The Year in Music: 2016
Give them a listen and discover which artist has a gift that touches you.
When I’m driving on Broadway in Orangeville, I’m often drawn like a magnet to Aardvark Music & Culture for a long chat with my musical brother Perry Joseph, the proprietor of this welcoming establishment. There’s always a gift awaiting there.
I’ll bump into an old friend, gab with a fellow musician, or pick up some energy from an excited student arriving for a lesson with a musical mentor. But the best part of my visit is always when Perry and I discuss music.
During a recent visit, the gift was particularly special. “You must listen to this,” Perry said as he handed me Mouth Full of Stars, the debut solo recording by Simon Paradis. The review of the CD is on these pages, but the moving story behind the music can be found in a book penned by his amazing spouse Kara Stanley, entitled Fallen: A Trauma, a Marriage, and the Transformative Power of Music.
Music does have magic powers. It bonds together talent of different ages and from divergent backgrounds to create magic from thin air. It inspires us to get through difficult periods when it seems the sun will never come up, and gives us a tender lift in the morning when we need it most.
Each of the artists reviewed in these pages tussled with life somehow and then created music to reflect the emprise. Give them a listen and discover which artist has a gift that touches you.
I confess that until hearing this gorgeous album, I was not familiar with Lisa Lobsinger, who has toured as frontwoman for Broken Social Scene. Yes, shame on me because the music Lobsinger, Paul Pfisterer and Martin Davis Kinack have designed and shaped on Laser has so many components I love and admire in an artist. I listened to it on their vinyl recording and the sound production was excellent. Groove, soul, great musicianship and a bit of angst.
From “Leaving It Too Late” where a whispering vocal intro morphs into a lazy smacking snare groove, to a little “Disco Night Driver,” then on to the power throb of “Do We All Feel It,” I could not wait to flip the LP over to the B side. These are lying-on-the-couch, toe-pumping, headphones-on tracks.
“Linda,” a song Lobsinger wrote for her mother and featuring the cello of Coenraad Bloemendal, is a tune she says she composed entirely in one sitting for the first time in her life. It’s a perfect final track to an impressive album I can’t wait to get cranking in my car.
This is Blue Rodeo’s 15th studio recording, but there’s no repetitive slacking from this iconic band. The energy I sensed on the opening song “Hard to Remember” is not my imagination. Founding band members Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor credit co-producer Tim Vesely with helping them find a new perspective on the Blue Rodeo sound.Vesely, formerly of the Rheostatics, encouraged Keelor and Cuddy to get back to singing together as they used to and the result is inspiring – still reliably Blue Rodeo, but with new vigour.
“Jimmy Fall Down” and “Rabbit’s Foot” especially have an essence of Rubber Soul/Revolver-era Beatles to them, while the title song “1000 Arms” is a straight ahead toe-tapper about the strength of community, with Cuddy, who lives in Mulmur, singing as strongly as ever.
“Superstar,” which is the single here, pokes some good-natured fun at over-the-top opulence in parts of California, and the accompanying video is a hoot.
This record is less contemplative than the band’s usual fare, with most tunes tightened up and charged with a more upbeat pop feel. After 30 years, this multiple Juno-award-winning group just keeps on creating great music.
Fraser & Girard
Fraser & Girard
Allan Fraser and Marianne Girard have each entertained and charmed audiences in their own right, with Girard recording three solo albums and touring North America and Europe, and Fraser writing music that included a song NPR called one of the ten best of all time.
A meeting over tea a couple of years ago prompted a merger of songwriting prowess. Their performance talent plus a lifetime of experiences and remarkable chemistry show in this first collection presented by them as a couple in life and art.
First out of the gate is “Picov Downs,” written by Girard and featuring her strong lead vocal which carries it confidently from start to finish line. Fraser is up next with his own “One Foot Out the Door,” a ballad about commitment and the impossibility of making a relationship work without it.
My personal favourite is “Hard Time,” about abuse, payback and time spent in a crowbar saloon as a result of a well-deserved stabbing. Tense and powerful. Throughout this recording Fraser and Girard perform a clever and nimble vocal dance, alternating lead, with each voice subtly supporting the other as one.
Orangeville resident Lisa Watson, who penned the music reviews for this magazine before my arrival, struck up a connection with author and musician Don Breithaupt a few years back and subsequently reviewed Headquarters by Breithaupt’s musical project Monkey House.
Earlier this year Breithaupt emailed me a link to access an early listen to his pending release Left, inviting me to review it with the agreement to keep it under my hat until the official release date. My ears were jazzed to the max.
At last I can now turn you onto Left – which is spectacular in every possible way.
Musical luminaries such as Jay Graydon, Elliott Randall and Drew Zingg provide guitar highlights with drummer Mark Kelso crushing it on every track, while a stellar horn section pours out a blended sound as smooth and satisfying as a late night tumbler of fine single malt.
From “My Top 10 List” with horns blowing like a firestorm, the sophisticated shuffle of “Tango by Yourself” featuring a superb accordion solo from Tom Szczesniak, right up to “The Art of Starting Over” backed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Left is Monkey House’s best ever.
It’s a Mystery To Me
Max Layton took a circuitous route to recording his first CD Heartbeat of Time. It captures songs written during an unsettling period when his eyesight seemed to be fading like a distant radio signal at night, destined to leave him in darkness. So he picked up his beloved guitar, strummed in new ways, and began to chronicle his thoughts in music.
So much has happened since. Happily Layton’s eyesight returned and he brings us yet another set of original songs on this, his third CD.
I was immediately enveloped by the beautifully produced sound of acoustic guitars that introduced a voice regaling me with a story about “dancing in sync with a good woman” in “Soca.”
Subsequent songs, like “Time Will Never Tell,” “It’s a Mystery to Me” and “Hug Your Honey,” are musical vignettes with that same inviting voice describing conversations in rented rooms, questions about the love of a dear one, and admonishments about hugging till the morning light.
Perhaps it’s natural that the son of Irving Layton, with his upbringing in a home lined with books and often filled with artists, actors and writers, coupled with a myriad of vocational adventures, should return to an instrument he learned to play courtesy of Leonard Cohen, using it to paint musical pictures. Both a musician and a poet (see a review of his poetry collections in “The Year in Books,”), Layton fearlessly conveys his heartfelt thoughts and experiences, like the generation before him.
There is a new dynamism in all the songs on Megan Bonnell’s latest CD which blends her inviting musical style, deft songwriting, layered guitars and vocals with a new more palpable beat.
“Can’t Have You” warms things up with splendid patented Bonnell harmonizing. It sets the table beautifully for “Golden Boy” which starts with the infectious pulse I’ve been waiting to hear from this former Caledon native and will no doubt make this track a favourite for many.
In “Chameleon” Bonnell’s soft acoustic approach seamlessly juxtaposes with a sonic attack of stacked vocals, rhythmic piano and drums that delighted me. “Out and Away” lands you gently with acoustic strums, swirling guitars and toms with mallets.
Bonnell has been quoted as saying whenever she plays a show she hopes to put a feeling inside her audience. After listening to Magnolia, I smiled and felt positively spirited inside.
In her inaugural CD, Nicole Robertson gives us a taste of her favoured musical genre by channelling her troubles through six original compositions. Robertson’s earnest devotion to the blues is apparent as she cites musical influences such as legendary Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell (the subject of Bob Dylan’s original tune) and Sam Cooke, who many consider the father of soul.When she belts out her up-tempo “Doctor, Doctor” with a vocal confidence that belies her age, there is credibility to the story she tells. Lamenting she cannot accept her doctor’s diagnosis, she’s got to “play me some blues.”“Mama Says” is a nice shift from the previous shuffles and skips along with a sound and feel delightfully reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. It is raw, heartfelt and backed by vintage guitar work from Tj Whitelaw and a cross stick rhythm from Erick Bruck that drives this tune perfectly without being obtrusive.Robertson’s blues tales are all about familiar tribulations, but each lyric is delivered easily in her particular style, while Whitelaw and Bruck cover her back with veteran chops that rock steady.
Mouth Full of Stars is new music from songwriter, guitarist, music instructor and former Orangeville resident Simon Paradis, who currently makes his home in British Columbia.
What Paradis accomplished to get to the point of recording this honest and soulful CD is beyond courageous and spectacularly inspiring.
You see, Paradis fell three metres while working at a residential worksite in 2008, suffered catastrophic injuries and now performs in his wheelchair. With the heart of a Spartan soldier, he fought hard to bring us this CD.
Paradis categorizes his style as “original music that combines edgy lyrics with old-school grooves on wheels.” The songs are witty and inviting with musical backing that supports him in a way that is relaxed and purposeful.
With the honky-tonk tinged “Hanging Judge Blues,” the riveting “The Spill,” a funkiﬁed “Columbus” and the heartwarming “Home,” Paradis gives a raw, honest and deep performance that is a little bit Randy Newman and a touch of John Hiatt, but always laced with a spirit and talent uniquely his own.
Music and love brought Simon Paradis back to us. This CD must be heard.
If Graham Maycock’s inaugural CD Words Less Spoken was an aperitif, then Gray is the main course.
Recorded and produced by Darryl Neudorf and Dave Joseph, Gray contains eight songs that feature Maycock’s scintillating voice in the forefront where it duly belongs.
This project began in the fall of 2015 as a demo recording at Neudorf’s Operation Northwoods in Mono where Maycock enlisted Joseph to add some guitar work to a single song. After review it was decided a complete CD was in order and together they soon began to compose more music.
Joseph revealed, “Songs were co-crafted in the studio one by one as the project evolved, which added a sense of urgency to get things written. It kind of worked out to be a freeing and inspiring way to work. More room for improvisation and creativity.”
“The Light” is the opening track, a slow ballad but with Maycock’s lead vocal soaring. “Curious Minds” follows, somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay, then the guitar-centric “Hold On” amps things up, rock-ing admirably with a delectable thumping backbeat. “Kiss Me” may be the best track of all.
However this project started out, it ended up superbly.
It always blows my mind how various local artists in these hills mix and match like multicoloured Lego to create surprisingly unique original music. And this band illustrates how it’s done with their new self-titled CD of nine grand and pumping musical gems.
Consisting of Jae Marr on guitars, Chris Mullen on bass, Devin Hentsch on keyboards and Erick Bruck on drums, the band brings a blend of songwriting pedigrees honed in various projects over numerous years, great group playing and an incessant need to rock.
Erick Bruck has a major hand on the throttle of this project and he keeps the band jacked with tasty and perfectly manufactured grooves throughout. Layered on top of Bruck’s handiwork, the rest of the band are conjoined like a musical Rubik’s Cube, playing forcefully but melodically through the twists and turns of each composition.
Ample attention to detail has been given to the backing vocal work and altogether it begs you to replay “Atlanta Romantic,” the Young Rascals-flavoured “Chandelier,” and “Sunday Clothes,” so you can breathe them in over and over again.
I haven’t seen evidence of this group performing live, so I recommend scooping up this recording as a keepsake. Hopefully Fountain Bell is incu-bating more great original music – something we can all look forward to.
Asked what to do when your proverbial cup of knowledge and experience fills up, a wise philosopher responded, “You simply pour some out and share.” When author, musician and composer Jason Wilson’s experiential cup reaches the brim on this near-perfect CD, plenty gets poured out to the benefit of the listener.As I drove north from Dufferin into Simcoe, winding along county roads through spectacular scenery, I was immediately delighted as Wilson opened with a teasing splash of “Epistrophy,” then hit me between the eyes with “Gertrude,” showing off his dexterous band and the first of the artful horn arrangements to come.By the time “Jellyby” started, it was a musical party in my vehicle at 9:38 in the morning! Andrew Stewart’s fat bass groove, melded with Wilson’s percussive keyboard work, is dazzlingly infectious on this track.In fact, there is plenty to love among all 11 tracks, including splendid solo guitar work by Orangeville’s Perry Joseph and effortless sax solos from Marcus Ali. Throughout, Wilson displays complete vocal ease, including the uplifting “Rummlegumption (When I’m Down You Lift Me Up)” which brings the CD to an uproarious end.Perennials is a musical delectation where reggae dances joyfully with jazz, and Wilson has poured it out generously.