Sunday, February 23, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LYNNE HANSON - JUST WORDS

The last couple of years have seen Lynne Hanson stretching way past her comfort zone. First she teamed up with fellow Ottawa folkie Lynn Miles for the acclaimed duo The LYNNeS, with the album Heartbreak Song For The Radio, and lots of touring on top for that. That meant a couple of new roles for Hanson; being a co-writer, and being the lead guitar player, often electric. That stretching has continued for her latest solo album, one that's different from any of her previous efforts.

Just Words sees Hanson adding more, I mean a lot more, electric guitar to her songs, certainly pushing past her folk sound into the edgier side of roots music. The title track, "Just Words," is punctuated by dark and nasty guitar lines and effects, to match the intense lyric, a song about the devastating effect of verbal abuse. While it's the toughest song in the collection, most of the rest also feature lead electric and smart arrangements.  Veteran producer Jim Bryson came on board to amp up the edge, and it works very well. Hanson's lyrics, some soul-searching and others sharply observational, feel just that more piercing.  The teamwork is special too. As well as Hanson's guitar, Bryson and guest Kevin Breit star on lead, and there are rich harmony lines all the way through, from Tara Holloway, Catherine MacLellan and Justin Rutledge. Big changes, great results.

Monday, February 17, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAYS OF THE LOOKING GLASS - AL TUCK SINGS GENE MACLELLAN



Tuck has always been a devotee of his fellow Island songwriter, and here he presents a nuanced look at MacLellan's rich catalog. With quiet instrumentation and slower tempos, we all lean in for a closer study of the lyrics, Tuck's wavering vocals highlighting both the beauty and the sadness. Drops of pedal steel, along with surprising touches of penny whistle and clarinet highlight the laid-back, clubhouse feel of the recordings.

Wisely Tuck leaves "Snowbird" off the setlist, that song's fame too much for this nuanced collection. But "Put Your Hand In The Hand" is here, a reminder of the great quality of that Christian anthem, presented here with a shuffle beat, as catchy as always. "Street Corner Preacher" is successfully turned into a much bluesier number, losing the dated arrangement of MacLellan's early '70's recording. Even "Days Of The Looking Glass" (along the same theme as "Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife" by Glen Campbell) loses its sentimentality, and becomes a wise look at how life slips by. And that's the real success of the album, bringing the songs out of their decade into this one. Tuck has added an edge, and more of a roots feel to these gems. If any Canadian songwriter needs that, it's MacLellan, whose own fine recordings are long out-of-print.

Monday, February 10, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RICH JUNCO - ONE WAY TRACK

Last week the annual Maple Blues Awards were handed out, trophies for the usual categories, such as best recordings, best singers, best players, etc. But the award that always captures my attention is one that is unique to Maple Blues. It's the Cobalt Award, which goes to the best contemporary blues composition. In other words, the person who has written the best new blues song.

The award was set up by a fine writer himself, Paul Reddick. His intention was to "encourage and support blues music by promoting the creation of new songs that both draw on the rich traditions of the genre and manage to strike a fresh chord with contemporary audiences." That's key, because blues is a classic form, and needs to be kept alive by advancing, not relying on cliches.

This year's award went to a New Brunswicker, Rich Junco, for his song "Cope." It can be found on his new release, One Way Track, released in December. Fresh it is. There are no Robert Johnson covers, none of the usual 12 bar classics, no Stevie Ray salute. Instead, Junco is a songwriter first, with thoughtful lyrics, no throw-away lines repeating all the blues tropes. You can stop any song and grab a cool couplet, such as "Everafter"'s gem, "You took the harness from the plow/and hitched it to a sacred cow."

The production is simple but rich, made in Memramcook N.B. by Mike Trask, a solid band sitting close over four days, recording on analog tape. The award-winning "Cope" is the richest track for sure, with a Band groove, with tight horn parts from Seb Michaud, Carter Chaplin playing a sharp, sweet lead, and Christien Belliveau supplying meaty, tight drums. Junco himself has one of those relaxed voices, full of character, sounding somewhere between Leon Redbone and Dutch Mason. As befits the Cobalt Award-winner, Junco has carved out a place by putting his own stamp on the blues.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CAVEBOY - NIGHT IN THE PARK, KISS IN THE DARK

Montreal trio Caveboy has been busy building a sterling live reputation the past few years, getting ready for this debut album, since created buzz with a 2015 EP.  Early singles from this have already grabbed them lots of attention, including the CBC Music #1 "Hide Your Love," showcasing a sublime and catchy groove, sounding retro and current all at once. It's dance but it rocks, chill but lively, heavily produced but still emotional and personal, heck, it's everything.

I like all the mystery found in the production (Juno-nominated Derek Hoffman) and vocals, a tension threaded through the ten tracks. Singer Michelle Bensimhon has an addictive voice, parts Kate Bush and Martha Wainwright, selling those little mysteries with passion. Electro-pop with retro sounds is an easy description for this, but the best old-school trait is the hard-earned quality in the songwriting, each track offering substance plus hooks. There's still room for a little dance floor euphoria too, "Landslide" just a joy start to finish. This is a band to love.