Review: VK, “Charm”

VK - "Charm"

It was just a little less than one month ago that we had the pleasure of debuting “What Tomorrow Will Bring,” the brand new single from Orillia, ON husband and wife duo, VK.  It was also announced around that time that the single was a teaser track to promote their upcoming new album, “Charm,” which is officially released today on the independent 112 Records label.  Following on from their terrific sophomore album, “Terms & Conditions,” I really cannot resist the obvious play on words here: that with this new album, the third time’s a “Charm.”  This is not to say that the previous albums failed to hit the mark.  No, believe me, if you never had the opportunity to enjoy VK’s previous releases, I insist you seek them out and make a very worthwhile addition to your record collection.  In the meantime, however, do not miss out on the stunning nine new tracks that are an absolute “Charm.”

Firmly established within the roots-folk genre, VK (Steve & Marni Van Kessel) have already proven to be equally consistent and comfortable when exploring rock and country influences that further inspire their music and identity.  During my initial encounter with “What Tomorrow Will Bring,” it was duly noted that the song was a slow, simmering alt-country number that had the pace of The Cowboy Junkies, and the lyrical mastery and big-band sound of The Skydiggers and Blue Rodeo.  “The single ebbs and flows beautifully for a full 4:44 run time, painting a deeply moving and personal tale along the way.”  With eight more tracks being unleashed today, fans of this band and genre will definitely not be disappointed.

Recorded under the name VK and Legends of THE DEEP, Steve and Marni’s pursuit of that big-band sound comes courtesy of adding some good friends and musicians into their fold.  Joined here by John Lebarr (guitar/vocals), Sean Murray (keyboards/vocals), Jamey Heidman (bass/vocals) and Roger Stanley (percussion), the arrangements, instrumentation and harmonies from Legends of THE DEEP not only push the sound further into the stratosphere, but also give an incredibly ‘live off the studio floor’ feel to the music.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead and check out “Letting Go,” and marvel at the authentic old-time organ wrapped around the upbeat country-rock nature of this track. During my first spin of this track, I was reminded immediately of great Nashville singalongs, notably Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm (When You Get The Blues),” due in part to the inclusion of the sweet gospel-laced vocals from Steve and Marni.  Just two songs into “Charm” and I am already making comparisons to legends such as Cash – I told you to take notice.

Further nods to VK’s influences can be found across the album, from the beautifully paced (poetic, even) “That’s Why I Love You,” to the wonderful “Hold On Now,” a bona fide ‘road-trip’ number that features some great injections of funk bass, and perfectly embodies the music of their contemporaries (Blue Rodeo and The Skydiggers both spring to mind).  Be sure to also spend time with tracks such as the incredibly positive and uplifting “Someday, Someway,” and especially “Smelling Like Roses,” where Marni’s backing vocals provide a soothing accompaniment to Steve’s crisp and powerful lead.

If you are looking for more than a folk-country sound, VK have got you covered.  Go ahead and skip to “The One,” and immerse yourself in that timeless simple beat and thumping bass line that offers a great throw-back pop-rock experience.  Building into an up-tempo vocal duet, the slick sounds here conjured up memories of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” for me.  I doubt VK never expected to have comparisons made to an early eighties iconic Australian performing artist, but hey, hit the repeat button and play “The One” again, and try to convince me you can’t resist making that connection too now that I have planted the seed.  And for those of you that want a little raw rock n roll, the closing track “Break Me” will certainly send your pulse into overdrive.  Expect plenty of rootsy, edgy guitar work, retro organ tones, outstanding vocals, and a sufficient array of blues-funk vibes to have you returning to this track time and time again.

All nine tracks on “Charm” are delightful, but “Love Me Baby” is the one song that stands out for me.  Opening with some powerful strokes of the piano keys, the tone is quickly set for this 5:33 slow burner, yielding to Steve’s gently and passionately delivered lyrics;  “Can I take you by the hand? / And make you understand / I didn’t mean to do anything that would make you feel like you’re nothing / You’re everything to me / That’s what I want you to see / But you can’t.”  I always have a soft-spot for a power ballad, and VK and the Legends of THE DEEP absolutely nail this one.  Emotions running wild from those keys alone.  The heartbeat generated by the drums.  The discreet cries from the six-strings.  And, of course, the beautiful harmonies between husband and wife that intensify as the song progresses, before closure courtesy of the simple, yet stunning, piano outro.

VK and the Legends of THE DEEP shall be appearing at the Mariposa Music Festival in their hometown this weekend, so for those of you fortunate enough to be in attendance, please be sure to seek this band out and enjoy their live performance of this new material.  Team GDW unfortunately cannot be there, but if anybody happens to capture some footage on video, and is willing to share with us on our FB page, we would be eternally grateful.  “Charm” is another high quality album from this Orillia band, and proves once more that the independent music scene is not only alive and well, but is thriving.  If you only buy a handful of albums this year, this is one that should be considered an essential addition to your record collection.

Preview and buy “Charm” on CDBaby.

Martin Noakes

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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