FolkWorld #47 03/2012

CD & DVD Reviews

Lovestorm "Overripe"
Own label; 2011

This intriguing duo is comprised of a man on cello and a woman on vocals. They add plenty of other instruments such as flute, bass, percussion, ukulele, and whatever they could find around the house. The house in this instant was a rental in Mexico (just a wee bit away from their native Canada) where they went to write and record this album. They kept it simple and what was to be a demo became a full-fledged album. There are a lot of different style elements here from folk to lounge to pop to experimental. It is almost tropicalia in nature, but not quite that complex. Whatever it is, it is high on the ‘likability’ scale and warrants a listen. At worst, you will be left with a relaxed feeling and maybe a smile on your face.
© David Hintz

Jumpin’ Jack Benny "I’ll Be Alright"
Boppin Records; 2011

Hot blues guitar with original music and cover tunes. Supposedly this guy is a legendary live performer and quite clearly on the cover they advertise ‘live bonus tracks included’. I have often said, or at least implied, that straight-up blues generally succeeds with me in the clubs and not as much on records released in the 21st century. Some times I can find a creative exception, but this is not one of those times. The guitar work is hot, there are some nice horns and the recordings are good, so I would recommend checking out the live act and grabbing something like this at the merch stand if you are impressed.
© David Hintz

Eichstaedt "My Own Little World"
Prudence; 2012

The opening track is an instrumental Celtic track with a new age feel. Sound like anyone you know? Well, this is a female led album, actually nearly exclusively performed in full by Petra Eichstaedt. However there are no vocals anywhere here and thankfully the album does live up to its title by taking influences from all over and putting it out in her ‘own little world’. The cut “Gypsy” lives up to its name with a lively beat, while ‘Crazy’ sounds more like a dance-pop number. It has the term ‘new age’ right on the sleeve, so you either like this or you do not for the most part. It was a bit too much like a pleasant soundtrack at times, but there was enough variety to make it worth a listen or two. And if you generally like this sort of music, this should be something you would want to latch on to.
© David Hintz

Catherine MacLellan "Silhouette"
True North Records, 2011

If you live around me, the ‘true north’ is indeed Canada, the origin of this record label which presents us with a fine example of Canadian heartland songwriting here. It is countrified but not too much so, as folk and rock fans alike will keep this one on the turntable after hearing a couple of songs. The second cut, “Keep Fighting” is what kept me interested with its darker folk tones not dissimilar to that of one of my favorites, Woven Hand. “Lines on the Road” has a touch of jazz and avant-rock added to the folk tones and pace. MacLellan has a voice that is clean and direct, which is a nice offset to the slight fuzz and tremolo of the electric guitar. That is a bit more formulaic but it works well enough with these quality songs and assured production. I would have preferred a bit more variety in the latter stages of this album, but it still offered many nice moments. Anne Murray fans may wish to hear this version of “Snowbird”.
© David Hintz

Michael MacLennan "Wolves"
Own label; 2012

It would take a more cunning linguist than I to pick out the Scottish accent on Michael MacLennan (as well as a more original joke writer for that matter). MacLennan has a surprisingly clean and flexible voice that gives a lot of life to his songs. The music is solid and also somewhat universal. That is both a reason to celebrate this album as well as a flag of caution. Although the quality is there, sometimes this just blends together into tried and trued patterns. But when he nails a song like “To the Fire”, his talent stands out and shows that a large audience may await. The title cut also features an impressive vocal range and some of his lovely piano work. The band rocks out nicely on most tunes and this is an enjoyable listen. It will be interesting to see where this takes him.
© David Hintz

Lincoln Durham "The Shovel vs. the Howling Bones"
RP; 2012

I have been hearing a little buzz about this artist and was of course curious if there was some high quality behind the talk. It did not take too long into the record to come up with a positive conclusion. Although this clearly is following in the wide path being blazed by the Black Keys, there is plenty of personality here. I would have used the word originality, but even the Black Keys do not have a lot of that. This is the blues after all, but the folk elements, songwriting skill, and brilliant arrangements are what lift the personality of Lincoln Durham’s album into something you will want to experience. The electric guitar work and lightly raspy and highly expressive voice are the starting points, but the acoustic work and simple thump of the percussion is also quite effective. The snarling slide on “Love Letters” cuts deep, but I rather liked the acoustic “Clementine” with its more classic folk ballad styling. There is a lot here to like and not a wrong note detected, other than a yellow card I will give out for excessive use of brackets on the song titles shown on the sleeve.
© David Hintz

Zakopower "Boso"
Kayax; 2011

This is rocking. Zakopower is perhaps the Polish Big Country. They have a strong rock foundation, but have a lot of their homeland at the heart of the material. But this is far from folk-rock as there is a modern electronica undercurrent running through much of the material. At times it even veers into 1980s synth-rock, but never quite that extreme. The power and melody remain pretty strong throughout. It is slick and inviting, but it leaves me desirous of either rawer rock or dreamier world folk.
© David Hintz

David Ferrard "Journeyman"
Alter Road Records; 2011

This record is from Glasgow, yet features a near universal sound derived from Scottish roots, UK folk roots, American singer-songwriter style, with a touch of rock and blues. The balance and arrangements work to create a clean environment to listen to these songs. And the song writing is first rate. The more folk oriented “I am an Immigrant (I’m from Here)” is a lovely song with a rather clear message. “Wildflowers” is a moving and powerful song and showcases Ferrard’s excellent voice. Well, the whole album does as he has a voice that could work on a Kenny Rankin level. The music and songs are far more enticing to me than that of Rankin, closer to Josh Ritter in scope and feeling. This album had me listening closely more and more as it went on. It built to a satisfying conclusion and a position on my replay pile. There is a lot to like here.
© David Hintz

Mick Rhodes "’Til I am Dust"
Hot Tramp Records; 2011

Mick Rhodes heads up a four-piece rock band that from the evidence here, sounds like they could handle a rowdy bar crowd for multiple sets into the wee hours of a weekend morning. The cover of a Paul Westerberg song (“Waitress in the Sky”) is a good clue as to what Rhodes’ original songs aspire to. There is the Springsteen/Petty influence in here as well. The guitars rock and snarl and the band maintains the power throughout these thirteen songs. They vary the pace a bit and countrify it a touch, but it plays well. I don’t sense much beyond what I and most rock fans have heard before, but this is still an effective record. “Kiss me Twice” has a nice spacey California feeling to it and shows a nice creative touch. I would certainly like to catch a live show some time. Unfortunately it appears that most shows are in California, which is a few thousand miles away. Rhodes is soon playing on a bill with Pat Todd (formerly of the Lazy Cowgirls), which offers more evidence of how fun and rocking this would be live.
© David Hintz

Don Amero "The Long Way Home"
Own label; 2011

Don Amero is a singer/songwriter from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. That area is deep in the western heartland akin to Minnesota where I was born. There are trace elements of a similar western feeling here in these songs. Although, there is a big mainstream production taking place in these ten songs. I do not find that terribly successful, but mainstream music fans that like big bold arrangements should enjoy this. I do appreciate some of the vocal skills Amero has. But I would like to hear something a little edgier and poetic in terms of both the writing and the arrangements. I am sorry to report that some of the lyrics made me cringe.
© David Hintz

Emily Yanek "Watching the Highway"
Primitive; 2011

Emily Yanek sings and plays piano. All ten songs here are her original compositions. As with many songs not written on guitar, there is not much of a folk feeling, more of a singer/songwriter light rock approach. Fortunately Yanek moves beyond light much of the time with strong vocal work that either rocks along well or achieves a torch singing feeling depending on the song. “Miles to Go” is a nice rocker with good electric guitar and piano tradeoffs and one of her stronger vocal passages. Nice songs here, very agreeable and there are some nice potential. Enough of it is realized here to warrant a listen. And considering Ms. Yanek is only 19 years old, this is quite a success.
© David Hintz

Andy Rajeckas "Peacework"
Own label: 1999-2007

This will be easily tossed into new age, but there is a bouncy pop feeling to it (some searing rock works its way in as well). It has a slick home recorded feel to it with lots of voices giving it a full sound. Ultimately it did not move me much. He looks like a very interesting guy and he can certainly make music, but it is too much in between and behind areas of interest for me.
© David Hintz

Drew Gibson "The Southern Draw"
Cragmont Records; 2011

Drew Gibson is yet another of those classic-styled singer-songwriters that hovers between folk and rock with plenty of Americana roots in the mi. The really good news for those of us that listen to a lot of this music is Gibson's ability to add elements of other genres and styles into his sound while easily keeping his personal identity. The opening cut, “I Know I Miss You More”, has brilliant little melodic runs that remind me of John Martyn or Michael Chapman. I can almost picture Danny Thompson playing on this. "Lonnie Johnson" has heartland appeal, but there is a light lounge element here. The folkier "Sugar Blue" has a great bluesy sting on the acoustic guitar, which is the sole accompaniment to the vocal. The overall contemplative mood is sustained throughout with these deft arrangements and fine songs. I have enjoyed this material live and it is nice to see the care given to the recording which feels live, but sounds clean and fresh in an intimate setting. This is an album I will return to and it further confirms the abilities that I saw during the live set.
© David Hintz

Gretchen Peters "Hello Cruel World"
Proper; 2012

It is refreshing to get something good from Nashville. This is not the first surprise I have heard from the ‘Country Music Capital of the World’, nor will it be the last. The key for me is to get something that does not sound like it is from Nashville. I think Peters for the most part has succeeded, although there are some hearty elements of Nashville country music here as well (Try out “Five Minutes” for example). Peters adds some lounge moves and blues into the mix. The lyrics and subtle emotive singing are also on the high end of the songwriting and singing scales. “Matador” was particularly mesmerizing with its conflicting images woven together with Peters’ careful touch. “Woman on the Wheel” was a nice rocking tune. This was more of a thoughtful record for me than one that involves me passionately with the musical shifts and creativity. Thoughtful songwriting is hard to come by, so it warrants further listens.
© David Hintz

Marco Tansini "Blues Garage"
Tanzan Music, 2011

This guitarist from Northern Italy has released his second album chock full of interesting instrumentals, all derived from blues in some manner. His song titles are all colors and reflect various shades of the blues including rock, jazz, and beyond. The record started simply enough, but there is a nice subtle melodicism to his playing and his writing that pulled me in. I hear so much of this material, that I often treat it as background music. Yet Tansini has a certain skill to present very simple elegant music and commandeer a listener’s attention. Nicely done!
© David Hintz

Ron Hynes "Stealing Genius"
Borealis Records, 2010

What starts off as rather basic singer songwriter material eventually yields some strong songwriting. This Canadian artist has a classic timeless, near genre-less style, but really pulls on emotional strings in “My Father’s Ghost” or “When I’m Over You”. “All for the USA” is a gutsy mostly a capella song featuring his ringing baritone before a rocking little rhythmic follow-up ensues. This is a tricky little album with some nice rewards. The presentation is slick and assured and the songwriting will hit you hard more than once. And if you ever had any doubt this is from Canada, I believe this is the first mention of ice hockey’s great goaltender Terry Sawchuck that I have heard in over 150,000 songs I have listened to. And it is more than a mention as the song is called “Sawchuck”. Wow.
© David Hintz

Straylings "Entertainment on Foreign Grounds"
Deadpan Records; 2011

There is an awful lot going on in this music. I hear dream pop, Americana, Ennio Morricone, psychedelic rock, folk-rock, and a few other moves here and there. I really enjoy this type of sound and the Straylings do it well. It is a snaking brand of rock that works its way into your mind while your body sways gently to the groove. In “Arcadian Moon” they vary the sound from hard rock power to electric folk picking. “Animal Flag” and “To Lay Down Roots” exhibit the more twisted folk rock that one finds in the Sadies take on spacey Americana music. The minor criticism I have is that I wish they would use a bit more variety like that on more of the songs. Although the groove is good and easy to enjoy, more dynamic shifts would have this band standing out more sharply. That said, I am a fan and will follow what this band is able to do in the future. This is a great modern spacey folk rock sound.
© David Hintz

Suzie Vinnick "Me ‘n’ Mabel"
Own label; 2011

This is pretty standard traditional blues. It is mostly Suzie Vinnick on vocals and acoustic guitar with only some lead guitar assistance and a few brief wind instruments. There are a few original songs and some decent covers. Willie Dixon’s “You’ll be Mine” reminded me of how wonderful he was as a blues songwriter and Vinnick does well with this. The playing is solid and the vocal work is good throughout. There is not much more to recommend it, however. If you want the blues, this does the job. And it would hardly be a stretch to think that Suzie Vinnick would be a dynamic live performer based on the straightforward approach applied here.
© David Hintz

Ernest Troost "Live at McCabe’s"
Travelin’ Shoes Records; 2011

It seems like finger picking acoustic guitarists were all over the folk world in decades past. They are still out there, but I do not get to hear them as often as I like. We have lost Davy Graham and Bert Jansch recently, so I hope there are more up and coming players on the folk circuit. Ernest Troost is one such picker I would gladly go see if he makes it across to my side of the USA. He has a light but authoritative touch on the guitar with some really quick maneuvers. He adds a nice soft voice to his original songs. This is live as the title clearly states and he is assisted with female voice at times along with drums, bass, and harmonica as the set moves on. The musicians fit right in and the contrast is subtle. Troost is known for writing a lot of murder ballads, although he does not put a lot of fear and tension in the singing. He adds several love songs here and mixes themes well. But it is the strong guitar work and the overall light arrangements highlighting the songs and guitar that make this an enjoyable album. It is one for a real folkie.
© David Hintz

The Paul Daly Band "Down by the Brewery Wall"
PeeDee Records; 2011

As a ‘Daly’ on my mother’s side, I eagerly awaited some good Irish music by this international band. Indeed, Paul Daly hails from Ireland but he has a couple of Englishmen and one fellow from Switzerland. The music is mostly original with some traditional Irish mixed in. It is Irish in sound and spirit and would easily go over well at the local pub or a small coffee house. The production is nice on this record and it has a relaxed feel with enough spirit and pace to give the necessary heft. It appears Germany gets the fruit of this band’s live shows, which would be a lot of fun. And what I would give to be in Munchen this March when they play with the great Tir Na Nog. But for those that cannot get over there, this record will deliver the Irish the goods with solid instrumentation and nice vocal harmonies. The harmonies appear to be better than most.
© David Hintz

Ladě "Kalná"
Indies Scope Records, 2011

This one geographically comes from the Czech Republic, but musically may come from Mars from what I can tell. And that is a good thing. Truthfully, there are a host of sounds I can pick up. The first song begins in a similar manner to Boudewijn de Groot’s classic “Nacht en Otij” before heading off into an Eastern Europe version of the ‘Denver sound’. Subsequently, there are excursions into rock, ethnic folk, King Crimson like progressive and mild Captain Beefheart/Tom Waits vocal style. For all the experimental moves, the overall sound is quite agreeable. I always have room for intriguing music like this. There is more rock than folk and it all flows rather well in spite of the odd maneuvers within.
© David Hintz

Ralf Illenberger "Red Rock Journeys"
Stockfisch, 2011

Well so much for my worries that there may not be enough good finger style guitarists out there. It is of little surprise that the label that brought us Werner Lammerhirt has found a good one in Ralf Illenberger. He has all the chops and a great sense of melody as well. He lists all his tunings and capo positions for guitarists. And the folk classic tuning of DADGAD is indeed well represented. A perfectly good listen on a rainy day or anytime you want to hear magic fingers on the freeboard.
© David Hintz

The Distillery "What You Told Me"
Own label; 2011

This CD has a lot to live up to. I just saw this Toronto trio perform a dazzling set of their take on the blues just last night. So will the live show work on record? Thankfully, when you have three players that are all masters at their sound, it usually does. This CD showcases Distillery’s talents and ability to work together to create their very personal take on blues with just a touch of lounge jazz. Myrrhine Faller’s vocals are clean and emotive and do not go into the Joplinesque histrionic territory that is generally best avoided. She is accompanied by the sparse but powerful sounds of guitar (mostly acoustic), piano and harmonica. The two men playing these instruments are skilled at playing some of the flashiest up front solos as you will here, but also pull back into the song whne appropriate. My only complaint is that this a very short LP or long EP as the six songs comfortably breeze by. Blues music needs good playing and a personal touch to win me over and Distillery has far more touch than most, so this was a clear winner.
© David Hintz

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