Wednesday, January 18, 2023

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DENIS PARKER - THE DANCE CARD/SOLO KITE


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

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MISS EMILY - DEFINED BY LOVE


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

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BYWATER CALL - REMAIN


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

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CATHERINE MACLELLAN - HOLIDAY


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.

Monday, December 12, 2022

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE WEBER BROTHERS - WILD AS THE WILD DOGS


Peterborough, ON's fantastic Weber Brothers do two things very, very well: They play great rock 'n' roll, and they write great rock 'n' roll tunes. When the pandemic shut down most gigs, that left them with lots of writing time, and a backlog of tunes with little opportunity to play 'em. In 2021, in between lockdowns, there was a brief period where the band could all get together and record, so they set up and let the new songs flow, recording a massive 31 tracks in 13 hours. This new album features 10 of the songs, part one of what they are calling The Water Street Trilogy.

Only the best live bands can do that, and Ryan and Sam Weber lead a solid team, with Emily Burgess on guitar, Marcus Browne on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Rico Browne. This is rock 'n' roll as it was first designed, the rules passed on by the band's mentor, Ronny Hawkins. The songs feature strong, stinging guitar, big backbeats, rollicking piano, and lots of old-school echo. This isn't generic rock music, the term thrown at anything post-1950s, but rather actual rock 'n' roll, with Sun Records as the template and the British Invasion as the only needed advancement. 

The album opens with the title cut, a sort of Ventures-meets-The Wild Bunch theme from an imaginary movie, or the sequel to "Secret Agent Man." For "Think Again," think Beatles '64, sweet slashing guitar chords with lots of nods to "You Can't Do That." For straight rockabilly, I can't think of a better current band. Check out "Greatest of the Greatest," a tribute to Muhammed Ali, complete with all his famous braggadocio. And "Blitzkrieg Baby" is rockabilly at a Ramones pace, which would have given Carl Perkins a heart attack.

The one cover is a great reworking of the 1958 cut by Ivan (a/k/a Jerry Allison of The Crickets), "Real Wild Child," also famously covered by Iggy Pop, which shows how punky rock 'n' roll has worked great. It's one of those albums where I had to keep checking the writing credits to make sure the cuts weren't rare gems the band had found, some obscure Bo Diddly or Gene Vincent number I didn't know. But no, the Webers band just does it real, right, and righteous, and doesn't need eight months of overdubs and click tracks to make it sound great.

Friday, December 9, 2022

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MARY BETH CARTY - CROSSING THE CAUSEWAY


Mary Beth Carty is the Swiss Army Knife of the East Coast, playing accordion, guitar, bass, bones, and multiple percussion instruments on her own shows or supporting lots of others, such as Ashley MacIsaac. She's folk in the classic sense of the word, interested in the music and culture of her area, the Acadian, Gaelic, Mi'kmaq, and English of Eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. She digs down into those musical roots to show us what connects us.

This album takes us along on her search, starting in her home of Antigonish, and looking east to Cape Breton. She takes a swing around the Island, making musical stops in Acadian villages, dance halls, Highlands National Park, Whitney Pier, Eskasoni First Nation, and all sorts of places where you hear jigs and fiddle tunes and Gaelic singing. Joining her are many of the region's best players, including Howie MacDonald, Colin Grant, Cassie and Maggie, Hilda Chiasson, Chrissie Crowley, Mac Morin, Morgan Toney, Bradley Murphy, and on and on, it's like the lineup of the Celtic Colours festival all on one record.

What's most impressive is Carty's ability to shine in all these different musical and vocal styles, bouncing back and forth between languages, old trad numbers, her new adaptations, and her own compositions. "Tow Truck Song" is a rowdy tongue-twister for a great Saturday night barn dance, with fiddle, accordion, and jaw harp driving everyone to the dance floor. Her "Dear Island," is about the view of Cape Breton as seen from her home near Antigonish across the bay. It's a lovely ballad that features a modern, longing melody, and on the chorus "vocables," which are syllabic sounds without meaning, like a blend of Gaelic, Mi'kmaq, English, and French words. Old and new, culture to culture, Carty bridges the gap between everyone as surely as the causeway links Cape Breton to the rest of North America.

In concert, Mary Beth brings along all her many instruments, languages, and lots of fun. Catch her Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Community Hall in Seaforth, N.S. at 7 pm. She's also at the New Glasgow Shoebox Cantina on Monday, Dec. 19.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SUZIE VINNICK - FALL BACK HOME


The more she writes and records, the more Suzie Vinnick helps define the sweet spot between roots and blues in Canada, where she is one of the country's finest practitioners. She crafts excellent, entertaining stories that run the gamut from pastoral folk to down-and-dirty electric jams, whatever suits her. She's like one of those fabled five-tool baseball stars who excel at all the skills, but instead of batting, hitting, etc., it's playing, singing, writing, rockin', and heart-tugging. She's already been nominated for three Maple Blues Awards coming up in January, Female Vocalist, Acoustic Act, and Songwriter, hoping to add to the ten she's won in the past. 

Time spent outdoors did lots of good for us during Covid, and it worked for Vinnick as well. The results, found on this album, find her more reflective, reaching back to work in some favourite styles that highlight her versatility. On "Let Me Make It Up To You Tonight," she croons some late-night sultry jazz, featuring some virtuoso playing from harmonicat Carlos Del Junco and electric lead from the ever-supple Kevin Breit. "Big Train (From Memphis)," a John Fogerty tune, gets a Sun Records rockabilly treatment. And it's just vocals and upright bass from Russ Boswell for "The Pie That My Baby Makes," which includes some scat singing from Vinnick.

Expert players and writers crowd the ranks here, a testament to Vinnick's standing. Plenty of stars in their own right are happy to take support roles, including Colin Linden, Kevin Breit, Roly Platt, Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, Matt Andersen, and even Bill Henderson, guesting on a remake of his old 70s Chilliwack hit, "Raino." A couple of East Coasters, Andersen and MIke Biggar, show up as co-writers as well. All the talent and variety on the album make this a pure pleasure, from start to finish.

Vinnick's doing a Hugh's Room Live show on Dec. 22 in Toronto, and then you're going to be seeing her coast to coast in the new year. First, she teams up with Australia's top blues star Lloyd Spiegel for a bunch of B.C. to Ontario dates, and then Nova Scotia's Charlie A'Court joins them for lots more dates East and West, right through until May 2023.