The life of a music blogger is never a dull one. With so many new album releases, there is just so little time to get to them all, it seems. Listening to as many as possible, it is impossible to feature them all here, but naturally, there are a few that grabbed my attention over the last couple of weeks that really need to be heard.
Nick Faye & the Deputies, “Stumbling Distance”
Hailing from Regina, SK, Nick Faye & the Deputies recently released their third studio album, “Stumbling Distance.” Entrusting the production duties to the Juno and Polaris winning Michael Philip Wojewoda (Barenaked Ladies & Amelia Curran), Nick Faye (guitar/vocals) and his band (Jon Neher/keyboards, Byron Chambers/bass and Adam Ennis/percussion) have once again delivered their signature brand of late 90s inspired pop-rock drenched in Canadiana. Receiving the album and introduction via email from Nick, I was not only keen to listen to this one, but would be rewarded with some outstanding material from an artist who has so much to offer here.
Jumping aboard this recent trend of adding an intro to the album, “Buffalo Dreams” sets the listener up for a slow, country inspired musical journey. Okay – scratch that. This short lived intro quickly yields to “There’s A Party,” a highly charged up-tempo number that blends horns with pedal steel so perfectly; with only a hint of country influences across the entire album. After playing all nine tracks over the course of a few days, I did detect an occasional similarity maybe to the likes of Keith Urban (“Sad Eyes”), but for me, Faye’s music shares much more with other Canadian contemporaries such as The Franklin Electric and Reuben and the Dark. Nick Faye & the Deputies are in great musical company here, but all similarities aside, “Stumbling Distance” is an incredibly original and refreshing collection of songs.
Moving beyond the great choices of instrumentation and well-polished production, allow yourself to become immersed in what Faye considers to be a ‘concept’ album; complete with an overarching storyline following a high school graduation and blossoming summer romance in a small Saskatchewan town. Like a good movie score, many pivotal moments are spread across the album for Faye’s protagonist here, including the alcohol induced bravado in “Hold Me Back” to the bitterness in dealing with lost love in “Ex-Pats.” Faye does not pull any punches with “Stumbling Distance,” pitting the stranglehold of adolescence against the onset of maturity as the contrary ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ dichotomies here. Like any good movie, the more you return to this album, the more you shall discover through Faye’s narrative of this summer odyssey. Highly recommended for all.
Reuben and the Dark, “Arms Of A Dream”
Having made the reference to Reuben and the Dark in the previous review, it seems only fitting that this artist should be the next one under the spotlight here. Yes, stop the press, the long awaited sophomore album from this Calgary five-piece band has finally arrived! With their incredibly successful debut album, “Funeral Sky,” Reuben Bullock and his bandmates (Shea Alain / guitars / keyboards, Brock Geiger / guitars / keyboards, Ian Jarvis / bass and Dino Soares / percussion) proved to be one of the biggest success stories back in 2014. And after a string of hits, including both “Bow And Arrow” and “Rolling Stone,” the band would offer a glimpse of the future in 2016 with the huge hit “Heart In Two,” which appears two years later on this new album.
Earlier this year, Reuben and the Dark released an all new track titled “Hurricane,” and followed with an announcement that the new album “Arms Of A Dream” would be released in May. Perusing the new vinyl releases in one of my favorite independent record stores recently, I was overjoyed to find a copy of this album. Purchased on the strength of “Heart In Two” and “Hurricane” alone (and of course, the recent radio hit “All Or Nothing”), this album boasts eleven well-crafted tracks that perfectly complement “Funeral Sky,” yet collaborate to actively snatch the baton and once again thrust the listener into another emotionally charged musical journey.
With his trademark vocal delivery and atmospheric instrumentation, Bullock offers much more beyond the initial single releases with this album. Go ahead and listen to “Hallelujah,” which is not a cover of the Leonard Cohen classic, but an original number that embodies a genuine gospel delivery backed by some great choral work from the ‘Bullock Family Choir’ (as per the liner notes). Jump next to “Dreaming,” and revel in the heavy synth and guitar sounds that, at least for me, offer some similarities to the distinct sounds of U2; or to “Woke Up A Rebel,” in which I detect subtle hints of Hozier. Yet while any listener can draw comparisons to such peers, all eleven tracks are incredibly unique and possess that trademark Reuben and the Dark sound. Available now through Arts and Crafts music, this album will most certainly satisfy the cravings for fans of both the artist and of the genre.
Hugh Christopher Brown, “Pacem”
I will probably never tire of stating that one great perk of writing for a music blog is the exposure to the incredibly diverse music scene (from Canada and beyond). I made a fleeting reference to Hugh Christopher Brown recently in our last Snappy Snippets article (as producer of Stephen Stanley’s album), and now, just a few weeks later, find myself giving Hugh’s latest solo works a few listens. I must confess that upon my initial glance at the artist bio, I was not sure that this album may be my ‘cup of tea.’ Especially when considering an opening track for which “Brown sets “The Prayer of St. Ignatius” … to a beautiful chant-like melody backed by ethereal, modern harmonies that accentuate the timelessness of the divine message.” I’m not willing to dismiss this one too quickly; having played this one non-stop over the last few daily commutes, Brown easily earns checkmarks in all of the boxes for musical diversity .
Boasting eleven tracks, “Pacem” is more than just a record; it is a living, breathing experience. Traditional folk music may very well form the core here, but this is much more than your standard folk fare. No, Brown uses all eleven tracks to take the listener on a completely unique and unscripted journey. Opening with “Prayer of St. Ignatius,” I found myself scrambling to confirm that I was not playing the soundtrack to ‘Evita’ in error, when encountering Sherry Zbrovsky’s beautiful incantation-like chants. Progressing through the album, I would very quickly learn that Brown’s music is not bound by any preconceived constraints, thus offering up some choral, some alt-country, some instrumental, and some traditional folk. Approach this one with a very open mind and a willingness to expect the unexpected, and you will come away from the experience craving much, much more from Hugh Christopher Brown.
The list of contributing musicians on the liner notes are incredibly extensive for an eleven track album. Guest vocalists are abundant too, with Brown yielding the lead vocal duties to his good friend Kate Fenner on the Joni Mitchell sounding “Here Comes My Love.” Teaming up with Suzanne Jarvie for “TO the Lighthouse,” this duet has a distinct Maritimes flavor thanks in part to the influx of strings and an up-tempo pace. Brown matches the quality of the music with some well penned lyrics, offering lines such as “Did you come to a prison? / Or did you come to your senses?” in “The Great Unknowing,” and “What were those wars? / Who were they between? / And if I am returning / Where have I been?” from “The Wave.” With some wonderfully warm pedal steel and piano, the alt-country sound of “Keeper of the Flame” is one of the standout tracks here, as is the closing number “Broken,” one so heavily laced in trad-folk that it will easily appeal to fans of both Ian Foster and Matthew Byrne. Of all eleven tracks, the powerful and emotionally charged narrative of “Moved by Hands to Shelter” stands out above all else, at least for me. As a duet with David Corley (a dead ringer for Leonard Cohen), this boasts a melodic pace and wonderful backing harmonies that had me returning to it time and time again. Was I really willing to dismiss this one from the artist biography alone? Shame on me – Brown has tapped into something very special here that absolutely deserves to be heard and appreciated.
C&C Surf Factory, “Rumbler”
Having discovered the surf rock sounds of C&C Surf Factory last summer, and loving their infectious low-end guitar twang, we quickly added their debut “Garage City” album to our collection (which, I must confess, has seen MUCH activity on our turntable). Following up with their sophomore release, “Rumbler,” C&C Surf Factory have returned with yet more impressive and original surf rock instrumental tunes. Available since late 2017, this may not be a brand new release per se, but having picked up a copy on vinyl after a chat with co-founder Colin Cripps on a very recent edition of our “Gossip Talkin’ Blues” podcast, it has proven to be totally worth the wait.
Formed initially as a collaboration between guitarists Colin Cripps (Crash Vegas/Blue Rodeo) and ‘Champagne’ James Robertson (Lindi Ortega/Dwayne Gretsky), both artists expressed a strong desire to create and perform purely instrumental guitar-driven music. Accompanied once again by the supporting cast of producer/musician Chris Stringer (keyboards/’atmospherics’), and friends Ryan Gavel (bass) and Sly Juhas (percussion), C&C Surf Factory not only continues the themes of “Garage City,” but shares hints of possible influences and directions for a future release. The opening track “Vintage Ninja” establishes a tone straight out of the gate, introducing our two co-conspirators for this gunslingers guitar fest, with plenty of high end licks dueling against the low-end reverb. From the dominant higher end riffs in both “Perfect Landing” and the retro-pop “Planet Marr,” to the low end twang of “Diesel Halo,” both Cripps and Robertson are perfectly content dueling away track upon track. And with Stringer’s deft creativity, moods and tones change with minimal notice, adding that element of unpredictability to continually push away at the strict boundaries of the surf rock genre.
So how about those slight variations that redefine the C&C Surf Factory sound here? Go ahead and start with “Seoul Power,” which initially has a true classic surf vibe. Dig a little deeper, however, and you start to sense that dichotomy between the traditional elements and the modern rock influences (like trying to draw two magnets together, sounds easy, but is pretty much impossible). C&C remain respectful to both genres here, and “Seoul Power” is the outstanding result. For something completely different, skip to the final track, “One Way Ticket.” The surf rock has gone, although the influence clearly remains at the core. It is the slower pace and some wonderful slide guitar by Robertson that gives this one not only an eerily romantic tone, but demonstrates the versatility of the band to incorporate other external influences into their music. As a perfect closing number, this one both guarantees repeated playing of the album, yet with raised expectations for the future direction of their unique surf rock sound. The best way to appreciate “Rumbler” is to play it loud; trust me, your speakers will thank you for the opportunity.