Sunday, March 19, 2023


Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ian Foster has had a parallel career in the film world for the last few years. After composing for films, he took an interest in the nuts and bolts of that art as well and has added director and screenwriter to his resume. His Keystone, from 2016, was named one of the top ten short films of the year by the Calgary International Film Festival. In the past, his album projects have remained separate from the film work, but that's all changed with the new Close To The Bone, both a short film and an album of original songs.

It developed from a period when Foster was unhappy with the direction of his songwriting, and instead started working on an idea that could be told in both film and song. The result is a 22-minute film that explores identity and big changes that can happen to people along life's journey. It's partially inspired by a story his mother told him from her earlier days. The film shows a family over several years, at first in good times, and then through a long struggle as the mother becomes an invalid, the father turns to drink, and the daughter is left to care for both as they all become isolated in their new reality. Without dialogue, the story is told through acting, dance, mood, a few subtitles, and Foster's songs.

The accompanying album stands alone as a song cycle, the 12 songs extended to full length. It sees Foster moving into a different style of narrative than he's used in his past work, mostly modern folk and storytelling. You can feel the mood of the film, the journey of its characters, and the universality of life's struggles as we move on. Foster has incorporated the atmospheric and evocative style he's learned in film composing, joining it with his already-skillful songcraft. It's a more moody and modern sound than he's had before, giving the feeling of floating outside and examining the people in the story. Like we're watching a movie, in fact. 

As an album, it's a refreshing jump for Foster, different and surprising. The song "Middle Distance," for instance, feels more like a catchy Hey Rosetta track than anything you'd find on his previous albums. The use of other vocalists on some tracks, duets or leads, helps emphasize the scope of the project, as a larger story than each song. Knowing there is a thread helps put the lyrics into more focus and scrutiny, and "Edge of the World," with its day bed and barely-sleeping occupant, is full of visuals and memories that leap out. While it stands alone as a listening experience, I'd search out both the film and album for the full effect. Foster has succeeded in blending his parallel careers, with the music still standing strongly on its own.

Sunday, February 12, 2023


If you're a Fredericton-area resident (like me), give yourself a Valentine's treat Tuesday evening and take in Erin Costelo's show at the Playhouse. One of the region's top singer-songwriters and producers (Kaia Kater, Leanne Hoffman, Roxy & the Underground Soul Sound), Costelo is doing a show paying tribute to not one, but two albums. One of them is a big favourite and influence for her, and the other is one of her own, celebrated its tenth anniversary. 

For the past few years, Costelo has on special occasions performed a tribute show to Carole King's classic 1971 album Tapestry. The epitome of the singer-songwriter genre of the early '70's, it was for a time the biggest-selling album in history, and features such hits as "I Feel The Earth Move," "It's Too Late," and "You've Got A Friend." It was an album where fans knew every note, and it's fun to watch folks sing along with every word at Costelo's concert. She's the perfect interpreter for the album, not engaged in a slavish reproduction but rather, she's invested in the material, and you can tell how these classics helped her become the meaningful writer she is today.

I've seen her do the Tapestry show before, and while I'm looking forward to it again, I'm even more pleased that Costelo has chosen to feature her own album We Can Get Over as well. It's her third, from 2012, and was the one that won me over. As soon as I heard the vintage eloquence of opener "Oh Me Oh My," with its 60s soul/girl group vibe, I felt I'd found a kindred lover of emotional, highly-crafted pop music. The references are everywhere, from the electric piano ballad "I Don't Know Anything," surely an equal of a Roberta Flack number, to the Muscle Shoals Southern soul of "Down Down," to the Randy Newman grandeur of the title cut. I can't wait to hear these songs again.

The fact that her two following albums, Down Below, The Status Quo, and Sweet Marie, are even stronger is a testament to her obvious artistry, my only complaint being the lack of more releases. But of course, she's been plenty busy with production projects, and now her new job as the producer of CBC Radio's East Coast Music Hour. In the meantime, watch out for a vinyl reissue of We Can Get Over very soon, as well as a new video version of the song Hold Me, featuring one Matt Andersen. Meanwhile, the Tapestry/We Can Get Over tour continues:

Tuesday, Feb. 14 - Fredericton, The Playhouse
Thursday, Apr. 06 - Saint John, Imperial Theatre
Saturday, Apr. 08 - Annapolis Royal, King's Theatre
Saturday, Apr. 15 - Windsor, Mermaid Theatre

Wednesday, February 8, 2023


An old hand in the downtown Toronto roots scene, Nicholas is now calling Kentville, N.S., home and hey, he fits in nicely in the Maritimes too. This is album #4 for Nicholas, who specializes in summing up life and love in plain-spoken, well-humoured stories. Sometimes there's a rural feel, like the title cut with a mountain fiddle, while others have a full roots-rock band behind, piano, organ, and guitar.

I love all the mixing of wit and wisdom. In the country twang of "Fell In Love and I Broke It," Nicholas lists all the things around the house that are placed out of reach, "family crystal and fine china plates, all the things you're not meant to touch, afraid you might enjoy such things too much."  Admitting he wasn't meant for such precious things, he jumps into a love he finds, and you know what happened next. He brings life to the old nursery rhyme in "Dish and the Spoon," which doesn't work out so swell after they run away, with the spoon stepping out with a bowl one fateful night: "Hey diddle diddle went that old nursery rhyme/Human hearts can be fickle most all of the time."

There's a little pearl of wisdom in each song, a little heartbreak, and a few laughs as well, a bit of melancholy, and lots of toe-tapping too. Nicholas is returning to his old haunts to launch the new album this month. He's going to be at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 18, followed by a bunch of Ontario shows right through March, and then a month of gigs around the Maritimes in April. Find all the details at 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023


The fact that Denis Parker is already enshrined in the Newfoundland & Labrador Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame has not slowed him down. In fact, he's been ridiculously prolific since that happened, with 2018's Been So Long, 2020's Country Blue, and now this double album, featuring 22 tracks. That's on top of a long career dating back to England in the late '60s where he started out recording folk blues at Abbey Road Studios. That's cool.

So's the fact that Denis still does blues in its purest form, guitar and voice, with only occasional guests adding a touch of fiddle or slide or vocals. But don't mistake that for simplicity. Parker coaxes mood and magic out of his guitar, putting everything into those notes and chords, whether light-hearted ("Breakfast Blues") or dark. The set is split into two sections, an album of instrumentals and one of vocals, the latter featuring old and new compositions, and some favourite blues standards he's adapted. "Fall For You" features a more modern, rock-inspired melody, minor chords echoing the lover's pain in the lyrics. "Once Around The Harbour" sees him return to a tune he first recorded back in 1977, featuring a fiddle that helps the tune cross over from his English roots to newfound influences in Newfoundland. It's a haunting tune that echoes Richard Thompson. 

The instrumental half (Solo Kite) is all new, featuring ten melodies that he's created using a recent interest in alternate tunings. Parker shows the power of an instrumental, creating different moods in a variety of styles, ear-pleasing and thoughtful. Rather than blending into the background, these induce a meditative state. I found myself forgetting about writing deadlines, emergency room wait times, and classified documents in garages, instead just concentrating on that lovely sound. Play on, Mr. Parker.

Thursday, December 15, 2022


When life gives you lemons, some people make lemonade, and a few even make gold. That's the case with Kingston, ON blues/roots favorite Miss Emily, who has turned a couple of crappy years into some career highlights. With way too much time on her hands thanks to Covid keeping her off the road, she put together an archive concert album called "Live at the Isabel," which was nominated for a Juno for Blues Album of the Year this past March. At the same time she was dealing with a painful divorce, and that ended up informing a whole batch of new songs, as heard on this album.

So, a break-up album? No, more like a statement of resilience. Miss Emily has no problem wearing her heart on her sleeve and letting us in on her feelings and the fall-out of that personal turmoil. What we learn is how she coped, and what she learned. Her concept of being defined by love, as heard in the title cut, is that it's the love inside you that matters most. It's how you approach life, and what you offer to family and friends, not what love you take. 

That fits perfectly with her strong and dynamic vocals and the upbeat soul blues on the album. Working with one of the country's foremost modern blues craftsmen, Steve Marriner (MonkeyJunk, Colin James), the album is mostly filled with strong roots-rockers so catchy it's impossible not to feel inspired. The Gospel-infused "Glory" is uplifting and defiant: "Worlds around may fall, but I'll be up here soaring above the clouds, and holding on to glory." And as is so well-known now about her, four albums in, what incredible pipes! She has it all, emotion, control, power, and range, I'd love to see her on stage with Matt Andersen sometime if it hasn't happened yet. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022


This Ontario blues-roots act has just released its second album, and already has built up lots of excitement both here and in Europe, thanks to its fiery live performances. The group features perfect festival sounds, led by powerhouse vocalist Meghan Parnell, and a big band with horns, organ, and lots of energetic material. Parnell's such a dynamic performer, she could easily command the stage herself, but there's tons of great playing as well, led by guitarist Dave Barnes. 

With the blend of Southern soul, roots rock, and blues, plus a woman singing, the group gets a lot of Susan Tedeschi comparisons, but they are actually not as jam/Allmans influenced. Instead, the songs are tight, the keys/horns/guitar parts carefully arranged throughout, with lots of dramatic moments as the songs build to full power. On lead track "Left Behind," the intensity keeps inching up until the band is roaring like a jet engine, while Parnell fits right in, like another horn in the mix. On "Sea We Swim," heavy on the organ, it could easily be Little Feat at its '77 prime, with the Tower of Power horn section.

The band has been getting lots of raves in the European and U.K. blues/roots communities, and bookings too. Already they have several festivals on their summer 2023 schedule, in Germany, Greece, Belgium, and the U.K. Nothing in mid-September though, and Bywater Call would be an excellent choice for the local Harvest Festival here in my beloved Fredericton.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


Some people just really, really like Christmas, and that includes some performers. PEI's Catherine MacLellan is one of them. She especially looks forward to playing Christmas-themed shows each year. It's a chance to dig out the sweaters and toques, fill the set list with favourites, loosen up, have fun, and get people singing along. You'll come away feeling merry and bright, and a bit more optimistic about the new year coming.

Last season, she put out a four-track EP with a new original and three classic covers. But not enough of us got to see her do her Christmas thing, so this year she's rectified that with a big Maritime tour. She's brought along the EP tracks plus lots more favourites, along with PEI besties singer-songwriter Tanya Davis and guitar ace Nick Gauthier. The trio hit New Brunswick this week, so I can finally get in the Christmas spirit. Shows are Thursday, Dec. 15 at the Huntsman Marine Centre in St. Andrews, and Friday, Dec. 16 at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre in Fredericton. The tour then wraps up back home in PEI on Saturday at Abram-village, at L'exposition Agricole.

The EP features the track "Calling You Home (For The Holidays)," which was written at Christmas 2020, when many gatherings were cancelled due to Covid restrictions: "Counting days and counting ways to get you back my dear/If not now than somehow we'll get you here next year." The other songs are well-known, but MacLellan's warm home recordings and nostalgiac videos make each one a heart-tugger, as if they weren't already: "Blue Christmas," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and "In The Bleak Midwinter." Her relaxed takes on these classics let you relax in the feelings each song holds for you. You can find the digital Holiday EP on streaming services and Catherine's website.