The Year in Music: 2015
I invite you to choose an artist, or a few, and listen to their music. Support them. Enjoy them.
When I moved my family to Orangeville from Mississauga over 20 years ago, I had no idea how perfect this region would be to live in, love in and grow in. “A splendid and safe little place for my children to spend their early years,” I thought, “until they spread their wings and split the scene.” Then my bride and I would head somewhere else as well.
As it turned out, country living in the hills has been a beautiful and comforting love affair since the day we arrived. Along with the strong arts culture that pulses throughout our community, my relationship has been with the music that provides the soundtrack of local life.
Original music is being created and performed here more than ever. It is part of who we are, surrounded by an encouraging environment that breeds friendship, musical experimentation and exploration, songwriting and performance.
And there’s always something new on the scene. For instance, music lovers can now visit the new Aardvark Boutique Audio on Broadway in Orangeville, meet owner Peter Wolter, and listen to music on vinyl hi-fi. There you’ll not only find vintage LPs, along with some new ones, but also the turntables and tube amplifiers that let you experience the original recordings the way they were meant to be heard.
So, once you’ve read the reviews, I invite you to choose an artist, or a few, and listen to their music. Support them. Enjoy them. Their passion and creativity help form the soul of our community.
Justin McDonald – Dufferin County Museum
|Lurking in Dufferin is a performer and songwriter with depth and character who just keeps creating and producing great music.
Justin McDonald is the engine behind the Bremen Town Players and as a solo artist is just as formidable. Dufferin County Museum reflects his softer, more accessible side with relaxed, acoustic-flavoured numbers like “Picking Up Pieces,” “The Barfly” and “Lazy Star.”
Things get edgier on “The Fool,” a punchy blues number that features McDonald’s patented raspy vocal side, and then cruise along nicely on “Ship Song, Part 1.” McDonald’s roots are revealed in “Blue,” which provides an opportunity to spend a moment alone with only his vocals and some deft guitar picking.
All the songs are written by McDonald and like many of our special Canadian artists, he crafts and develops interesting storylines throughout each. Many of the lyrics belie his young age when they were written, which suggests his future work can be eagerly anticipated.
Apple | Amazon
Anne Lindsay – Soloworks
|One of life’s pure joys is to take in the stories and recollections of travellers who have ventured to parts of the world and experienced cultures most of us will never see.
Violinist Anne Lindsay has travelled far and wide to perform, teach, learn and volunteer. She has become a go-to session player, collaborating with the likes of Blue Rodeo, The Chieftains, James Taylor, Roger Daltry, Skydiggers and John McDermott, and has performed in the stage production of The Lord of The Rings.
During summer days spent at her parents’ farm in Mono and throughout all her travels, Anne Lindsay has always carried her violin with her. Soloworks is our opportunity to listen to her express all the emotions fuelled by her glorious adventures through her violin and angelic voice.
All but four of the 13 tunes on this CD were composed by Lindsay, and most were recorded at Toronto’s Timothy Eaton Memorial Church where she sang in the junior choir. The results are rich, rewarding and at times haunting. As a result of her extensive musical curiosity and studies, she seems to have the power to make her violin speak in any style.
Some have equated Anne Lindsay’s playing to the sound of a conversation with God. I recommend listening in on that conversation.
www.anne-lindsay.com | Apple
David Storey – Coming Home
|Over 20 years ago David Storey started something special. You could find him performing in Toronto music clubs like Lee’s Palace, The Horseshoe and Sneaky Dee’s, building an audience while garnering critical raves and award nominations.
Storey’s career path was soon altered, however, and life took him in a divergent direction for a spell, to develop and produce stories in a new way with different tools. Now the Inglewood resident has come full circle to embrace music, the love he left behind, once again.
The result is Coming Home, a collection of original musical anecdotes full of honesty and a clever wit that land on the ear effortlessly as Storey paints pictures that Canadians will recognize and understand – heroes left behind at the lake, surly life survivors, lovers reflecting on years together, and mythical wisps “rippin’ through the alpine,” with the beautifully crafted “Saint Adelaide” standing out as one of his most touching performances.
However, every tale leaves a taste of hope and gratitude, and when you wind your way to the title track at the end, you’ll understand why we should all be happy to have David Storey back behind his acoustic guitar, embracing his first love.
The Weather Station – Loyalty
|The Weather Station’s third CD was recorded in a week in France with Tamara Lindeman and Afie Jurvanen collaborating to create 11 musical ideas that Lindeman whispers to us in her own unique and refined vocal style.
“Way It Is, Way It Could Be” conjures movement right off the top of the record. Reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home,” in this instance it has us tagging along on Lindeman’s road trip as she reveals experiences and questions motives throughout the musical scene.
Tamara Lindeman, a Theatre Orangeville alumna, wants to talk to people and cautiously share the feelings and observations she is working through. Listening to Loyalty is like attending a house concert in a drawing room anywhere you can imagine. At times you can hear unobtrusive chair creaks and guitar squeaks that keep things honest and natural.
Lindeman draws you in as she sings. Listen attentively and carefully and get the meaning.
The Weather Station forecasts a musical weather system that is partially vulnerable, with periods of sentiment and scattered memories. Enjoy it.
the-weather-station.com | Apple | Amazon
Stewart Gunn – The Valley
|I’ve known Orangeville artist Stew Gunn for a while and have watched and listened in the wings as he unassumingly composed music for The Haymakers, Grande Fir and Faceless Lazers, among many other musical projects.
Collaboration and innovation are key for Gunn and after working with his latest musical kin, Dave Joseph, Erick Bruck and Wally Jericho, something beautifully inventive has been created on The Valley.
Gunn is writing about events that have had an impact on his life and though he doesn’t shoot for a specific sound, there is a Brian Wilson Pet Sound-era influence evident throughout The Valley. To my ear, the luscious California sound that meanders through many of the songs is reminiscent of Canadian indie rockers Blinker The Star.
The CD starts with “Welcome,” a cleverly crafted rocker that is truly a welcome mat for all the music that follows. Before you know it you are loping along in a dream sequence fashioned in 6/8 time as “What Was I Thinking?” sweeps you away. It’s simply splendid.
The balance of the recording is dense with solid musicianship. “Tell Me So,” for example, begins as a soft acoustic confessional with Gunn’s Zen-like vocals telling the tale, then develops into a rhythmic crescendo that ends abruptly with some tight shots.
This is probably Stewart Gunn’s best work to date. As Frank Zappa would say, “Good singin’, good playin’.” Get lost in the music of The Valley immediately, folks!
Shirley Eikhard – My Day in the Sun
|When I listen to Shirley Eikhard sing any song, it feels like a balmy vocal embrace.
She performs all the instrumentation from start to finish on My Day in the Sun, which was recorded in her studio in Mono. That is impressive, yet her most prodigious asset continues to be her bewitching voice. Fortunately for everyone, it is on glorious display here once again.
The overarching tone of the music on this latest CD is uplifting and downright tropical with rhythms that often slip into an easy reggae feel. Her most intimate and emotionally charged song in this collection is the title track, a confessional ode revealing her decision to blow a kiss and move on to new horizons, and here her voice sounds as pristine as ever.
Shirley Eikhard is enviably comfortable expressing herself in any musical style and can sing and seemingly compose at will as witnessed by her extensive body of work. Let’s hope the new horizons she aspires to include even more music.
The Skeletones – Four Petrified Forest
|Listening to Petrified Forest by The Skeletones Four was a total blast.
I am not certain Andrew Collins and the band would appreciate anyone describing their music as any particular style, but to me they are sincerely progressive.
The band is obviously comfortable in time signatures well outside the usual 4/4 and can complement songs with subtle backing harmonies where required. But what is most compelling is the aura their sound creates. It threw me back to days of Soft Machine discs spinning on my turntable, with a touch of Max Webster, King Crimson and early days of The Tubes.
All the tracks will hook you. “Phantom Love” is a slow, blissful Pink Floyd-ish ballad, “I Woke into a Nightmare” has an obtuse Bowie funk to it, while “Ghost Dude” and “Following Through” will rock you.
Tasteful stereo guitar work is woven throughout Petrified Forest and, despite the progressive nature of the compositions, “weeklong” guitar solos are mercifully absent.
The Skeletones Four have created a very nice piece of work here and, believe me, this is one of those recordings that gets better with many listens.
The Wet Teez – The Wet Teez
|This band consists of three hard-working rockers with big amps, big sounds and big ideas to share. Their sound is hard and heavily rooted in the blues, with Donato Scipione of Orangeville pulsing on bass, Shelburne’s Ian McCreath rocking steady on drums, and Jon Giles on guitar and lead vocals.
The musical essence of this recording will bring to mind early ZZ Top with a little taste of Gary Moore mixed in. The Wet Teez can also funk it up nicely, as illuminated on the tracks “No Mo’ Talkin’” and “Better Days.”
These hombres formed in Caledon in 2013. Since then they have been refining their sound and style down to a raunchy edge and are beginning to forge an identity that resembles a nasty and tight blues power unit.
After seeing them once in a live setting, I can tell you no audience will be safe from a good rocking!
Graham Maycock – Words Less Spoken
|My buddy Perry Joseph from Aardvark Music & Culture in Orangeville introduced me to local singer/songwriter Graham Maycock’s music and his EP Words Less Spoken which encompasses five of his original songs. Luke Ryan provides bass and drums on each tune.
Maycock has a great voice and at times will slip into a falsetto that brings to mind Hawksley Workman. I particularly enjoyed the great rhythmic traction of “Don’t Wanna Feel,” which again shows off his singing flair, and “Not Too Late,” which has a hint of Rufus Wainwright.
This is a nice first effort from this young musician who confesses to being influenced by such artists as John Mayer, Ray Charles, B.B. King and The Eagles. With that said, I look forward to Maycock’s next release and watching him develop as he reaches for his dream to write, record and perform his original songs in the years ahead.
Gordon Shawcross – Almost Science Fiction
|I had heard from the “twilight barking” of local musicians that Gordon Shawcross was up to something, and I was desperately curious. I have had the unique opportunity to work with Shawcross and I knew whatever he was crafting would be special. Waiting for the result, however, was like a countdown to Christmas morning.
Well, the sun has come up and Almost Science Fiction has presented itself. It is epic.
This artist has honed his songwriting abilities to a unique edge from both observing the human condition and living in the middle of the madness. His songs are an intimate, illustrated musical travelogue that is yours to put to use as you colour along.
Gordon Shawcross’s style can be described in only one way. When he gets hold of a tune, it will be “shawcrossed.” I’ve seen it happen and it is acutely evident throughout this CD.
Get underneath some headphones now and take in the extraordinary experience of songs like “Dreaming of New Orleans,” “Michael Slobodian” and “Buckwheat Cakes.” As I said, epic.
Lily Frost – Too Hot for Words
|Canadian rockabilly swing icon Ray Condo once sang, “What you gonna do when there ain’t no swing?” With Too Hot for Words, Canada’s indefinable Lily Frost ensures there is no need for a reply to that question.
This is the former Caledon resident’s follow-up to Lily Swings and she’s supported by an über-talented band. It includes the likes of Terry Wilkins on doghouse bass, the incomparable Nichol Robertson, one of my favourite innovators, on banjo/guitar, and illustrious drummer Jeff Halischuk, among many other pros. Frost puts her own filter on the music and it is a sassy, confident and buttery smooth vintage.
Whether it is the swingin’ stomper “It Ain’t Right,” the sultry “Don’t Explain” or “One Never Knows, Does One?” Frost cuddles each composition and makes it her own with vocal treatments that are playful, soaring and bawdy, while the band behind her renders each song to perfection.
And speaking of too hot for words, don’t get me started on the knockout image of Frost on the CD cover. Just trust me that the music that emanates from this recording is as gorgeous and intelligent as the artist herself.
Billy Grima – Sugar & Cream
|Living in Caledon is a singer/songwriter who is creating some great country/pop music built from personal experiences, family stuff (as he puts it), and one excellent voice.
Billy Grima, originally from Australia, began singing as a soloist in a 40-voice choir at age eight. He moved to Canada in his mid-teens and continued to sing and write music despite the shock of our frigid climate.
He lists his influences as Joe Cocker, Sarah McLachlan and Journey’s Steve Perry, yet Grima is carving out a style all his own on Sugar & Cream. His songs all have an easy colloquial feel to them, whether it is “Picture of You and Me” about leaving home to join the armed forces, “Pleasure to Have Met You,” a rocking anthem about bumping into love, or the heartbreaking “I Miss You Baby.”
Pete Swann’s production on this CD, Grima’s third, is impressive, with tasteful guitar work throughout and a punchy sound that propels each hook-loaded song. It could be described as country with flavour, even though on “Calendar Girl” Grima’s powerful pipes lead the way on more of a lazy Motown-influenced blues. Throughout, however, the constant is always that voice which remains front and centre, right where it should be. Sugar & Cream is one sweet recording and I’d like some more, please.www.billygrima.com
If you are a musician or band reviewed on this page and would like a link, song or video embedded please email the details to Valerie Jones. Thank you!