Sunday, December 3, 2023


Ontario roots stalwart Yates has been dropping singles in anticipation of the full release of this latest album, due in January, and it's sounding great. Yates helped put alt-country on the map in Canada with major label releases in the late 80s and 90s, did the Nashville thing, met, recorded, and toured with tons of legends, and has calmly put out a ton of great music since. She also formed the Toronto downtown favourites Hey Stella, a beloved live act for the past 25 years featuring Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan on bass, drummer Michelle Josef, and the late, beloved David Baxter, producer and pal to so many. Hey Stella features as the core band on this album, recorded before Baxter's passing, and produced by Yates and Rheostatics' Tim Vesely. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023


She gets slotted into blues because of her old band, the 24th Street Wailers, but Burgess is doing her own thing on her solo albums. This latest touches all sorts of bases, from pastoral to rockin', all with a solid, rootsy sound. That's due in part to co-production from her pals in her latest band, Peterborough's Weber Brothers, no strangers to high-quality songwriting themselves.

On the rootsy side, there's the laid-back groove of Kawartha Pines, Burgess taking us out to the country, on a number built around her mellow acoustic playing. The songs switch from acoustic to electric to eclectic, confident, and really well-crafted. She's known primarily as a guitar player, but her lyrics stand out here, miles ahead topically and line-by-line than most. "What's your endgame? What ya playing?" she asks in "Trickin' My Heart," which left me wondering if I'd ever heard the word endgame in a song before. The country-blues shuffle "You Can Hear Your Favourite Song" is particularly clever, as well as catchy, where she states that she believes when you die, your favourite song comes into your head as you cross over. Bonnie Raitt should hear this one.

You can make lots of other comparisons, all of them good, because she moves so well between genres. "I Didn't Mean It" sounds like calmer Fleetwood Mac, with Burgess handling both the Stevie and Lindsay roles. "So Easily" could be Kathleen Edwards fronting The Sadies, complete with a fiery solo to remind us of her lead guitar skills. It's a well-rounded, skillful showcase, Burgess stepping up as a songwriter, singer, and player.

P.S. Cool glasses, too.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


It's a busy time music-wise here in the Maritimes. Here's how one festival's excellent programming helps out another city's music scene, bringing cool and different artists to the region, ones that we'd normally not get to see in these parts.

Halifax's Mike Campbell, he of multiple East Coast Music Award-wins for Venue of the Year at the wonderful Carleton, runs his Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) each September in that city. Campbell, a renowned spotter of top live talent, goes out of his way each year to find great, non-mainstream roots and rock artists to bring in and wow the crowds. He always manages to find a couple of U.S. or European types that you never thought would make it to the region, let alone to such an intimate, audience-friendly stage. This year he's done it again, including a classic alt-rock veteran, and a newcomer-groundbreaker singer-songwriter.

Tommy Stinson first came to near-fame as the bass player for the influential, erratic 80s group The Replacements. Known for its deep distrust of commercialism and chaotic live shows, The Replacements somehow managed to flirt with success and influence half the bands that came after them and remain heroes for a couple of generations at least. When the band broke up (for the first time) in 1991, Stinson proved himself a bandleader in his own right, forming the group Bash and Pop, a vehicle for his songwriting efforts, which has had a couple of lengthy runs whenever Stinson has branched out on his own.

He hasn't had a lot of opportunities to focus on his own career though, because he keeps getting called up to the big leagues for support. He became a full member of Guns N' Roses in 1998, did many tours with them, and contributed to the Chinese Democracy album. That lasted until 2014, with Stinson the major reason the band became a steady touring outfit in those years, as he acted as the musical leader on stage. Also calling on his skills was fellow Minneapolis band Soul Asylum, with Stinson both touring and recording with that group from 2005 to 2012. 

Along the way, he's taken part in various Replacements reunions and recordings,  brought Bash and Pop back together, and lately has been doing more intimate, stripped-down shows as a duo in Cowboys in the Campfire with Chip Roberts. Campbell convinced him to make his way to the Maritimes, and he's at the HUFF for three shows, joining such luminaries as Bobby Bare Jr. and Mary Gauthier in songwriter's circles on Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30. He's headlining his own show Sunday, Oct. 1 at the Carleton, fronting the ad hoc Halifax All-Stars.

Coming even further for the festival is the British folk-rock powerhouse Grace Petrie. Outspoken and brave, I wouldn't call her a protest singer, as her songs are actually more uplifting, especially for marginalized communities and their supporters. She's a Glastonbury regular and Billy Bragg-approved, her politics firmly and proudly planted in the left, Socialist field. While she has been active and recording since 2006, she just recently broke through with a UK Top 40 album, Connectivity (2021), featuring the social media marketing spoof "We've Got An Office in Hackney." And for a taste of her humour/political mix, try out "I Just Want The Tories To F*** Off (A Christmas Song)." She's at the HUFF for two shows, a matinee and an evening performance on Sunday, Sept. 24.

It's a win-win for both Halifax and Fredericton as both Stinson and Petrie added dates in that city, since they were already in the neighbourhood. Petrie is going direct from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to the Fredericton Inn, where she's playing on Friday, Sept. 22, part of the Uptown at Night series presented by Music Runs Through It at 7:30 PM. And Stinson will hit Fredericton after HUFF, playing Tuesday, Oct. 3 at The Cap, plus another local show at the Trailside in Charlottetown, Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


More confident, high-quality rockin' from these Nova Scotia favourites. They have just the right amount of retro mixed with edgy 2020's vibes. Best of all is that they are never, ever, mopey. No apologies here, they rock for fun, and tell it like it is.

You gotta love a group that can take all the shit life throws and pack it all, highs and lows, into a body of songs. There's the teenage angst of Definition of a Dweeb, "My high school hair-do, all I wanted was a buzz," those outlier feelings that can keep building long after. Obstacles, with some fine fiddling from guest Morgan Toney, sees the character as the supportive partner, helping somebody get past the drudgery of daily depression, "Getting out of bed every single day, the obstacles in your way." And there's the so-good-it-miust-be-true story of Sin City, where our rock band heroes have to face life at home like everybody else when Covid knocked them off the road, "Our new normal is a bit strange, it's tough to keep a tiger tame." 

But heavy thoughts and big rock just go hand-in-hand for Pettipas and the Giants, and the album, as he says, shows how they "walk a thin line between a showboat and a shipwreck." When I think about great rock bands, that sums up a lot of them, so I figure Pettipas has that boat on the right course.  You can see them live this week at:

Thursday, July 27 - Fredericton - The Cap
Friday, July 28 - Moncton - The Tide and Boar

Monday, July 10, 2023


I've binge-watched many shows before, but I'd never binge-read a book, cover to cover, before today. Tara MacLean, the P.E.I. solo performer and member of the group Shaye, has led an incredible life that is impossible to summarize, and that's not even counting her many successes in the music world. From the depths of poverty to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, from terrible abuse to deepest love, the emotional highs and lows would have toppled the best of us. I'll just say that her survival is only because she has the fiercest of hearts. 

Her memoir, Song Of The Sparrow, leaped onto the best-seller charts the week it was released, and it became a national best-seller. There are lots of great music stories in it, from gracing the original Lilith Fair stage, to singing for Willie Nelson on his bus while they toured together, to hanging with Daniel Lanois. But really it's a book about overcoming the awful things people can do, and the heartache the world can throw at any of us, and finding grace and forgiveness inside us. And love. 

A few years ago Tara felt the call of home and moved back to P.E.I. because ... well, it's P.E.I. She's carved out a new stage in her career and life, doing theatre shows and recording again. To accompany the book, she also released the gorgeous album Sparrow, featuring some new songs and new versions of her solo and Shaye hits, produced by Daniel Ledwell. 

MacLean's been touring the country and over in Europe recently promoting the album and book, but New Brunswick folks get a treat this week, thanks to our proximity to her home. She'll be doing readings and performing songs at three public libraries, Tuesday at 6 PM in Moncton, Wednesday at 6:30 PM in Fredericton, and Thursday at 6:30 PM in Saint John. These are free events for the public.

Sunday, July 9, 2023


Here's one of the exciting newcomers on the East Coast scene. Horsebath has a sound that is made up of a bunch of elements but totally their own. The songs feature the close harmonies of singer-guitarists Keast Mutter and Daniel Connolly, filmmakers and road warriors who have traveled and sung across Canada, the U.S., and down to Mexico. All those miles have made them tight and seasoned and helped craft this addictive batch of tunes. 

Folk, roots, country, rockabilly, Cajun/Acadian, jazz, this is one tasty gumbo. There's a delicious organic sound to the six-track EP, recorded live off the floor in the titular studio. Think Blue Rodeo, if Jim and Greg sang together all the time. "Baby" has a great Tex-Mex groove, full of organ and bluesy guitar licks. "They Don't Know" is a lovely country charmer from an innocent age, when the Everly Brothers roamed the Earth. 

Even the most obviously indebted song, "Annabelle, Annabelle," features a musical twist. It starts out straight Cajun, with a scratchy fiddle in waltz time, but then adds some blue chords in the chorus. And when you think you've got it figured out, the whole thing goes sideways into a Gypsy jazz breakdown. This is fresh stuff that should appeal to lots of different ears.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023


I saw some awesome footage of whales mere feet from the shore along Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula the other day, feeding the great schools of capelin as they roll onto the beaches. It was such an amazing sight, I started thinking about visiting next year for this spectacle. That got me thinking about all the great music I've seen other times in Newfoundland, and that reminded me that Chris Picco of the favourite band Long Distance Runners has a new album out.