Reviews by Paul McGee

Matt Andersen Honest Man Self Release

Matt Andersen is an award-winning Canadian blues guitarist who hails from New Brunswick.  He’s been playing his blend of blue-collar folk, electric blues and roots rock for many years. Honest Man, produced in New York with Commissioner Gordon (Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Santana, Quincy Jones), follows the JUNO Award-nominated Weightless and sees Anderson breaking new ground without losing his signature sound. 

Anderson is blessed with a rich gospel/soul voice and here he uses a cast of players that includes Andy Bassford (Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Natalie Merchant), Benji Bouton (Ibibio Sound Machine), Josh David Barret (The Wailers, Lauryn Hill), and Lenny Underwood (Mary J. Blige, Amy Winehouse).  Using beats in the tracking gives the songs a real groove and swing that carries the arrangements along and gives an overall feel of good times had by all in the studio sessions.

The ten songs that make up Honest Man explore both the political and the personal wrapped up by his powerful vocal delivery which is filled with emotion on songs such as Last Surrender and I’m giving In. Let’s Get Back talks about how daily life has changed and the need to be an inclusive and open in society again. Who Are You Listening To? is a call for people to think for themselves and not be swung by a media message. Break Away is a song to remind us that sometimes a change of scenery is all we need. 

With a 2013 European Blues Award, and winning Best Solo Performer at the Memphis Blues Challenge, it appears that the wider world is waking up to Matt Andersen. He has built a fan base through relentless touring and  his reputation has built steadily through word of mouth. This is a fine honest blues record played with style and plenty of heart. It comes recommended and this artist is certainly one to watch.

Gem Andrews Vancouver Self Release

Andrews was born in Liverpool and is currently based in Berlin. This is her second release, which  has its roots in the time she spent in Vancouver learning her craft of song-writing and performance. Vancouver is produced by Martin Stephenson, who also plays and adds harmonies on several tracks. The songs are very much in the folk tradition and conjure up images of lost innocence and the disappointment that life can bring. 

Andrews has assembled a fine band of musicians, with the fiddle playing of Bernard Wright particularly prominent, which adds real colour to the arrangements with some atmospheric melody lines. Her voice is clear and strong as she delivers songs about family memories (Your Father’s Diary), lack of hope (Dead Weight) ageing and role-reversal (Mother Dear), longing (Crimson Tide) and broken relationships (Please Forget Me/ Ten Thousand More). She also covers the McGarrigle’s Heart like a Wheel. The production is airy and bright throughout which gives us an album that is full of excellent interplay and gentle reflections.   

Jason Rosenblatt Wiseman’s Rag Self Release

This is an intersting take on roots, blues and early jazz, featuring producer, pianist, vocalist and harmonica player, Jason Rosenblatt, one of the world’s foremost harmonica innovators. On his latest recording, Wiseman's Rag, Jason returns to his blues roots. With touches of Jelly Roll Morton, Robert Johnson, Paul Butterfield and Professor Longhair, Jason's all original repertoire of blues, jazz and ragtime compositions are gritty but performed with good humour. The players are Jason Rosenblatt (harmonica, piano, vocals, B3), Joe Grass (guitar), Joel Kerr (bass) andEvan Tighe (drums). 

Ken Dunn & Gypsy Starfish The Great Unknown Self Release

Ken Dunn plays with a finger style acoustic guitar technique and performs either solo, with partner Anna Green, or the band Gypsy Starfish.  These songs are firmly based in the folk tradition. This CD won Best Americana Album for February 2016 at the Akademia Music Awards in Los Angeles, and the music is both undemanding and classic in composition. Dunn has been releasing music since the early 1990’s and has built a reputation for original and thoughtful song arrangements. 

Cross of Lorraine has some lovely interplay between Tyler Beckett on fiddle and Keira McArthur on cello, while the harmony vocals of Anna Green are always complementary and fit gently into the melody. Fukushima Nightmares has a nice groove with the guitar of Dean Drouillard supported by the attractive keyboards of Drew McIvor. Equally Shifting Sand has a quiet groove that rewards repeated listening and the title track is a gentle tribute to a performer’s life and is an insight into the price that is paid for the perceived freedom of the open road. Again the fiddle playing of Tyler Beckett is a standout feature as on many other tracks here.  

Tiny Toy Cars Falling, Rust & Bones Self Release

Tiny Toy Cars feature mandolin, violin, banjo, guitar and upright bass, so there is an expectation that bluegrass and old time rhythm will be the order of the day. However, add a high level of instrumental virtuosity from violinist Martin St-Pierre, guitarist Andrew Chute, bassist Brian Burns, plus the drumming of Aaron Guidry and the song writing of Peter Fand ( mandolins and voice) and an unexpected image begins to emerge. 

Traditional West African music mixes with roots based Americana music and lends the songs an intriguing slant. Indie Americana with a twist; this band has members from Cirque du Soleil and display both great song writing and a keen eye for cutting edge arrangements and melodies. Tracks such as Rapture and Hell, Do Everything You Can before you’re Dead, Down on the Bowery and Addicted To You build into a compelling release. Think Mumford and Sons meets Old Crow Medicine Show and Tiny Toy Cars is the next chapter in a genre with roots in traditional music, but with a firm vision for the future.

Text editing by Sandy Harsch