Saturday, May 14, 2011

Romi Mayes - Lucky Tonight


Romi Mayes
Lucky Tonight
(Killbeat)
rel. date: released
For her fifth full-length album local blues rocker Romi Mayes decided to stray from formula and record a set of all new songs in front of a live audience, basically in one take. The result is the electrifying ten-tracker “Lucky Tonight” and as the hard-working Mayes sets off on a very long tour in support of the record there is no doubt she will be collecting even more fans based on the high quality of her songwriting and performing. Mayes has said she writes from her own experiences and when you hear tracks like “Heavy Heart”, “Ball and Chain” and “Not My Baby” you wonder if she has had nothing but dreadful romantic relationships her whole adult life. The lyrical content does strike a chord though and her support musicians (including local string-slinger Jay Nowicki on lead guitar) flesh out Mayes’ down-to-earth tones impeccably. Mayes’ pure song craft works well in this context and she deserves high praise for making this musical experiment just plain work.
Jeff Monk

Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams


Stevie Nicks
In Your Dreams
(Warner/Reprise)
rel. date: released
It’s been ten long years since Fleetwood Mac chanteuse Stevie Nicks released a solo album and for anyone wondering if this wispy Californian still has anything going on musically “In Your Dreams” is solid proof to the affirmative. Produced and mostly co-written with former Eurythmics dude Dave Stewart the album delivers what Nicks fans have come to expect with a distinct old school rock album feel. “IYD” was recorded at her home and it’s obvious that the familiar surroundings, and perhaps woodshedding for a decade, make Nicks sound engaged and on top of her estimable vocal chops. Tracks like “Ghosts Are Gone” and the Tom Petty-esque title track are as good as anything Nicks has done. “Soldier’s Angel” works because Nicks’ lyrics are neither jingoistic nor unctuous. “Moonlight (A Vampires Dream)” will work for the twenty-somethings investigating Nicks for the first time. “You May Be The One” is the diva in slow blues mode and it works splendidly. Guests include Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, Waddy Wachtel, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham.
Jeff Monk

Sam Roberts Band - Collider


Sam Roberts Band
Collider
(Universal Music Canada)
Website: www.samrobertsband.com
Canuck rocker Sam Roberts and his steady band have virtually created a mini musical industry for themselves re-creating 70’s rock clich├ęs for a whole new generation. On the surface this may seem disingenuous and perhaps even a tad lazy but when Roberts makes his music it does seem to come from a pretty guileless place. With “Collider” Sam and Band again smack up against their influences yet with a little creativity make their music sound pretty cool. Teaming with Chicago-based producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Red Red Meat, Califone) the band literally worked outside of their Montreal comfort zone allowing Deck to manipulate their sound, which included the addition of Antibalas afro-funk woodwind wizard Stuart Bogie. Opening track “The Last Crusade”, complete with Bogie’s squalling sax breaks, sets the table for a wild and wonderful mix of creative rock songs full of dynamic mood shifts and unique arrangements. Roberts’ pop intentions are equaled by the bands’ estimable chops and this album sets a new high water mark for this band as well as any others working this side of the Canadian indie-rock dike.
Jeff Monk

The Cars - Move Like This


The Cars
Move Like This
(Universal Music Canada)
Website: www.thecars.org
If you don’t count the Ric Ocasek-less Cars 2006 “reunion” album “It’s Alive!” this is the former new wave champions’ first album since they hit the proverbial junkyard in 1987. You may have your own personal opinion on the need for bands like this reforming for any logical reason but with “Move Like This” the music does the talking and it’s saying some pretty pleasing things. Ocasek is back with a full slate of ten new songs and the album builds on what the Cars were at their best in the late 70’s rather than trying to stake any new musical territory. Of course “Soon” channels the moody vocal charms of the late Ben Orr and “Sad Song” sounds like it was ripped from their first album yet the band neatly avoids leaning on their platinum-selling past too heavily. “Hits Me” pays homage to Devo with its robotic pop sheen yet it’s debatable which band influenced the other back in those heady days. Whether they stick together past this set is anyone’s guess, but for now let’s call this a move in the right direction.
Jeff Monk

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Matt Epp and the Amorian Assembly - At Dawn


Matt Epp and the Amorian Assembly
At Dawn
(Independent)
rel. date: released
Hard-working local singer/songwriter Matt Epp has shown much promise over the short expanse of his career and with his latest album “At Dawn” he has reached an even higher level of creative achievement. As a small “c” Christian artist Epp always finds ways to weave his spirituality into his work and this time out, between the sweet folkie asides and the great out and out rockers there is The Lord. With his electrifying core band of Joel Couture, Antonio Lomas and Raul Bernard, Epp has come closer than ever to making his definitive statement. “Come To My House” featuring the roots-rocking Weber Brothers, uses a Neil Young & Crazy Horse meets Wilco edge to get its shadowy vibe across perfectly. It’s kind of gnarly and it works. The album closes with the very pretty “Set Sail”, evoking a hope for an empire of love somewhere over the horizon. That particular dawn may never come, but Epp surely makes you feel the possibility.
Jeff Monk
Rating: 4 stars

The Trews - Hope & Ruin


The Trews
Hope & Ruin
(The Trews Records)
rel. date: released
In a more perfect world, perhaps a world where folks were led less by their noses directly to the consistently underachieving, mainstream musical trough, a band like The Trews would be celebrated for their skills and given the keys to the kingdom. Now “Hope & Ruin”, the bands’ fifth full-lengther may not be the best album ever, but it is a set of well-built tracks that show some degree of maturity, is filled with pretty great hooks and is tracked in a way that makes sense-and it has a tonne of energy. The album was recorded at Tragically Hip dude Gord Sinclair’s studio and the result makes a strong case for hoser power in the form of timeless hooks and melodies that keep on giving after many listens. Singer Colin McDonald has the kind of tough, unpretentious rock-guy vocals that can’t be denied and delivers every song near perfectly. Play this one loud.
Jeff Monk
Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Johnny Max Band: It’s A Long Road


The Johnny Max Band
It’s A Long Road
(Independent)
Website: www.johnnymaxband.com
Johnny “Max” McAneney is now on album number five and as far as contemporary Canuck bluesers go this one is a winner. Max has a super solid voice, kind of a less-raspy version of stateside soul/blues belter Delbert McClinton’s gravelly croon, and he makes it work wonderfully over the course of this dozen tracker. Track for track “It’s A Long Road” will withstand comparison to some of the best albums of the genre and that’s saying a lot. With a super-tight band and additional horn section making his personal and engaging adult-themed lyrics shine Max surely deserves some hefty accolades. If you are a blues fan of any stripe try and get on this road soon.
Jeff Monk