It’s hard to believe that we are now into the last few weeks of 2019, which has proven once again to be a banner year for new album releases. With so many outstanding new album releases over the last few months, and with barely enough time to share our thoughts on them all, here are three that have earned several spins in the GDW household for a while now. (Note: we’re including Spotify links to the albums below, but if you like what you hear, please buy the albums and support the artists.)
Dwayne Gretzky, “Dwayne Gretzky”
When discussing Canadian Super Groups, most conversations steer towards popular collectives such as The New Pornographers or Broken Social Scene. Toronto-based collective, Dwayne Gretzky, are a worthy addition to these conversations, having made a name on the live circuit as a highly energetic covers band for a few years now. Formed around the combined talents of Tyler Kyte, Jill Harris, Nick Rose, and Lydia Persaud, Dwayne Gretzky are the perfect karaoke collective, taking popular songs from all generations and genres, and delivering them in an amazingly cheesy yacht rock style. With support from a revolving ensemble of notable Toronto guests (Champagne James Robertson, Carleigh Akins, Drew Jurecka, and many more), this debut album features eleven covers performed as you’ve never heard them before.
Opening with a bouncy, almost ska-like version of S.O.S (Abba), the sharing of lead vocals between Tyler and Nick are paired perfectly with the keyboards and sound effects offered here. Spinning this album several times during a daily commute, I quickly discovered that while just a few of these interpretations follow the sound and style of the original, most certainly do not. Go ahead and enjoy the synth-laced, slow and mellow version of “Just What I Needed” (The Cars), the lively, college indie-rock party treatment given to “Don’t Worry Baby” (The Beach Boys), or the breezy, tropical themed “Please, Please Me” (The Beatles), that needs zero ukulele’s to still transport you to Maui. And don’t miss out on the smooth coffee-house jazz sounds that perfectly accompany some stunning vocals from Jill on “Hold Me Now” (Thompson Twins).
As for those more akin to their original counterparts, check out the wonderful seventies pop sounds during “I’m Not In Love” (10CC), which also sees Nick Rose perfectly capture Eric Stewart’s signature vocal sound here; before the stunning rendition of “A Little Respect” (Erasure), which evoked memories of my late teens, and had me both cranking the volume and singing along at the top of my lungs at 7:15am on the highway. Thank you Dwayne Gretzky – I really needed this to combat the onset of winter blues!
The Marrieds, “Heavy Hearts”
We have lost count of how many visits we have made to London, ON over the last few years; a city that always welcomes us, which stems back to a chance encounter with local band, The Marrieds. Our first “Take A Chance On Me” article focused on the random purchase of their 2016 “Fire in the Flame” album, leading to an online connection with both Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy, and shortly after, an opportunity for us to return to London and see them perform. Quickly adding their first two albums to our collection, we have waited patiently for the fourth installment of their musical journey; one that has simmered while the husband and wife duo focused on other musical pursuits (The Dyadics & The Cedar Sisters). But this past September, the long wait was over, and “Heavy Hearts” was released.
Offering eight new tracks, and clocking in at just over 30 minutes in length, my senses were immediately alerted to some significant changes in the sound here. While their first three albums fit neatly into a folk-roots genre, this latest release demonstrates a deliberate, yet incredibly natural and instinctive evolution in their music. Indeed, with the earlier release of “Reason,” the lead single from the album, I quickly detected hints of their other projects seeping into the song. With Jane’s vocals having the melancholic electro-pop style of The Cedar Sisters, and Kevin’s eerie electric guitar cries replacing his traditional guitar.
As expected, the final production is incredibly polished and the choices of instrumentation are stunning, and notable from the opening title track. “Heavy Hearts” is a powerhouse that propels the duo into mainstream radio territory here, as does the incredibly moving piano-ballad, “Destiny,” that not only draws comparisons to Emm Gryner, but showcases their talents to perfection. Kevin shines with the lead vocal duties on “Lying Next to Me,” and especially on “Julia,” another piano-ballad that benefits from Jane’s outstanding harmonies. Binding the evolution of their new sounds to their musical past are “Set This Free” and “Wait For You,” two tracks that honor their folk-roots origins, and two that long-time fans will easily gravitate to for repeat listens. A solid fourth album from this talented London couple.
Noah Derksen, “America, Dreaming”
When a new album is recommended to me, I take note. When I receive two endorsements from trusted friends of GDW about the same album in the space of just a few days, I definitely pay attention. Released back in early October, “America, Dreaming,” is the latest album from Winnipeg-based Noah Derksen, the third and final installment of a three part release (the first two parts were released digitally only in March and July, respectively), and one that I am grateful to have brought to my attention. This eleven song collection is a personal journey containing Noah’s observation of his identity as an American citizen growing up in Canada. Written over time that he spent living across the United States – from Oregon to Tennessee, and New York to California, the autobiographical tales were produced by Murray Pulver (The Bros. Landreth) in Winnipeg.
“As an American citizen growing up in Canada, I held an unrealistic depiction of the United States as a land of opportunity and freedom in all accounts,” shares Noah. “In years spent living, touring, and working south of the border, I’ve discovered the practical limitations in accessibility to this opportunity and freedom.” As a Brit who has lived in the US now for well over a decade, some of Noah’s perspectives mirror observations I continue to make about this land. That this is a land of opportunity, for career advancement and the accumulation of wealth, and the freedoms offered to pursue your own happiness. Yet conversely, this is a land of extreme inequality, of growing poverty, a growing drug epidemic, no universal healthcare for all, and a severe lack of gun control reforms.
Go ahead and listen to “Land of the Free,” and appreciate Noah’s carefully constructed passive-aggressive narrative about this imbalance. “Just quit your bitching and moaning / Sandy Hook was a one of a kind, just like Vietnam and whatever happened in 1945 / I say now, I’m in the Land of the Free / The Land of the Free falling / The Land of the Free, falling on to its knees.” “Hoping You Would Stay” opens with a haunting harmonica solo, setting an early tone for Derksen’s brand of folk-roots Americana music, punctuated by his skillful guitar and soulful vocals. I keep returning to “Tennessee Lines” in particular, always lost in the beautifully crafted chorus: “They say a hard living makes you stronger / But I wonder, could they be wrong? / They say, hell, you’ll get to where you’re going / Is just by going, so I keep going on / Until the hard living is gone.” Eleven powerful songs to invite conversation, and a highly recommended listen.