Sunday, December 3, 2023


Ontario roots stalwart Yates has been dropping singles in anticipation of the full release of this latest album, due in January, and it's sounding great. Yates helped put alt-country on the map in Canada with major label releases in the late 80s and 90s, did the Nashville thing, met, recorded, and toured with tons of legends, and has calmly put out a ton of great music since. She also formed the Toronto downtown favourites Hey Stella, a beloved live act for the past 25 years featuring Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan on bass, drummer Michelle Josef, and the late, beloved David Baxter, producer and pal to so many. Hey Stella features as the core band on this album, recorded before Baxter's passing, and produced by Yates and Rheostatics' Tim Vesely. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023


She gets slotted into blues because of her old band, the 24th Street Wailers, but Burgess is doing her own thing on her solo albums. This latest touches all sorts of bases, from pastoral to rockin', all with a solid, rootsy sound. That's due in part to co-production from her pals in her latest band, Peterborough's Weber Brothers, no strangers to high-quality songwriting themselves.

On the rootsy side, there's the laid-back groove of Kawartha Pines, Burgess taking us out to the country, on a number built around her mellow acoustic playing. The songs switch from acoustic to electric to eclectic, confident, and really well-crafted. She's known primarily as a guitar player, but her lyrics stand out here, miles ahead topically and line-by-line than most. "What's your endgame? What ya playing?" she asks in "Trickin' My Heart," which left me wondering if I'd ever heard the word endgame in a song before. The country-blues shuffle "You Can Hear Your Favourite Song" is particularly clever, as well as catchy, where she states that she believes when you die, your favourite song comes into your head as you cross over. Bonnie Raitt should hear this one.

You can make lots of other comparisons, all of them good, because she moves so well between genres. "I Didn't Mean It" sounds like calmer Fleetwood Mac, with Burgess handling both the Stevie and Lindsay roles. "So Easily" could be Kathleen Edwards fronting The Sadies, complete with a fiery solo to remind us of her lead guitar skills. It's a well-rounded, skillful showcase, Burgess stepping up as a songwriter, singer, and player.

P.S. Cool glasses, too.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


It's a busy time music-wise here in the Maritimes. Here's how one festival's excellent programming helps out another city's music scene, bringing cool and different artists to the region, ones that we'd normally not get to see in these parts.

Halifax's Mike Campbell, he of multiple East Coast Music Award-wins for Venue of the Year at the wonderful Carleton, runs his Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) each September in that city. Campbell, a renowned spotter of top live talent, goes out of his way each year to find great, non-mainstream roots and rock artists to bring in and wow the crowds. He always manages to find a couple of U.S. or European types that you never thought would make it to the region, let alone to such an intimate, audience-friendly stage. This year he's done it again, including a classic alt-rock veteran, and a newcomer-groundbreaker singer-songwriter.

Tommy Stinson first came to near-fame as the bass player for the influential, erratic 80s group The Replacements. Known for its deep distrust of commercialism and chaotic live shows, The Replacements somehow managed to flirt with success and influence half the bands that came after them and remain heroes for a couple of generations at least. When the band broke up (for the first time) in 1991, Stinson proved himself a bandleader in his own right, forming the group Bash and Pop, a vehicle for his songwriting efforts, which has had a couple of lengthy runs whenever Stinson has branched out on his own.

He hasn't had a lot of opportunities to focus on his own career though, because he keeps getting called up to the big leagues for support. He became a full member of Guns N' Roses in 1998, did many tours with them, and contributed to the Chinese Democracy album. That lasted until 2014, with Stinson the major reason the band became a steady touring outfit in those years, as he acted as the musical leader on stage. Also calling on his skills was fellow Minneapolis band Soul Asylum, with Stinson both touring and recording with that group from 2005 to 2012. 

Along the way, he's taken part in various Replacements reunions and recordings,  brought Bash and Pop back together, and lately has been doing more intimate, stripped-down shows as a duo in Cowboys in the Campfire with Chip Roberts. Campbell convinced him to make his way to the Maritimes, and he's at the HUFF for three shows, joining such luminaries as Bobby Bare Jr. and Mary Gauthier in songwriter's circles on Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30. He's headlining his own show Sunday, Oct. 1 at the Carleton, fronting the ad hoc Halifax All-Stars.

Coming even further for the festival is the British folk-rock powerhouse Grace Petrie. Outspoken and brave, I wouldn't call her a protest singer, as her songs are actually more uplifting, especially for marginalized communities and their supporters. She's a Glastonbury regular and Billy Bragg-approved, her politics firmly and proudly planted in the left, Socialist field. While she has been active and recording since 2006, she just recently broke through with a UK Top 40 album, Connectivity (2021), featuring the social media marketing spoof "We've Got An Office in Hackney." And for a taste of her humour/political mix, try out "I Just Want The Tories To F*** Off (A Christmas Song)." She's at the HUFF for two shows, a matinee and an evening performance on Sunday, Sept. 24.

It's a win-win for both Halifax and Fredericton as both Stinson and Petrie added dates in that city, since they were already in the neighbourhood. Petrie is going direct from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to the Fredericton Inn, where she's playing on Friday, Sept. 22, part of the Uptown at Night series presented by Music Runs Through It at 7:30 PM. And Stinson will hit Fredericton after HUFF, playing Tuesday, Oct. 3 at The Cap, plus another local show at the Trailside in Charlottetown, Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


More confident, high-quality rockin' from these Nova Scotia favourites. They have just the right amount of retro mixed with edgy 2020's vibes. Best of all is that they are never, ever, mopey. No apologies here, they rock for fun, and tell it like it is.

You gotta love a group that can take all the shit life throws and pack it all, highs and lows, into a body of songs. There's the teenage angst of Definition of a Dweeb, "My high school hair-do, all I wanted was a buzz," those outlier feelings that can keep building long after. Obstacles, with some fine fiddling from guest Morgan Toney, sees the character as the supportive partner, helping somebody get past the drudgery of daily depression, "Getting out of bed every single day, the obstacles in your way." And there's the so-good-it-miust-be-true story of Sin City, where our rock band heroes have to face life at home like everybody else when Covid knocked them off the road, "Our new normal is a bit strange, it's tough to keep a tiger tame." 

But heavy thoughts and big rock just go hand-in-hand for Pettipas and the Giants, and the album, as he says, shows how they "walk a thin line between a showboat and a shipwreck." When I think about great rock bands, that sums up a lot of them, so I figure Pettipas has that boat on the right course.  You can see them live this week at:

Thursday, July 27 - Fredericton - The Cap
Friday, July 28 - Moncton - The Tide and Boar

Monday, July 10, 2023


I've binge-watched many shows before, but I'd never binge-read a book, cover to cover, before today. Tara MacLean, the P.E.I. solo performer and member of the group Shaye, has led an incredible life that is impossible to summarize, and that's not even counting her many successes in the music world. From the depths of poverty to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, from terrible abuse to deepest love, the emotional highs and lows would have toppled the best of us. I'll just say that her survival is only because she has the fiercest of hearts. 

Her memoir, Song Of The Sparrow, leaped onto the best-seller charts the week it was released, and it became a national best-seller. There are lots of great music stories in it, from gracing the original Lilith Fair stage, to singing for Willie Nelson on his bus while they toured together, to hanging with Daniel Lanois. But really it's a book about overcoming the awful things people can do, and the heartache the world can throw at any of us, and finding grace and forgiveness inside us. And love. 

A few years ago Tara felt the call of home and moved back to P.E.I. because ... well, it's P.E.I. She's carved out a new stage in her career and life, doing theatre shows and recording again. To accompany the book, she also released the gorgeous album Sparrow, featuring some new songs and new versions of her solo and Shaye hits, produced by Daniel Ledwell. 

MacLean's been touring the country and over in Europe recently promoting the album and book, but New Brunswick folks get a treat this week, thanks to our proximity to her home. She'll be doing readings and performing songs at three public libraries, Tuesday at 6 PM in Moncton, Wednesday at 6:30 PM in Fredericton, and Thursday at 6:30 PM in Saint John. These are free events for the public.

Sunday, July 9, 2023


Here's one of the exciting newcomers on the East Coast scene. Horsebath has a sound that is made up of a bunch of elements but totally their own. The songs feature the close harmonies of singer-guitarists Keast Mutter and Daniel Connolly, filmmakers and road warriors who have traveled and sung across Canada, the U.S., and down to Mexico. All those miles have made them tight and seasoned and helped craft this addictive batch of tunes. 

Folk, roots, country, rockabilly, Cajun/Acadian, jazz, this is one tasty gumbo. There's a delicious organic sound to the six-track EP, recorded live off the floor in the titular studio. Think Blue Rodeo, if Jim and Greg sang together all the time. "Baby" has a great Tex-Mex groove, full of organ and bluesy guitar licks. "They Don't Know" is a lovely country charmer from an innocent age, when the Everly Brothers roamed the Earth. 

Even the most obviously indebted song, "Annabelle, Annabelle," features a musical twist. It starts out straight Cajun, with a scratchy fiddle in waltz time, but then adds some blue chords in the chorus. And when you think you've got it figured out, the whole thing goes sideways into a Gypsy jazz breakdown. This is fresh stuff that should appeal to lots of different ears.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023


I saw some awesome footage of whales mere feet from the shore along Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula the other day, feeding the great schools of capelin as they roll onto the beaches. It was such an amazing sight, I started thinking about visiting next year for this spectacle. That got me thinking about all the great music I've seen other times in Newfoundland, and that reminded me that Chris Picco of the favourite band Long Distance Runners has a new album out.

Sunday, June 25, 2023


I'm thinking back to 1997, the first year that New Brunswick hosted the East Coast Music Awards in Moncton. As the local music watcher for CBC, I got elevated to the lofty post of guest analyst on Morningside, with Peter Gzowski broadcasting live from the festivities. And about halfway through the discussions of various fiddlers and songwriters, Gzowski threw me a curve ball, asking, "Now what's all this about The Monoxides?"

Luckily, I was fully informed of Moncton's hometown heroes. The Monoxides had played the night before at a showcase that I'd witnessed in a smallish club. Standing quite close to the front just before the show, I realized I was beside Chris Murphy of Sloan. He took a look at the lineup of amps and speakers buzzing away on the still-empty stage, pulled out a pair of earplugs, and advised me, "This is going to be really loud." Realizing I was talking to an expert, I quickly scuttled to the back to avoid serious hearing loss.

They were more than just loud, they were explosive and fun, where punk meets rawk.  1997 was the year of excitement for the Moncton outfit. The band was signed to BMG's Canadian label Vik Records, and had a debut album released, Galaxy Of Stooges featuring the favourites "(Can't Get) Excited" and "Little Bitta Rosie." It was produced by The Pursuit of Happiness leader Moe Berg, who still calls it one of the best experiences of his career. A follow-up, The Free Release Of Energy followed in 2000, but then things slowed down. Aside from occasional gigs and a rare tracks collection, there's been no new music in those 23 years.

Until now. What a great feeling it is to hear a brand-new Monoxides track, "Let Her Know." The song comes out Wednesday, June 28, and is fresh, exciting, and punchy, full of '70's guitar and hooks, a classic earworm for those wondering if real guitar bands still matter. Even better, it's just the start of a busy summer of activity for the group. On August 25, the classic debut Galaxy Of Stooges is getting a re-release, this time on vinyl. As for shows, the band will be part of the big Canada Day celebrations at Moncton's Riverfront Park, along with their old pals Sloan, Les Hay Babies, and the Elsipogtog Spirit Singers. They are also part of the big Area 506 Festival in Saint John, joining Billy Talent and others on Aug. 5. And for that up close and personal experience, the group is doing an in-store appearance in Saint John on Aug. 19 at Second Spin Records. 

More good news: There's another single scheduled for release later this year, and that's leading up to a full album planned for 2024. I can get excited!

Friday, June 23, 2023


Jenn Grant has loads of charm both musically and personally, so it's no surprise she was able to rope in all sorts of top Canadian talent to guest on her latest. The 12 tracks each feature a famed collaborator, from national names (Basia Bulat, Dan Mangan) to local East Coast pals (Joel Plaskett, Tim Baker). This went far beyond the usual star turns, where names drop in quickly to add a vocal or instrumental part. The songs were true collaborations, The invited pals worked at length with Grant, choosing topics, considering the lyrics at length, and developing the tracks with Grant and co-producer/main partner Daniel Ledwell. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023


An artist I first saw last fall has returned to the East Coast for a series of dates, including a couple of slots at the Living Roots Festival in Fredericton. Bryce Clifford works out of Hamilton, as a roots[rock singer-songwriter. On disc, his songs have quite a punch, even a touch of punk influence and lots of drum power on cuts such as "TV Snow" from his recent Brewha East Hamilton E.P.  "Checkpoint Charlie" sounds like a much more together version of The Replacements. Let's hope he brings more of that cool blue vinyl release with him for sale at the shows.

Like last time, Clifford is joined for the live sets by Brother Brisco, a/k/a Greg Brisco, one of the stalwarts of the Hamilton music scene. The keyboard whiz first came to my attention in the Canadiana outfit The Dinner Belles with Terra Lightfoot, and with Clifford he takes on a significant role, always up for an impromptu lead vocal on a  classic cover when Clifford calls out something fun.  With the duo, the emphasis is placed on Clifford's strong lyrics and hooks at the heart of his songwriting. He has no trouble winning over audiences on the strength of his originals. With a second Downeast tour in less than a year, he's proving to be a road warrior as well. You gotta support that.

The Living Roots Festival runs Thursday, June 8 until Sunday, June 11 in Fredericton in various venues, and also features fine folks such as rising star Kellie Loder, Sherman Downey, and Joce Reyome. Bryce Clifford and Brother Brisco will be at The Ville Cooperative on Thursday at 7 pm, and at Southside Shake in the Hilton Gardens Inn Saturday at 3 pm. You'll also find them Friday, June 9 in St. Andrews at Char and Chowder, and Sunday in Hampton, NB at Gridiron Brewing.

Monday, June 5, 2023


Sonic experimenter Joe Grass is originally from Moncton, but for the past two decades has been the go-to collaborator for everyone from the Barr Brothers to Patrick Watson to Lhasa. He has a lush and lovely approach, working with rich melodies and lots of gorgeous sounds, many of them unconventional but always ear-pleasing. He coaxes delicate burbles and fragile textures out of his guitars and matches them with woodwinds, strings, harmonies, and more, to make simple tunes go to surprising places.

For Falcon's Heart, Grass wrote 10 basic folk-country numbers, and then let the magic take over when the rest of the players got involved. For a pretty standard country song like "E. Absolute," there's pedal steel, but it's far more ethereal than you'd hear from Nashville, the backing singers more angelic. And Grass has the emotional gravitas in his own voice that makes this tune, and all of them, touching and haunting. "Guadalupe" starts off as Appalachian folk, with a banjo-like plucking, but it goes full-on Peter Gabriel World music, with driving percussion, Caribbean, Indian and African flavours, and funky bass things happening. 

Each song is packed with such curious and fascinating combinations, for the most part melodic and comforting, except for some lead guitar squonking at the end of "Hart Island," to shake us briefly out of our reverie. Do you want a final, overall description? How about country songs played on rock and classical instruments with a jazz approach, featuring old-time melodies made with 21st-century recording techniques? It's all that, and a boatload of beautiful. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


Guitar virtuoso Don Ross didn't have to look far to find inspiration for his latest album, Water. It was right outside his home. When he wrote the songs, Ross was living in tiny Seabright, Nova Scotia, just minutes north of famous Peggy's Cove. Of course, the ocean spoke to him.

"It's been a theme throughout a lot of my life," says Ross, "having grown up on an island in the middle of the river in Montreal, and now for the last many years living in the Maritimes and always being right by the water. And then coming out the other side of the pandemic, it felt like resurfacing, an allegory for the whole thing."
Ross has since moved and now resides in P.E.I., where his spouse, musician Brooke Miller, is from. But the time in Seabright was crucial to the current state of his career. For much of the pandemic, he was pursuing an M.A. in orchestration online from the University of Chichester in England, quite a departure for someone recognized as one the world's great solo guitar players. Having not made an album for six years, he wanted to incorporate this new interest into this work.

"I kinda wanted to make a big, sweeping gesture with this record," says Ross. "I decided that I wasn't going to worry about guitar pyrotechnics or anything like that, I just wanted to make an album that really reflected who I was musically at this point in my life. I've been studying orchestration, so I did one piece with a full orchestra, a real 70-piece orchestra, there's a couple of other pieces with a string quintet (P.E.I.'s Atlantic String Machine), and then there's another piece with sampled orchestration, but it sounds like a real orchestra."

Ross's new skills have led him into new fields, including composing for the film and video game industries, scoring documentaries, and even a series of silent movies. As heard on the new album, more than just adding strings to guitar pieces.

"One thing does feed the other. I've always thought orchestrally as a guitarist anyway. I'm not really about the guitar, I'm not a guitar head, I don't collect guitars, and I don't listen to much guitar. I started playing guitar as a kid, and I realized it had all these properties to it, it was capable of playing melodies, harmonies, and inner voices. I wanted to approach it almost like you would a piano or an orchestra. So I've always been keen about being conscious about what I was writing, so you could almost take the piece off the guitar, and play it on the piano. It's not just guitar music for the sake of being a guitar player, I've never found that very interesting anyway. When the guitar is used in a really effective compositional, musical way, then I get turned on."

Forced off the road by the pandemic, and without an album for six years, Ross found his fans hadn't moved on. A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the new recording met its goal in just 28 hours, and he eventually doubled the initial amount sought. That let him travel, hire the orchestra, and even bring one of his early heroes in for a session. Bruce Cockburn sings the lead vocals on his own composition, "Stained Glass," from his 1974 album Salt, Sun And Time.

"I used to play the album almost every night for about a year, as I was falling asleep," says Ross. "There was just something about that song, I would hear it as I was drifting off, I'd think to myself, what a beautiful song. I learned it from the record but never did anything with it, never performed it or anything. Then about six years ago, Bruce and I were at the same music festival in Alberta. I saw we were going to be sharing the same workshop stage, and I got in touch with him and said, 'Dude, can you do a bucket list favour for me, can we do a song together?' We bandied a few about, and I said, 'What about "Stained Glass," that's probably my favourite song of yours?' And he said, 'Oh my gosh, I pull that one out every once in a while, let's do that one,' and it worked out well."

Ross is back on the road, and about to bring the Water album home to the East Coast for shows. He's also bringing another guitar player he admires, Pipo Romero, who Ross first heard online, and subsequently worked with in Spain.  

"He's from the south of Spain, the heart of Flamenco country," says Ross. "He's terrific, people go nuts when they hear him. He's a cool young guy, he's so Spanish it hurts."

You can see Don Ross with Pipo Romero at the following:

May 18 The Guild, Charlottetown
May 19 Charlotte St. Arts Centre, Fredericton
May 20 The Fiddling Fisherman, Souris, PEI
May 21 The Carleton, Halifax

Wednesday, May 10, 2023


Backed by the same players (The Ramshackle Parade) who appeared on her popular 2019 Dylan covers album, Just Like A Woman, Rhaye has embraced that hybrid acoustic-electric sound. The rich instrumentation has potent and explosive moments throughout, giving the Saint John singer-songwriter a more powerful sound than on previous albums. That's letting her hit new vocal heights too, giving her songs lots of dynamic range. That's particularly effective, given her expressive voice. We knew she could charm, but on a cut such as "Snakes and Ladders," she shows she can punch too.

The title track might be a little misleading, given its sunny optimism and easy-going feel. It's more of an outlier on an album that features as much darkness as light, and lots of dramatic details. In a song like "Sunshine Baby," she can effortlessly make us feel relaxed and happy, so to hit us right after with "I Won't Break," with its unsettling atmosphere and intense emotions, is effectively jarring. She counters the heaviness with beautiful instrumentation and voices, a potent blend.

There is a series of four very high-quality, effective videos from the album out so far, which add a whole other element, seeing the group deliver these various moody moments. Rhaye, a professional visual designer herself, has an excellent way of presenting images and colours, so that is a big part of her appeal. She's planned a big fall tour for the album, so keep these dates in mind.

Thursday, Sept 28 - Charlottetown, PEI - Trailside Music Hall
Saturday, Sept 30 - Saint John, NB - Imperial Theatre
Thursday, October 19 - Halifax, NS - The Carleton
Friday, October 20 - Shelburne, NS - The Osprey Arts Centre
Saturday, October 21 - Fredericton, NB - Charlotte Street Arts Centre
Monday, October 23 - Montreal, QC - Casa Del Popolo
Tuesday, October 24 - Toronto, ON - The Dakota Tavern Presents: Four Play
Wednesday, October 25 - London, ON - Aeolian Hall
Thursday, October 26 - Hamilton, ON - Mills Hardware
Friday, October 27 - Ottawa, ON - The Redbird Live 
Saturday, October 28 - Smiths Falls, ON - Station Theatre

Thursday, April 27, 2023


Gaio put out an EP ten years back, just out of his teens in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but then went off to school, including in Fredericton doing an MA in Creative Writing at UNB. It seems that his creative streak extended to music still, as he wrote some of the songs during those days. Once he moved to Toronto and started working, he found he still had the music bug and finished up these ten tracks for his first full album.

Right from the opening squelch of radio static and stations tuning in and out, the message is clear: he's inspired by the golden oldies stations he heard growing up, playing classic AM radio pop and rock singles. Opener "1949" contains shoo-wop backing vocals, lyrics about taking daddy's car to the beach, and lots of pumping piano and strumming guitars. 

These are light-hearted and loving takes on classic forms but combined with lots of 2023 energy. "Cry Over You" is doo-wop with a sloppy edge, Gaio getting overly dramatic for the break-up number, even yelling "I hate you!" instead of singing. There's a comfort food warmth to all these sounds, such as the sweet backing vocals and the catchy choruses, but those are camouflaging lots of smart rhymes and themes of nostalgia. Instead of mimicking 60s and 70s production, the songs are far more rough-and-ready instead of polished, along the lines of Joel Plaskett, or the Weezer-like soft-loud treatment on "Standing On Your Doorstep." 

There's a big blast of sunshine in most of the songs, particularly "So Much Younger Then," a great summertime, driving, and guitar tune. The whole album says it was a lot of fun back in the day, and it's still lots of fun now.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Brian Bourne has come a long way since his first pro band gig in Fredericton in the mid-'70s. Back then, he was playing with friends he met at UNB in a band called A Joint Effort. 

"Our very first live gig was at the Fredericton Exhibition," remembers Bourne. "We followed the trained seals, honest to God. And because of that show, we got a gig at the Hilltop," a landmark local pub still going strong.

Such humble beginnings have turned into a fifty-year music career for Bourne, the last three decades spent with East Coast allstars Rawlins Cross. But even A Joint Effort showed lots of excellence. The band's lone LP, the live A Final Effort, is now considered a freak-folk classic, with original copies currently being offered online for around $800. 

Bourne, who plays bass and the complicated Chapman Stick, joined Rawlins Cross in time for the group's second album, 1991's Crossing The Border. That's when the group expanded from its Newfoundland beginnings to become an Atlantic Canadian powerhouse. 1993's Reel 'n' Roll defined the sound of East Coast Celtic Rock, a driving rhythm section behind a front line of pipes, whistles, accordion, bouzouki, and all manner of acoustic instruments.

The classic lineup of Bourne, Howie Southwood, Joey Kitson, Geoff Panting, Dave Panting, and Ian McKinnon is being honoured at this year's East Coast Music Awards with the special Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award. It's to be presented at the Music and Industry Awards Part II, held at the Marriott Harbourfront Hotel in Halifax on Sunday, May 7 at 11 AM. The band, of course, will play a tune as well.

Bourne is quick to deflect any personal praise for the award and sends it right back to the fans. "The audience is part of this award, because that's half the show, always," he says. "Pretty well everybody, I think, has a fear of getting up in front of a crowd and showing your stuff. That's kind of why we do it anyway. It's always exciting and you hope that the crowd likes it. You just hope everybody in the band is hitting their mark at the same time, and get it out there, get that message and that sound out there. And having people out there that appreciate it, that's the gift, that's the treasure."

Bourne says the band appreciates the crowds more than ever. The audience, and new fans, have followed them through one sort-of break-up in the early 2000s, and still come out in droves when Rawlins Cross returns to the stage every two or three years. Last fall's Atlantic Canadian tour for the new Sunrise album featured sell-outs and a great spirit on stage.

"We haven't worn each other out," says Bourne. "We don't live in the same town, and there are long stretches where nothing's happening with the group. It's a joy to get together, and you just feel so young again, back to the job at hand, which is taking over the world."

He thinks one of the keys to the renewed excitement each time the band gets together is that they first record new music, from EPs to full albums, and then tour with the new material. "That keeps it fresh, doesn't it? That was always the rule of thumb back in the bar band days, learn a new song every week so people aren't getting stale up there, something to keep you on your toes."

While it's called a Lifetime Achievement award, Bourne says there's still more life to come for the group. "Why not? There's work to be done. There was a break for about six years, but since then we've been together but not active all the time. So it's not a breakup, and it's not a reunion every time we get back together. The plan is to just carry on."

They're carrying on right away. After the group gets the award on May 7, they immediately hit the road for a celebration lap around Nova Scotia. There are shows in Guysborough on Wednesday, May 10, Truro May 11, Windsor May 12, Annapolis Royal May 13, and Lunenburg May 14. After that, there are several summer festival dates in the works.

Bourne even laughed and suggested he'd be happy to play the Fredericton Exhibition again, to celebrate his 50th anniversary of music-making. Please, please let there be trained seals too. 

Monday, April 24, 2023


Photo by James West

With just a few days to go until the start of the East Coast Music Awards week in Halifax (May 3 - 7), it's about the time that ECMA CEO Andy McLean pauses for a moment and realizes just how big a job the group has ahead of it. McLean feels this is the most ambitious ECMA ever.

"Thirty full-time and contract staff, 320 volunteers, just the number of pieces, I think we all kind of went, wow, that's a lot," says McLean. "My main thing was to not underdeliver for the 35th anniversary, so I'm pretty confident we have achieved that."

That's taken a lot of ramping up in the Covid era, to get back to the pre-pandemic heights. Last year's event in Fredericton, the first in-person after two years of virtual activity, was a bit smaller as people were still weary of close quarters. 
ECMA CEO Andy McLean

"Ten weeks before the event, I still wasn't sure what public health measures were going to come in," says McLean. "We had to plan for online as well as in person, and there was a little bit of hesitancy for people to gather again. But after the first mixer and glass of wine, the masks seemed to come off and everybody had a great time."

Halifax always holds the biggest ECMA's, and 35 is a pretty impressive birthday, so the goal for the organization was to take it all one step further, with more events, more special programming, and more music opportunities for those going, and those watching at home.

As usual, the main event is near the beginning, with the Awards Gala happening Thursday night, May 4, at the Scotiabank Centre. The show is being hosted by This Hour Has 22 Minutes' Trent McLellan, and features performances by Natalie MacMaster, Neon Dreams, Fortunate Ones, City Natives, and lots more.

"We have two stages running, so we can cram as much music in as possible," says McLean. "There are going to be 13 performances and 15 awards given out, so I'm going to claim that we have the most live music of any awards. And there are some special moments that haven't been announced yet too, which look back on the ECMA's."

ECMA Gala Host Trent McLellan
The entire Awards Gala is also available to stream at, and is also being broadcast nationally on the Rogers platform, along with the pre-show Red Carpet, which starts at 6 PM. Then it's full-on live music all over Halifax and Dartmouth until Sunday.

"Over 200 individual showcases this year, in 11 official venues," says McLean. "And we've added these partnered stages, regular venues in Halifax that are not official venues but want to book music, so they are on board and booking ECMA artists that aren't official showcases. So that makes 24, 25 venues that are going to have live music."

The second batch of trophies get handed out on Sunday at 11 AM, which includes the honorary and industry awards. That show is also getting more attention, and with the recent addition of The East Pointers now features five performances. Plus the other daytime hours are filled up, especially in downtown Halifax. Saturday afternoon sees Argyle Street blocked off for the Dairy Farmers of Canada ECMA Fan Fest, a free event featuring JRDN, DeeDee Austin, Kellie Loder, and Neon Dreams.

Photo by Michael Bourgeois

There's also a daytime start to the whole event on Wednesday, with the official kick-off happening at noon at the Grand Parade. It's an opening blessing at the Wije'winen (Come With Us) Cultural Circle, a special partnership with the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre. That's a big, ongoing part of the week each day on the Grand Parade, with lit teepees, a sacred fire, on-site Elders, and drumming, dance, and song.

"It's going to be an amazing opportunity for our international delegates to witness the rich Indigenous culture," says McLean. "That started with St. Mary's in Fredericton, we had that partnership, and that's going to be something that the ECMA will continue to develop as we move through the regions, and moving forward."

Anyone who recalls the humble beginnings of the ECMA 35 years ago in the Flamingo Pub in Halifax definitely knows how the awards and the entire East Coast music industry have moved forward in that time. All the schedules, ticket info, and the mobile App can be found at

Thursday, April 20, 2023


Some things you know are just going to work great, even when it's still just an idea on paper. A'Court, Spiegel, and Vinnick are three of the most enjoyable roots/blues players traversing Canada these days. Vinnick and A'Court need no introduction to blues and festival music fans, as multiple award winners and excellent songwriters and performers. Spiegel's a relatively newer name, having been introduced to Canadian audiences just a few years back, from his native Australia. There he's a blues icon and one of the country's very top guitar players and has been wowing crowds here of late with his dynamic stage shows.

After crossing paths and hanging out, strong bonds were forged between Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Australia, and the idea of joining forces was judged a perfect one. A national tour resulted, which hit the East Coast this week, as well as a new album, combining all their talents. Vinnick's bass playing has won her a Maple Blues Award in that category, she's that good, so she handles that as well as acoustic guitar duties, while Spiegel and A'Court trade off lead and rhythm duties, and all three sing and write. That's the stage show, and the album, no need for anything else other than this super-talented trio.

The album is all original, aside from one lone cover song, "Sunshine Blues" by Bahamas, sung by Vinnick. She also contributes the dynamic "Better Angels," a heartfelt play for compassion in our messed-up world. It features beautiful harmonies from the trio and reminds me a lot of, say, a great Jann Arden single. I'm singling out songwriting first because this is far more than simply a guitar player's album, which it easily could have been. These people are grand writers and singers too, and that really makes the collection strong, from fun foot-stompers such as Charlie's "Dancing at the Dirty O" to Lloyd's classic acoustic blues, "Alligator Shoes." And yes, there's grand guitar too of course, found on two riff-happy instrumentals, A'Court's Latin jam "El Fuego," and the group co-write "Bo Jinx," full of true guitar-hero playing.

There are lots of East Coast dates, there were sold-out shows across the rest of the country, so grab your chance to see this trio, the energy will be great heading into these final concerts.

Apr. 20 - Saint John, NB - Imperial Theatre
Apr. 21 - Florenceville-Bristol, NB - Weldon Matthews Theatre
Apr. 22 - Annapolis Royal, NS - King's Theatre
Apr. 26 - Pictou, NS - deCoste Theatre
Apr. 27 - Liverpool, NS - Astor Theatre
Apr. 28 - Lunenburg, NS - Opera House
Apr. 29 - Windsor, NS - Mermaid Theatre
Apr. 30 - Truro, NS - Marigold Theatre
May 1 - Fredericton - The Playhouse
May 3 - Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL - Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre
May 7 - Torbay, NL - Jack Byrne Arena

Thursday, April 13, 2023


I keep reading about how live music will never be the same, after Covid and thanks to ridiculous Ticketmaster prices. Well, I think people gotta forget about their mega superstar shows in cities and look at how we do it out in Festival Land. One of North America's very best (and it has been for a couple of decades), Fredericton's Harvest Music Festival, has just announced its lineup for September, and it's like Covid never happened. It's back to the size and high quality of before the pandemic, featuring a finely-curated lineup of big live music stars, reliable favourite veterans, and well-chosen newer acts that are making waves with their festival sets.

Harvest is going with a "getting our Mojo back" theme, thanks to the return this year of the well-loved Mojo tent, missing in the downsized Covid era. That means there will be a full 23 ticketed shows this year, the same number as 2019, after only 16 last year. Plus, there will be about twice as many free sets on various side stages, and all the extra events at all sorts of pubs and pop-up venues.

Taking a look at all the other music festivals in the wider area, including the Maritimes, Quebec, and New England, seriously, I can't find a reason to travel elsewhere. Harvest pretty much equals or betters everyone else's lineup on a night-by-night basis. Each venue, all within a couple of blocks of the next, has two or three excellent acts, from opener to headliner. Take a look at the fourth, fifth, and sixth lines of the above poster, the fine print.. These aren't the headliners, but there are names there that I'm sure many music fans will be excited about seeing. So, it's top to bottom top quality.

Let's look at some highlights. Harvest gets the first show of a new tour by what is called Trey Anastasio with Classic Tab. That's Anastasio going back to the sound and band configuration of the classic Trey Anastasio Band (TAB), a four-piece including keyboards, and very much in the Phish style. And Harvest gets it first, jam fans. Kaleo, best known for its huge hit "Way Down We Go," has become a big touring act thanks to a fantastic live show featuring its heavier blues-rock mixed with surprisingly sensitive tunes. Plus, they're all from Iceland, which is just cool. Trombone Shorty is simply one of the greatest New Orleans performers of any generation. Gov't Mule continues its huge popularity, and Matt Andersen ... well, we'll just consider that a sell-out right now.

I'm especially pleased with the solid lineup of Canadian acts from several different fields, from the alt-rock of CanRock faves Broken Social Scene, to the Brandi Carlile-approved folkie Allison Russell. Plus there are more great names such as Daniel Lanois, Joel Plaskett, Big Sugar, Wide Mouth Mason, and David Myles. Heck, I'd go to a festival with those five names alone. And as usual, there's a huge commitment to East Coast artists as well, great pairings such as Slowcoaster featuring Carmen Townsend, and Wolf Castle with Olympic Symphonium.

You know, I've been going to this festival since its very first year, when I stumbled into a downtown bar by accident, and discovered Holly Cole singing Marvin Gaye songs just for the fun of it. Every year I expect to be jaded (my natural inclination) and not care a whole lot when the lineup is announced. But every year, I take a look and shake my head in wonder of what Fredericton accomplishes with its festival. Tickets go on sale April 20.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


Energize! is a roots combo that plays all over southern N.B., comprised of singer-songwriters Carla Bonnell and Rick Bartlett (ex-Howard Brook Band, for those with verryyy long memories). But when they're not a duo, they expand to a full band, adding in drummer Larry Steele and bass player/singer Ray Dunham. With Carla also covering keyboards, that gives them a big lineup, with three vocalists and three songwriters, called Engage. That project has taken over their activities for the past several months, resulting in the group's first album, The Time Has Come. With that many writers and singers on board, well, it's a luxury, and they make the most of it. There are a full 15 songs on the album, all three contributing their efforts, with the lead vocals shared, and lots of group backup singing too.

The album moves back and forth between folk, rock, and country, and a little bit of each in every track. The themes will be instantly recognizable to most Maritimers, including hard work, hard times, and getting past all that and enjoying life anyway. It's the kind of songwriting that reflects everybody in the hall or bar on a Friday night, the audience and the band, happy to be there, but acknowledging life can suck sometimes. "Nothing in the wishing well but dust," sings Bonnell in "No Wishes In The Well," but Bartlett has the anecdote to that in the very next song, "This One," an uptempo, positive blues. In it, he acknowledges not everything went great, he hasn't made a fortune, but he wouldn't have it any other way, screw the money and fame: "I must admit it sure sounds nice/But who would I have become?/Maybe in another life, but I really like this one." That's a pretty great attitude, and it rings throughout the whole album from each writer.
Don't expect major league recording sounds and samples here, these are working musicians, probably with day jobs as well, and they've made it themselves, grabbing time when they can, getting together over two provinces, recording in "Carla's Kitchen and Larry's Basement (NB and NS)." So, rough but certainly ready, and you can feel the hard work and happiness that went into the project. The folks that come out to see either Energize! or Engage on those Friday nights will hear their stories reflected back in the album. Speaking of gigs, Engage will be part of the upcoming Living Roots Festival, coming up in Fredericton June 8 to 11.

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.