Friday, June 24, 2022


It's probably the wackiest apocalyptical collection ever written. P.E.I.'s fun-loving, DIY team tackles global collapse in 12 deceptively fun tracks. They are delightfully quirky, strangely dark, and populated by mostly seabirds and a few stragglers that survive, providing the optimism. 

It's the sort of storyline that comes into your head when you're isolated on an island during a pandemic. Mathias Korn got to thinking about the trash that washes up on the beach, the Pacific Trash Vortex (that massive floating island of plastic and other waste out in the ocean), and what life would be like if that was humankind's only home after we screw it all up. Birds apparently rule, and there's not much to do except poke around the old garbage of our past lives and watch the birds. 

Being The Burning Hell, this is all delivered to us in catchy, bouncy pop. Their guitar-and-harmony fun is accentuated with chirpy keyboards, homemade clinks and plunks, and actual field recordings of birds and garbage, whatever sounds garbage makes. It's filled with strange tales, and great lines you want to rewind and hear again. On "The Last Normal Day," we find folks sitting at home, casually viewing the apocalypse on their screens: "Watching things get destroyed/a brand-new schadenfreude." If the world does go down, pray it's this much fun.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022


Fredericton's Living Roots Music Festival starts June 2, and runs until Sunday the 5th at various venues around the city. I was chatting with a friend this week about finally getting back out to crowded music shows of late, and he mentioned he hasn't always enjoyed being out among people in the past, but it sure feels great now. I agree, I have much more patience for crowds and strangers these days. Eek, am I becoming an extrovert. 

Anyway, the Living Roots fest is growing stronger, and features a diverse lineup of international, national and local roots performers. with solo and band shows. There are even some punk and rock shows if that's your scene. There are curated stages with three or four acts on the bill, plus a few single-act coffee house shows as well, a strong mix. Plus the ticketing options are smart, you can go to one or a couple of shows, buy in advance or at the door, or do the whole pass structure. All the options are out there, from daytime shows to late night. And they've kept prices affordable, even free in some cases, with most gigs $10 to $15.

Highlights include the hot Newfoundland trad group Rum Ragged kicking things off Thursday night at Grimross Brewing. That banjo bigshot Old Man Luedecke from Nova Scotia is headlining Friday night at the same venue. Meanwhile, a cool indie-rock singer-songwriter from Australia, Anna Smyrk is playing at the Tipsy Muse early Friday evening. Saturday is jam-packed with outdoor patio shows daytime and indoor ones later, including Canadian Folk Music Award-winner Alicia Toner, who I featured in my last column. As well, alt-country faves The Divorcees lead the pack at The Broken Record Saturday night. Sunday I'm hoping the weather holds well for an afternoon at the Cap patio, with another show by Smyrk, along with PEI's Nikki Gallant, and local stars Kylie Fox and The Montgomery St. Band.

Here are a couple of others to check out:  Alberta's T. Buckley is touring his latest album, Frame By Frame, an album about community and connections, friends and family. Buckley's a current favourite writer of mine, able to craft a profile in a line: "He had a mouth just like a sailor, and a poet all the same." He's got the right voice to make those characters touch your heart as well. He's around for solo shows Thursday at the Tipsy Muse and Friday at the Cinnamon Cafe.

And Kristen Martell from Nova Scotia is in town to launch a new single from her album Every Season, which is coming out in the fall. "Should I Run" is a lovely bit of atmospheric folk, both catchy and moody, and blissfully hypnotic. Check her out at The Thirsty Muse Saturday at 7 pm. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022


The East Coast Music Awards just wrapped up, and with many of the showcases happening just a couple of blocks from my house, it was easy to take in lots of sets. It quickly became obvious how much we've missed live music, and particularly this event during the pandemic. Sure, musicians have continued to release new songs and done online performances, even the occasional live show. But this was a full-on, Covid-be-damned, forget social distancing, old-school concert, band after band. And despite everyone's best efforts to make due the past two years, there's no comparison. Watching music on your computer just doesn't match up to being in the same room as the players, with a crowd of people.

It also became obvious to me how behind I am in the East Coast music world. In the three years since the last ECMA's, there's been a new wave of performers step up to the top ranks. Seeing them live drove that home, so it's time I got caught up on a backlog of reviews and spotlights.

I'll start with Alicia Toner, who has quickly risen from up-and-coming to star status. That's already been acknowledged nationally, as she won the 2022 Solo Artist of the Year trophy at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, for her latest album, Joan. The P.E.I. singer-songwriter has already had a varied career, starting out in classical music, as a violin player in the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, and then spending a decade in theatre in Ontario. When she first recorded five years ago, you could still hear a little of that larger-than-life theatre voice, but with the songs on Joan, she's found her more subtle voice for the touching ballads ("When I Was A Kid"), and a drama-free one for the rockers. She is now one effective singer.

"Call My Name" is a giant song, showing off every bit of her vocal prowess. It starts with moody, mysterious and slow verses, Toner singing sweet and pure. Then it explodes, and as the music thunders, she lifts and soars above it all, with opera-singer power. With a fast return to its quieter level and quick ending, it leaves you a little stunned at all the emotion she packed into that four minutes.

While she was singled out at the folk awards, I'd use that term loosely when describing her, as the Joan album is far more electric and intricate, and more pop than what I think of as folk. Produced by Stuart Cameron and Peter Fusco, acoustic moments are adorned with atmospherics, ringing and powerful accents and the occasional dirty guitar lines. But the production never becomes cluttered, as Toner's voice is allowed to be the main instrument throughout, as it deserves.

Seeing her live confirmed the energy and tension she brings to her songwriting, and why she's become an East Coast A-lister. The good news is a new album is on the way with the same team, and hopefully lots more concerts for everyone to check out.

Thursday, December 2, 2021


Here's the debut album from a fun folk quartet, with all members originally from Edmundston, N.B. They're quick to point out they are Brayon, not Acadian, but certainly share the same party approach common among their fellow Francophones. The group features banjo, stand-up bass, acoustic guitar and pounding drums, often reaching folk-punk intensity, somewhere between The Pogues and The Ramones, set in rural N.B. instead of Ireland or Queens.

Wild canoe trips, unfaithful husbands, cross-border smuggling and lots and lots of drinking feature in the songs, with some very rowdy and questionable characters. They are poor thiefs, pretty clumsy lovers, hopeless at romance but somehow still loveable losers, like in "Pardu mon char," where the hero loses his car ... in the river. If you see it, phone 261-6493. Of course it's all tongue-in-cheek, and the wicked banjo solos make it all a good time. 

In concert, the band is lots of fun, and dancing is not just encouraged, it's expected. They throw in a few surprises, such as a version of "The Partisan," the anti-Fascist anthem made famous by Leonard Cohen's translation, but here featuring the original French lyrics. You can catch the album launch at shows in Moncton this Friday, Dec. 3 at 6 pm at Happy Craft Brewing, and then the hometown launch in Edmundston at the Centre des arts, at 8 pm.

Sunday, November 28, 2021


The next adventure for some of the East Coast's alt-darlings, the group features former Dog Day and Eric's Trip members, and a surprising new sound blend. Basically you take the straight-ahead pulse of shoegaze, the hypnotic haze of psych and a heaping helping of pop melodies, and you get the candy-coated fizzy sound the group labels dream-rock. Works for me. 

"I just wanna know what's true," sings KC Spidle, echoing many of us, feeling locked down and looking inward. It does feel, I'm sure unintentionally, like a record for our time. it's scary out there, better to be inside where this lovely blanket of jangly guitars keeps you warm and safe. Meanwhile drummer Meg Yoshida (Dog Day, etc.) keeps it all together and smoothly, albeit gently, rocking. Chris Thompson, Kate O'Neill (both from Moon Socket) and Evan Cardwell add layers and breezy harmonies. As the new Omicron variant (and cold weather) chases us all back indoors, please cuddle up with this.

Thursday, November 18, 2021


There are basically two types of Christmas albums. The first, and most common, is an artist putting their own spin on the standards, whether they are fun jingle bell numbers or beloved carols and hymns. Sometimes they put one or two of their own on there but the emphasis is on the familiar.

The other, quite challenging set is when someone writes a whole new collection of songs, treating it like a true, brand new album. Challenging, because you aren't just coming up with a few new songs, you're immediately in competition with all those classics that people love and (mostly) never tire of hearing. So basically you have to write something as good as say, "O Holy Night." And then do it 10 more times, in order to stand out.

Gallant has chosen the latter path, and put all his talents to work. There's no light-hearted throwaways in these new songs. Each one features his great storytelling skills, whether they are about the Christmas story of the Holy birth, the universal theme of being kind to each other, the longing we feel at the holidays, family ties, tradition, and even a little one-on-one affection. Of course you have his heart-tugging voice, with that melancholy edge that adds the needed gravitas, and his usual excellent melodies. 

Among the standouts are "The Innkeeper," a retelling of the Christmas story from the vantage point of an innkeeper with no rooms left, and a late-night knock from a couple, the woman about to give birth. Gallant doesn't have to fill in all the holes, you get the picture. The Innkeeper gets a weight lifted from his soul. "The Gift" is a modern Christmas miracle, subtitled A Nurse Story. Their Christmas Eve is spent on a 12-hour shift, bringing a little bit of love to patients who need it the most. Gallant doesn't forget the festivities though; the cheeky "All I Want For Christmas" is a fun, slightly risque duet with Patricia Richard ("All I want for Christmas is to be a little naughty/That'd be nice!").

Another clever idea on the album features different music settings for several of the songs, to go along with the theme of Christmas Day on Planet Earth. There's a Parisienne feel to one song, a Middle East setting of course, an obvious East Coast kitchen vibe, and on the title cut, the voices of Black Umfolosi from Zimbabwe. Along with Patricia Richard's excellent singing across the collection, and great acoustic tones plus a couple of rockers, it's a well-rounded set musically as well. I always make a point of listening to as many new Christmas albums each year, and this is one of the best I've heard in years, and certainly one of the premiere sets of new tunes in a long time.

Gallant's taking his Christmas show on the road in a few days, covering most of the Maritimes. I hope he's learning every one of these songs for the show.

Nov. 25 - Georgetown, PEI - Kings Playhouse

Nov. 26 - Chester, NS - Chester Playhouse

Nov. 27 - Arichat, NS - The Island Nest

Nov. 28 - Parrsboro, NS - The Hall

Dec. 2 - Saint John, NB - Kent Theatre

Dec. 3 - Fredericton, NB - The Playhouse

Dec. 4 - Moncton, NB - Capitol Theatre

Dec. 5 - Summerside, PEI - Harbourfront Theatre

Dec. 8 - Liverpool, NS - Astor Theatre

Dec. 9 - Wolfville, NS - Acadia University

Dec. 10 - Lunenburg, NS - Opera House

Dec. 11 - Halifax, NS - Spatz Theatre

Dec. 12 - Truro, NS - Marigold Theatre

Dec. 14 - Pictou, NS - deCoste Theatre

Dec. 15 - Sydney, NS - Highland Arts Theatre

Dec. 16 - Port Hawkesbury, NS - Civic Centre

Dec. 17 - Antigonish, NS - PJ Baccardax Hall

Dec. 18 - Charlottetown, PEI - Confederation Centre

Sunday, November 14, 2021


Straight outta gritty Hamilton, Paul Wootten and Stephen Foster first teamed up in the '90's in the bluesy The Crawlin' Kingsnakes. Getting back together in 2018, they put together a solid backing band featuring a revolving crew of folks from Hammer legends Crowbar, Simply Saucer and Junkhouse. Now comes a second album, with a wider release and buzz, enough to get them a recent nomination for a Maple Blues Award, for best new group. 

The concept is simple enough, a love of tight, nasty '60's R'n'B, electric blues that you have to move to. Simple idea, but that means the very best playing, and the ability to put down a groove that won't let up. Then there's the material. You can't just get up there and play covers, and Wootten and Foster write tunes that sound classic but are brand-new.  "Glory Train" has a great theme, jumping on the blues train, playing with Brother Ray, and Sister Rosetta. "Shot'a Rhythm 'n' Blues" makes it even clearer, bringing up the great ancestors like John Lee Hooker and Sam & Dave in a track that would have even the most lethargic tavern-goer rush the dance floor. And "Shotgun Wedding" ("She was seven months gone/and he was none too quick") is in the grand tradition of "You Never Can Tell" and "I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock 'n' Roll)." 

The guitar licks sting, the piano rolls, the backing singers and horns add all the right fills, and every cut feels like a party. In fact it reminds me a lot of Doug & the Slugs if they had been strictly an R'n'B band, and I don't make that comparison to one of Canada's very best show bands lightly.