Reviews By Paul McGee

John Neilson  Tomorrow comes the Spring  Lounge Side 

On his two previous releases, If By Chance (2005) and 4TH Street Sessions (2011), John Neilson writes songs that are honest, pure, and from the heart. Neilson now lives in Austin, Texas and has quickly made a reputation as a singer-songwriter of real talent who has already had success with his songs finding their way to both TV & film soundtracks.

Jim Wirt produced this record and also plays a variety of instruments on the 11 tracks. The arrangements are varied, with the opener Fall coming out of the blocks at a real driving pace, only to be followed by Lights of Los Angeles, a slow burner that is full of atmosphere sung with a weary vocal delivery, reminiscent of early Steve Earle.

Shape I’m In, Coming Home and Take a Shot are all examples of Nielson’s impressive musical variety and the production is both sharp and full of colour. End of the Road and Walk Away point to a future that will continue to fast track this artist with an acoustic guitar and a hope for wider recognition.

Grant Dermody  Sun Might Shine On Me  Self Release

Harmonica virtuoso Grant Dermody is firmly based in the blues with two previous solo releases, Crossing That River (2003) and Lay Down My Burden (2010), plus numerous guest slots on other artists’ releases, including Jim Page and Eric Bibb.  As a lifelong student of the harmonica and acoustic blues, Grant’s latest release delivers 15 tracks that include traditional arrangements mixed with original songs and covers, all displaying his pioneering approach and a commitment to the timeless traditions of the blues.

Beyond the blues, Grant is also passionate about old-time music. He sees the harmonica as the most vibrant instrument connecting the mouth and the power of the breath in a pure way that no other musical instrument can achieve. Playing with five other musicians on drums, guitar, piano banjo, mandolin, Dobro and fiddle sees this release capture the true essence of organic music and the joys of self-expression.

It is unfair to single out any specific tracks, but the groove of Easy Down and the laid back tempo of Sun Might Shine take some beating. Traditional tunes, Reuben’s Train and Sail Away Ladies are wonderful examples of what can be achieved by this talented ensemble. At the end of the day it is the joy throughout the project that leaves you feeling uplifted. Compelling.

Vincent Cross A Town Called Normal  Self Release

 Cross was born in Dublin, raised in Australia and is now based in New York City. With one previous release, Home Away from Home (2008), he could not be accused of being prolific, but his second album has now been unveiled. On 12 tracks Vincent Cross displays a strong playing style on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, supported by a variety of musicians who colour the songs with a light touch on bass, banjo and occasional drums. His style is very much folk-based and the lyrics appear to be of a personal nature with many of the themes visiting the past (Childish Things), regrets (Cursed), lack of brotherhood (A Town Called Normal) and the need to keep personal demons down (Walking on the Outside).

Relationships are focussed on in tracks like Trouble Being There, that looks at a broken situation where one partner cannot commit. My Love and Wrack & Ruin display a questioning of the loyalty involved in staying together and the changing feelings that we all have. The closing track, Sometimes, asks whether it is better to take the road you are on or to go back again; perhaps the answer to the question lies in the knowledge that you can never really go back. This is a solid release that boasts strong arrangements and excellent musicianship.      

The Slocan Ramblers Coffee Creek Self Release

 This is a bluegrass band from Toronto, Canada that has been together for 4 years and made their debut, Shaking down the Acorns, in 2013. This new release was recorded in a live-in-the-studio setting and captures the energy of the band’s live performances. The four musicians are certainly very talented and display their dextrous abilities on banjos, guitars, mandolin and acoustic bass.

All music is arranged by the band and there is a sense of listening to old standards which speaks volumes for the craft and care taken in putting these 13 tracks together into a cohesive whole.  The singing style of Frank Evans adds to this sense of tradition and sounds like it comes from a body much older than his. Pastures of Plenty/Honey Babe and Galilee are instantly rewarding with Elk River and Angeline close on their heels. The instrumentals Lone Pine, The Back 40 and April’s Waltz are a delight; however all the songs bounce out of the speakers and leave a smile as they finish.

Harmonies are vital in bluegrass and the music is elevated by these four voices in unison. If you are a fan of this genre, then the Slocan Ramblers are a welcome addition to the new ranks of musicians who are breaking through.

Dave Desmelik We Don’t Want a Dying Flame Self Release

This is the ninth solo release from Desmelik, an independent artist who performs, records and writes for the genuine love of the song-writing craft and the therapeutic value that it brings. Based in North Carolina, this fine singer-songwriter/ instrumentalist has produced a collection of heartfelt songs, full of emotion, from the opening instrumental Hyper Fatigue to the rueful warning of Destruction and the fear that we ‘are digging our own graves’ in the way we abuse the environment.  

L-I-F-E is another instrumental that has a background of children laughing and talking and the impact is really effective against the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar.  Red Collar and Two Gifts are both further examples of this seasoned musician’s excellent guitar virtuosity.

On the 13 tracks included here, the gentle arrangements (Sand Toe) are followed by insightful perspective;  ‘drown yourself in drinking and wait for what comes next’ / ‘you make your excuses, you make your own bed’ in On the Clock . Desmelik is a prime example of the endless stream of talent that is creating vibrant and vital music that needs greater exposure. 

Paper Moon Shiners Self-titled Self Release

This duo from Austin, Texas specialize in vintage songs and originals inspired by American music from the early twentieth century. Their old time sensibility and vaudeville arrangements command attention and the 12 songs included on this debut release come alive with  blues, vintage jazz, swing, ragtime, Americana roots and folk.

Elena Antinelli sings like she means every last vocal inflection and trill, while her musical and life partner, Frank Meyer, adds plenty of character with his gravel voice and easy playing style on guitar, Dobro, ukulele and steel body resonator guitar. Their music is a step back in time to the days of Prohibition and juke joints with plenty of character and colourful delivery in Who’s that Knockin’? (Trad), Come on in My Kitchen (Robert Johnson) and Carolina Moon (Joe Burke & Benny Davis) stealing the spotlight. However the seven songs written by this unique duo can stand up against such competition with both Space and Same Thang particularly prominent. 

Brock Zeman Pulling Your Sword out of The Devil’s Back Busted Flat 

This is the 11th release from Ottawa Valley singer-songwriter Brock Zeman. His songs are very much in the contemporary country arena of storytelling narratives and a sound that is based on strong song hooks and great melody.  This is a self-produced effort and comes across with a swagger and a strut in the ten songs featured. The observations and words are the sure sign of a mature artist who has found his groove and the musicians that are employed here really play their part in what is a very impressive collection. Blair Hogan on guitar, organ, piano, and mandolin is a real virtuoso and fills out the sound in an understated manner but always right on the money. Brock Zeman is no slouch either when it comes to playing around the song tempos and his guitar work is supported by synth pads and sequencing. He sings with a voice that is full of character and personality.

The song-writing road is littered with lots of bodies, but this level of talent is on a fast-track to increased exposure, should he decide to start gigging outside of his Canadian territory. There are no weak tracks here and the subject matter shifts from relationship reflections (Don’t Think About You Anymore, Little Details) to musing on the lives we lead (Walking in the Dark, Some Things Stay). Many of the tunes are catchy enough to fit nicely on radio (Sweat, Drop Your Bucket, Dead Man’s Shoes) but an artist like this is too far under the radar to get that type of attention. More is the pity as the quality of music here deserves an international audience.

The track Ten Year Fight is a movie script all rolled up into five minutes of sublime storytelling, whether sourced from reality or imagination. It visits a broken relationship through the eyes of the writer who sees the father of his past lover and reflects on the bumps along their road which led to damage for all concerned. It is a wonderful song and beautifully constructed. The title song gives early notice of the talent at play here with lyrics such as ‘I live in a house of ghosts that just won’t let me be; I let them in myself and now they just won’t leave’. I cannot recommend this artist highly enough and wish I had been graced by his music long before now. 

Eight O’Five Jive  Too Many Men  Red Rudy Too Tunes

Jump blues and retro swing are alive and well as long as bands such as Eight O’Five Jive continue to hold a torch for the classic era of the late 1940s to the late 1950s, when jump jive defined an exciting era of music and dance. What defines the Eight O’Five Jive sound is the tight ensemble playing of Patrick Mosser (Sax), Duane Spencer (Drums), Andy Scheinman (Guitar), Bill Bois (Bass) and Lee Shropshire on vocals.

There are nine songs from the past that are reworked into the band’s sound, which is based around the great rhythm section and the duelling sax and guitar breaks that allow Lee Shropshire to sing on top of the arrangements with a strong vocal and plenty of wry humour. Titles such as Have Mercy Baby, You Was Right Baby, Market Place and Drunk give a sense of the ‘dust yourself down and get on with life’ attitude that prevails here. Misery Loves Company, written by Lee herself,  stands shoulder to shoulder with the timeless originals as does her second song, Young Enough To Be My Son.

Eight O’Five Jive redefines this essential genre and helps to keep it alive and vibrant. It stands as wonderful music for dinner and cocktails, eminently suitable for lively dance lovers and delightfully immune to passing time.