Short Cuts: Summary Reviews #1
In the CD, Solid Ground, I hear the influences of New Orleans, where Ray Bonneville had lived for a while, both in the story in his finely crafted lyrics and in the Cajun edge he injects into some of his instrumentals.
Bonneville's melodies and certainly much of his guitar work reflect songs from the Twenties and Thirties, and extending into the Forties. This is a country sound epitomized by such artists as Jimmy Rogers, Doc Watson, sometimes Woody Guthrie, and later Hank Williams.
I am thinking here especially of songs such as "Blonde of Mine," "Say Those Things," "Love in Danger," and of course "Solid Ground" -- all of which reflect elements of this much earlier music. In "When the Night Time Comes" especially, I also hear a bit of Jimmy Buffett's quirky southern country sound.
While other songs have a rock edge or a traditional blues sound, a common denominator is that underlying feeling, instrumentally and vocally of old time country-blues.
Solid Ground is a well-crafted recording that would be at home in anyone's collection and will provide hours of easy, intelligent listening.
beyond the illusion
A stranger, coming to this music for the first time, would be very impressed. And rightfully so. At 28 years of age, Tracie Morgan is an accomplished artist with a confident sense of her own music and with powerful abilities as a lyricist. Her manifest talent is evident throughout beyond the illusion.
While lightweight as compared to much of Morgan's live and recorded work, this music is pleasant and easy on the ear. Because the only accompaniment is Morgan's guitar, her finely crafted lyrics are easy to hear. As well, there is included a booklet containing all the lyrics.
Especially worth listening to are: "Ten Thousand Souls," "This Child Must Grow," "Keeper of the Monument," "Sing Through the Seasons," and "Mystery."
An accomplished writer, guitarist, and singer, Tracie Morgan is an artist to watch. We are certain to see more recordings from her, and I would not be surprised to see other artists record her songs as well.
This limited edition recording may be pivotal in the career of this very talented artist and may even become a collector's item. Even if it does not, beyond the illusion is well worth adding to one's personal collection.
The brothers David (Joe) and Eric (Al) Bull are talented musical dilletantes who, while performing live with bands over the past twenty-plus years, have developed some considerable musical and recording skills. They have some 250 recordings "in the can" to date. From these, they have selected fifteen songs to include on the current release.
There are echoes here of David Gates, Todd Rundgren, Alan Parsons Warren Zevon, and a host of other artists of the past three decades. Much of this impression is created by David Bull's vocalizations, often wrapped in heavy reverb effects.
Musically, the sound is hard to pin down. The keys and some of the rhythms suggest perhaps Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, or similar blues oriented British groups. For me, the sound is even more reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and other American surfing music ensembles of thirty years ago. It has the same sort of mellow, almost New Age feel about it that filled the background of so many surfing movies back then.
Given the Bull's assertion that their library of tracks -- or custom tracks as needed -- are available for television and film scores, this music seems well suited for just such a purpose. It is background music, but is a music of many moods and so well suited to the evanescent emotional climate of today's movies.
At the same time with its late-sixties/early-seventies ambience, it is well worth purchasing to serve up under dimmed lights along with incense and a bottle of Chianti.
Music from the Sacred Grounds
While Naffin's compositions are clearly jazz based, they incorporate elements of Latin tempos, rock, that music which is elusively called "roots"or "world beat", and have a clear relationship to the broad genre of "new age" music which is rarely, if ever, called jazz. The blend is seamless and innovative, bringing to this music a quality that sets it apart.
More than seeming related to any contemporary music, the sound here reaches back in time to the late sixties and some of the more experimental recordings of artists such as Paul Horn or, more commercially, the Mystic Moods Orchestra. In fact, much of this music has a very visual feel to it that makes it easier perhaps to compare it to works like Spirit of the Land, a book by Canadian photographer Courtney Milne. Like Milne's book, this CD contains a series of representations not just of sacred grounds but of the spirituality which arises out of them
Over all, Music from the Sacred Grounds is an intelligent, well articulated expression of a spiritual place where many of us want to be as this century nears its end. It is definitely music worth owning and listening to more than once.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, much of whose power resides in the largeness of their presence (The Rankin Family) or their shock value (Ashley MacIsaac), Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster has come up with quiet grace from a tradition of great Canadian fiddlers including King Gannam, Al Cherney, and her own uncle, Cape Breton champion fiddler Buddy MacMaster.
The history shows in the confidence with which MacMaster wields her bow, keeping the traditional elements but blending in her personal sense of the music. Although MacMaster's music certainly incorporates many contemporary elements, including some rock guitar and arrangements that begin to sound like funk or moderate jazz fusion, the listener can always sense the artist's strong respect for the past and for the music which has come out of it.
Most of the music is, in fact, quite traditional and all of it is traditional at root, bringing echoes of a culture long relegated to the fringes. It is good to hear it coming back with such vitality. At just 24 years of age, Natalie MacMaster has a talent far beyond her years and is well worth giving a listen.
not your father's jazz
As a composer, Cassells is phenomenal. Or else, he has lucked out with three partners in music who know exactly how to present his compositions in their best light. Maybe it's a bit of both. However it works, the result is music that will last through the decades.
There is a nice balance in this CD. Although it is the creature of the composer and drummer, Cassells, in different tracks each musician has the opportunity to stand out and show his stuff. Knowing these musicians in a variety of environments, it is great to see them each performing at their best and most creative with some wonderful music to work around, and without worrying about pleasing some audience.
One may only hope that Cassells will have the sense to send copies of this CD to as many radio stations, TV talk shows, and musical artists as he can discover the addresses of, so that we can see the music of him and his colleagues achieve national exposure. If they can turn out this sort of quality, they deserve it.
As a songwriter, Benjamin, at 27 years of age, is a literate, intelligent lyricist. Her lyrics reflect some of her early influences by Canadian poet/songwriters such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, as well as her own experiences as a musician and writer, and her university education as a performer, having attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Concordia University in Montreal.
As a singer and composer/performer of songs, her influences are perhaps still too close to the surface. Listening to Benjamin, one feels compelled during different songs, and sometimes different sections of songs, to draw comparisons to any of a plethora of singer/songwriters who have clearly been influences. Joni Mitchell pervades every song on this release. The more jazz-oriented sections are redolent of Holly Cole with some brief allusions to Roberta Flack and other icons of the sixties and seventies. At the same time, Benjamin is clearly an artist of her time, sounding much like a number of contemporary folk artists and groups.
For those interested in a high quality, eclectic blend of songs by an artist on the way up, this new release by Erin Benjamin is well worth buying. For those who want to hear the fully developed talent and artistic persona of Erin Benjamin, the next CD is well worth waiting for.
From what one can hear emerging from the inadequate recording on this release, Maureen Brown may be a talent to be reckonned with and certainly deserves a much more professional showcase than she has been given.
The instrumental "Big Hand" is perhaps the best example of the inconsistent recording/reproduction quality in this CD, yet another piece by the same engineer at the same studio (Jamie Sulek, Axon Studios) is one of the cleanest, best sounding recordings.
"Temple of Love" is a rocking blues number that shows Brown's voice at its best - equal to the sounds of other Canadian blues singers such as Georgette Fry or Molly Brown.
Maureen Brown is billed as a fine drummer and singer. It is a disappointment that, while she sings on every cut, Brown's talents as a drummer are not really showcased on this release. On many cuts, drumming and percussion are shared with two guest performers so that her own talents are not the centre of the performance. The only piece resembling a drum solo is the muddily recorded "Big Hand" discussed earlier.
Be Close is available for $22.00 including shipping and handling (and we assume taxes) from Pug Productions, 67-2001 Bonnymede Drive, Mississauga, Ontario LJ5 4H8. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org for Pug Productions and Maureen Brown.
In Mezcolanza, Graham has drawn together diverse musical elements and assembled them into a beguiling and pleasing "mosaic of music" best suited those quiet times at home. This is music to read or meditate by - a quiet progression of virtuoso performances on the acoustic guitar. It is easy to understand how, upon hearing Mezcolanza, owners of small clubs and restaurants in all parts of Ontario have been hiring Jim Graham to provide their music.
Graham's professionalism and love for the music comes through clearly in his expressive execution of these songs. Although many of these songs are by their very nature quiet and contemplative, there is an energy to Graham's playing which brings each song momentum and vitality that makes it a joy to hear.
Andrew Roblin & The Pocono Mountain Men present a wonderful variety of country music. This is real old fashioned country music, not the so-called modern country we so often hear on the radio today. There are Appalachian and hillbilly tunes, Jimmy Rodgers type blues and yodels (including Rodgers own "Peach Picking Time"), and songs from Bill Munro, Flatt and Scruggs and other old time entertainers, plus a slew of wonderful originals. It is wonderful to hear the way reels, jigs, and even waltzes ring out when translated from fiddle to Roblin's banjo.
Whether it's a country boogie, bluegrass, a waltz or reel, or a mix of contemporary and hillbilly sounds, there is vitality and even humour in the music of Andrew Roblin & The Pocono Mountain Boys that catches the listener up.
In fact, when all is said and done, it is difficult if not impossible to select a favourite piece from Perilous Pursuit which Roblin claims took "Two years of rehearsals...Five hundred shows...One million metronome clicks" to produce. The effort shows in the quality of this very fine collection of country music music that is sure to enhance the American's already high regard for Canadian country artists.
Hurtin' for Certain
Musically, Hurtin' for Certain is a delight. This is folk music in the tradition that used to be called "western music" a couple of decades ago, yet it has a vitality that is sure to appeal to today's "roots music" audience. Wrights distinctive arrangements and his unique singing style are very reminiscent of Michael Nesmith's early work.
While there is enough of a twang implied in many of the songs that one might expect Wright to speak with the accent of Nesmith's Texas, this Kingston musician speaks with a clearly Canadian accent. Wright's lyrics too, like those of Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot, are redolent of Canada, reflecting life in Canada, especially on the streets, even when making reference to such distant destinations as Oaxaca and Orlando.
Bands may come and go, but as an artist Luther Wright is worth keeping an eye on. And Hurtin' for Certain is well worth owning and listening to.
Inside My Dream
While on some of her songs Mattiacci has a very traditional girl and a guitar folk sound, others have a contemporary rootsy sound very much like the Kingston band Film at Eleven. The drumming of Trent Horne especially lends the music the same rhythmic quirkiness that Lorne Miller brought to Film at Eleven. Tracie Morgan and Barbara Jenner of Film at Eleven may have shared some of the same musical influences as Barb Mattiacci. There are other influences apparent as well, giving this collection of songs a very eclectic feel.
As a lyricist, Mattiacci has a very personal style that blends well with her music. It is clear that her songs are about her and about the view through her particular window on the world, yet her words and stories have universal appeal to which the listener can relate.
Over all, lyrically and musically, Inside My Dream is uneven. On the whole, however, Inside My Dream is an engaging and pleasing effort. It will be interesting to see down which musical road Barb Mattiaccis next recording will take her.
growing up from the ground
Although this band has been compared favorably to the Rheostatics two of the singers are brothers of the Rheostatics lead singer People from Earth has a much edgier, more progressive sound.
The lyrics of John Tielli, who has penned most of the songs on People from Earth's new CD growing up from the ground, are very reminiscent of the finest works by Michael Nesmith and musically the songs reflect many of the same influences.
Musically, growing up from the ground is broad based and eclectic, ranging from the country sound of "I Smell Flowers" through the new age sensibilities of several songs including "Killing Self," an almost psychedelic song, sweet pop sounds like "I'm Such A Baby," the bluesy "Apology," rockers (often reminiscent of another Toronto band, The Kings) such as "Aquaman" and the very Ozzie Osborne sounding "Join The Dark Side."
People from Earth have produced a CD that should put them well on the road to popular and critical success. One day, growing up from the ground may be a collectors item. Right now it is worth owning.
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