The music that makes our world go round
I have an extraordinary life. I’m a musician, an artist, a writer and a gardener. The beauty of these vocations is that I’m free to do them anywhere and anytime…
I have an extraordinary life. I’m a musician, an artist, a writer and a gardener. The beauty of these vocations is that I’m free to do them anywhere and anytime I choose – so I choose to listen to music in the beauty of the gardens I tend and this is what I hear.
The city folk have found us out and some outstanding musical talent is migrating to the area to partake of the peace and casual pace we enjoy in these beautiful hills. This very groovy lifestyle affords the groundwork for creativity and there’s a pile of it going on.
Of course you can be creative ’til the cows come home, but if you can’t sell your work you can’t eat. Technology is leaping and bounding all over the place and it’s proving a great boon to our local music scene. The social networks seem to be getting word to the neighbours that we’ve prepared a musical feast and it’s time to come and get it. See Facebook and MySpace to track down just about any of our local musicians.
These networks are used to particular advantage by the Harmony Rainbow Group – local musicians who take the idea of mutual support to heart. Members play in each other’s bands and contribute any of their other skills to forward each other’s projects. Very loosely defined, the HRG is a growing collective of musicians and artists who share their talents and rally to shore up each other’s confidence. This is a very healthy growth model.
Further, the growing number of music stores in the area suggests we have something of a vortex taking shape. The Village Music Shop in Erin and, in Orangeville, Broadway Music, Acoustic Traditions with its new second location, and the latest kid on the block, Aardvark Music & Culture, are encouraging music, music and more music – and they’re your best source to find most of the CDs reviewed on these pages. Even local health food stores, bookstores and art shops are increasingly eager to carry local music for sale.
As I write, the leaves are turning, the Headwaters Arts Festival is in full swing and while we all love this time of year, there’s a teeny bit of fearful anticipation of the winter ahead. Still, we will find ways to deal with the dark nights and cold days, and many of my friends use music to lift their spirits and elevate their thoughts. So here are a few ideas to feed your iPods and hungry Christmas stockings. Enjoy.
Grande Fir – Love & The Weather
Recorded at Batty Steer Studio, Mono Centre – 2008
This band consistently thrills my musical sensibilities. Their rhythms are innovative, their instrumentation creative and robust (always love the mandolin) and their lyrics are stunning and inspiring. There’s a Kinks-type undercurrent to their sound and their harmonies and song structures are always clever. Another cozy Harmony Rainbow Group faction, many of Grande Fir’s members are original Haymakers’ members – the grandparent band of this kind of artist support group. This band is also attracting some important attention beyond Headwaters, but they already have a huge local fan base. Favourite tracks: Like Lovers and Good Morning.
Brilliant Joe – Vapours
Recorded at Watershed Farms, East Garafraxa – 2008
Members Ted Gerber, Sue Guardhouse, Frank Goudreault, Michelle Presley and Dave Hatcher are fixtures in the music community. Known previously as the Covenant House Band they still play a lot at church events hoping to bring something positive to people’s lives. Some brilliant guitar work stands out for me, along with great vocals giving this piece a kind of Tommy (The Who) feel. There are guest performances by our own Larry Kurtz (harmonica) and Ryan Grist (saxophone), and mixing advice from new neighbour Darryl Neudorf (who has produced The Sadies, Neko Case and many others). Favourite tracks: Sweet and Beautiful Vision (Van Morrison). I must also mention their two favourite causes to which two songs are dedicated: Partners with Purpose and the Share Agriculture Foundation.
The Mainlanders – Old Country Store
Recorded by Murray Abraham – 2008
The Mainlanders are an Orangeville treasure. They have a classic folk sound that brings Stan Rogers to mind, archiving images of historic Canadian lifestyles. Heartwarming harmonies and articulately recorded and mixed instrumentation make this toe-tapper a sweet contribution to this year’s collection of local music. Jeff Campbell, Ryan Reed and Murray Abraham weave visions of life on the coast and other rural sets with comfortable lyrics and guitar work. Easy. Favourite tracks: Marjorie’s Garden is tender and Something New has a great sea-shanty sway to it.
Anne Lindsay – News from up the Street
Recorded by Andrew St. George – 2007
Gracious Anne Lindsay has a place up this way and this particular CD is a gentle Sunday morning lift outta bed. With confident and light-hearted fiddle playing this CD is peppered with familiar and incredible talent in the form of Jason Fowler, David Woodhead and Al Cross to name names – along with virtuoso composer and fiddler Oliver Schroer’s excellent instrumental and production work (his death this year was a great loss). I quite ate up the horns as well – an unexpected combination with fiddle to me. Favourite tracks: Through the Hourglass, sexy Casbah violins (and what’s a dumbek anyway?), and Musical Beast – ya gotta love jigs and reels.
Laura Bird – The Water In Between
Recorded at Athlone Studios, Everett – 2008
As per Laura’s style, this whole CD is impeccably assembled from start to finish. Laura’s lustrous voice and image-invoking lyrics take you to the water’s edge where gentle words meet warm and articulate instrumentation. Laura keeps good company with talented musicians in the persons of old friends Geoff Somers (violin), Jack Walker (dobro), as well as favourites Emory Lester (mandolin, banjo), Charlie Cooley (percussion) and Mike Stevens (harmonica). Tannis Slimmon does a sweet job on harmonies and the rest of the Fly By Night Orchestra have helped Laura display her folk/jazz style. Favourite tracks: Spring (’cause I’m a harmony junkie) and Miracle. Beautiful.
The Apollo Effect – Antisocial Disorder
Recorded at Mastermind Studios, Hamilton – 2008
Finalists in the HITZ 97.7 Rock Search, this band is a modern-day industry success story. Having garnered a contract with Universal Fontana North, they have become very visible very quickly. Our own Dennis Hahn is a hard-working guitar, keyboard player and vocalist who has broken out of his classic musical background. He and the rest of the band are polished, creative, talented and ambitious and will take every advantage of this unique recording opportunity. Their music is influenced by the likes of Oasis and Our Lady Peace. My more mature ear hears some Devo and Strawberry Fields with a Guns N’ Roses punch. Great sound. Lyrics speak to a desperate plea for the world to heal. Me too, guys. Dennis is a pal of my daughter. Jessica’s favourite tracks: Your Finest Hour and The Honeymoon is Over.
Feist – The Reminder
Recorded mostly at La Frette Studio in France (ooo la la!) – 2007
AAHHH Feist !!! Zesty girl. Like everything I’ve ever heard from Feist, this CD has the sublime creative process all over it. The construction of a song requires your entire concentration, you can’t multi-task, and the results show this girl is totally there – it’s a well-rounded act of musicianship, poetry and all. For a good time listen to Sealion – as I did on a roller-coaster ride down Shaw’s Creek from Orangeville Townline to 24. Smooth sailin’. Brilliant! 1234 just reminds me that the universe is in order. Except maybe for the boys. But they’ll catch up. Feist now lives in our neighbourhood. How cool is that?
Devin Hentsch – Dead Sense
A Biographical Compilation – 2008
Sixty songs of varied recording modes are archived in this three CD set. No two songs are alike. I know – I listened to all of them. Devin’s restless stream-of-thought lyrics settle into everything from abstract to romantic imagery. He admits this project may appear self-indulgent, but offers it as proof that he is more than capable of expressing himself and says it’s just his way of leaving his footprint on this earth. I have really developed an ear for the many expressions of independent music over these last couple of years and I enjoyed Devin’s diversity of as it played in the background of my life over this last bit. Favourite tracks: Cardigan Home, Portly and Drowning Mermaid, the last is psychiatric, man.
Hello Kelly – “hellokelly”
Recorded at 7 Spin Studio, Valparaiso, Indiana, and
Kramerica Music, Nashville, Tennesee – 2008
I’ve had the privilege of reviewing these talented lads before. And they’ve come up with another polished offering. François Goudreault, James Watts, Mat Lean and Josh McCabe have a sort of heavy Nickelback sound. With their great dance music, this young band has already been at it for three successful CDs. Recognized generally as a Christian music band, their lyrics tend to be more reflective of life and love, and their energetic rhythm and skillful use of synthesizer in just the right amount create a compelling sound. Great packaging again. Favourite tracks: Fall Over Me and Paper Bag Princess (Hey Elizabeth).
Change Your Life –
Guided Meditations and Affirmations
Produced by Andrea Fielding, Caledon East – 2004
Well this was a gem I stumbled across in Harmony Whole Foods. I listen to meditation CDs regularly and this was such a wonderful surprise. Every bit as good as anything by Doreen Virtue or Brian Weiss, Andrea has a soothing voice that lulled me into the zone quickly and the music is beautiful. Andrea has her own success story and is motivated to help others attain peace in their everyday lives. Her website has many stories attesting to the effectiveness of the visualizations and affirmations that she has skillfully composed. Favourite track: Angel Massage – don’t knock it ’til you try it. Find out more at www.inspiredwithin.com. This CD is a great Christmas gift.
Shirley Eikhard – Riding on the 65
Recorded at her home studio in Mono Mills – 2008
Great jazz/bossa nova-style music. Smokey vocals. Classic listening. Shirley is a one-woman band playing all piano, guitar and even harmonica tracks. Aren’t we lucky to have such a talent in our midst. Smooth, warm, thick and sensual, this CD is recorded beautifully in her home studio. All the tunes are written by Shirley and, in case you didn’t know, some of her work has been performed and recorded by Cher, Alannah Myles, and Emmylou Harris, not to mention my favourite song of all time, Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About, which won a Grammy when it was recorded by Bonnie Raitt. Favourite tracks: On the Edge of Twilight and Why Not Make the First Move. All of Shirley’s CDs are available from CD Baby, but I suggest you check out her website for information on digital downloading: www.shirleyeikhard.ca.
The Houseplants – Sunday Morning Record
Recorded at The Rogue Studio, Toronto – 2008
These boys have a classy, smooth jazzy/pop/folk thing going. Cool as can be, their funky lyrics are original and phrasing complex and intriguing. Gordon Shawcross and Perry Joseph have clicked from the git-go and are joined on various cuts by the exciting cello talent of local Matt Brubeck (yes, son of the Dave Brubeck), Sarah McElcheran (trumpet), Burke Carrole (dobro) and Jack Trentman (electric guitar and vibes). A little Beatles, a little Steely Dan – The Houseplants also demonstrate strong influence by Leon Russell and Rickie Lee Jones, as well as Bob Dylan. Favourite tracks: Natural Causes and Smiling and Waving, which features the Harmony Rainbow Group choir. Visit Perry’s new store, Aardvark Music & Culture, in Orangeville to purchase a copy.
The Stew Gunn Band –
The Winter of Our Discontent
Recorded at The Hayloft – 2008
I love this one. Stew is another local genius. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so as his work has begun to attract some wider attention. There is an innocent and authentic magic here with whimsical music and lyrics. Friends Gordon Shawcross and Justin Castator of Harmony Rainbow Group-fame support Stew in a fond farewell to his beloved Hayloft recording studio. On to bigger and better things. Skilled synth, guitars and mixing make for a Nilsson-style “Land of Point”-sounding odyssey, a beautiful tribute and listen. There’s definitely some Paul McCartney in there as well. Favourite track: I Don’t Feel Like Partying Right Now.
Borealis – World of Silence
Recorded at The Recording House, Scarborough – 2008
Now for the heavy stuff. I’ve seen these lads perform a couple of times. They are an outstanding power metal band with a noticeable Van Halen influence. When queried, their drummer, Sean Dowell, spoke of European bands Sonata Arctica, Evergrey, Nightwish and others that rang absolutely no bells for this country girl, but I’m sure they bring the house down in more ways than the obvious. These boys have a healthy following, at least in O’ville. Maybe it’s because their lyrics are great and their musical skills are practised. These guys work hard. Favourite tracks: Forget the Past and Black Rose. (Do I have to give a reason? Because I could hear the words – and actually liked them!)
Michael Griffin – Hills of Mono
Recorded at Digital Bird Studios, Erin – 2008
Very obviously local by its title, this CD is a project of love by hardworking members of the Headwaters Acoustic Music Society who have rallied to help Mike make his musical dreams come to life. He writes everything from heart-tugging ballads to outspoken protest songs. Talented on guitar, mandolin and percussive instruments, he and his wife, Heather Katz, recently purchased Broadway Musical (now Music) where Mike will teach and repair instruments and where they intend to present musical events. Heather and I both sing some backup vocals. Peter Slack did the engineering and mastering and Laura Bird (that name keeps coming up) did the sleeve design. Favourite tracks: Maria, and the ever-enjoyable Pot Luck. Pick up a copy at – you guessed it – Broadway Music.
SAB and the Family Band – Live
Longshot Records – 2006
This one’s not for the faint of heart. No sir – this here’s adult entertainment. SAB’s been around for awhile and has a history recording with some of the more prominent blues artists in Canada, including the Downchild Blues Band. Our own Dana Mundell has been having a ball playing percussion and he regularly encourages local music on stage at his bar in Erin. This CD is an endorsement for cutting loose and boasts many classic blues tunes, including Chain, Chain, Chain with lusty vocals by Little Lisa Gibson. All instruments are executed skillfully with years of obvious exercise behind them and SAB is a master at whipping a crowd into a frenzy. Favourite tracks: a pretty great rendition of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and with A New Song on the Radio, SAB channels Dr. Hook – my fave.
The Harmony Rainbow Group – Dear New Friend
An HRG Production – 2008
Again with the Harmony Rainbow Group. These guys are so frickin’ adorable. This is a CD collectively created for Cory McCallum’s new bouncing baby girl and although it’s not really available to the general public, I can see how it could be rolled over into a tidy little nest egg for her future. The songs are all performed by the membership, including appearances by Devin Hentsch, Jae and Jessi Marr (also expecting) and the newly formed Darlings Ouisseau, HRG widows as they like to think of themselves. Suitable for the avant-garde nursery, the CD boasts a couple of remakes, but is mostly made up of originals. Clever and compassionate bunch. Favourite tracks: Hush Little Baby and Puppy Dog Tails. I’d buy that!
McCallum & Langhorst – Let It Float
Produced by Leonard Guchardi, Shelburne, and at Studio 317, Orwell Cove, PEI – 2007
This is a very sweet project by a charming couple who are obviously very sweet on each other and life in general. Innocent lyrics and simple, delicate guitar styling make this warm and fuzzy CD an enjoyable contribution to this year’s reviews. Teachers both, Ian and Ingrid write positive and compassionate songs around their relationships with each other, family, friends and nature. They are in high demand for local events and fundraisers and are obviously much loved in the Shelburne community where they work. Favourite tracks: Mr. Walker – A Eulogy, and To Be Your Dad. Very charming.