Tuesday, August 31, 2021


You've certainly never heard David Myles like this before. In fact, you won't hear him at all. Sing, that is. This all-instrumental jazzy album is a labour of love project that takes Myles all the way back to his high school band days, and his ongoing love and exploration of rich grooves, funk, rhythms, horns, world music and wherever his ears take him. 

Myles picks up the trumpet again, his early instrument, but that is just one element in this wide-ranging set. He combo'd up with a group of friends/players in various spots, and made the album remotely in Covid times. He'd start the tunes off with trumpet and guitar, and then send the cuts out as each musician filled in their parts, drums and bass. Then came the colour, solos and parts from lead guitar, pedal steel, trombone and keyboards. 

Although it's jazzy, to call it a jazz album is incorrect. It ranges far and wide. "Motion" has a country gospel sound, with pedal steel from Asa Brosius. "Hacksaw" has great soul parts, Leith Fleming-Smith's organ underpinned by melody lines from the tight horns. A rockin' guitar solo takes over, hands it back to the organ, and a left-field appearance by pedal steel at the end gives it a spacey ending. Opener "Bird Song" trips along on beats from Joshua Van Tassel, an atmospheric groove. It's certainly an ensemble album, the troupe taking Myles' melodic ideas to surprising and wonderful places. It's a perfect chill-out album, smooth but never too smooth, lots of excellent performances and even as an all-instrumental affair, far too catchy to slip into the background.

Monday, August 30, 2021


On the surface of it, Crenshaw's a one-hit wonder who peaked with his first album, and didn't live up to the hype. 1982's self-titled debut hit the charts, "Someday, Someway" made the Top 40, and every publication and reviewer loved his retro-pop mashup and glorious hooks. But the followup, Field Day, didn't have another hit single, there were complaints about producer Steve Lillywhite's colossal sound and Warner Brothers lost interest as the 80's closed.

However... that's the surface story. In reality, the fans who stuck with Crenshaw were still rapidly in love with his records, and have followed him with cultish devotion, giving him a solid life on the road and in the studio ever since. Crenshaw's an expert on classic rockabilly, rock 'n' roll and '60's radio hits, and has fused all the best of American guitar rock, British beat music and studio production into his individual style. Every song he makes is filled beginning to end with glorious chord changes, fantastic harmonies and catchy, memorable choruses. Each album he's made has more of the magic for those on the lifelong quest for the perfect pop song. 

It really is music for those who like to both rock and enjoy the songwriting craft. Take for example this gem from "Cynical Girl": "I can tell right away from the look in her eyes/She harbours no illusions and she's wordly wise." 

This generous two-disc live collection features a batch of cuts from his original band, featuring his brother Robert on drums and Chris Donato on bass, from those early exciting showcases. It has all the favourites from his first two albums, plus some dynamite covers that showed the group's versatility. Two Elvis covers (when nobody was covering Elvis), "Got A Lot Of Livin' To Do" and "Big Hunk O' Love" prove his fan smarts, and his version of Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" is a left-field surprise. There's a ton of energy, lots of guitar (from the lead singer no less), and as Crenshaw says, "It sounds like kids having fun."

The second part is a Crenshaw-curated crawl through the rest of his career, deep cuts from various periods and bands. The also-revered Bottle Rockets appear as the band on six of the songs, fellow believers in the beauty of dynamically-arranged rock. And stripped down to solo with guitar on "Passing Through," you get to hear how gorgeous those melodies are. The only time I've seen him live was solo, and it was just as rewarding. Heck of a guitar player too. There have been a couple of other Crenshaw live albums, but this one's the winner, for scope and overall excitement.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021


As more tentative reopening steps take place in the music world, one of Atlantic Canada's best festivals is back with a smaller but still impressive lineup. The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) goes from Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, presenting some of the finest established and new performers from the East Coast. There aren't as many shows this time, nor any of the expertly-chosen cross-Canada and international acts that have graced the stages before (think Alejandro Escovedo, Lloyd Cole and Lily Hiatt to name but three), but when you can brag up Matt Mays, Erin Costelo and Reeny Smith for intimate shows, you're a class event for sure.

One of the hallmarks of the festival is its Songwriters Circle series, featuring three nightly artists in an acoustic setting. P.E.I.'s Nathan Wiley will do one of those sets on Saturday, Sept. 4 at Brightwood Brewery, as well as a full-band gig the next night at the Carleton. Wiley is launching his new six-track E.P., Modern Magic. The Summerside songwriter and producer, best known for his 2002 breakout hit "Bottom Dollar Baby," only releases things when he's darn good and ready, but they are always most welcome and solid, start to finish.

This set kicks off with "Heatseeker," a dark and funky track fueled by horns and dramatic stabs of strings plus a mysterious vibe. A tale of a femme fatale, I'd call it soul noire. The horns are especially rich and well-recorded, and it has the glow of real instruments, real playing to it. The horns return for the groove-ier "Nobody's Lookin' At You," this time with organ and backing vocals adding richness to the cool, Bill Withers-type simmering number. Somehow Wiley manages to make a synth sound funky on "Love Through the Eyes of a Shark," real soul instead of plastic soul.

I love the dark and funky late-night mood through all six tracks, and the fantastic arrangements, especially the choices of instruments. Where guitar would suffice for many, with his producer's ears Wiley has used the horns, singers, keys and lots more to make these songs extra-deep with ear candy. As for hooks, he's fully stocked, with "Moneymaker" an especially catchy one. Top notch, this one.

Monday, August 16, 2021


No longer Oh Susanna, the singer-songwriter has stripped down to the essentials, with concise and clear portraits of friends, family and loves, hers and others. The songs are tender and uncluttered, with her warm, emotional voice in command, graced with guitar and subtle touches of atmosphere and percussion from producer Jim Bryson. 

These are the best and worst of situations. "Disappear" is about a child trying to hide, both literally and figuratively, from an abusive father. Meanwhile, "Baby Blues" features a woman struggling with the moment of decision: "Please don't leave us alone, please don't break up our home." At the other end of the spectrum, "Summerbaby" is a celebration of Ungerleider's own daughter, all joy and love and amazement: "You had my  heart wrapped up in your tiny fingers."

There's a song about the high school rebel hero, half-good, half-bad girl, "North Star Sneakers," which sees her now in a conventional home, two kids and a yard. It's a simple question, was it what she wanted? But it's the stuff of life, is that all there is? Sweet and sad memories, halcyon days, tragedies big and small, Suzie Ungerleider documents those moments with grace and beauty.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021


More unabashed redneck country from Nova Scotia's Mingo. Of course, that's the genre, not the politics, and I'd say Mingo has more rural Maritime values, and appreciation for small towns and all they offer. "I don't say it enough but I love my country girl," he sings in the new single "Country Girl Ways," and it seems pretty darn respectful.  As for kick-ass country, he's all on board, and writing some fine additions to the songbook.

Mingo is that rare country bird, a lead singer/piano and keyboard player, and his songs stand out for it. There are chord changes and different melodies that you just don't find in your normal country fare. Ballads, sure, it makes them a touch more poignant, but it's the rockers where it really stands out. This isn't Jerry Lee Lewis-pumping piano style, it's the chief instrument driving the song, so melodies, the vocals, it all goes to places your ears aren't expecting. It's basically more musical. 

There's a good team that's been behind Mingo's music for the past decade. Tim Feswick produces at his studio, and handles a bunch of instruments, Kris Richards (Clay Walker's guitar player) does all the lead guitar, and the fantastic Ray Legere adds the fiddle. With Mingo adding the keys, he's really developed a strong and joyous sound from countryfied Nova Scotia.

Sunday, August 8, 2021


This new Halifax quintet recorded with high-end producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda way back in early 2020, and then had to sit on everything for over a year while Covid took its toll. Finally they've been able to launch this six-track E.P. (an album will follow in 2022). It's a surprising set of songs, the group exploring how many new places they can go in the alt-country genre.

The tunes all have story-telling at their core, little dramas that take off in the imagination. You're never quite sure where each one will lead. "Tell Me I'm Good" begins as a modern country ballad before the beat picks up and a full-on fiddle hoedown breaks out. "Body Of Water" goes from a soft strummer to a dreamscape string middle to a deep and heavy finale, three distinct sections that somehow come together seamlessly. The singer in "Vampire" may have an exaggerated warble for this Western horse opera, but it's all about a modern bloodsucker in a relationship. 

At times, the songs start out like they could make the playlist of your local modern country radio station, but that doesn't last very long before things get twisted. Lead single "Pale Ember" is far too dark and heavy for that brand of country fan. This is for the roots-rock crowd, or for those who took a left turn at Albuquerque.

Thursday, August 5, 2021


Ballantyne's penned killer-catchy cuts for others, notably several for Big Sugar, including "If I Had My Way,", and The Trews' fun "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me." On the side he's been releasing his own albums at the rate of one every couple of years, chock full of the kind of cuts bands line up for, looking for radio hits. He used his Covid downtime to clean his closets and pour a ton of work into this latest, a whopping 20-track set, with lots of new songs and a few repurposed from older writing projects with others.

Twenty cuts seems like a daunting listen when you're at the start, even from your favourite groups. With this album, I kept waiting for a song I didn't love. And the hits just kept on coming, every one of them a tight, bright, three to four minute joy. It's all guitar rock/pop but there's a twist with every production. Not only did Ballantyne pour the work into the songwriting, he spent valuable time on the tricks of the trade that make the songs different. "Fool" features fantastic horns that open the track alone, a kind of New Orleans parade moment. They sit back through the verses, thickening up the rhythm, and then step forward again for a duelling sax solo, which then morphs into a lead guitar lick to finish. 

"The News You Need To Know" is a completely different kind of lyric, Ballantyne dishing out the headlines, from a snap election to a boating tragedy to the Blue Jays score. Slowly he slides in bits from a personal life, such as "Mary scraped her forehead playing soccer at the school." The song becomes a pointed message to someone who is missing life and the important news, focused too much on themselves: "Usually you seem like you're in cardiac arrest, but don't you need a heart to have it go/that is all the news you need to know." And for a cool ending, some old-fashioned Beatles Mellotron. 

That's just two of the twenty cuts, and there's lots to write about each one. Add in his pleasing, high register vocals and by the time you're half-way in, you'll wish it was 40 cuts.