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Stage Door Reviews: Top Ten 2011

10) Rob Waddell, Letters Unsent: Rob Waddell’s second release was one my favourite folk albums of the year – full of humour, heartbreak and optimism – Waddell writes from experience and his songs are pretty damn catchy too. Letters Unsent is forever bound to his hometown of Arden Ridge, Manitoba, but within these songs are tender moments that everyone will be able to find themselves in – this is the kind of album you grow old with. Choice Cuts: “If Your House Were On Fire”, “Conversion Van” & “Come Down From That Ledge” (Independent)

9) Jeff Martin 777, The Ground Cries Out: Jeff Martin ended 2011 by reuniting The Tea Party but, before that, he managed to put out an excellent second solo disc. Back in full force are Martin’s Middle Eastern flavoured infused alt-rock, radio worthy ballads and slick folk-blues numbers. The Ground Cries Out features some his best work to date. Choice Cuts: “Queen Of Spades”, “1916” & “The Ground Cries Out” (Riverland Records)

8) Ben Lee, Deeper Into Dream: Over three albums, starting with 2005’s Awake is The New Sleep , Ben Lee crafted some of his most memorable pop tunes. Expecting much of the same on his eighth self-produced release, Deeper Into Dream, I was surprised with eerie Flaming Lips-like soundscapes and eager indie rockers. Choice Cuts: “Lean Into It”, “I Want My Mind Back” & “Pointless Beauty”  (Dangerbird Records)

7) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: One 2011’s most surprising releases (for me) was ex-Oasis Noel Gallagher’s debut album. I always liked Noel’s attitude when it came to the public battles with his brother and I always rooted for him. The freedom from Liam speaks volumes here as Noel brings in the more dramatic layers of radio-rock with depth and deft craftsmanship. Choice Cuts: “Dream On”, “If I Had A Gun” & AKA….What A Life” (Sour Mash Records)

6) Abby Dobson, Sleeping Beauty – You Are The One You Have Been Waiting On: Sexy, confident and unapologetic – Abby Dobson’s Sleeping Beauty turns R&B on its head by intertwining jazz, reggae, soul, gospel and even country into her slow-burning grooves. At over 13 songs, every track is a journey into different stages of a relationship gone sour and is “a call for people to wake up and make their dreams come true”. Choice Cuts: “Cool Rain”, “I’m Drownin” & “Didn’t Know You’d Be The One” (LadyBraveBird Music)

5) Alex Jacquemin, First and Last Light: Alex Jacquemin’s double album of loop inspired compositions was my favourite jazz record of the year. First & Last Light is a classic mosaic of multi-cultural modern jazz that challenges contemporary jazz to extend beyond what is considered popular. Definite listen for guitar enthusiasts or those looking for a challenging but gratifying listen. Choice Cuts: “A Suzanne”, “The Charm” & “Snakes” (Independent)

4) Tom Waits, Bas As Me: Tom Waits is up to his old tricks again with another stellar collection of ramshackle tales that take you through bluesy grunge, rag-time ballads and odd ball experiments. Basically, Waits’ took 2006’s three disc set Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards and made one killer album. Choice Cuts: “Get Lost”, “Face To The Highway” & “Hell Broke Luce” (Anti- Records)

3) Kim Wempe, Painting With Tides: The haunting and simple opening track  “Chameleon” sums up this brilliant country-folk record where Kim Wempe reveals variations of roots music that are close to her heart. But what you take away after the final strum is just how absorbing and powerful Wempe’s vocals are and you get a strong sense of what she is all about. Painting With Tides is so enjoyable because of Wempe’s honest songwriting and inspiring music taps into the inner workings of the human condition – you can’t help but feel connected to every nuance and word. Choice Cuts: “Chameleon”, “Roots” & “Rhythm Of The Road” (Ground Swell Music)

2) Flying Fox and The Hunter/Gatherers, Hans My Lion: Flying Fox and The Hunter/Gatherers’ delivered knock-out performances on their debut album, Hans My Lion, a concept album based on a mythological tale of a lion born of a human womb. Combining their extensive musical experiences, the band is an impressive sextet that has found a balance between gypsy hard-bop and indie-pop; and everything in between. Having obviously poured all their soul and creativity into a record that gets more and more involved with every listen and accomplished the impossible –  captured the magic of their live performances. Choice Cuts: “Vanity”, “Hammer” & “Spring” (Independent)

1) Noah and The Whale, Last Night On Earth: The beauty of Noah and The Whale’s third release is in its simplicity. Every song is centred around lyricist/singer Charles Finks unironic lyrics and the band has an amazing tendency to capture the nostalgic moments of Springsteen, Velvet Underground and Fleetwood Mac with their own upbeat 80’s vibe. This is the one album that I carried around with me all year-long; the album is about changing your life for the better on your own terms and it was my soundtrack for 2011. Check Out: “Tonight’s The Kind Of Night”, “Wild Thing” & “Just Before We Met” (Mercury Records)

Alex Jacquemin, First & Last Light

Modern jazz guitarist Alex Jacquemin’s latest memoirs First & Last Light is double concept album that captures specific moments of creation. The first album, colour-coded blue is called Charms and was created in 2010 with the help of a loop station accompanied by percussionist Mario Monaco and cellist Yoed Nir. The second album, colour-coded brown is called Zanchin and are live, spontaneous compositions created again with a loop station accompanied with just Yoed Nir back in 2008.

Let’s work our way backwards.

Zanchin was first conceived when Jacquemin moved to New York City where he could only play small gigs – hence delving into loop station technology – his musical partnership with Yoed Nir flourished during this period and the duo create beautifully together. The loop station here isn’t used as a gimmick and works because of the spontaneous nature of the recording, you can feel the artists reacting to one another and it helps that Jacquemin has no limitations to his guitar style. Every track on Zanchin is a dedication; opener “A Suzanne” is for his mother and revolves around a heart-breaking melody line, “A Bridgette” is for a friend who committed suicide and is a breath-taking buildup of guitar and cello loops while German philosopher, “A Peter Sloterdijk” is epitomized in Afro-beat.

Charms is the perfect companion disc to the moodier styling of Zanchin and features bright and groovier tunes taking “A Peter Sloterdijk” one step further by creating an entire album of African beats with percussionist Monaco. In addition, these melodic arrangements allow Jacquemin to show off a bit more as otherworldly opener “The Charm” proves. Follow-up track, “Snakes” features some scary quick finger-picking that builds on some eerie electronic sounds created by the guitar while my favourite track “Children” creates an atmosphere of joy with a few simple chords and effective playing.

First & Last Light is a classic mosaic of multi-cultural modern jazz that challenges contemporary jazz to extend beyond what is considered popular. Definite listen for guitar enthusiasts or those looking for a challenging but gratifying listen – prepared to be awed. (Independent)

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Alex Jacquemin – Official Site

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