, April 17, 2017

MUSIC BOOK REVIEW OF THE DAY: EAMON McGRATH - BERLIN-WARSZAWA EXPRESS

When Eamon McGrath takes the stage this spring on his current tour, in the time-honoured tradition, he'll be promoting his latest release. Only it's not an album, or a single, nothing like that. It doesn't have songs even. This time, McGrath and his band are promoting his brand-new book.

No, he won't be doing readings before the rowdy crowds waiting for July Talk. He'll be blasting his normal loud rock with a taste of smarter punk. But the Edmonton native will point out that Berlin-Warszawa Express is being released in May, and that it will tell you about the other side of being a touring musician, life on the road. In this case, it's the road through Europe, largely by train, through Paris, Germany, across the old Iron Curtain and into Poland, plus lots of other stops on the continent.

It gets pretty down and dirty into the realities of touring. The endless travel, the grind of being stuck in small vehicles with bandmates, lugging gear up flights of stairs, sleeping in disgusting band quarters, and the downward spiral of night after night of overindulging. And it's all in the name of creating art.

"That was kind of the whole thematic thread that's been woven through the book," said McGrath, home in Toronto, getting ready for yet another long tour. "This depiction of what it's like to put yourself through hell for the sake of something you're passionate about."

Don't look for scandalous stories about Canadian musicians behaving badly in Europe though. Well, that does happen, but the names are made up and it's not a biography. Rather, it's a fictionalized account, but that allowed him to be much more truthful, because no-one, including himself had to be protected.

"There's a lot of things that are under-exaggerated, and a lot of things that are over-exaggerated, and there's a lot of things that are really true to how it happened, and there's a lot of things that are completely fictionalized," said McGrath. "I make no attempt to hide that, that's the truth of the book, that some of these stories really did happen to me, and some of them happened to someone else. Using fictionalized names is what gives you the license to do that. The minute that you remove that journalistic element from what you're writing, that's when it opens it up for you as a writer to be a little more flexible."

McGrath has toured in Europe several times, and is obviously captivated with it. The book takes place in the mid-2000's, a time when countries in the old Soviet block especially were feeling the full flush of capitalism. McGrath's narrator is taking it in, through train windows, in small bars, from music fans and bartenders, punks and anarchists, all through increasingly blurry eyes as the boozing gets worse. It's Europe on five Euros a drink, and a view tourists never see.

"It was this really optimistic time," McGrath said. "Berliners, people started to have money there, which was this really new thing. Poland wasn't this poor country anymore. Even as a very left wing person, being a Canadian, at that time it would be very difficult to criticize the European Union. Because no matter how left wing you are, from the outside, it seemed to be working."

He tries to tour Europe every year, and has seen dramatic changes since then, especially a rise in nationalism and intolerance, and a loss of some of those freedoms of 10 years ago. Usually this is the stuff that goes into the songs from an articulate, knowledgeable rocker, what informs the music. With Berlin-Warszawa Express, McGrath lets us see everything that happens before and after the show, on a particularly wild stretch of the road.

Here's where you can see Eamon McGrath and July Talk:

April 18 - Fredericton, NB @ Farmer’s Market
April 19 - Charlottetown, NB @ PEI Brewing Company
April 20 - Moncton, NB @ Tide & Boar
April 21 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club
April 22 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club

Friday, April 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID MYLES - SO FAR



Our pal Dave has sneaked this one into the market without fanfare, largely because it's not new per se. Instead, it's a collection of some of his fan-favourite tracks from his career, rerecorded with his live band in a relaxed studio session, to do them much the same way you'd hear them in concert. Also, this was first made a couple of years ago to have a sort of best-of for U.S. audiences as he toured there, to give them something to pick up at the shows that included all the songs they'd heard that night.


It's actually a great pick-up for us regular fans too, as it gives the stripped-down feel to many tracks that received a bigger studio production. Now we get them as easy-going, largely acoustic tracks, highlighted by Myles with his core trio members Kyle Cunjak (acoustic bass) and Alan Jeffries (lead acoustic guitar), which is the way we see him most often. There is a bit more embellishment, notably subtle drums from pal/producer Joshua Van Tassel, and occasional keys and pedal steel. While we miss the more experimental side Myles incorporates on his regular albums, the flights into hip-hop or travels to Latin areas, horn lines and such, it's just as enjoyable to have him record in this form. He truly would make an excellent bluegrass James Taylor for today.


Due to the obvious restrictions, it's not a true best-of, as the acoustic style doesn't lend itself to the Classified collaborations such as "Inner Ninja" or "So Blind." But "Turn Time Off" and "When It Comes My Turn" sure feel good, and Jeffries gets to excel at his guitar lines as he does on stage. "Change My Mind" gets a great '50s arrangement, complete with some fun doo-wop backing from the gang. And "Need A Break" proves you don't need amps to rock. It's a must-add to your Myles collection.