Sonic Unyon Records
It’s Canadian Rock n Roll and I LOVE IT!
Even if I hadn’t already been a fan of this feisty Canadian Rocker; the artwork on the CD cover would have caught my attention in a Record Shop; and if the man behind the counter was kind enough to play the first track Paradise as a ‘sample’ I would gladly have passed a £10 note across the counter.
Ms. Lightfoot’s voice is a dominant as ever; straddling Memphis Soul and Urban Blues with ease; and boy…..can she write a song.
The ‘band shot’ on the back cover hints at the dichotomy Terra Lightfoot’s music poses; she’s a pretty young woman in a Summer dress but playing a striking electric guitar……and when you hear her; she can really play that machine as well as the Big Boys; but it’s her singing and songwriting that I’m smitten with.
This album is littered with classy Rockers out of the Bonnie Raitt/Chrissie Hynde Book of Rock, like Slick Back Kid and Stars Over Dakota to name check but two; but Terra also shows her Soulful and softer side on the beautifully delicate Lonesome Eyes and the intimate Three In The Morning.
As big fan of her previous album I was thrilled to hear a clever change in direction with the haunting story of single Mother Norma Gale; a Country Bass player in the 1970’s.
These days I’m never sure where Country Rock ends and Alt. Country begins; but id does it really matter when you hear classy songs like Ruthless and the single Paradise, as both are actually genre defying in the way they can only be Terra Lightfoot songs.
Hmmmm…..where do I go for my ‘favourite track’? The silky smooth Lonesome Eyes or the epic Two Hearts or the heart-pounding Rocker Pinball King? Hey, call me crazy but I’m going for the latter as when I played the album in the car I accidentally found myself going at 90mph when it came on!
Yet again I’ve fallen in love with a Terra Lightfoot album and can’t get my head around why someone with such a great voice and guitar skills fronting a red hot band; featuring a super-smooth keyboard player isn’t filling Concert Halls around the world; but that’s the world I live in; but you can share our secret too.
Released October 13th 2017
SAME AS I EVER HAVE BEEN
Black Hen Music
Southern Soul and Gritty Americana From Arcadian Canada.
My trusty I-Phone has done it again! As I was driving home from work late last Wednesday a beautifully sad and soulful song randomly purred from the car speakers and I had to immediately press ‘repeat’ as soon as it finished; then sat listening to the final minute on my drive as the song played for the fourth time in twenty minutes, before going into the house.
At this stage I won’t say what that song actually was; as it takes on ‘favourite track’ status further down the page.
The following day I quickly cleared my to-do list and settled back to listen to the rest of Matt Patershuk’s third album.
Even before I heard the cranky guitar and Matt’s world weary drawl, I knew I was going to love any song called Sometimes You’ve Got To Do Bad Things, To Do Good; and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. For a Canadian in a Cowboy hat; Patershuk gives a Southern Soul feel to this sweet, sweet Country pearl, and that goes for the majority of what is to follow too.
Recorded in Superstar Bryan Adam’s Vancouver studio; Steve Dawson’s production is flawless from start to finish, even managing to give an authentic ‘first take’ rawness to songs like Cheap Guitar and the effervescent Hot Knuckle Blues.
I still find it funny that Canadians are writing and recording some of the finest Americana music that I hear these days; as the slow and Good Luck proves in spades; and Atlas couldn’t have come from anywhere other than the American Rust Belt, could it? But it certainly does…….Rural Alberta to be precise.
Patershuk’s songwriting and storytelling is quite extraordinary at times with the Country-Funk of Blank Pages and Lost Wages and the waltz-like title track Same As I Ever Have Been being prime examples; but you could throw a dart at the track list and hit a doozy of a song.
Which all brings us to ‘that song’ that first caught my attention; Swans, which actually closes the disc. Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a Love Song and this one came to me not long after Don Williams died; and could be the best song that ‘the Gentle Giant never wrote.’ A pair of endearing worn and sad voices coupled to an acoustic guitar you can barely hear make for six short minutes of perfection.
Subsequently there’s been another contender for that prestigious title; Memory And The First Law of Thermodynamics may be an absurd title; but the intricate and delicate story, about and dedicated to his late sister Clare is straight from the Guy Clark songbook and will surely bring a tear to a glass eye.
Discoveries like this is the reason I spend far too much time listening to albums by people I and you have never previously heard of, but deserve a huge world wide audience, when their music is as good….nay, great as this collection is.
Released in Canada October 6th 2017
Released to the World October 27th 2017
BONE ON BONE
True North Records
Legendary Canadian Songwriter Ups the Ante Again.
Bruce Cockburn? This is his 33rd album since 1970, yet his first in 7 years and a multi-Multi-Award winner but could probably walk unnoticed down most streets in his home country of Canada. That said his fans around the world do pore over his every release like Dylanaholics.
Even though I own three previous releases, strangely this is the first album of his that I’ve ever reviewed.
The passionately poetic States I’m In opens the album and sets the tone for what is to follow quite perfectly. Cockburn’s voice sounds slightly weary but with fire around the edges as the band create a claustrophobic atmosphere that will make your chest tighten.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise Cockburn follows this with a real punchy Folk song, Stab at Matter which features, and not for the time here, some sublime guitar and slide playing.
As a Master Craftsman Cockburn appreciates and studies other wordsmiths in his spare time, which has spawned 3 Al Purdys a re-imagining of ‘a homeless man ranting and reciting the acclaimed Canadian Poet’s works on the streets.’
‘Stunning’ and ‘brilliant’ spring to mind when I heard it the first time, and I still feel the same way about the song now.
Another couple of songs that instantly caught my attention were Jesus Train; a non-preachy song about the singer’s love of Jesus alongside Twelve Gates To The City which has a Southern Baptist feel to it; both coming from Cockburn’s Spiritual Beliefs.
I’d forgotten what an expressive voice Bruce Cockburn has; and his skilled storytelling combine perfectly on the two songs that vie for the title of ‘Favourite Track’. Cafe Society has a sort of smoky Parisian swing to it, and appeals as Cockburn very subtly hits the nail on the head of the minutiae in a world I inhabit myself; gossiping, bitching, politicking and generally putting the world to rights over a Cappuccino or Americano or two for hours on end.
The other, a traditional slice of beautiful Canadiacana; Forty Years in the Wilderness is probably a self-portrait of the artist himself; but felt like a punch on the nose as he could have been talking about me too; and I feel plenty of other listeners will feel exactly the same way about this clever and literate song.
After all of these years Bruce Cockburn doesn’t deserve the likes of me making comparisons; but his other albums are filed alongside David Olney, John Martyn and Bap Kennedy in my collection.
Released September 15th 2017
Angry, Nihilistic and Candidly Beautiful Canadiacana.
I remember loving Mo Kenney’s 2015 album IN MY DREAMS but had to play it again to understand why; and time has certainly been kind to her powerful songs.
I then put THE DETAILS into the stereo and was taken aback by the gentle but dark Folk singer intro to Cats Not a Cake; and even more so when the band kicked in like Pearl Jam on steroids for the final four minutes of a very dark story.
The Details is billed as a Concept Album; with Mo baring her very Soul while ‘confronting her annihilation and eventual redemption’…..whatever that means.
This is the type of album that would have been a perfect accompaniment for Nirvana’s Nevermind, as it touches on some very raw subjects like booze-fuelled breakdowns, depression, fraught relationships and the scars they all leave behind.
As you would expect with stories like these the moods change like the wind, going from the loose and brittle Counting or Lights Out which could be a lost Neko Case song; through to the jagged post-Punk of title track Details and If You’re Not Dead; but On The Roof when played extra loud with Kenney on a Fender Mustang is scintillating and will scare your neighbours! But there is also the dreamy pop swirls of Unglued too; showing that there can be ups as well as downs when you feel like ‘this.’
Just like IN MY DREAMS this sounds a lot more like a band effort; and a very tightly wrapped band at that, than a singer-songwriter with a bunch of hired in musos.
I shouldn’t; but I absolutely love the dirty guitar sound on Video Game Music and when Mo growls out the lyrics she made my heart beat a little bit faster than usual.
Nothing here makes for Easy Listening; and isn’t destined for daytime radio; or any radio probably but the songs and the way it is all concocted makes for terrific journey; and a journey that will touch a whole lot of people on that same axis; which brings me to my ‘favourite song’ which in itself is a challenge; but I’m going for Feelin’ Good which is a mini-opera in it’s own rite and closes the cycle; and shows there is (probably) something at the end of the rainbow for all of us.
THE DETAILS is different from just about everything else I’ve listened to this year but touched me in a way I love about music…….making me feel like I’m not the only one who gets ‘down’ and feels ‘that way’ about something; and that’s quite an achievement in itself.
Released September 29th 2017
Jon & Roy
THE ROAD AHEAD IS GOLDEN
Blue Heron Music
An Inspired and Articulate Slice of Arcadian Canada.
This is Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer’s seventh album and I’d not heard heard of them prior to receiving this disc; but thanks to the glories of the World Wide Web they found me and I can share it with you.
The atmospheric opening track Runner sets the tone nicely for a set of songs that capture the imagination and bare repeated listening.
Middleton’s distinctive voice sounds ‘lived in’ and at times ‘deeply hurt’ on songs like How The Story Goes and Nothing But Everything which features some mysteriously jazz-lite guitar and bass, which makes it perfect for listening late at night when you are feeling very sorry for yourself.
In a way it seems only Canadian artists can do it, Jon and Roy capture the sense of loss at the end of a love affair better than their counterparts anywhere else. Perhaps it’s the cold winds from the North or there’s something in the water; but I can’t imagine a song as brittle as Clever One or Every Night being written or recorded in America or the UK. Jon and Roy (plus co-producer) Stephen Franke capture that magical sense of wonderment and bewilderment quite perfectly at times.
At one stage when I was playing this on Sunday Mrs. Magpie looked up and said “There aren’t many laughs here, are there?”
That is true; and there aren’t meant to be….these songs tell fragile and complex stories in a well constructed and very articulate manner; but the whole album is still very accessible and; dare I say it….easy on the ear.
I’m contrary by nature so very rarely choose title tracks as ‘my favourite’ but The Road Ahead Is Golden which features some delightfully picked guitars and Middleton’s voice itself sounds actually golden; if a little tarnished; all making for a genuine stand out track.
Not for the first time this year I’ve made another ‘great discovery’ in Jon and Roy who are at heart Folkies but easily crossover into ‘Americana’ territory with what I can best describe as Cowboy Junkies Lo-Fi sensibilities.
Released May 19th 2017
A GIRL IN TEEN CITY
Continental Song City
A Teenage Folk Opera From One of Canada’s Finest Singer-Songwriters.
Even though I own one of her earlier albums Suzie Ungerleider aka Oh Susanna has flown under my radar for a few years now; probably because I don’t recall her ever playing in NE England (although I could be wrong of course).
Several friends are huge fans and have travelled many hundreds of miles to see her sing in concert; so it was with massive interest that I slipped this shiny disc into the office stereo.
Mmmmmmmm…..Opening song Flashlights is very nice indeed; and I could instantly tell from her distinctive voice why my friends are smitten with the young lady from Vancouver. Even this early into the album I was impressed with the way Susie tells her story using clever couplets and simple language.
While each song about a young girl struggling to come to terms with life, love and growing up in a small time stands apart in its own rite; A GIRL IN TEEN CITY links them together into a type of narrative.
With that in mind songs like Tickets on the Weekend and the heartbreaking Walked All The Way Home will resonate with many of us; not just young girls…..that’s for sure.
Most songs here are acoustic or acousticish; but that doesn’t stop the articulate My Boyfriend taking on a bit of a Bangles Pop-Rock sound and will, no doubt become a fan favourite in concert.
The detail in some of the lyrics is exceptional; the way Suzie describes seeing WOLF BOY for the very first time made my heart bulge as I remembered that ‘feeling’ of seeing someone ‘special’ for the very first time; then the subsequent glimpses and glances. All that coupled with some pulsating piano playing and a band that sounds like an orchestra couple to make for a very theatrical three and a half minutes.
A simple song tucked away somewhere in the middle took my breath away; as again it captured a moment in my own life; The Darkroom At The School; and must be the only song ever to describe sexual tension by using developing a photograph as a metaphor; ‘pushing up the f-stop a half/in the darkroom at the school.’ I loved it and it made me smile.
As a photographer myself that song was obviously a contender for ‘favourite song’ but instead I will go for the brilliantly fragile My Old Vancouver which made my tilt my head towards the speakers as the narrator finally gets to look back on those heady teenage years with the benefit of age and some hindsight; but not rose coloured glasses.
For what it’s worth when Mrs. Magpie heard this for the first time; she was reading a Sunday newspaper and eventually looked up, slightly puzzled then mouthed, “Nanci Griffith?”
While Oh Susanna does have a distinctive singing voice and a very personal way of constructing her songs; I immediately knew what my wife meant as there is a definite ‘air’ of the young Nanci Griffith all the way through A GIRL IN TEEN CITY and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Released UK May 12th 2017
Released North America May 26th 2017
THE KNIGHT SESSIONS
Big Lake Music
The Girls Are Back In Town And Re-Invent Folk!
Madison Violet aka Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are an old fashioned Folk duo with a identifiable modern sound all of their own.
Although they have been together (in the musical sense) for 18 years I think it was about 8 years ago when I first saw them at a Jumping Hot Club gig upstairs in the packed Central Bar, Gateshead.
A love affair began that night.
This album begins with a very simple and self-depreciating We Are Famous; but listen carefully and their trademark harmonies will fill your head like a finely woven silken fog.
Both Brenley and Lisa are inordinately talented multi-instrumentalists and for THE KNIGHT SESSIONS they decided to go back beyond basics; trawling the junk shops of Toronto for any discarded sad and lonely ‘toys’ and instruments in need of care and attention but could make an organic sound unlike anything they had made before.
Some older songs have been re-imagined using this format and while it’s not always apparent what is where; the result is exceptional and surpasses the experiment with grace.
These Ships, for instance appears here twice; first as an impassioned acoustic song and then closing the record with a very radio friendly almost Electronica re-mix.
Another song that has been re-worked is Ohio, from YEAR OF THE HORSE and …..wow……the girls voices melt together in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever heard from non-siblings; and the intricate guitar and fiddle playing is stunningly good too.
I wish I knew why; but the ‘Americana/Roots’ music coming out of Canada in the last ten years has generally been of a very high calibre and Madison Violet have been at the forefront; and with beautiful almost lo-fi songs like Don’t Let Your Heart Be Troubled, Operator and How We See Love that trend continues with relish.
Not for the first time Mrs. Magpie and I disagree as to what is the ‘best’ song here; I adore the timeless and heart-shredding Trouble and she insists Hush; something akin to a ‘band effort’ with a slight Reggae tinge to it making it unlike most other Madison Violet efforts makes it the winner.
As usual she is right; of course.
Unlike most of their contemporaries Brenley and Lisa have thrown caution to the wind on this album; obviously keeping their integral ‘sound’ but modernising it and making it accessible for a younger generation while not alienating old fogies like me (and you?) which is quite some feat; and all done without the aid of a safety net.
RELEASED UK May 5th 2017
Released Canada/USA 2nd June 2017
Six Shooter Records
Feisty and Spirited Folk-Rock From a Canadian Outpost.
Bizarrely, and for the first time in years I had just played Amelia Curran’s previous album THEY PROMISED YOU MERCY the night before I received this, her latest disc. As my Sage like Father used to say, “God acts in mysterious ways.”
Opening track Move a Mile is a real ‘ear-catcher’ as it has a ‘big production’ but also has an air of spaciousness about it. Confused? You won’t be……this is the type of quality singer-songwriter song that was all pervading in the 70’s and 80’s……think Joni, Alannis and perhaps Mary Chapin Carpenter the way Amelia carefully chooses her words and phrases but adds them to a commercial melody making the song very accessible to the casual listener.
While some of the subject matter is quite deep and occasionally dark; Amelia’s warmly expressive voice and some tightly wrapped guitar throughout pulls you in to songs like Sunday Bride and the bittersweet Act of Human Kindness; a song that really highlights not just Amelia’s writing skills but her vocal range too.
I mentioned the 70’s and 80’s earlier but only because that was probably the ‘watershed’ for singer-songwriters, especially female ones who were finally seen as the equal (and in several cases – the leaders) of the male of the species and like Tapestry, Elite Hotel and Blue there is a timeless quality to these songs, especially Try and the angst ridden No More Quiet which could easily have been on any of those classic LP’s.
This is Amelia Curran’s eighth album and that apprenticeship comes across in the way she effortlessly builds the tension in her stories and keeps you hanging on in there until she has got her message across……and that message is always worth waiting for.
While this is basically an old fashioned album that begs to be listened to as a complete package and not in bite size chunks; a couple of songs really do stand out from the crowd.
Every Woman/Every Man is a delicately fragile work that evokes memories of the early Nanci Griffith albums and, now I think about it Carole King’s Tapestry, but is also a trademark Amelia Curran song.
My other favourite is at the other end of the spectrum Gravity is as catchy and punchy a Folk Rocker as I’ve heard for quite a while and held together by a glorious electric guitar spine, that supports Amelia’s expressive vocal performance.
Maybe there’s nothing on the TV in Canada, leaving a lot of time for developing songwriting skills, but here we have another Canadian taking a traditionally American format (is being a singer-songwriter mostly associated with the USA?) and actually bettering it.
RELEASED April 21st 2017
Gut Punching and Heart Shredding Canadiacana.
Levi Cuss? What a great name and thankfully the music here is just as good and indeed interesting.
I wasn’t quite prepared for Cuss’s smooth yet weather worn voice on opening track Red City River ; but it more than matches the Twangy guitar and desperately honest and raw lyrics of a modern folk tale.
The pedal-steel that opens and closes the ‘talking Blues’ Pills cuts through this sad story like a cut-throat razor; and couldn’t be any more fitting.
Legendary Canadian producer Steve Dawson has done an excellent job bringing out the pathos in songs like Tecumseh; a tale of redemption for a man who murdered a woman’s brother and Dark Horses; showcasing Cuss’s storytelling and voice while making the overall song very cinematic; which is quite some feat.
It appears Levi Cuss has had his ‘demons’ over the years; but haven’t all the great songwriters? Here he manages to turn some of those episodes into songs; with the dark and broody Saturday Night being a great example as is the Country Boogie of Bringing it Back……both being Country Outlaw songs for the Alt. Country generation.
But like all ‘bad boys’ there’s always a woman in his life that he can’t live without; and in this case it’s Grandma; and let’s just say that the Grandma in this song is quite some lady indeed!
I’m torn between the dark almost Tom Pettyesque Tongues and the late night Honk-Tonker Cut My Teeth as my favourite track; and after tossing a coin will go for the latter; mostly because it somehow encapsulates the spirit of the whole album in just under four and a half minutes. Searing guitar, a story from the mean streets of down-town and Levi Cuss pouring his heart and soul out.
I can’t forget Murder of Crows; a rattling good slice of Alt. Country which features some really mean Hammond organ too.
What’s not to like?
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve praised Canadian singer-songwriters and bands over the last ten years; but there really is something special in the water up there; giving us some of the most authentic Country and Americana that’s available today; and Levi Cuss is a talent that deserves to be heard around the globe.
UK Release March 10th 2017
The Heart and Soul of Small Town Canada in Words and Music.
We loved last year’s 7” single Trains, from Toronto band LeBarons and have waited impatiently ever since for the follow up; and whoopee-doo it’s actually a 6 track EP.
The atmospherically claustrophobic sound on that single continues on opening track Think Of You, with vocalist (and songwriter) Chris MacDonald and the band sounding like they were recording in the tiniest booth in the world, creating a song that sounds both intensely intimate and passionate in equal measures.
Track #2 The Brave has a slow and brooding opening with MacDonald baring his heart to a lover who may, or may not feel the same way. Band-mates Evan Levy on lead guitar, Casey Irvin on lap-steel, Po Karim on drums manage to create a pensive almost death-rattle behind him, as Megan Tilston provides ghostly harmonies. Tragically beautiful, is the best description I can come up with.
Things perk up with the inclusion of I’ll Come Back, a rollicking bar-room stomper full of grunge guitar, a fiery pedal-steel and machine-gun drumming rattling along behind MacDonald and Tilston.
That exceptional single Trains, is added and sounds just as wonderful as when I first heard it; but gets overshadowed by two new songs.
The album closes with a mournful and bittersweet Freightliner, that is quintessentially Canadian; effortlessly blending Lo-Fi sensibilities with an Alt. Country freshness and Celtic Folk story telling.
But; by far our favourite track, and the one on heavy rotation this morning is Oh California. The song rattles along like a Classic Muscle car on a sweeping highway, and MacDonald’s way with words (written and sung) is perfectly matched by Megan Tilston’s harmonies and a band playing as one.
LeBarons are one of those bands that are probably, sadly destined to be a ‘cult band’ with a hardy bunch of fans who pore over their every utterance…..don’t let that be the case…..buy this EP….tell your friends…..buy a copy for your parents/lovers Christmas Presents….whatever it takes. Make them stars!
Released October 10th 2016