As music bloggers, we are always happy to share the music of artists both firmly established and previously unknown to us. Social media has led us to many new artists from all over Canada, and recently, musicians have discovered our little blog and made contact with us to ask if we’d be interested in listening to their music. This was certainly the case recently when the husband and wife duo of Steve and Marni Van Kessel (collectively called ‘VK’) made our acquaintance online, and told us about their brand new release “Terms and Conditions.” Receiving this correspondence whilst wrapping up our 2017 year end articles, I made it a priority to give this album a spin once we made it into the New Year.
Hailing from Orillia, ON, Steve and Marni appear to be no strangers to their local music scene, with a list of appearances around Cottage Country and even Mariposa. However, if there was ever an opportunity to connect with a much wider audience, “Terms and Conditions” offers a solid foundation upon which to spread their wings and share their material. I would consider this album to be established firmly within the folk-roots genre, but there are plenty of rock and country influences to keep the listener engaged for all nine tracks. Indeed, the strength of Steve Van Kessel’s lead vocal abilities, along with Marni’s pitch-perfect harmonies and choices of instrumentation, further enable this connection between the listener and the music.
Launching immediately into “What Makes Sense,” the organ introduction certainly caught my attention with similarities to the opening notes of Joe Cocker’s “With a little help from my friends” – at least up until Steve has delivered his opening lines. From there, VK offers a folk number that offers hints of alt-country and some discreet, yet simply stunning fiddle playing. Further nods to old-country influences can be found across the album, from the guitar and harmonica laced “I’ve Learned A Lot” to the wonderful inclusion of pedal steel during “Take The Chance.”
If you are looking for more than a folk-country sound, go ahead and skip to “Common Ground.” Accompanied by just a simple guitar and organ combination, the beat conjures up hints of pop-rock sounds from decades past. And as for that organ, wait until you arrive at the 1:30 mark of this one to be totally rocked by that retro sound. The title track may appear to be a traditional folk number, but the strength of Steve’s vocals and polished production give this one a very mainstream appeal. Opening with the lines “She had her reasons for being deceiving / She didn’t know where they were going / A love that was blind, she played with his mind / He was better for not ever knowing,” the instrumental development of the strings absolutely grab your attention, until the gentle piano strokes return your sense of ease once more.
If you are looking for even more versatility within their music, cue “Even The Devil Cries,” where crying fiddles and a slow acoustic pace offer a dark and moody sentiment from the very start. Of course, with this tone and pace, what better way for Steve to once again demonstrate his powerful vocal prowess, delivering lines such as “What’s right is wrong / These nights are long / Oh, please help me hang on.” Pay extra attention to Marni’s backing vocals here too, where her voice provides the soothing accompaniment to Steve’s expression of lost love and pain.
All nine tracks on “Terms and Conditions” are delightful, but “Edge Of The World” is the one song that stands out for me. “A gentle breeze blowing / The sun sets to the sea / A calmness we feel as we set our minds free” are the gently delivered lyrics to open the song, accompanied by strings and keyboards that instantly paint this as a traditional folk-inspired number. That is, at least, until you reach the 2:15 mark, when the instruments receive a new and fresh lease of life. The keyboards and guitar quickly develop an up-tempo rock beat, and are joined shortly after by both Steve’s dominant vocals and additional harmonies. At the peak of its momentum, VK rapidly wind the instrumentation back down to the earlier mellow pace, simultaneously returning your pulse to normal and guiding you onwards toward the finale. “Terms and Conditions” is an impressive album from this duo, and while I am grateful that they chose to share this with us, I really hope that many others take the opportunity to spend some time with this one. Highly recommended.