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.