Archive for the ‘CD reviews’ Tag

Mare Wakefield & Nomad- Time To Fly review   Leave a comment


Mare Wakefield & Nomad Time To Fly

Not all songs need be short stories, narratives replete with finely crafted characters and motivations, secrets revealed, and veiled, within and between the lines. But listening to Mare Wakefield’s most recent compositions comprising Time to Fly, I am reminded that I am glad when they occasionally are.

I love me an Alice Munro story, and more than once—on the multi-dimensional “Time To Fly” and certainly during “Bernice & Bernadette”—Munro’s exquisite style came to mind, an economy of words magnifying precious rhythms of daily minutiae. So too did folks like Dar Williams (“With Your Heartbeat” and even more so on “The Day We Buried Mama (& Cousin Bobby Joe Got Wed”))  and Tracy Grammer (“Breathe.”)

The light-hearted opener “Real Big Love” and it’s more (it would seem) rural cousin “Henry” are appropriately boppy bits of wordplay, and appeal greatly to my 60s and 70s AM rock ‘n’ roll/country radio roots.  Nomad Ovunc drops in all matter of audio ancillaries including keys and accordion (and on “Closer to God,” melodica,) while Will Kimbrough supplies the electric guitar leads and Brian Allen (not that Brian Allen, Toronto fans) bass.  On the closing “Falling,” Wes Little’s drumming encourages images of long-ago shuffles, while it goes in an entirely different direction on the jazzy (and duplicitous) “The Boxer & the Beauty Queen.”

“Bernice & Bernadette” celebrates the love of a lifetime, bonds of childhood innocence coalescing into a unconsummated romance. It is a tale of not-so-much unrequited attraction and love as it is of one which remained unstated, and coming as it does from Wakefield’s grandmother’s letters, all the more authentic and candid.

“Bernice & Bernadette” communicates a poignant melancholy—although lovely—through sepia-toned images, and “The Day We Buried Mama (& Cousin Bobby Joe Got Wed)” paints a lighter but no less significant depiction of family ties. Jubilantly, Wakefield proclaims, “Raise a glass for those who pass and those who are on the way,” as fine an epitaph as one might hope to have ascribed to them.

Mare Wakefield has been making albums for twenty years, and this is the second on which Nomad has billing. However, it is my first exposure to these Nashville-residents, and as such, proves—once again—that there is way too much ‘good stuff’ out there for any one person to hear. Take the time, then, to check out Time To Fly: it will be worth it.




The Stephen Stanley Band- Jimmy & The Moon review   Leave a comment


The Stephen Stanley Band Jimmy & The Moon Wolfe Island Records

With the Lowest of the Low again touring, their former guitarist Stephen Stanley has maintained his own path with his roots-rock Stephen Stanley Band.

Reminding me a bit of The Rainmakers Flirting With the Universe, The Stephen Stanley Band’s Jimmy & The Moon is a blast of Americana that mixes just enough rock to keep listeners invigorated without detraction. They are a terrific band, most obviously, with Chris Bennett joining Stanley on guitars, powerhouse drummer Gregor Beresford, and bassist Chris Rellinger. Producer Hugh Christopher Brown adds horns and keys including Hammond B3.

The album starts with a blast entitled “Talkin’ ‘Bout It,” a free-flowing sing-a-long that has one immediately reaching for the volume control. In short order, a paean to friendly live confines unfolds (“The Troubadour’s Song”) before the meat of the album blows back your hair. “Jimmy & The Moon” and “Under the Mynah Bird”—a testament to the ongoing legacy of Stanley’s grandfather, as well as Neil Young and Rick James—are two of the finest songs released in 2017, and the album doesn’t really sag through to its conclusion. “40 Endings” is gentler musically certainly, but its reflections are among the album’s finest.

Side Two is almost as good as the first, with “Things I Wish I’d Never Seen” and “Next To Me” (featuring Hadley McCall Thackston whom I want to hear more from) being particularly strong. Guitars abound, and did I mention the drumming? Holy—not that I would ever get out to see the band, but I would at least be tempted to do so! “Melinda” screams ‘power pop’ with shades of Dwight Twilley, Raspberries, and The Records. (Yes, I’m old!) An expansive “California” jam, featuring vocal highlights from Kate Fenner, is a final stunner, sending us quickly back to the ‘repeat’ icon.

A publicist sent this one to me unsolicited: I’m glad she did. The Stephen Stanley band is rooted in rock, but has a strong foundation in the roots music that brought them there. There are videos of some of the songs at the Wolfe Island Records site. (Scroll down.)

Rodney DeCroo- Old Tenement Man review   Leave a comment


Rodney DeCroo New Tenement Man

Vancouver’s Rodney DeCroo is likely Canada’s most consistent neo-folk, rock ‘n’ roll singer. Over the course of six wide-ranging albums, the impressive wordsmith has never taken a significant ill-conceived turn.

The early Rodney DeCroo and the Killers and War Torn Man seethed with aggressive and poetic interpretations of his surroundings, while later releases including the imaginative Campfires on the Moon revealed songs of great intensity bound by the darkness of isolation, pain, and creativity.

I once wrote that DeCroo is a “product of his environment—for good and bad—a raven seeking salvation in the detritus of emotional upheaval, both his own and in those he has impacted,” and one listen to Old Tenement Man reveals that not a lot has changed in that regard. For example, the lead track, “Jack Taylor,” is a Crazy Horse-fueled first-person account of patricide and self-justification.

DeCroo no longer falls back on Dylaneque habits, charmingly apparent on early recordings. Having established some time ago an approach uniquely his own, DeCroo reveals that he can run with the big dogs, be they Jason Isbell, Chuck Prophet, or Neil friggin’ Young himself. On the radio-friendly (in an alternate universe) “Ten Thousand Feet Tall,” DeCroo’s ‘hero’ waits for his city to be burned down by “an acid dawn,” confident in his own invincibility. Surrounded by this impending cataclysm, recounting disparate memories and hallucinations, the tension magnifies with each disturbing image shared.

Produced by Lorrie Matheson, Old Tenement Man isn’t necessarily a ‘roots’ album, but it certainly fits into the rockier side of Americana. With DeCroo (guitar) and Matheson (guitar, bass, keyboards) providing the bulk of the instrumentation, along with drummer Chris Dadge, the album has a full-bodied sound. The arrangements are appealing, providing the contrast needed for a completely satisfying album experience. “Radio” is full of possibilities, “Little Hunger” aches, and “Lou Reed on the Radio” is much more than a convenient name-check, and full credit for the sly, vocal bridge allusion. “The Barrel Has A Dark Eye” is nothing short of brilliant, cleverly structured with a nod to the ubiquitous classic rock performances we grew up on.

DeCroo’s creations—his songs, his narratives, his arrangements, and his characters—are seldom one-dimensional, and I am sure more than a little slips past me as I nod to the groove. That’s what I appreciate about songwriters and performers like DeCroo: there is always something new to discover.

How many years ago did I first hear “Tudor House Hotel,” “Dead Man’s Town,” and “Ginger Goodwin?” A dozen? Yet, listening to them again this week, I was newly impressed by elements previously missed or under-appreciated. I am confident that I will be similarly reinvigorated when I hear “Like Jacob When He Felt the Angel’s Touch” and “In The Backrooms of Romance” in a decade.

Old Tenement Man slipped past me when it was released in early summer, 2017. My loss as it is a compelling, attractive rock album that pushes the boundaries of roots music while maintaining and enhancing its foundations: experiences and stories that communicate elemental truths in a literary manner.

D. B. Rielly- Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar review   Leave a comment

D B Rielly

D. B. Rielly Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar

When D. B. Rielly contacted me about his new 7-song live EP, I immediately expressed interest: a new live set from one of my favourite singer-songwriters, of course I want to hear it! Later it occurred to me, “How will this one be packaged?”

Previous Rielly albums had come housed in tin and wood boxes. When this postcard-encased release arrived, I had my answer. There is much to appreciate about D. B. Rielly beyond his aptitude for creative packaging.

With spoken-word witticism reminiscent of John Prine and an Arlo Guthrie-inspired penchant for the absurd, D. B. Rielly is truly a master, a remarkable person doing remarkable things.

Stripped to the essentials—a man, his guitar, and his words— Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar is a document of a songwriter at the peak of his craft, playing his songs for ‘non-imaginary people.”

These seven songs (and three tracks of between song setup and insight) are focused entirely on relationships free of the sucky-ass stuff that makes us uncomfortable. “Look at You” (“looking at me”) and “Nothing Like You” are the most straight-forward loves songs, the latter lead track featuring more heart-encasing, protective humour than the former.

“I Believe, Angeline” and “Don’t Give Up on Me” are the yearning numbers, ones where love is sought but not necessarily achieved. “Let It Ring” challenges the phone that has come between a couple, a clever, understated piece.

Two distinct slices of romance are presented in “Prenup” and “I’ll Remind You Every Day.” “Lawrence Welk” leads into “Prenup,” a song where one gives freely of his heart, but not his Stuff. “My Ma,” detailing a family coming to grips—replete with requisite dark humour—with dementia, leads into the heartfelt devotional “I’ll Remind You Every Day.”

The brevity (24.5 minutes) of Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar is its only fault. While our appreciation for the concept is true—seven new compositions presented without ceremony—the inclusion of live takes of previous Rielly chestnuts (maybe “Roadrunner,” “I’ve Got a Girlfriend,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” or “Moving Mountains?) as bonus tracks would not have been out-of-place. They would, however, result in a different recording, and we’ll trust the artist to know what he wanted to present.

As an introduction to the best songwriter you’ve never heard, Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar serves as an exceptional appetizer . For those of us already fans of the troubadour, it refreshes our appreciation.



Posted 2017 December 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

Winnie Brave- Cheap Gin review   Leave a comment

Winnie Brave

Winnie Brave Cheap Gin

Alberta music duo Winnie Brave return with their second EP of acoustic-based (but not exclusively unplugged) original roots music. Unlike their largely acoustic 2014 debut, the presence of synthesizer and electric guitar pull Cheap Gin significantly from the realm of the Welch-Rawlings and the Romeros; still, the subject matter of their songs—relationships and folks—and their construction have more in common with the aforementioned than not.

Based in Holden, Alberta (on Highway 14 between Viking and Tofield, if that helps), the rambling husband and wife duo of Brad and Amy MacIsaac, one imagines, find inspiration for songs in the people, places, and circumstances encountered travelling North America in their Winnebego.

Winnie Brave’s music is delightful.

Amy MacIsaac—I would suggest—knows she has a voice that reminiscent of Maria McKee, before the long-ago Lone Justice vocalist was distracted by other sounds, and doesn’t shy away from stomping her way through “Moonshine” and “Spicey Waters.” Reigning herself in on “Lover On The Side” and the title track, MacIsaac also stretches herself vocally, demonstrating control while infusing passion. “Wear You Down,” smothered in biscuits, gravy, synthesized horns, and a “snug-huggin’ George Jones tee shirt,” is a definite keeper not soon forgotten.

Brad MacIsaac provides the keyboard effects and bass, and in various places but especially “New Mexico” he fleshes out their sound to near Giant Sand territory. Christine Bougie’s lap steel adds a welcome warmth to the arrangements, with Adam Cannon’s drumming providing propulsive energy. If Ann Vriend chose to meld country and soul, it would probably come out sounding similar to what Winnie Brave offer here: for those who don’t know, that’s a very good thing! Albert Carraro’s extended jam on “Digging For Fire” provides a different and aggressive flavour.

This seven song set comes in at 28 minutes, and together with their previous release, we now have an hour of Winnie Brave on record, ample opportunity to recognize that this duo possesses the skill and vision to be considered when discussing notable, emerging Americana talent.

Cheap Gin is an excellent mini-album.

Kim Beggs- Said Little Sparrow review   1 comment


Kim Beggs Said Little Sparrow

Kim Beggs, perhaps Whitehorse’s strongest contribution to the contemporary Canadian folk circuit, has a voice and an outlook like no one else, and she reveals her path of experience at every turn.

That voice. Beggs has a timbre that is folksy, earthy, and woodsy all at once—natural-sounding, of course, but more than that: her voice is as her other gifts, quite simply pure. This comes through on each song of Said Little Sparrow, whether one notes the way she twists the end of lines—”Every second of every hour, planting and picking the prettiest flowers…”—or plainly reveals her heart in the most genuine of manner on “Hurts the Worst” and “Blister.”

The outlook. Listening to Said Little Sparrow, as one did with the previous Blue Bones and Beauty and Breaking, is to know Kim, her family—the Wooded Mix—and her extended circle of compatriots. Their stories are expanded upon within the honestly written notes and personal essays contained in this generously packaged release, but most assuredly are woven into the deeply personal songs. A child assisting her Gran in updating an address book (“They’re all dead and gone, she said, my little one”), common neighbourliness in a frozen community, or a beau presenting his beloved with a freshly dug outhouse hole: these are vignettes into which Beggs invites her listener.

As all great folksingers do, Beggs moves from the personal to the universal with ease. She connects British Columbia’s northern Highway of Tears and its innumerable victims with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and in doing so touches on her personal connection to the many women who took a final and fateful journey on Highway 16. A forest landscape is referenced when considering ones origin(s) and the meaning of family. In one song, teenaged adventure is viewed through the mirror of time passages, and in another the wise looks toward a future free of the remembered burdens of the past.

Beggs’ songwriting has never been more profound, simultaneously substantial and delicate. Producing herself this time out, she continues to surround herself with the finest of the Canadian roots community including folks like David Baxter (guitars) , Michelle Josef (drums), Brian Kobayakawa (bass, including atmospheric bow-work on the memorable lead track, “Vampire Love Song”), and Oh Susanna (vocals) further sweetened by selective touches of mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and organ.

Another beautiful creation from Kim Beggs. No shortcuts taken in this journey.


Lynn Jackson Follow That Fire review   1 comment

Lynn Jackson

Lynn Jackson Follow That Fire Busted Flat Records

Every province, state, city, and area has them—the singer or guitar player that everyone loves and respects, but who strikes a collective shoulder-shrug outside their home range. Pay attention, then.

I had never heard of Lynn Jackson before encountering the previous Songs of Rain, Snow, and Remembering a couple autumns ago. The Ontario-based singer-guitarist is very good, and Follow That Fire is her ninth album over the course of two decades. In 2015, I compared her to the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lynn Miles, and those remain fair, in my way of thinking. Like those songwriters, Jackson gets to the core of the heart fair quickly.

Produced this time by Michael Timmins (a new Cowboy Junkies album would be welcome any time, by the way) Jackson sounds subdued across that album’s three-quarters of an hour, holding her cards close as she shares these song.

Still, there is a hint of playfulness in the way she approaches “Mystery Novels, Short Stories, and Car Songs,” bringing to mind another Timmins sibling, an effect one suspects is deliberately repeated on the closing “No Regrets.” Obviously a narrative songwriter, Jackson’s “Alice” may be the saddest song I’ve heard all year, filled with hope and ache, betrayal and murder. Jayzus, it might not work as a bluegrass song, but I would love to hear Dale Ann Bradley give it a try. As it is, Jackson’s (sounds like) finger-picking gives the song all the atmosphere it needs.

Skydigger Josh Finlayson (bass) and Cowboy Junkie Peter Timmins (drums) form the rhythm section, and combined with Michael Timmins’ production choices, a most compelling and consistent ambiance is created. Andy Maize (The Skydiggers) joins Jackson on “Meet Me In The City,” in a better world a song that would be heard on every country, rock, and pop station across the country. “Meet me in the city for one last go ’round,” she sings. “We’ll take all the time you need” is revised to “I’ll take all the time I need” by song’s end. Another radio-friendly (in an alternate time, perhaps) number is “Tossing & Turning,” a soulful little song about a love that should know better.

Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel works nicely in concert with Aaron Comeau’s keys (“Night Comes Down,” “Ghosts”) throughout the set. Inspired by the loss of a friend, one of the more introspective numbers is “Random Breakdowns, False Starts, & New Beginnings.” approach.

I know I meant to search out previous Lynn Jackson albums last time I reviewed her. Follow That Fire is a reminder that I need to get onto that project. The rest of the country needs to start paying more attention, too. Damn, she’s good. Great songs, great voice, inspired production: get this one. Fingers crossed: this is Lynn Jackson’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.