Category Archives: Album Reviews
It has been over a year since my last review but something about Americana folk-pop duo Westrin & Mowry’s long-awaited sophomore release, The Past Rushes In, begged for an in-depth listen. The duo features singer-songwriter Brian Westrin and producer/multi-instrumentalist Peter Mowry who have not worked together since their 2005 debut, One Week Epiphany.
Beginning with the opening title-track, it is quite apparent that Westrin & Mowry have put plenty of thought and care into the flow of this album – as it listens the way a great novel reads. The haunting title track creeps in, like a forgotten memory, with Mowry’s warm acoustic plucks (bringing to mind Nick Drake’s commanding use of space). Not to be out done, Westrin paints a bleak picture of a relationship that is tested to its limits; “How long can we sit here alone? How long can we talk on the phone? How long till the past rushes in and destroys us?”
Pretty powerful stuff, but this doom and gloom does not set the tone of the album, there are some positive revelations here as well. For example, “Something Missing” features some beautiful accordion, organ and steel guitar layers with Westrin at his most commanding wishing “you give me one more try”. Other highlights include the 70’s pop shuffle, “Never Alone”, the country power ballad “Ghost Of A Chance” which has Mowry channeling Elton John and “White Flag” is yet another example of folk-music produced to perfection.
With The Past Rushes In, I’m happy to report that the chemistry between the duo have only grown stronger during their long absence. Don’t be too surprised to see this on many Top Ten list by years end. ~ 4/5 Stars
The band’s third release, Restless, teems with excitement over their current lineup which features founding members Huge Clarke (Guitar/Vocals), Phil Clark (Sax/Vocals), Brian Steeves (Drums) along with newcomers Hilton Reddick (Guitar), Michael Robinson (Trombone/Piano) & Jamie Sparks (Bass).
Highlights include smooth jazz opener “Walk Alone”, the retro-soul groove “I Got You” and the adult disco slide “Home Again”; all are sung by Sparks and his tenor reminded me of John Legend’s soulful delivery. Clarke takes over vocal duties on the reggae-tinged “Light of Day” and the old school rock joint “Lonesome” showcasing his range in two very different styles.
Overall the band’s sheer enthusiasm is contagious, they have collected a strong set of songs that captures the essence of their influences; the band even gives homage by laying down some inspiring covers of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. That being said, the band’s original work is what makes Restless an enjoyable listen from beginning to end. (Independent) ~ 3.5 Stars / 5 Stars
Roveena first grabbed attention with her cover of Etta James classic “At Last” which made her a YouTube star. The right people took notice and since then her career took off to new heights and if this 5-song EP is any indication, Roveena is set for greater things. Perfect World succeeds in showcasing her voice and these soaring adult contemporary ballads suit her best.
Saying that, there really isn’t anything here you haven’t heard before, even the world music (sitar & tabla) are used in a subtle way, so they don’t really add anything new – but it is still very cool to hear in the mix.
Also, it can’t be a coincidence that the best song is the title track, co-written by Roveena. As she states in her press bio the song deals with, “body image when you’re younger” and that the “song is a window to my soul”. She carries these emotions into three other songs, “Love Will Light The Way”, “I Lied” & “Alone Another Night” all are produced to a sheen and she manages to make these songs her own.
There is an ill-advised cover of Mr.Mister’s hit “Broken Wing”, which seems awfully forced and I still hate the song, it makes me wonder why she didn’t cover Etta James. Sure, it is something she has already done, but it would haven be great to include on her debut.
Overall, this is a great introduction to an amazing new voice and with comparisons being drawn to other famous divas (Celine Dion & Whitney Houston) we’ll see what she brings to the table in years to come. (Vintage Green Records) ~ 3/5 Stars
Tusks’ debut full-length was almost never realized; leading man Samir Khan was plagued by writer’s block and (by the sounds of it) he was just tired of the music business. Thankfully, the experience of creating music with a group of friends trumps all that bullshit. The end result is, Total Entertainment; an incredibly intense listen that excels at capturing the exact feeling of Khan’s wordplay.
Opening track, “Little Pirouettes” captures that dizzying experience of pouring your heart out on stage with intense guitar buildups as Khan shutters, “It’s all about you and how you’re gonna cope/with the coming of the breathless air/and how you will survive on those lonelier stages…. and if you do it right, watch worried become weary/the repertoire’s compete, but somehow there’s no spark”. Follow-up track, “Oceans” is more upbeat with shimmering piano plucks, doo-wop backups and a great story about building a commonplace lifestyle.
Check out the track “Family Arms” below – it is the perfect example of how dynamic Tusks are; the band perfectly melds all their elements into this 4-minute epic, drummer Steven McKay especially kills with some really inventive timekeeping. “New to Old Money” brought back memories of the 90’s alt rock-ballad and that is not a backhanded comment – I love that style of music and Khan has written a gem here.
At only 8 tracks, Total Entertainment flies by, but it is a record that will resonate with you. It is a mature alternative record that is well-thought out, layered in sounds, and Khan’s stream of consciousness lyrical style opens up to new emotions with every listen. (Independent) ~ 4/5 Stars
On the follow-up to her eclectic debut, Mav’rik, Greenberg and producer Jordan Klapman roar back with a another daring set of original jazz songs.
Opening with the romantic title track, Greenberg is accompanied by vocalist Marcelo Neves, both lulling the listener into a slow dance groove, setting the passionate tone for the album.
Now, If you didn’t know Greenberg and her bag of tricks, you’d think this was her shtick – slow dance grooves on repeat. Instead the album flows right into the big band sounds of “Spring Must Be Coming” and then into the smoky blues tango “Ce Stato un Tempo (There Was A Time)”. Other highlights include, “Vouloir Quitter Son Ile (Living On The Outside)” and “Solitudes” – both reminded me of Tom Waits’ 2002 playhouse romp Alice.
Song In The Wind, is inspired by its namesake throwing caution to the wind and taking the listener on a wild and fun ride; intermingling tango, salsa, and jazz ballads into a spirited blend of show tunes. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Kyp Harness is a Canadian singer-songwriter that hasn’t quite captured the success of his counterparts, but both Daniel Lanois and Ron Sexsmith advocate Harness as “A great songwriter” and “My favourite songwriter” – So, I’m pretty sure with backing like that, there’s something pretty damn special about him.
The Wrong Way/Can A Poor Man Get A Fair Trial? are two separate releases – released together; already a gutsy move in this electronic age and having also just put out Resurrection Gold in 2011, I’m going in concerned about quantity over quality. In addition, Harnees’ voice is less than ideal and is an acquired taste sounding like a mix between Robyn Hitchcock and Bob Dylan (circa 80’s), although like those artists, the wordy and inspired lyrical content will win you over.
The Wrong Way is a collection of pop songs that vary from loose and playful 60’s pop (“The Wrong Way”, “True Blue” and “Lovely Christmas”) and beautiful ballads (“Baby Gets The Blues”, “There Is A Place” and “Start Anew”). The album balances these songs perfectly and Harness creates memorable melodies that go quite well with his wordplay – so much so that by the third listen I was already singing along without even realizing it.
On Can A Poor Man Get A Fair Trial? Harness sounds a bit more at home with standard folk and country traditions. Opening track, “Wonderful To See” sounds much more confident than anything off The Wrong Way; and this continues on to “The Old Crone In The Forest”, “Prince Of Dreams” and “The King And The Pauper” all which are clearly inspired by Leonard Cohen. Really, there is not a song on Fair Trial that I don’t enjoy and it definitely deserves a closer listen as there are deeper themes and emotions that I probably missed on first listen.
Overall, Kyp Harness lives up to the praise of his peers and clearly with these collection of songs there seems to be no end to his lyrical prowess and his ability to manipulate them into any style of music. (Independent)
The Wrong Way: 3/5 Stars & Can A Poor Man Get A Fair Trial?: 4/5 Stars
I’m loving Erin Costello. First off, her voice is simply transfixing, immediately familiar to Soul Sisters of Motown and akin to the throaty tone of Adele and Amy Winehouse. Like her contemporaries, We Can Get Over is adorned with classic soul infused with genuine passion; expressing the joys and pains of life. There is a deep respect for the genre and Costello sticks pretty close to the rules, but it never gets stale and every song is executed so well that you quickly get wrapped up in the retro atmosphere. There are so many great moments to choose from, but my favourites include the playful doo-wop “Oh Me Oh My”, the funky 70’s strut “Count To 10”, the slow-burn “Let It Go” and the gospel tinged “Down Down”. Overall, We Can Get Over, is both a sonically and emotionally pleasing album that seductively enriches sweet soul vibes for a new generation while paying respect to the past. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Charles Di Raimondo is probably best known for his work with Canada’s Three Tenors, but this versatile producer/composer/arranger continues to push himself as an artist. He began his solo career quite naturally with two albums that featured classical music – The Arias and Arias and Serenades – before branching off on 2005’s jazz release, Summer Rain. On his latest, Passione, Raimondo takes on a producing role, implementing some crossover sounds akin to Ill Divo or Josh Groban.
Passione’s best moments are when Raimondo stays on the classical side of his sound; especially when sung in Italian. Moments like “Bianca Spiagga”, “E Lucevan Le Stelle” and “Mamma (Nell’Eterna Melodia)” are absolutely stellar and best capture Raimondo’s outstanding tenor. My favourite song is the romantic Mediterranean vibe, “Aquella Noche En Madrid” – an easy listening jazz number that will set the mood just right for late nights.
As I mentioned, Raimondo mixes it up with a few pop influences, and to be honest, they really aren’t too bad. “When I’m Back On My Feet Again”, “Time To Say Goodbye” and Marc Anthony’s hit “My Baby You” are all overly dramatic (which, I realize is the point) but when put beside some of the other beautifully arranged classical songs, they end up sounding quite out-of-place for this listener. This seems to be the standard in the genre though, so while the sound may not always be hip, it is meant to be emotive and a driving force to that saving grace; Raimondo’s golden voice.
With the popularity of this genre rising, it was only time before a Canadian would step out from the shadows and with Passione, Raimondo is more than up to the challenge, he fits right in with the international stars. (Independent) ~ 4/5 Stars
Dance Movie is singer-songwriter Tara Thorne and on her first full-length she is backed by Rebecca Zolkower (Strings/Glock) and Craig Jennex (Drums) along with an entourage of talented Nova Scotian musicians.
Taking influence from Regina Spektor’s four-producer approach (2009’s Far), the fittingly titled Interlopers, is helmed by Matt Charlton, Amelia Curran and Jenn Grant; all of whom take Dance Movie into very different styles of indie-pop music. Some listeners may find this ruins the flow of the album – and I would agree – but others will enjoy this gauntlet of experimentation. Some highlights include, the lulling opener “A Quick Drink and a Slow Dance”, the Karen O inspired “Yeah You Are” and the sweet folk homage “Snow Heart”.
Even with these great moments I still found Interlopers to be a difficult listen as a collection of songs. There are just too many that lack energy and get boring really quick (“Big Talker”, “Blood Ablaze” & A Million More Dollars”). With that said, there is still more to love here then to hate – so give it a listen and find what wets your indie-pop appetite. (Independent) ~ 3/5 Stars
Old English began as a solo project for Matt Henderson but this “accidental band” grew as Henderson “found himself missing the collaborative nature” that he was used to working with. Evolving into a collaboration with 15 other artists – the sound of the Old English will tug at your heartstrings and will remind you of The Stars and even Bran Van 3000.
“We’ve Been Here Before” is the first single off the band’s debut LP, Prose and Kahns, which has an early 2013 release date. You can hear Henderson’s excitement to share in his creation, the upbeat, pop-dance track is infectious and is expertly produced. Layers of beats, mellifluous backing vocals, dreamy synthesizers and horns are all intoxicating; perfectly capturing the story of past lovers rekindling an old flame.
Download the first single below, along with a remix of the same track by Allosaurus – both tracks are well worth your time. Now, all we have to do is wait for the full-length. (Independent) ~4/5 Stars