Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This Land is Your Land: Woody at 100 (Arlo Guthrie and Friends)

For me, one of the biggest treats of the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival was the chance to see Arlo Guthrie live.

"This Land if Your Land" was one of the best workshops I have ever attended at the EFMF. In honour of what would have been folk music icon Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, his son Arlo and a host of fellow musicians and family members took to the stage to perform classic Woody songs (and a few Arlo ones too!).

Hearing Jerry Gray (The Travellers) perform the Canadian version of "This Land Is Your Land" was a real treat. Many do not know there is another version of that famous song, but my generation grew up learning it in school. Seeing Arlo join in was awesome - truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Most of Arlo's classic songs came later on in the evening during his set on the main stage with his family. However, the Guthrie legacy of father and son will forever be entwined. This workshop breathed new life into the songs of Woody Guthrie. I can't think of a better way to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

CD Review: Mark Etheredge's 'Change Coming'

Mark Etheredge
Change Coming
Vipaka Records

California-based singer and musician, Mark Etheredge, brings us a contemporary pop/rock production of twelve funk, jazzy, and soulful compositions that feature great percussion, jazzy keyboards and light vocals that are somewhere between Jack Johnson and Ben Folds. "The Other Man" features soulful vocals, funky keyboards, and persistent percussion that is jazzy and smooth all the way through. The bluesy and jazzy guitar work is glittering with cheerful sound. "Room To Room" is a soulful piano ballad that is heartfelt and genuine without much in the way of additional instrumentation or accompanying vocals. "Hot Tub" is a quirky jazz-focused tune with funky rhythms and female backup vocals with Mark's voice leading the charge. The upbeat tune does not stray too far from his roots. "Change Coming" opens with a breezy, piano melody ripe with easy listening percussion and reverberating organ sounds. The sax brings the tune alive near the end of the song. Overall, Mark's full-length release is something that is refreshing and different than the average Top 40 material today. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Anya Parker-Lentz' 'The Giving'

Anya Parker-Lentz
The Giving
Pink Stripe

Based in New Jersey, the young Anya Parker-Lentz creates whirling vocal pop melodies and catchy song arrangements on her debut EP, The Giving. "Staredown" is a good pop song with glittering percussion, glistening guitars, and an angelic voice. "Not Trying" opens with a pensive piano melody and light rock percussion with guitars and a Stevie Nicks-esque vocal concoction. The piano takes on a more prevalent role on "Stuck In Limbo." However, the guitars and percussion remind us of a good pop song arrangement with something deeper than your typical superficial pop lyrics of today. "The Giving" begins with another piano melody, but the melody morphs into a rock vein with clear vocals. "Wake Up Alice" is a pensive melody with a slow, stirring arrangement with a slightly European folk-pop influence and Cranberries-esque arrangements and vocals. The seven-track release is a top-notch release of pop songs with attitude and unforgettable attributes. ~ Matthew Forss    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CD Review: Charlie Wheeler Band's 'Line 'Em Up!'

Charlie Wheeler Band
Line 'Em Up!

Pennsylvania-based, Charlie Wheeler Band, is not your typical rock band from the North. In fact, the music is jam rock with Southern rock elements and a tad of blues. The new album, Line 'Em Up!, is a classic ode to Southern rock sounds with original material written by guitarist and vocalist, Charlie Wheeler. Charlie is joined by Greek Cheronis on lead vocals and harmonicas; Anthony Brown on keyboards and backing vocals; Andy Baker on bass and backing vocals; and Rad Akers on drums and backing vocals. "Why O' Why" is a gritty, political tune with big guitars and big vocals that reverberate with class and charisma. "Dark Canyons" opens with a rock guitar solo and drum-kit with roots elements and Southern B3 sounds. "Gone Are The Days" showcases a little harmonica action and a bluesy, rock-guitar medley and wild vocals clearly steeped in rock with a little piano notes on a keyboard. "The Same Thing" is an upbeat, classy, Southern rock song with burly vocals and a bluesy ambiance. "Line 'Em Up!" seems like a classic, thrash-rock anthem that is steeped in Southern soul. Overall, Line 'Em Up! is a great album of Southern blues-rock for today's generation. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 12, 2012

CD Review: Robert Soko and His BalkanBeats' 'BalkanBeats Soundlab'

Robert Soko and His Balkan Beats
BalkanBeats Soundlab

Bosnian Balkan-beat master, Robert Soko, presents an array of musicians that know how to perform danceable, Balkan beats. You will hear Watcha Clan, Slavic Soul Party, Besh O Drom, Romzil, Los Colorados, Shukar Collective, Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra, Florian Mikuta, Mode Plagal, Deladap, and others. This is one wild ride into the contemporary world of Balkan music. Nothing is left undone here. There are wild rhythms, boisterous horns, and seemingly cacophonous musical wanderings. However, the result is much more focused and purposeful. There are vocals on some of the tracks, but the instrumental abilities win out hands down. Anyone interested in the skittish Balkan beats and loud horns will love Robert Soko’s selections and mixes. Balkan DJs rejoice and world music fans unite for an unforgettable, foot-stomping, and heart-pounding journey through Europe’s musical corridor. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Egyptian Project's 'Ya Amar'

Egyptian Project
Ya Amar
SixDegrees Records

Produced by France’s Jerome Ettinger (who plays arghul and computer), Egyptian Project explores a balanced blend of electronic, acoustic, and contemporary Egyptian music. Jerome assembled several musicians, including Sayed Emam on vocals and kawala, Ragab Sadek on darbouka, duff, rek, sagats, and doholla, Salama Metwally on rababa and violin, Ihab Radwan on oud, Julien Bonvoisin on bass, Carlos Robles Arenas on drums, Camille Momper on cello, and Nicolas Berrivin on piano. The wide array of instrumentation creates chilling beats, rhythms, and melodies that are steeped in Egyptian musical traditions without resorting to forced electronic compositions of dance music. The music is somewhat danceable, but the primary elements are more folk, pop, and new age. Ya Amar is an ambitious effort that succeeds on all ac(chords)! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Very Be Careful's 'Remember Me From The Party?'

Very Be Careful
Remember Me From The Party?
Downtown Pijao

LA-based Afro-Colombian vallenato maestros, Very Be Careful, bring us another fine recording of upbeat, dance music on accordion, percussion, and other heart-pulsing instrumentation. The danceable music is characteristic of South American, Latin American, and North American tejano. The accordion-driven music is uptempo and refreshing, especially on "El Mosquito." Nevertheless, there are twelve rippling tunes of sonic beauty. The party atmosphere is full of vallenato music. Nothing is amiss here. The instrumentation and Spanish vocals are top notch throughout. Very Be Careful is essentially a party-version of Colombian polka music. Remember Very Be Careful is a group that knows how to perform. All in all, it's that good. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tanah Broadcast's 'Resonance'

Tanah Broadcast

Hailing from The Netherlands, Tanah Broadcast produces beautiful vocal harmonies and instrumental tunes from various world regions, notably Africa. The combination of European folk, experimental music, and improvisational world jazz-pop sounds makes Resonance shine with luscious melodies and stirring rhythms. The production is relatively low-key, but that does not mean the ear-catching melodies are nonexistent. Instead, the music is quaint, but richly-textured. The beautiful rhythms and instrumentation make the album pop with freshness. The upbeat "Kayu Kaya" is a fine example of world pop at its best. "N'Dudu" is a guitar-centric instrumental tune with some vocals and a Euro-centric pop vein with some African influences. Resonance is somewhat hard to describe, but the end result is an engaging set of songs that are perfect for the world music fan. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'World Yoga'

Various Artists
World Yoga

Anyone familiar with the relaxing qualities of yoga will be familiar with the music that goes along with it. Our friends at Putumayo have put together an incredible collection of soothing, relaxing, and creative music for yoga--or other relaxing ventures. The music is culled from a variety of musicians, including Sona Jobarteh, Quentin Dujardin, Deva Premal & Miten, DJ Drez, Ara Dinkjian, Geoffrey Oryema, Kelsang Chukie Tethong, Stevin McNamara, and others. The quiet, reflective, and mood-quenching music incorporates scintillating guitar work, vocal harmonies, transcendental arrangements, and contemporary spiritual influences that astound listeners and rejuvenate souls. With musicians from diverse regions as Gambia, Wales, Portugal, Mali, Armenia, Sweden, Tibet, Uganda, and others, World Yoga is truly a global collective of musical styles for the yoga genre. Overall, the music is meditative, vocal, instrumental, and serene. In fact, I cannot stop listening to it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Haddo's 'Homecoming'

Lulubug Records

The husband wife duo, Will and Nicky Pound, hail from England and bring us an exciting set of instrumental tunes on harmonica, melodeon, fiddle, viola, guitar, dobro, percussion, bass, and Baroque viola. The spritely melodies are not your average fiddle-stomping tunes, but there is an element of folk-driven fiddle-stomping. The metallic tones of the harmonica and melodeon provide a more structured set of music with varying sounds and rhythms that are never stale or ho-hum. There are Celtic, English, Scottish, North American bluegrass/country, and classical influences throughout. Haddo knows how to 'folk-us' on what really matters when it comes to creating beautiful instrumental music. ~ Matthew Forss 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

CD Review: Samuel Yirga's 'Guzo'

Samuel Yirga
Real World

Samuel Yirga's Ethiojazz renderings are thought-provoking, instrumental, and vocally-strong. The musical traditions of Ethiopia--notably, the jazz epicenter of Addis Ababa--is the central focal point for the creative output of Samuel Yirga. The title, which means 'journey' in Amharic, is poignant and fitting for a release with so many influences. The jazzy, downtempo leanings of "Abet Abet," are contemporary and futuristic with a nice dose of improvisation and classic percussion. The piano is a featured instrument on many of the songs, especially on "Tiwista." There are a few guest appearances by the infamous Creole Choir of Cuba on "Nou Se Soleil" and "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun." The Haitian and Caribbean influences are most pronounced on the aforementioned tracks. Though, an element of American jazz and funk is evident throughout the album, Samuel creates evocative compositions that move in many directions, but all roads lead to something amazing. The cinematic wanderings of  "Ye Bati Koyita" bring to mind the piano compositions of Thomas Newman. Some of the tracks focus more heavily on piano, which may not be as exciting as the other instruments. Nevertheless, Samuel produces a fine recording with multiple influences and styles to keep everyone very happy for a very long time. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Susan Aglukark's 'White Sahara'

Susan Aglukark
White Sahara
EMI Music Canada

Northern Canada's native singer, Susan Aglukark, has been dazzling Northern crowds since the early 1990s. Now a national and international phenomenon, Susan has taught the world about Inuit pop-rock music with English and Inuktitut lyrics. White Sahara is a collection of mostly previously-released material, including favorites, Pond Inlet, O Siem, Casualties Of War, Big Feeling, and Hina Na Ho. In short, every song is magical, catchy, and rich with musical textures. Fans of Susan will find solace in this work, and new music lovers will find a new singer to love. If you have not heard of Canada's best aboriginal singer, Susan Aglukark, then you have been missing some of the best music the world has to offer. It's that good. Guaranteed. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Amanda Ply's 'Runaway'

Amanda Ply
Tubby Tunes Music

California-based, singer-songwriter, Amanda Ply, brings us an exciting five-track release of soulful, pop-focused, and jazzy songs with a human element that is achingly-beautiful at the very least. Amanda plays the piano and sings, but is joined on drums by Justin Tice, Trevor Martin on bass, Paul Tokarz on guitar, and Ashley Hill on background vocals. The staccato beats of "Like That," suggests a throwback to R&B soul with a little Moulin Rouge! flamboyance. "Messy Little Piece of Beautiful" adds another layer of R&B pop with a rootsy, bluesy rhythmic balance. "I Secretly" is a ballad of pure beauty with vocals reminiscent of Jenn Summers or Colbie Caillat. The soft melody is easy-going and melodic. "A Lovin' That Heals" is almost a Southern gospel ballad with heartwarming vocals and a strong piano presence. "Let's Just Fall In Love" is a Michelle Branch-esque pop-driven ballad with guitars, piano, and percussion. All the songs are catchy and memorable. This should be a runaway hit with pop charts everywhere. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kathy Muir's 'Far From Entirely'

Kathy Muir
Far From Entirely

The Scottish folk-pop singer, Kathy Muir, adds a talented repertoire of country-pop guitar songs with an equal element of roots, blues, and rock. With a voice like Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, and Stevie Nicks, Kathy comes through with flying colors and equally-airborne riffs. "Fairytale Lies" is a fitting song with Stevie Nicks' signature all over it, but it is inherently Kathy Muir all the way. The steel, slide guitar opening matches the upbeat tambourine and percussion kit with a rhythmic voice and catchy melody. "You Surround Me" opens with a pensive piano melody with accompanying strings that do not include percussion until mid-song. The song is void of vocals, but it is reminiscent of a lighter incarnation of something from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. "Heaven In Your Eyes" is a folksy song with a bluesy presence and chilling percussion, guitars, and vocals. "Sweet and Easy" is a breezy, folk song with light pop elements that are jazzy and easy to listen to. Throughout the entire album, Kathy's vocals do not contain a Scottish accent and the musical arrangements resemble North American productions. Overall, the music is varied, folksy, bluesy, and a pleasure to listen to. ~ Matthew Forss  

Monday, October 1, 2012

CD Review: Elijah Tucker's 'Saturn'

Elijah Tucker

The Washington, DC-raised and Brooklyn, NY-based singer and guitarist, Elijah Tucker, releases a groovy set of bluesy, jazzy, and rock-pop songs. The contemporary wanderings are rooted in folk styles without going into a sort of dance, electronic, or hard rock path. The bluesy, funked up "Crazy Things," is a gritty, blurby guitar tune that contains wailing horns and reverberating B3 sounds. "If I Only Had A Brain" is a slow, bluesy tune that pays homage to the tune with the same name from The Wizard Of Oz film. "Gimme Gimme" is throwback to the 1950s or 60s with hand-clap percussion and rootsy guitar with a few sparkling piano notes. The tune would be a perfect fit for the 1998 film, That Thing You Do. "O Pain! Piano" is a piano, guitar and percussion-driven bluesy tune with a little Owsley, Beatles, and Oasis thrown in. Saturn is a little bluesy, jazzy, folksy, and rock-inspired. There is nothing wrong with this release. It may be a cliche, but Saturn is really out of this world--in a down home bluesy sort of way. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: A Is For Atom's Self-Titled Release

A Is For Atom
A Is For Atom

New York-based, A Is For Atom, was formed earlier this year by a talented musician, Mike Cykoski. The new album, which is a five-track release, borders on alternative, pop structures with plenty of electronic embellishments, bass, guitar, drums, and synth. The languid vocals on "Creation," suggest an almost Soul Coughing-esque song. The throbbing synth sounds transport listeners back to the early 90s. "See You Again" is a more upbeat folk-rock tune with radio-like vocalizations and pop guitar stylings and an uppity, Western feel with guitars, bass, and drums. The vocals and guitar playing resembles Australia's Xavier Rudd. "Light Years" features a little downtempo trumpet and pop melodies that shine with infectious hooks and instrumental displays. "Bird In A Cage" contains a bit of static vocals and Royskopp-like electronic noises. The vocals are quite pop-driven, but relatively reserved. The guitars are cinematic and the melody is very relaxed with limited percussion. "Whiskey" opens with spritely guitar and fingersnaps with a classy vocal setup that resembles something from REM's Up. Overall, A Is For Atom is also 'a' for amazing! ~ Matthew Forss