Wednesday, June 24, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JONT - THANK YOU FOR THE MEDICINE

Jont always has a big message, finding a place of peace in a crazy world. As things have got bigger and crazier, the Halifax-based British troubadour has reacted appropriately, making that message bigger and clearer, for those searching for personal peace in dramatic times. His acoustic music has exploded in all manner of ways. There are big choirs of voices, beats, strings, textures, and a bunch more joy infused throughout.

It's hard to resist the synth burbles and big choral hugs of "Surrounded By Love," Jont and the gang reminding us "Surrounded by love, it's such a simple recipe." But he doesn't have blinders on, acknowledging all the heavy feelings and failures to overcome: "We're going to be told a load of lies/how to be scared and how to close our eyes/we've been led by villains and fools/it's time to leave 'em behind, there's work to do." There are a couple of string-and-piano numbers about the individual power of love, but the bulk of the album is devoted to pumping you up, on both a personal and global citizen level. They do the trick; if we ever get back to live shows, this is festival rave material.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JULIAN TAYLOR - THE RIDGE

Toronto's Taylor isn't sitting still, even in these Covid times. Scheduled for the fall, Taylor has bumped up release of his latest in case we need some musical inspiration. And he's taken a sharp left turn stylistically too. The hook-heavy r'n'b of his Julian Taylor Band albums has been replaced by an acoustic-based roots sound that showcases his songwriting chops.

Recorded at Blue Rodeo's Woodshed studio, the eight-song set certainly feels more rural than urban, farm over funk. In fact, the title cut is a tribute to summers spent on his grandparents B.C. farm. Personal lyrics and snapshots fill the collection, with Taylor writing about family, memories and emotions. Country flourishes from Burke Carroll's pedal steel and Miranda Mulholland's fiddle sweeten the tunes, while Taylor unveils a low croon for these intimate numbers. While the pictures are personal, the themes are universal; "We all feel out of place/in this Human Race."

Given his multiple talents, Taylor can't help but broaden the sound later on in the album. "Love Enough" sees him in more of a Tex-Mex/Mavericks mode, while "Ola, Let's Dance" is mostly a spoken word over music piece, a la Bruce Cockburn. Direct and simple (as in well-communicated), Taylor's lyrics hold up to the scrutiny this music allows. I was already a fan of his soul music, and now he's added a whole new and welcome dimension.

Friday, June 12, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RACHEL BECK - STRONGER THAN YOU KNOW

P.E.I.'s Beck returns with a second set of shimmering pop, produced with East Coast atmosphere by Daniel Ledwell. This one leans a little more into the pop side than her self-titled debut, her mellow and moody vocals wrapped around electro keyboards and beats on cuts such as "Dancin'." But it's not about partying; "We take and take and take and take," she warns, "We're dancin' on our grave."  The message, gracefully delivered throughout the six-track E.P., is that together we can make a difference, and given what's happened in the past few months since the songs were written and recorded, it seems timely and prophetic.

There's an empowering tone to the songs, especially lead track "Warrior," inspired by the strength Beck sees in her young daughter. It's both a celebration and a hope for the future: "Lift up your voice, cut through the noise." The title cut connects those hopes to nature, our best source of strength when we embrace it: "Just breathe in and let it go, you're stronger than you."

The set closed with Beck back at the piano for the quiet, intimate "Tonight," intense and romantic in its calm beauty. The real strings, from Islanders Kinley Dowling and Natalie Williams Calhoun perfectly soar into that nighttime, and show the Beck-Ledwell team work old-school magic as well. The E.P. is ethereal, uplifting, and even a tiny bit mystical.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WAYNE NICHOLSON/JOHN CAMPBELLJOHN - ELMORE'S BLUES

Two blues-rock lifers here, Maritime favourites, team up for the first time on this fiery tribute to slide master Elmore James. James was loud, loud, and his songs lend themselves to the rock side of the equation, and these two fit that bill. Nicholson long been regarded as having one of the best sets of pipes to fill the bars and halls of the East Coast, from his days in Horse and Oakley and through his solo years. Campbelljohn is a multiple award-winner for his guitar prowess, and a festival favourite. It's an inspired match.

The James songs have lost none of their power over the years, and never seem dated. The duo keep all the grit the songs require, and bring in a few surprises to the arrangements. "I Believe" gets a reggae groove, powered by Kim Dunn's organ (another East Coast all-star there). "Rollin' and Tumblin'" gets even deeper and nastier than most versions, Nicholson and Campbelljohn growling at each other, duelling in voice and slide. "Shake Your Money Maker" turns into a showcase for the band, with shout-out solos for bassist Bruce Dixon, drummer Neil Robertson and pianist Barry Cooke.

The pair goes for some deeper cuts from the James catalog, including "Sunnyland" and "Knocking At Your Door," while avoiding adding another cover of "Dust My Broom" to the overstuffed pile. With 12 James songs in the can, they couldn't pass up an opportunity to write a couple themselves, and both "If I Was Blue" and "Dancin' With The Blues" feel right at home. Simply put, blues fans: Great singing, great guitar playing.

Friday, June 5, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SUN HARMONIC - IT'S ALL OKAY, THANKS TO YOU


Keeping up with Toronto-based artist Kaleb Hikele is a challenge, thanks to his many musical shifts. He makes music under the name The Sun Harmonic, which used to be just him, but whaddya know? Now it's a full band, as Hikele has been joined by Ian McLennan on bass and Dave Skrtich on drums. The reason behind this latest switch is that Hikele has moved on from his last, piano-driven lush projects and made a straight-ahead rock EP, five songs with grooves and great melodies.

Hikele always has a knack for fine tune, so this certainly isn't a stretch for him, he just had to leave his jazzy-folky-classical sounds at home. "Get Lost" is the calmest number, with a bluesy guitar in some dreamy moments. "A Question For You" dials up the funk and even adds a little raunchy guitar mid-way. The title cut is a brilliantly happy romp, the kind of cheerful pop song you just don't hear anymore, with a la-la-la wordless chorus of singalong fun from the whole group.

It's a bummer of a time for so many people, with lots of serious issues of which we need to pay close attention, but spare 17 minutes for this feel-great five-track EP.

Monday, May 25, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KEN YATES - QUIET TALKERS

"Surviving is easy, but living is hard," Ken Yates tells us on his new set, Quiet Talkers. We get through, day to day, but being happy with life is a whole different story for most of us. A self-professed Quiet Talker and full-time observer, Yates lets us in on his own thoughts of how to navigate the journey, with lots of stops to battle the internal demons and external demands.

Produced by the nimble Jim Bryson, at times Yates' voice is as soft, sad and soothing as vintage Paul Simon, and loaded with lines just as powerful. "It's the middle of the night, but you're easy to talk to when you're wasted," he sings in the title cut, desperate to feel connected and not lonely. "When We Came Home" is about that trip back to the birthplace you've left and swore you'd never return, "where the streets flow through my memory like some kind of disease."
There's "Disillusion Day," where "We've been watching the TV, wondering who to trust. They make us believe there's somebody fighting for us."

So yeah, Yates is singing what we're all thinking, and perhaps has tapped into this monumental blah we've been feeling, even before Covid days. Luckily he has a voice filled with empathy, so when he sings "I'll keep you safe from yourself," even though its to a troubled partner, we can feel like he's got our backs too.

Friday, May 8, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID MYLES - LEAVE TONIGHT

Love songs, strong memories and moody reflections fill Myles' latest, which features some of most expressive singing and concise writing. There's a bit of his usual, impressive musical playfulness, with songs that touch on bluegrass, small combo jazz and '50's country, but the core of the 10-track album looks inward with balladry. Subtle strings adorn several cuts, with Myles' usual cohorts Kyle Cunjak on acoustic and electric bass and guitar whiz Alan Jeffries augmented by percussion pal Joshua Van Tassel.

The production is centered around Myles' voice, smoother and more emotive than ever, and he sounds confident and committed in pure love songs such as "Loving You Comes Naturally." A cocktail hour duet with Toronto's Lydia Persaud on "For The First Time" is both sweet and smouldering, and the catchy, plucky "Kind Of Like It" sees Myles and Jeffries try out a J.J. Cale-styled swamp rocker. With all these elements at play, and Myles sounding so connected to the material, this feels like a new peak for him.