The Year in Music: 2017
Our annual review of new recordings by local musicians.
As the year wanes, I find I look forward to the snow and the change it brings. Familiar surroundings are revised and a new perspective emerges when the temperature drops and snow blankets an austere landscape.
Those hexagonal crystals formed on a particle of dust change dramatically as they tumble towards earth. This has me thinking.
Snowflakes assume infinitely varied shapes based on how cold or moist the clouds are. The artists who have created the music reviewed on these pages are similarly formed.
Each artist is shaped by their origins and experiences, and they courageously gift their music to us like fresh morning snow. We consume and enjoy their sonic lagniappes as quickly and freely as a tap on a screen.
This is where my thinking comes in. It’s time we acknowledged these musical bonuses by returning the favour and rewarding these artists for the full measure of labour their songs represent. Send a gift back to them. A small award or encouragement that lets them know we are listening. Paying artists for their music will make you feel good!
Best of all, promote your favourite musicians through the power of social media and let the world beyond our hills know about the musical magic that is continually being created here.
The Shining Maze
Devin and the Dark Light
It’s been a couple of years since we last heard from Devin and the Dark Light but The Shining Maze has arrived. Devin Hentsch’s music defies pigeon-holing and its idiosyncratic nature is what made me want to run into The Shining Maze to see what might occur. To my ear this is the band’s best release yet, taking you on an unexpected and gladdening musical ride.
It begins with the dreamy “Crucial” that waltzes you into the musical atmosphere until “Solo Crow” and “Days of Love” grab your hand and accelerate the pace. “Spy Kites” demos some pleasing background vox chops as it leaps along toward an up-tempo climax. “Dream Axe” is a solid, pulsating gem featuring pristine drumming from Justin McDonald supporting an infectious bass riff and a keyboard drone to die for. It all concludes in a hypnotic chant that will leave you emotionally tenderized.
Cover art for The Shining Maze was provided by Andrew Scott (Sloan) and the music is deftly mixed by José Contreras (By Divine Right). The Shining Maze is wondrous, but with the quirkiest complexion.
There is a musical force emanating from Caledon, and with heightened expectations, I intend to keep my ears open for Andi Trépanier.
She released her latest single “Half Home” in August in support of her six-city Half Home Tour. Last year “Caffeine,” featuring Jono Josh, from her Sketches EP, landed her in the top four in CBC’s Searchlight competition.
The daughter of Caledon artist and filmmaker Cory Trépanier, she has been writing and creating original music since the age of 14. This latest is a well-crafted guitar-centric pop tune, nicely produced to feature her ample vocal talent.
Trépanier’s musical influences range from electronic, noise rock to R&B, jazz and soul. She is currently writing and producing a full-length record inspired by issues she sees in herself and the world.
Canadian Music Magazine suggested this artist won’t hesitate to “colour outside the lines to serve her original songs.” Based on “Half Home” and Trépanier’s vocal acumen and eclectic influences, what’s coming next may well be illustrious.
How to Polish Your Longhorns
Jay Kipps Band
I’ve been hankering to listen to How to Polish Your Longhorns from the Jay Kipps Band after getting a brief taste of them during the Orangeville Blues & Jazz Festival this summer. Their sound is reminiscent of some great country rock from earlier decades.
On this CD we get to hear more of their original music crafted to get your head bobbing and toes tapping straight away. This band plays with a groove that is solid yet lazy, in a way the late Lowell George might find appealing. “Rotten Apple Blues” and “Hard Core” demonstrate this nicely.
“Sinister” shows the band can also rock and “Call Me the Breeze,” recorded live, is an indicator this group of players sounds just as exciting in person as they do in the studio produced by Orangeville’s Stewart Gunn.
Jay Kipps wrote all the music on this recording, and he lays down some tasteful harp throughout and sings from the heart, most notably on “Everyone but Me.”
Verily I Did Gaze upon the Tiger
Cory McCallum is the ultimate improv musician collaborator. He surreptitiously proliferates within our midst, not yet worldly “famoose,” he has been a creative Vesuvius for years.
Pant City is the musical garden McCallum tends when he isn’t doing other things, and on this recording the Pant City harvest is bountiful. It is row after row of songs with lyrical dexterity, grooves packed tight and deep in the pocket, keyboard orchestration from Erick Bruck and guitar craftwork from J. Mar and McCallum. The drumming power source is patently Bruck throughout.
It includes “You Stopped LOLin’ Me,” a clever anthem about an obtuse relationship infected by social media distractions, “Alphabet for Fisticuffs,” a rock solid rap thumper, and the awkwardly tender “Imitation of Love.” “Hot Mess” is a perfect treasure and reason alone to support this release.
Cory McCallum and his collaborators have done something admirable with Verily I Did Gaze upon the Tiger, truly some of the most stellar and best-produced work I’ve heard from McCallum ever.
No Rest for the Wicked
Stan Chang with Erick Bruck
No matter how you pronounce the New Orleans street name Tchoupitoulas, it’s going to be a musical celebration when Stan Chang and Erick Bruck start singing about it. “Tchoupitoulas” is the rousing beginning of a set of nine original songs that feature Stan Chang’s soulfully raspy vocals, bluesy piano and Bruck’s romping back beats.
Chang’s lyrics are mischievously clever and often chuckle-worthy as each tune unravels. The stories are familiar laments, but Chang delivers them in his own style, a potpourri of Professor Longhair, Tom Waits, Marc Cohn and Dr. John. Bruck keeps the rhythmic treats coming on each track with the second line feel of “Tchoupitoulas,” the boogie blues stomp of “I’d Rather Kiss My Dog” or the haunting march of “Rain’s Gonna Come.”
Stan Chang, who majored in music at Laurier University, told me that on this CD he wanted to offer listeners a mix of his original music reflecting varied musical influences in his life. If you listen closely, there’s some sage advice sprinkled in there as well.
True The North
Max Layton has been surrounded by poetry and music his entire life. But it wasn’t until he went legally blind years back that he found his unique voice and the courage to speak it, through both his songs and poems. His sight was eventually restored, but while in the darkness he picked up his guitar and songs poured out of him.
Layton has released his fourth musical collection, bringing us songs focused on the lives of the blue-collar worker in Canada filtered through his musical prism.
In “Lockeport Lockout,” he sings about Nova Scotia fishermen and fish plant workers attempting to unionize in 1939 with devastating results, while “Glace Bay” eerily recounts how lives were blown away in the Cape Breton mining disaster. Not all of this recording centres around tragedy, however, and “Tom Thomson” is a loving tribute to Canada’s iconic painter, a hundred years after his death.
Layton believes Canadians, unlike their American counterparts, have few songs to give them a warm feeling about specific parts of their country. True The North will help change that.
Devil at Your Back Door
Jeff Campbell’s voice is custom-made to tell a story and in his latest offering the warmth and commitment in his instrument is gripping.
“Walking with Chuck Peterson” is a frisky jazz shuffle laced with a luscious trumpet performance from Bryden Baird that chaperones Campbell’s crooning to perfection. On “No Alibis” percussion from Loreto Mazzola, along with Craig Harley’s keys, dance together delightfully as Campbell sings atop a compelling bass accompaniment beneath them.
A formidable rendition of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and the title track are both exciting and expert performances from Campbell and his supporting cast.
The entire 12-song collection has been beautifully produced by Campbell and Ted Gerber and features enviable performances in every musical crevice, including Don Reed on fiddle, Eric Mahar on electric guitar, Perry Joseph and Gerber on acoustic guitar, Murray Abraham and Gerber on bass guitar, and Larry Kurtz on harmonica.
Devil at Your Back Door is packed with more musical goodness than I can describe in this space and Jeff Campbell leads the way with a voice like no other.
Prisons of Ecstasy
More than a decade after songwriter/vocalist/bassist Ian Starkey (St. Pistolwhip von Shankenstein) first partnered with drummer John David Brumell (Colonel Crankshaft) on a farm in Mono, Prisons of Ecstasy is upon us. It is the band’s fifth studio album, containing 12 exquisite tracks suitably produced by Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters/Entombed).
We are blissfully softened up off the top with the satisfying throb of “Incarceration Man” and the powerful musical gallop of “Stir You Crazy.” Tempo and energy remain top drawer until “Do You Fear Me?” which sits back comfortably into a haunting power ballad. Rhythms from “Head for a Hole” glide à la ’80s vintage The Kings but with a grit multiple of ten, while “Bolder” provides a mid-tempo rocker with a mega hook poised to strike and engage you.
The Shanks expel a musical balm laced with punk sensibilities, admirably crafted bass guitar and drum artistry layered with Starkey’s spectral singing style. The band also creates applause-worthy videos around their music. The companion video for “Incarceration Man” is a boisterous prison romp not to be missed.
Johnny Reid has always been a soul singer. Singing with the grit of a Delbert McClinton, the power of a Bob Seger, and a unique blue-collar sensibility, he has always let other people determine what the music means to them. “I’ve never called myself anything. I’ve sorta allowed people the freedom to associate me with whatever makes them feel comfortable,” he says.
Revival is indeed comfortable and congruent. Wielding a strong blues bent, horns that harken back to Stax Records days and embraced by angelic gospel backing vocals, this recording delivers.
It begins with “Soul Train,” a horn-powered, Wilson Pickett-flavoured recollection about the music Reid grew up loving. “Cry No More” is a heartwrenching ballad as dark as I’ve heard this artist perform, while “Blank Page” finds him soaring effortlessly. Reid covers McClinton’s “Every Time I Roll the Dice” and righteously owns it.
After so much time away touring, Reid had a barn on his property refurbished into a recording studio where Revival was recorded and magic permeated each track. It is a triumph.
And ever more is evolving. Watch for Reid’s stage musical My Bonnie Lass, a tribute to his Scottish grandmother, currently in development at the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College.
Graham Maycock’s artistry has continued to evolve since Words Less Spoken with impressive work on his follow-up release Gray, and now with The Chronicles.
That voice is still silky smooth, and with Drake Stafford producing, the result is a new vintage of music with an easy blend of pop, R&B and a hint of hip-hop.
Maycock has cited numerous and varied musical influences in the past, but The Chronicles clearly has soul in its musical DNA. It’s evident this artist can dip and dive within many musical genres and this style fits him comfortably as well.
“Her” is a standout with an infectious funk feel, and some nice background vocals on “Glimpse” and “Devil Man” give these tunes extra body to switch things up.
The grooves always stay in their lane, and the keys tastefully support each tune. Maycock’s patented falsetto dexterity is in evidence on “In Heaven,” and the collection comes to a close with the more up-tempo “Sleep Walker.”
This recording has many excellent characteristics reminiscent of top talent in this genre, but Maycock handles each performance with a unique inflection to shape an excellent result.
I Need You
Some things work well paired together and Chapplain fits that description. It is, of course, an amalgamation of the talents of Bud Chapplain and his daughter Hannah.
All the songs except the title track are original compositions and a gift to the listener from a certified champion, supported by Hannah, family and friends.
“Queen of Hearts” provides a steady rocker from Bud and Hannah as they trade verses concerning the dangers of playing outside the rules with the proverbial heart. “Call Me Baby” grooves easefully as Hannah shares a lonely lover’s lament, and “Think of You” is a clever ballad about late night libations at the temple of unrequited affection.
Bud earnestly sings about life tendencies on “Smile” and provides an old man’s lesson on the matter. “Take Me Down to the Water” is a gospel reflection on deep pain and redemption, with Bud’s voice cradled fittingly among acoustic guitar, accordion and organ.
Wonderful performances all around from both Chapplains and Craig Harley on keys, co-producer Ted Gerber on bass and electric guitar with Paul Chapman.
American humourist Josh Billings said, “Adversity has the same effect on a man that severe training has on the pugilist: it reduces him to his fighting weight.”
Orangeville’s The Discarded are a band formed out of necessity to shape adversity into creativity through musical alchemy.
J.P. Wasson, the guitarist and singer, has said, “Loud rock and roll is very therapeutic,” and after a divorce, he and his teenaged sons, Jared on bass guitar and Caden on drums, began a rejuvenation via original music played together in their garage.
The Discarded, their first CD, was recorded in just over nine hours, engineered and mixed by Ian Blurton. It includes such titles as “Cheques on Time,” “Time Bomb Heart,” “Ballad of a Broken Man” and “Check It Out,” which dump the family linen into the open for display and spiritual renewal. It’s formidable, raw and exciting music from a father and his refocused sons.
The band opened for The Sonics at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall in March this year, continue to perform live, and are already back in the studio recording again.
It’s tough to imagine Olde sounding any heavier than they did on their previous album I, yet Temple is even more formidable, riff-powered heavy music. It crushed me, in the best of ways.
Olde have been receiving absolute rave reviews for this recording from aficionados of the genre. They have found a way to add more nuance to their compositions, keeping the heaviness quotient high, yet not letting the music extend outside the scope of their original manifesto of musical precision and efficiency. Mission accomplished with Temple.
“Subterfuge” and “Now I See You” demonstrate Olde’s potency right out of the gate. Both forge deep hardcore grooves in succession with well-timed pace adjustments to keep you piqued. After a brief tempo respite, it gets crazy when “Centrifugal Disaster” kicks into an up-tempo assault. “Maelstrom” just keeps building to the finish, layered with the lead guitar drilling away delightfully atop the driving heaviness.
Orangeville’s Cory McCallum supplies bass chops for Olde, with Greg Dawson and Chris Hughes on guitars and Ryan Aubin on drums. Doug McLarty is simply a beast on vocals.
Scott Bruyea is a musician and freelance writer. On November 24, he will be playing at the Country Classic Music concert with Bruce Ley, Nathan Smith, Ryan Hancock and Tom Griffiths at Grace Tipling Hall in Shelburne. For tickets, contact [email protected]