My friends and family are big on tea and coffee beverages – whether they be hot or cold, light, dark or very old. Just recently, my husband and I were blessed with a new addition to our family, and ever since, have had a slew of visitors rotate through our home. It’s fair to say that most of our time is spent entertaining and enjoying our loved ones. The coffee pot and tea kettle are on permanent use. So when our family was given the opportunity to try the new Keurig 2.0 brewing system for free from Influenster, we jumped at the chance to do so. It’s true, our current coffee maker has seen better days, and I cringe just thinking about what the permanent discoloration at the bottom of the coffee pot could be. Our kettle isn’t much better, it’s lost the ability to open up fully and we are forced to pour hot water through the tiny opening at the top of it. When the Keurig 2.0 arrived, we plugged it in right away. Its extraordinary light weight was surprising for such a high end looking device and unlike previous versions, this new model was able to brew both a single cup and multiple cups of hot beverage at one time, was much faster, and could also be used for brewing water – eliminating my families need for separate appliances. Plus what was really impressive was its ease of set-up, operation and cleaning which took only minutes. Also, if you’re picky about style, the Keurig offers multiple color changing options for the display and water reservoir to match your kitchen décor. With the options of green, red, blue and white available to choose from, our family chose the blue to match our kitchen back splash, but plan on changing to red for our Christmas celebration. We could not be happier with the product and are continuously surprised by the vast selection of beverages available for brew such as French vanilla, dark roasts, English breakfast, hot chocolate, only to name a few and have finally discarded our families prized coffee maker and tea kettle.
I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes. #Keurig2point0
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
10) Our Lady Peace, Curve: It was surprising reconnecting with Our Lady Peace on their eighth LP. Even though I still followed the band’s career after 2000’s Spiritual Machines it was only through purchasing used CD’s. But the intensity and rush of emotion of Curve’s first single “Heavyweight” brought me back to the fold. Critics haven’t given this album enough credit; the band took 2 ½ years crafting these songs and their range and depth are huge leaps forward in their development. Curve plays flawlessly, and the band clearly has no limits on where they can take their sound, easily 2012’s most satisfying comeback. (Coalition Entertainment Records)
9) Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts: Norah Jones’ break-up album Little Broken Hearts feels like her most personal to date; stylistically it remained me of Beck’s Sea Change and I think a lot of that vibe has to do with producer Danger Mouse bringing in unique sounds to Jones’ ever expanding canvas. Sure, things are always simmering within her down-tempo formula, but only Jones can make that sound fresh. (Blue Note Records)
8) Jack White, Blunderbuss: Anything Jack White touches turns to gold and his debut is killer. What gets me the most though is the whole vibe of Blunderbuss – it just sounds effortless and it plays like an instant classic. White’s band is out of this world as well and can play any kind of groove from the funk strut of “Trash Tongue Talker”, the psychedelic-hoedown closer, “Take Me With You When You Go” and brilliant soul word-play on first single “Love Interruption”. Why so low on the list? There were a few other albums that hit me a bit more emotionally, but I can’t deny this record’s brilliance. (Third Man Records)
7) Dale Murray, Dream Mountain Dream: I reviewed Dale Murray’s sophomore Dream Mountain Dream back in April and it is still in my listening cue to this day. As I said in my review: “These songs look to the present to find hope in the future and resonate quite strongly with me. Dream Mountain Dream is a charming listen that solidifies Murray’s signature sound and puts him in the national spotlight as a major solo artist”. (Come Undone Records)
6) Jenny Berkel, Here On A Wire: Manitoban singer-songwriter Jenny Berkel’s debut, Here On A Wire, is one of my favourite folk albums of the year. Her voice resembles Sarah McLaughlin but with deeper tones and her wonderfully poetic songs are deeply personal, reflective and always beautiful – producer Matt Peters blends in just enough textures (electric slide, horns & organ) to keep things lively without cluttering the mix. (Independent)
5) Stars, North: The Stars are always reliable and have yet to release a weak album in their decade long career. The North, continues this streak by making intelligent pop music full of character and emotion; listeners will instantly love the nostalgic electronic layers as the band infuses soaring choruses and their acute sense of anthemic build-ups and devastating rhymes. (Soft Revolution Records)
4) Peter Katz, Still Mind Still: Canadian singer-songwriter, Peter Katz has been working on Still Mind Still’s songs for quite a while – back in early 2011 he was already touring with these songs under his belt and he must have been itching to laying them down. Katz keeps things simple and immediate with soothing acoustic backdrops and enduring heartfelt melodrama. “Days And Night” slowly builds into an apex of vocal layers, horns and pounding drums, “Thunder In Your Chest” is a tender pop-moment that The Shins wish they could still write. The title track is the mantra of the record, built as a lullaby for a friend, Katz found that it also helped him – the album version is beautifully done. Still Mind Still is a heartfelt effort with meaningful and powerful songs that will help you get through the hard times. (Shape Of A Boy Music)
3) Paper Beat Scissors , Paper Beat Scissors: My favourite new artist of 2012 was Tim Crabtree’s ambitious vehicle, Paper Beat Scissors. Opening track “End in Themselves” will remind listeners of the ethereal world of Sigur Rós; Loops, electronic stutters and vocal manipulation are all present and the mix is beautifully done (courtesy of Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara). Other highlights include: “Season’s Rest” and “Rest Your Bones” both open with Crabtree’s wonderful voice and a simple guitar melody that slowly develops into a textured, cinematic arrangements that includes a full brass section. “Once”, “Tendrils” and “Let Me In” are all quieter folk-pop songs where Crabtree shows that he is a singer-songwriter at heart and is just as lethal solo as when a full band is backing him. (Forward Music Group)
2) Bend Sinister, Small Fame: The hardest working band in Canada continues to put out album after album of 70’s inspired rock that totally kills from top to bottom. You get a whole lot of juicy guitar solos, jaw-dropping beats (that build up that manic energy) while lead vocalist’s Don Moxon’s rock falsetto bring in some much-needed passion to the rock world. Close your eyes and point at the track listing and you’ll hit a highlight – my favourites include the roll-licking “Man Of Faith And Virtue”, the poppier moments courtesy of “One Shot” & “Give It A Rest” and “Quest For Love” an epic assault on the auditory senses that bests showcases what Bend Sinister is all about. Easily one of Canada’s most under-appreciated bands; I saw them play in Winnipeg to a pretty small turn out, but they still played their damn hearts out, leaving the crowd completely stunned. (File Under Music)
1) Joel Plaskett Emergency, Scrappy Happiness: Scrappy Happiness is an ode to rock n’ roll – the songs are lean, built on inspired hard rock riffs while Plaskett revels in the energy of three band mates jamming. It’s a raw effort that succeeds because of its unique recording situation; the band recorded one song for each week, for ten weeks and immediately released it to CBC Radio 2 and iTunes before compiling it together for a traditional release.
Opening track “Lighting Bolt” sets the tone for the album as the rhythm section takes hold, Plaskett piles on the one liners and at the key moment introduces a little mayhem found in his distorted guitar solos. “You’re Mine” opens with my favourite line, “Let’s make a racket for the old and young/for the desperate souls and the lucky ones/if we get lonely, if we get lost/ let’s rattle on till the wheels come off”. It’s another big rock number and one of the many calls to action, but there are some sombre moments that make it a varied listen. “Harbour Boys” takes a Celtic turn and could of come off of 2007’s Ashtray Rock, “Slow Dance” is a hopelessly romantic rock ballad that basks in its chorus.
There’s not a miss-step here and every track is sing-along ready – Scrappy Happiness is some of Joel Plaskett’s best work – its an emotional ride that will have you believing in rock n’ roll once again. (MapleMusic Recordings)
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