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Stage Door Reviews: Top Ten 2012

OLP

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)

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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)

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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)

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7) Dale Murray, Dream Mountain DreamI 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)

Jenny Berkel6) Jenny Berkel, Here On A WireManitoban 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)

Stars, The North

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

Joel Plaskett Emergency

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)


Christina Martin, Sleeping With A Stranger

Halifax’s Christina Martin is already on her fifth album, but don’t feel too bad if you’ve missed out, because Sleeping With A Stranger is some of her finest work. Listeners will immediately be enamored with Martin’s beautiful voice; she has a slight treble that is reminiscent of Sarah Slean making for quite an emotional impact.

The album opens with “Water It” an analogy of keeping a relationship alive but it also showcases her craftsmanship as a pop musician and not just a singer-songwriter.

The title track follows up with a darker tone; a steady guitar chug with acoustic plucks dancing around the heartbreaking line, “I’ve been sleeping with a stranger to pass the time”. This piece also includes a string build-up that is a nice surprise.

“Marina” is one of two character pieces that looks at women saving their hearts from love;  The song features some wonderful slide guitar work (Courtesy of producer/husband Dale Murray). The epilogue to “Marina” entitled “Away From Me” is a soft piano piece engulfed in harmonies from the viewpoint of the lover that she has just left behind.

Two other highlights feature the duo of Martin and Murray; the country-jangle of “What I Always Knew” and “Secret Song” (penned by Andrew Sisk) could have come right off Murray’s solo disc.

Sleeping With A Stranger has enough surprises for the most avid alt-country fans to enjoy and you can’t help but fall for her genuine stories and passionate delivery. (Come Undone Records) ~ 4 Stars

Christina Martin – Official Site

Dale Murray, Dream Mountain Dream

Alt-country group Cuff The Duke had been Dale Murray’s main source of artistic output since 2003 and he definitely had a major influence on that band’s polished, timeless sound. On the side he was also an accomplished session player and producer helping some of Canada’s most influential artists including Hayden, Joel Plaskett, Buck 65, Matt Mays and Blue Rodeo. If you haven’t heard any of these artists, be sure to check them out.

So, it comes as no surprise that Murray left Cuff The Duke last year to focus on his studio and solo material. Dream Mountain Dream is his second solo disc and his signature sound is instantly recognizable.

The title track opens the album with sparkling guitar strums and camouflaged synths as Murray’s voice breaks through the mist reminding me of George Harrison’s sturdy timbre. “The Wind is Trying to Kill Me” is pure Duke and patiently builds up layers of country-soul followed up with the power-pop masterpiece “Assess The Mess” which grooves beautifully in the chorus – easily one of 2012’s most memorable songs. The rest of the album is a complete delight as many of the songs creep into your conscience after multiple listens especially “My New World”, “You Are My Girl” and “Song After The Storm”.

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) ~ 4 Stars

Dale Murray – Official Site

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