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
2009 ECMA nominee, Norma MacDonald’s third album, Morning You Wake, is an easy-to-love collection of country songs that gets better with every listen. MacDonald and producer Phil Sedore have taken the time and consideration to create a diverse collection of stories that hit an emotional note with the listener.
“Cordelia” greets the listener with a simple accordion line and MacDonald’s beautiful voice as she reflects on a life-long friendship. She continues to score big on heartfelt follow-ups “Lesson Learned”, “Ages” and “Bright as You Dare”; All feature different arrangements that resonate a country vibe but are alt-rock, pop and jazz influenced respectively.
I won’t hold you back this time, you were meant to burn and shine, and I was made for leaving behind, so go where you’re going….
This is one of my favourite lines on the record and is the theme for key track, “Canada Day”. When MacDonald hits that line, instead of sounding resentful or bitter, she celebrates the growth of this person with harmonious layers of organ, steel lap and horns. Again, MacDonald reaches folk perfection on the brooding “Black Hearts of the Company” a song based on Cape Breton coal-miner William Davis, who was shot and killed by mining police during a protest in 1925; This track could have fit perfectly on Bruce Springsteen’s Devils & Dust.
Calling Morning You Wake a country-pop record would be an injustice as every track tackles the country genre from a different point of view and like MacDonald’s life-worn poetry they take you on a journey….you just have to give it some time. (Independent)
Cape Breton’s Carmel Mikol is making quite a name for herself since releasing her independent debut, In My Bones. Besides being a triple nominee at the 2011 East Coast Music Awards, she has managed to garner international attention by winning both The 2010 Great American Song Contest and The International Singer Songwriter Awards Contest in the folk category.
But, let’s put aside all those accolades because in the end they really don’t matter. Sure, it is nice to win awards but Mikol knows the only true way to effect people is by baring your soul on stage; and these eight simple folk songs are tailored made for that intimate live setting.
I should note that Creature is hip with the digital age, coming with a companion e-book for those that pre-order the album. The e-book is a brilliant idea and a beautiful piece of work that will give fans a greater appreciation for the album and an even more personal look into the inner workings of Mikol’s heart. The first line in the book says:
“I collected all my father’s journals after he died. I read them slowly….Searching, searching”.
We begin our journey with Mikol’s father as he breaks away for the border seeking the Canadian Dream; the opening title track sets the tone for the entire record, a deep resonance of old-time country and poignant, poetic consciousness that will remind fans of Sarah Harmer and Bright Eyes.
From there we are taken on a journey through the human experience: “Lion and Lamb” flows like a hip-hop scat about being unable to escape where you grew up while “Somewhere Else” yearns to be swept off by a soul-mate. “Leaver” and “Made” are straight up, country hoe-downs about our very basic human desires and “Twenty Something Girl” is loaded with political truths about our destructive nature.
“You left a carbon print, where you laid, the breath that started it, slow fade” – is only one of the many tender lines on the deeply personal and final poem, “I Miss the Moon”. The tearful ballad is a beautiful ode to life and is obvious that the wound of her father’s death is still fresh.
Creature succeeds in capturing her father’s memories through the country-folk tradition; creating memorable songs that get carried from one person to another. I’m sure that throughout her searching Mikol found out more about herself than about her father; All that is here for the listener to take in. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
A lot of people hate the term “singer-songwriter”. Some think of it as critic speak, an easy tag for someone without a band. Surely, any musician can simply write down some words, sing along and then….BANG! Singer-songwriter. Well, it isn’t that easy. Singer-songwriters play deeply personal songs that reflect the times as well as themselves within the folk-blues tradition. Winnipeg’s Rob Waddell is one of those artists – a true musician’s musician.
His second release, Letters Unsent is gentle, understated and is easily one of the best folk albums of the year. Now I am not saying that Letters Unsent will reinvent folk music, quite the contrary, Waddell religiously stays within traditional folk lines. But, somehow, he manages to create a distinct voice for himself and that is what makes it such a great album.
The first unsent letter, “If Your House Were On Fire” is a carefree jangle blessed with pedal steel and mandolin as Waddell sings half-joking:
“But if your house were on fire
And you thought of all the things you had acquired
Say your half way out the window down the tree
Would you think at all of coming back for me”
“Were On Fire” is followed up with “Moonlight” a romance ballad that follows a love-line from that first ‘double dare’ glance, right through college ending with the picture perfect line, “To see you playing with our children warms my heart”. Bringing back the mellow backing band on “Conversion Van”, Waddell jives about “my retirement plan is to damn the man” as the band lies low punching in at just the right moments. Quickly turning solo again, “Come Down From That Ledge” is a heart-wrenching display that has Waddell trembling “It was right around then that I thought to myself, this is gonna take more than I have in me to give”.
Letters Unsent is forever bound to Waddell’s 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. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
With the Winnipeg Folk Festival wrapping up this weekend, it was fitting coming home to The Twilite Broadcasters. A traditional roots duo from Asheville, North Carolina, these guys embody everything genuine about old-time country, folk and bluegrass. The band’s second album, Trail of Time, is composed of classic and traditional Americana tunes and Adam Tanner (mandolin, guitar, fiddle and vocals) and Mark Jacks (guitar and vocals) are here to school new and old listeners on how to play the country blues.
Opening with the Tanner original “North Buncombe Gallop” you get an idea of where their hearts lie. North Buncombe is a county in North Carolina that spans across many cities, so the track brings to mind The Broadcasters own journey, touring relentlessly through these back roads. Just like jazz musicians, these guys are master storytellers that get your imagination in overdrive.
The duo’s first interpretation is The Carter Family’s “Coal Miner Blues” and this track always kills me. Starting off with the line “Some blues are just blues, mine are the coal miner blues” well, what is the difference between the blues and coal miner blues? The response gets worse as the track goes on but ends with, “for my face will cave in, and my life I will lose”. Tanner and Jacks skillfully play around one another and their vocal harmonies go together like peanut butter and jelly – the perfect blend that transcends time.
Other highlights include The Louvin Brother’s ballads “I Can’t Keep You In Love With Me” and “Lorene” both capture the feeling of complete hopelessness. “Lorene” especially tugs at the heart, I picture a man at war pleading for a letter from his women “I hope your still waiting, but your last letter is way over due” then a beautiful, simple mandolin line sums up our character’s soul. It sounds like an album full of ballads, but no worries, the group pulls out some barn-burners including Bill Monroe’s “Land of Lincoln” and “The Fiddler’s Dream” – both are gloriously fun and rowdy instrumental numbers.
I could go on and on about The Twilite Broadcasters but the only way to get them is to hear it. The Trail of Time captures the spirit of just not America – but the heart and soul of the musical genre we so broadly call Country. (Shut Eye Records/Pete Knapp & Co)
Rating 4.5/5 Stars
NikTex is a collaborative effort between Nikole Texidor, daughter of Jazz percussionist, Joseph Texidor (Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and multi-instrumentalist Manjinder Benning; who adds an exotic modern texture to The Power of Yang’s folksy origins. Receiving a grant from The Canada Council of Arts, this infectious debut is a deeply personal reflection from Nikole’s journals and looks at all the male figures that have effected her life. Like the Taoist symbol this album represents both the positive and negative – but even dark times can turn out to be happy accidents (“Definitely Lazy” and “Traffic In The Rain”).
Street noise and a tender kiss greet the listener as the electro-coffeehouse pop “Pantyhose” makes for a provocative introduction to a beautifully flowing album. The lush textures of “Irrationalities” follows up next and instantly reminded me of Canadian soundscapers The Hermit and again on the post 9/11 inspired “This Too Shall Pass” the duo capture soft plucks blended perfectly with well-timed electronic and organic percussive beats. Obviously, the untimely passing of Nikole’s father has had a great effect on her; “Red Car” is based on a dream she had a few weeks after his death and captures the man’s convention both lyrically and musically. On the dark side, “ManFather” was written about an argument she had with her father in 2005 (the song was finished a few months after he passed away in 2008) and is now a heartbreaking argument that goes unanswered – “ManFather what’s wrong? You grew angry and old, Alone”.
On more than one occasion the album comes dangerously close to sounding repetitive, as every track is a play on the same formula, but in the end, every track is deeply moving, intimate and so tactfully detailed that The Power Of Yang is one of the lost treasures from 2010. (Independent)
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Claudia Georgette’s latest video “Signet Ring” has gotten over 60,000 views in the past three months and it is easy to see why. “Ring” is a tongue in cheek account of suburbanites taking on urban personalities. Along with the outrageous visuals, the combo of funked out barber-shop music and the line “Doing all this blow, doesn’t make you ghetto” make for the perfect break out hit. In celebration of a succesful 2010, Georgette is giving away her new single “Chat Shows” on her Facebook Page. Check her out, you won’t be disappointed.
After recording and producing 2008’s An Awful Racket and 2009’s Get Angry About It, Scott Dunbar brought in engineer Corwin Fox to help him lay down 24-tracks in one week for his official third release. Two Years To Live, beautifully captures the chronicles of a traveling vagabond across the Canadian landscape. Split into two discs – One Man Band and My Boy’s Gonna Play In The Big Leagues – topics range from enraged political/social views, to topical and intimate love stories. Although, in this day in age these themes are beginning to blur, Dunbar attacks all issues with the same folk-blues boiling point.
As the title of disc one suggests, One Man Band, features Dunbar pulling off his day job as a street musician and showcasing why he is so widely popular on the Folk festival circuit. Dunbar shines on the passionate and bare, “Amy M” and “Tuning Fork”, the goofy hipster “Matching Mohawks” (Example line: “Let’s pierce our eyebrows and our genitals to”), and the explosive, “I’m Dick Chaney” with it’s brazen sing-along line, “Bomb Iran, bomb bomb Iran”. The lyric completely caught me off the guard, so much so that I actually laughed out load, it’s apparent that Dunbar is ready to make people dance and hand out a few life lessons in the process.
My Boy’s Gonna Play In The Big Leagues is a completely different beast. First off, there is no cover song of Tom Cochrane’s iconic song, instead you are awarded with some of Dunbar’s most visceral performances. Opener “Ain’t Mama” includes a mechanics soundtrack of running saws, bottle clanks and off the cuff talk about “9/11 inside job, head out of the sand!”. Not to be out done, the dead man blues “Dance Like A Devil” is an instant highlight and the happy go lucky “Bicycle” should be on everyone’s sunny-day play-list.
Two Years To Live gives you plenty to think about ending with “Building Number 7”. Built on an accordion loop and a heavy back beat with Dunbar screaming “Building Number 7 is all I’ve got to say”. Google-ing it brings you to various videos that show how 9/11 could of been a controlled explosion. Intense and controversial, no doubt, but the evidence is damning and may have you asking more questions about what really happened.
For those who simply want to consume music as a soft back round nuance, Dunbar is not for you; he is all about challenging what you believe in. (Independent)