Thursday, January 23, 2020


Sounds and styles come and go, but strong songwriting never goes out of style. From Toronto, Harrison's sixth album is shot full of humanity and morality, on a personal level and as a broader response to today's turbulent world. Her music has a distinct calmness, not so much a quiet calm but rather one of strength.

Harrison's vocals reflect those qualities as well, with an effortless and unadorned mellowness. She falls in that folk-pop world that suits thoughtful writers so well, just the lightest electric touches and percussion to add a groove and sweeten the melody. After that, it's time to sit back and find your own moments of strength in the songs that speak best to you. In "Pretty It Up," for those who've wasted too many moments on social media, there's "Scrolling feeds of loneliness, a million shades of gray." For women past their youth, "Waves" offers "Now fire is flowing through me as awareness of the grave ... comes over me in waves." Perhaps the most powerful, is "Protester," about how even the apolitical can be motivated by appalling actions: "'Til I saw what you did Sir, I was not a protester."

For those in Toronto, Harrison launches the album with a show at Hugh's Room Live, 7:30 this Sunday, Jan. 26.

Monday, January 20, 2020


I don't know about you, but I've done nothing since mid-December except binge-watch shows. I'm all caught up on all my favourites, and I must admit it's pretty pathetic when you you look at the calendar to count the days before The Walking Dead starts up again.

I'm now reliving my binge moments through soundtrack CD's. You know a series has a great theme song when you never tire of it, and Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" was an awesome choice for Peaky Blinders. It was already a great track of course, and nothing says danger and dark thoughts and actions like Cave and the Bad Seeds. So, a perfect match for this British show about particularly nasty gangsters in post-WW 1 England. There's even a version by Cave's equal in gloom, P.J. Harvey.

Having watched all five seasons of the show to this point (there are at least two more coming), I'm surprised there's enough music to fill two CD's of three LP's, but they've done that, and very well. The music matches the show's considerable edge, with selections from The White Stripes, Dan Auerbach, Arctic Monkeys, Joy Division and Black Sabbath among the many notable names. I find the two Radiohead choices ("You And Whose Army?" and "Pyramid Song") particularly poignant, coming as more thoughtful choices instead of the mayhem moments. Cave, being the living embodiment of the show's mood, could have programmed all the music I suppose, and I'm sure the producers have lots more ideas from his catalogue. There are two more featured here, "Breathless," and a rare one, "The Mercy Seat" live from KCRW.

You don't have to be a collector of such folks to appreciate the sounds here, the collection maintains a high quality right through to the end, when Richard Hawley gives a dark take on "Ballad Of A Thin Man," already a pretty mean-spirited Dylan song. Sprinkled through with bits of dialogue from the notorious Shelby family, it is a fun way to experience the show again, while you're desperate for the next season. Stupid January.

Friday, December 20, 2019


Women lead the way in this collection of singers and pianists from the always-excellent Canadian jazz label. It's mostly made up of the old reliable numbers done in a mellow fireside mood, giving that most excellent late-night vibe, wrapping the last presents or enjoying an egg nog with just the right amount of holiday cheer in it.

Juno nominee Barbra Lica kicks things off with one of the only little-known cuts here, purrfect for you cats over dogs people. It turns out "Santa Claws" is what you heard creeping around the living room late at night, causing more havoc than ho-ho-ho. The Susie Arioli Swing Band do a bluesy, old-time job on "At The Christmas Ball," with some tasty licks and a great vocal. Then come the familiar tunes, but each has a new charm. Emma Frank's take on "I Wonder As I Wander" is delicate and dreamy, something to pause over. Ranee Lee digs into those fa-la-la's in "Deck The Halls," turning it into a genteel jazz performance.

Rounding out the disc are three piano leads by guys, one by the redoubtable label star Oliver Jones, and a couple from classical/jazz hybrid Matt Herskowitz, including a solo version of "O Holy Night" that starts out contemplative but takes off in the middle, with wonderful and thrilling runs around the melody. But with the nine vocal tracks from women, this set stands out as a showcase for the depth of female Canadian jazz talent around.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Wow, we're just a week away from the big day, and I'm rushing to get all the Christmas and holiday albums reviewed in time! Lots new this year, but there are lots every year. For every cringing Grinch who can't stand hearing a month's worth of Yule tunes, there are a dozen who love it.

Campbell + Green are a Halifax duo, livelong musicians who found a new career when they became a working folk partnership mid-life. They have just been honoured with a Canadian "Wise 50 Over 50 Award" which recognizes entrepreneurs who started a business after the age of 50. In that time, they've released three albums, an EP, toured the country several times and Europe three times.  This latest release features five original Christmas tunes and three covers, with a little romance ("Christmas In Paris"), good memories ("Ready-Made Christmas") and a Christmas miracle ("House By The Sea").

This one might need a warning label: "Caution - may induce tears among more sentimental listeners." Just wait 'til "Dear Santa" hits you, when a much older person rights a letter to St. Nick, asking him to bring them back the wonder of a child, just for a little while. And then at the end, a beautiful "Ave Maria" featuring Cailin Green's trained voice and haunting vibes played by Chase Banks. I'm not crying, you're crying.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Fans of Norah Jones may know this group as one of her side projects, a fun club act with two of her pals. Jones doesn't go near the piano in this band, instead playing guitar and sharing the vocals with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper (Grace Potter, Jack White).

Don't expect a holly jolly Christmas from this EP. Instead, 'tis the season to be cynical. "Christmas All Over Again" is a country weeper about being alone on the day. "The Great Romancer" is a dark ballad about waiting on a heartbreaker, and "All I want for Christmas is an answer." Popper's "Christmas Butt" is the advice for all those brought down by malls and commerce and and ads starting in December, best to just "Shake your Christmas butt".

The lone bright light comes at the end, a live recording of the trio showing that they're all fine singers, with a cool arrangement of "Silent Night". If the season is all too saccharin for you, Pussnboots is your band, you Grinch you.

Friday, December 13, 2019


For a little more East Coast holiday fare (we do Christmas right here, what with the snow and stuff), here's the guy who's been bring his holiday show to the region for almost 30 years. Gracie has done two Christmas discs before, but this time it's a swinging take on the holidays, as he puts his jazz chops to work on the holiday favourites. And with him is his grown-up daughter Samantha, taking the duet role for one, and a does a stand-out lead on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

Backed by a strong group of jazz players, the familiar cuts feature strong arrangements, with a great feel from the players. There's some especially nice piano touches from Ross Billard, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" gets a fine sax solo from Martin Davidson, and Gracie plays it smooth throughout. "White Christmas" has a Samba arrangement, and "Jingle Bell Rock" swings more than rocks, but there are some sharp guitar licks thrown in as well. "Blue Christmas" gets the Elvis vocal, but it's a slow burn jazz number instead of blues.

Catch Gracie's annual Christmas shows as well; he'll be at the Merigomish, N.S. Schoolhouse Community Centre on Saturday, Dec. 14. Part of the proceeds go to The Sandwich Club, a foodbank charity. There's a free family show at Sydney’s Wentworth Park Bandshell on Sunday, Dec. 22 as well.

Thursday, December 12, 2019


This is the second holiday album from the Lovelies, and features some of the most gorgeous Christmas harmonies you'll ever hear on an album jammed full of warmth and good cheer. Featuring a mix of fun favourites, lesser-heard gems and three truly fine originals, the trio strikes the perfect blend of smiles and sentiment, with a couple of good messages in there as well.

Given the group's focus on classic female trio harmonies from the '40's to '60's, most Christmas songs fit them great. Familiar pop hits "Little Saint Nick" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" showcase their vocal blend. Older-sounding numbers, such as Leon Redbone's "That Old Christmas Moon" are great finds, a solid song that deserves to be heard more. And even the biggest chestnut of all, "Jingle Bells," sounds great in a Western swing arrangement, along with a jazzy Andrews Sisters vocal approach.

But it's the new songs that impress the most. "The Garland" has an easy country flow, and a family counting up their blessings around the Christmas tree. a wonderful image created in the chorus. "These Christmas Nights" has a more modern sound, soaring strings and a heart-stirring melody and vocal performance. I mean, the group name says it all, and Christmas is a perfect place for them.