Tuesday, October 25, 2022


Newfoundland's Sherry Ryan has built a fine reputation over the past decade as a strong songwriter, direct and impactful. Her stories are plain-spoken and jammed with detail and observations, about home and normal people, and the richness in simple lives. Her unmistakable voice isn't pretty and perfect, instead, it's friendly and real, just like her characters. 

On this, her fifth album, Ryan delves further into the roots rock that drove her last one, 2018's Wreckhouse. She's just as comfortable with the twangy country of "Any Other Way," soaked in pedal steel, as she is with the rockabilly blues of "100 Miles," a song Jerry Lee Lewis would surely appreciate. There's a poppy number, "Open Up The Door," with horns and sweet hooks, and some folksy gentleness in "Sparrow." Lots of styles, and each one features another smart lyric. Best of them all (at least today's favourite) is "Old House at Black Brook," where she does what we all do, tell friends about a great old house on the highway they know, and give directions: "On your way to Clarenville, there on your left side, there's an old house tucked in a hill where beauty likes to hide." 

Sherry Ryan has managed to get off the Rock for a few days and tour the album around at some Eastern Canadian dates. She's wrapping up that tour with a show in Fredericton on Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Tipsy Muse Cafe. Then it's back home for what's described as "an intimate album release party" at Kula Co-op in St. John's on Nov. 5. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Rawlins Cross has always been a great band to represent the whole East Coast music scene. Somehow, they find the perfect sound or the best line, to sum up the whole thing. On the group's 11th LP, it's found in the song "Tides," where the group turns an old cliche on its head to make it Atlantic-themed:  "Gently rocking on the tides that bind us." 

The band has been doing this for 33 years now, mixing genres, provinces, traditions, and new sounds, coming up with what I always think of as Reel 'n' Roll, after their early East Coast anthem of the same name. With one foot in the rich musical heritage and the other in celebratory, anthemic rock, the music proves you can embrace tradition and innovation at the same time. It's a place where pipes jam with electric guitar on "Leave the Light On," and accordion and whistle handle the melody along with a pounding rhythm section on the new single "Love Is Alright." Add in the full-throated Joey Kitson, sounding as ever like a pirate trained at Julliard, and you have this special blend that could only come from this place.

The band reconvenes every couple of years or so for an album and tour, and this is the first time back since the start of the pandemic, and luckily there are lots of tour dates through the fall. Catch the group at:

Oct. 21    - Glasgow Square          - New Glasgow, N.S.
Oct. 22    - Highland Arts Theatre - Sydney, N.S.
Oct. 23    - Capitol Theatre            - Moncton, N.B.
Oct. 24    - The Playhouse             - Fredericton
Oct. 26    - Confederation Centre  - Charlottetown
Oct. 28    - Rebecca Cohn              - Halifax
Oct. 29    - Th' YARC Playhouse   - Yarmouth, N.S.
Oct. 30    - Astor Theatre               - Liverpool, N.S.
Nov. 5      - Holy Heart Theatre     - St. John's

Monday, October 17, 2022


It's impossible not to like Dave Gunning. He's the friendliest, most pleasant, humble, and appreciative musician on the East Coast, and one of the funniest too. I saw him entertaining the crowd at the Lunenburg Harbour Folk Festival this past summer with a ten-minute shaggy dog story (it was actually about a dog) before he even played a note. Seriously, I'd pay to hear him talk.

Luckily, he can also sing, play, produce, and write great songs, often about the Maritimes but universal in their humanity. Like Gunning, these are small-town and straightforward folks, and the tales celebrate generations on the land and water. Both hard times and good ones come and go, and everything is approached with quiet dignity. "My Father's Tools" is a quintessential Gunning lyric, a grown son working with that inheritance, knowing someday he'll pass it on to his child. Of course, it's not just the tools, it's the example of how they were used, "straight as a rule."  Another one also co-written by longtime colleague Jim Dorie is "Viola's Song," the story of the courageous Black businesswoman arrested at a New Glasgow movie theatre for sitting in the whites-only section in 1946. Gunning knows it's a story that must be kept alive: "We've come so far since then, but the worst keeps happening/and we're right back again like nothing's changing." Gunning's songs make you want to be a better person and appreciate all that we have here in the Maritimes. 

He's on the road again, with these new songs, old greats, and I'm sure some more ridiculous jokes. Catch him soon at:

Wednesday, Oct. 19 - Charlotte Street Arts Centre - Fredericton
Thursday, Oct. 20     - Water Street Dinner Theatre - Saint John
Friday, Oct. 21          - The Dunn Theatre                 - St. Andrews, NB
Sunday, Oct. 23        - Second Wind Music Centre   - Florenceville-Bristol, NB
Monday, Oct. 24        - Trailside Music Hall               - Charlottetown

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


Myles brought home a Juno Award last time out for his instrumental album That Tall Distance but returns this time with a (mostly) vocal set. As the title suggests, he's in a mellow mood, a new willingness to let it all there, he has said. That means the fears and anxieties many of us dwell on, loneliness and insecurities, depression, and even questions about spirituality and an afterlife. It's seemingly deeply personal at times, but universal all the same: "If I lost you, what would happen? /That is a question that I've been asking a lot these days," he sings in "If I Lost You."

That song features a duet with Breagh Isabel, vocals one of the great strengths of the collection. Myles, no vocal slouch himself, has a great ability to write harmony and backing singer parts. Also joining him is Rose Cousins, the two in tight harmony throughout a cover of the Kitty Wells 1955 country classic "Making Believe." He no doubt dug that up on one of his crate-digging vinyl shopping trips in the used bins. And the brilliant Halifax R'n'B/gospel singers Reeny and Mahalia Smith bolster three cuts, each quite different and equally inspiring. "Mystery" is a funky, late-night sultry groove, and somehow pedal steel fits perfectly in there as well. Take that same team, turn up the tempo, add horns and organ, and now they're on fire for "You Can't Hurt Me," a soul gem. 

Most arresting is the third number with the Smiths, "Walk With Me," where Myles goes to church, quite literally. It finds its main character searching for forgiveness, for relief from earthly troubles: "The world's like a desert, and I'm dying of thirst/I've been looking for a deeper well and I know I'm not the first/To call upon you Jesus but I find it so strange/I never thought I'd be the one calling you name." It feels a lot more sincere than any Contemporary Christian music I've heard in that genre. From faith to funk, Myles takes us on a deeply-thinking man's journey, introspective but still some of his most catchy tracks yet.

Thursday, October 6, 2022


First, it's a fascinating collaboration. These are all Spencer's songs who, in her short career, has already proven to be a writer of substance and rich emotion. Caplan, with his dramatic, Waitsian deep voice, is well-cast as lead singer on a couple of the songs requiring an older male, and as a duet partner elsewhere. He's also the album's producer, a first for him in that role.

Second, it's tremendous. Spencer has outdone her previous gem, 2020's multiple award-winner Chasing Rabbits, her songwriting even more outstanding. One beauty follows another, no two are alike musically or thematically. She has a wonderful perspective on people, a huge tenderness, and seemingly limitless empathy. Yes, it's sentimental as all get out, filled with old people, old dogs, old teachers, and lovers parting as friends, but the songs will melt the hardest hearts. 

Caplan sings "VHS," a widower revisiting his box of tapes, finding the wedding day video. On "Harry," goes wonderfully over the top as a crooner paying tribute to "A good boy, Harry, a real good boy," as he bids him farewell when he enters the nursing home. It's the same character as we met in "VHS," a lovely touch. Spencer takes the mic back for "At Your Service," sung from the perspective of a funeral director, about meeting another widower, and later burying him. It's matter-of-fact in its delivery, just the meeting and the funeral, but it tears at your heart in the best possible way.

Later on, Caplan returns for a couple of duets with classic themes, performed in classic styles. "Maybe" sees two parting lovers debating meeting again, and the perils of such: "A wound is all that deeper when inflicted by a friend." Sung with only Spencer's piano for accompaniment, it could be a missing Rodgers & Hart show tune. "Good Friends" also has that Great American Songbook quality but is a cheerful buddy number, complete with a Dixieland horn middle. This one has a chance to be in the next great Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie.

I suppose both Spencer and Caplan are throwbacks, two songsmiths who strive to get as close to your heartstrings as possible while relishing the craft of it, the performance, the arrangement, and the invention. Funny how it all sounds so fresh and important. I think we'll always need good friends like this.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Nova Scotia's Martell has expanded her folk-pop sound since her ECMA-nominated 2020 debut Coming Home, thanks to a fruitful partnership with fellow songwriter Gabrielle Papillon. The pair co-wrote five of the nine cuts here, with Papillon producing, engineering, playing, and singing. She doesn't dominate though, it's still Martell's quest, her soothing, rich, acoustic songs now thickened with vocal layers, subtle strings, and satisfying keyboards and programming. Three other cuts with the redoubtable Daniel Ledwell at the helm accomplish the same and match the rest of the production seamlessly.

Martell's songs are gently empowering, embracing fears and insecurities, questioning directions, and letting us all know it's natural. "Should I Run" is a lovely bit of atmospheric folk, both catchy and moody, blissfully hypnotic? "Here No More" is one of two cuts making excellent use of Old Man Luedecke's banjo, a bright counterpoint to the melancholy. "Every Season" has a Europop breeziness, the verses straight out of a film set in '60s Paris.

Martell has a batch of album launch shows coming up around Nova Scotia. You can find her:
Saturday, Oct. 15        West Brooklyn Speakeasy       West Brooklyn
Thursday, Oct. 20       The Carleton                             Halifax
Friday, Oct. 21            Kings Theatre                           Annapolis Royal
Saturday, Oct. 22        Union Street                              Berwick
Friday, Oct. 28            Petite Riviere Winery                Petite Riviere