Reviews by Paul McGee

The Wailin’ Jennies Fifteen True North

A warm welcome back after a 6-year absence that sees this trio of heavenly harmonious voices take some of their favourite songs and give them a fresh perspective that is instantly appealing and inspiring.

Bright Morning Stars was released in 2011 to wide acclaim and apart from side projects, the intervening years have been taken up with busy lives and schedules that kept this reunion on hold for a tantalisingly lengthy period. Well, the wait has been worth it as we have been given nine songs that truly melt the heart with sublime harmony vocals and performances that raise the spirit.

Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse find passion and power in their interpretation of songs from a diverse selection of stars, including Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Paul Simon. For me, it is the lesser-known tracks, The Valley (Jane Siberry), You Are Not Alone (Patty Griffin) and Keep Me In Your Heart (Warren Zevon) that really hit the mark but this is subjective choice among such joyous arrangements across a project that delivers on all fronts.

Celebrating their 15-year anniversary and self-produced by The Wailin’ Jennys, the album also features additional musicians Richard Moody (Ruth’s brother) on mandolin, viola & violin; Sam Howard on upright bass; Adrian Dolan on violin and Adam Dobres on guitars & mandolin. Wonderful, uplifting and essential.

Don Merkle The Ballad of Lincoln Wray Jangly

This singer/songwriter from Charleston, South Carolina has been working the circuit for many years in different bands before deciding to release this solo project that is a tribute to his grandfather, Lincoln Wray and his exploits during the Korean War.

The 5 songs here are a look back to simpler times when honour and bravery were the key ingredients to doing the right thing. Two of the tracks are repeated as acoustic versions at the end of the recording and the playing is suitably restrained and sympathetic to the sweet melodies of North Carolina, My Lord, My Lord, the title track and Cold War. The trumpet of Mark Rapp and the twin guitars of Merckle and Ace Evans weave nicely together and the keys add a nice layer, provided by Jonathan Lovett.

Johnny Max Band Roadhouse Soul Pour Soul 

This is the home of the Blues. Release number seven and lucky for some. Johnny Max has been living the life of a respected, soulful, blues player for many years and on this release his assembled band deliver a collection of 10 tracks that really groove.

With Kevin Vienneau (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Jim Casson (drums & percussion), Rob Gusevs (piano and keyboards), Russ Boswell (bass) and Quisha Wint (backing vocals) the assembled talent is very compelling and the rhythm generated is full of high octane energy.

Songs like Blind Leading The Blind; Little Yellow Dress; Time Well Wasted; (I’m Your) 911 and the title track, lend credence to the opinion that this band are the best thing to hit the Toronto blues scene in years. If you enjoy the music of Stax/Volt, and like a helping of Funk mixed with your Blues, then this is for you.   

Kathryn Rose Wood In The Ashes Self Release

This solo release is a 6-song set, lasting just over 25 minutes is a gentle listen with the soulful voice of Kathryn Rose Wood prominently to the fore. She is joined by a group of 10 studio musicians who add subtle playing to these heartfelt songs. The project is something of an emotional release for the artist who lost her brother to suicide and who uses the opportunity to spread a loving message of hope and kinship to others who may be feeling fragile or vulnerable in this world of shifting emotions.

Lullaby (to Preston), Free and Ashes are fine examples of the vocal prowess that Kathryn Rose possesses and the concluding This Ain’t Fine has a rocking beat that hides the heartbreak in the lyric.

Giulia Millanta Moonbeam Parade Self Release

This singer/songwriter is based in Austin, Texas and delivers her fifth collection of songs that draw from a variety of influences and styles. Born in Italy and moved to America in 2012, her superb guitar playing instantly made her one to watch among the musical elite of Austin. Over the years her solo releases have added to her reputation culminating in the 13 songs included on this impressive release and featuring some of the best musicians in Austin, such as Charlie Sexton, Howe Gelb, Glenn Fukunaga, Michael Fracasso, Kimmie Rhodes, Gabriel Rhodes, Dony Wynn and David Pulkingham.

Her tribute to David Bowie, sung in Italian, is very affecting with Howe Gelb sharing vocals on Rock n’ Roll Suicide. Elsewhere there are fine examples of her creative muse and songs like Motel Song, There’s A Bridge and If You Ask Me display a confidence and maturity that gives plenty of substance to the argument that this artist is the real deal.

Kris Kristofferson The Life & Songs Of /All-Star Celebration Blackbird Presents

What can you say about a living Country Music legend that hasn’t already been said? With numerous releases, collaborations, appearances, associations and reincarnations, we have the definitive tribute to one of the most endearing songwriters of the last 50 years.

Recorded live in 2016 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, this 21 track celebration comes with an array of all that is great in current Country music circles – with performances by Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Alison Krauss, Lee Ann Womack and many others.

Kris Kristofferson is many things to many people but above all a singer-songwriter, actor and musician who has served in the US Army, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, won a Golden Globe award for his role in A Star Is Born and has the distinction of an  IQ that is registered at genius level – 163.

All the songs are here and the performances are uniformly excellent throughout; Nobody Wins; Jesus Was A Capricorn; Loving Her Was Easier; Help Me Make It Through The Night; For The Good Times; Me And Bobby McGee; Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – just to name a few.

Top marks to Blackbird Production Partners for a very attractive and impressive release, complete with 90-minute DVD of the all-star celebration. A must-have in any Country Music collection.