Tag Archives: Reviews of music: live and recorded

5 Questions with Jon Middleton of Jon and Roy

Victoria folk band Jon and Roy have been busy making music since 2005. The two musicians independently released their eighth album, By My Side, in May, available for purchase online. The band has been touring extensively throughout Canada in support of the album, ending their tour at Rifflandia festival recently. Band Member Jon Middleton recently spoke with Emmett Robinson Smith about touring and different aspects of the album.

You’ve been touring pretty heavily in support of your new album, By My Side. Has this tour been different from others?

In some ways it has been. We are at a place now where we are confident with our live show and we are comfortable, and at home, performing on stage, so pretty much every performance has been an absolute pleasure this summer. Also, we flew in to most of our shows this summer which was nice. It allowed us to spend more time at home during the weekdays.

Was there a particular show where you felt an especially strong connection with the audience?

There were two, actually: one [was] in Edmonton at a small club. Usually we play bigger venues in Edmonton but we’d booked this show last minute and so we couldn’t get anything larger. But it turned out to be one of our best shows of the summer; it was an intimate crowd and everyone was right there in our face, surrounding us and singing loud and dancing along. It’s great to play tiny clubs like that once in a while, it feels like you are right there with the audience. Another highlight was our performance at Tall Tree Festival in Port Renfrew. It was a nice sized crowd, but the vibe was the same as the Edmonton show. The people were awesome and down for a good time.

Your new album has many references to both nature and love, sometimes simultaneously. For example, “I want to have fun in the sun with my daughter” on the title track, and “Here in the desert, I need your water” on “Take Me By Surprise.” Were these motifs deliberate?

Kind of, I suppose. I love nature, I love being outdoors and going to the ocean and going hiking and watching the moon. All that and more. I feel at home in nature so it comes out my lyrical content. As for love, well, love is amazing. And not just the idea of being in love, but love for everything. I’m becoming more at peace with what love is and so perhaps I’m singing about it more.

The standout track for me on By My Side is “Every Night”. Musically it’s quite different from most of the album. Was the creative process different for this song?

Mmm, not really. The only difference to me is that there is a bit of a different feel to it and the electric guitar is more prominent. Also, Roy’s drum beat is really an integral part of the song and it takes the song from a simple folk tune to something more interesting.

You ended your tour here in Victoria. What’s the plan now?

Well, we will be hitting the road again in November to tour some places in Canada we didn’t get to in the summer. And then back in the studio! The music is flowing steadily. Then we shall see what 2015 brings.

Emmett Robinson Smith is a classical pianist at UVic and a member of the band Modest Nudist.

Isobel Trigger not to be missed

Reviewed by Blake Jacob

Isobel Trigger’s April 3rd, 2014 show at the Strathcona Clubhouse was a high-caliber performance. The group’s polished act is characterized by ethereal vocals, heavy rhythm, energy and gorgeous melody. Isobel Trigger undoubtedly belongs in a large performance hall and deserves much recognition.

The set began with “Champion,” showing off the band’s expertise and synchronization. Isobel Trigger is comprised of Felicia Harding (vocals, guitar and synth), Brett Faulkner (guitar), Kyle Lowther (bass) and Ariel Tseng (drums).  Harding’s vocals are impossible to ignore.  With a lilting, impressive range reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, Harding’s style is silvery and enchanting.  Harding is a captivating performer and knows how to engage the audience while maintaining her professional demeanor. Tseng’s skill is particularly apparent in the energy of “Nightmares” and in “Sugar Cube,” keeping a strong beat and a hypnotizing rhythm. The audience nodded and danced with abandon.

The band performed a cover medley of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”  Though the covers were flawlessly executed, they paled in comparison to the band’s original work.

The star piece of the night was the band’s single, “Dust and Bones,” an addictive track that juxtaposed powerful crescendo with sweet vocals. The song has recently received frequent airplay on The Zone 91.3, during Isobel Trigger’s title as the station’s Band of the Month. The track has definite potential to top national alt rock/pop charts.

“The song is about those formative experiences you had when listening to certain songs for the first time,” Harding says.  “[It’s about] the magic you felt, and how listening to them now can transport you back to that time, place and feeling.”

The band has several exciting upcoming events, including: Rock The Royal on May 24th, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal and McPherson theatres.  The event will feature several well-established local acts and pay tribute to 90s greats. Look for Isobel Trigger at Tall Tree Festival on the last weekend in June, and at July 26th at Lucky Bar for the release of their EP Nocturnal.

Isobel Trigger is unique: they have been likened to No Doubt and Florence and the Machine, probably due to their experimental style. Their skill and sound is too large to be contained on a small stage.  It will be a pleasure to see the band play the Royal Theatre and other locations deserving of their talent.

Rock The Royal tickets/info

Tall Tree Music Festival

Zone Band of the Month: Isobel Trigger


Blake Jacob is a Vancouver Island writer and composer.

Hank Angel Pays Homage to Rock and Roll

Hank Engel

Hank Angel (Extended Play 45)

Produced by David Jeffrey and Dave Lang

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Victoria musician Hank Engel’s self-titled EP is a nostalgic gem that brings you right back to the feel-good rockabilly vibe of the 50’s. Engel pays homage to the underground music scene in Edmonton in the 1980s, and more specifically to one of his favourite bands, The Draggnetts. Although this band had recorded much of their material and were admired for their musicianship, they ended up disappearing into obscurity. In an interview with Drive-in Magazine, Engel said, “We idolized those guys. Not only did they play great music, but they lived it, in an old house with rebel flags and velvet paintings and overflowing ashtrays. Empty bottles all over the place, a bust of Elvis on the mantle. Their girlfriends walked around looking like Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe. Their band was like a gang, like every band ought to be.”

The idea of living out the music that you write and express is essential to a lot of rock and roll — something that you don’t see as often these days. Many bands don’t have the luxury of being signed and consequently need to manage their own careers. Likely, it would only hinder productivity in that regard if they were to live out that kind of lifestyle – (talk about a buzz kill). But this isn’t the sort of genre that lends itself well to being focused on marketing, and making sure you tweet frequently enough. It’s a genre that’s about the music and the lifestyle. It reminds us that, when all is said and done, it’s the whole package that counts: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

Hank Engel’s EP reminds us of this. The production isn’t flashy, and the vocals aren’t tuned to perfection. Many of the tracks sound as though they were recorded live off the floor, which gives it that old-­‐school rockabilly feel. And regardless of how polished the EP may be, one has to admire this decision to record the songs in this way. Hank Angel could very well have recorded these old tunes in a more mainstream, or polished way, but instead he stays true to the rockabilly roots.

Producer David Jeffrey clearly has a good understanding of Hank Angel’s genre, and has recorded and mixed it in a way that harks back to that early vintage rock-­‐ and-­‐roll sound. As a result, the EP gives you just the right amount of crisp guitar tones, non-­‐intrusive drum rhythms and raw vocals. Hank brings a new life to the songs of Art Adams and The Draggnetts, although it’s a shame that he doesn’t include more of his original material. His song “A Guitar and A Broken Heart” is a great opener for the EP since it has many of the elements that make a great song, including the catchy vocal melodies, tasteful guitar riffs, and simplistic drum rhythms. But instead of developing this, along with his own sound, he decides to resurrect a couple of great rockabilly tunes, obscuring his own path as a musician.

Nonetheless, his motives are pure, and the songs have come together very well. And who knows, maybe we’ll get to hear more original rockabilly releases from Hank /Engel/Angel in the future.

Chris Ho is a UVic  graduate, musician and closet cookie dough eater.

Aging punk makes great country songs

Eddie Spaghetti
The Value of Nothing (Bloodshot Records, 2013)
Produced by Jesse Dayton

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

Has modern radio ruined the very idea of country music for you? Are you put off by the stereotypical conservative undertones of modern country music? Do you like a fatalistic punk sensibility but prefer your musicians to deliver it with some laid-back, west coast affability? Do you like the music you listen to to be direct–straight, no chaser?

If you answered, “Yes,” to any or all of the above, then Eddie Spaghetti’s The Value of Nothing is for you!

On his fourth solo offering, Eddie Spaghetti, the front-man from Seattle rockers the Supersuckers, delivers up an unpretentious collection of songs that straddle the line between his punk and country roots. There’s a sort of restless resignation that runs through these songs as Spaghetti sings his world-weary tales of courage, hard-living laziness and, most poignantly, coming to terms with himself as he journeys through the aging process, getting close to the half-century mark.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Spaghetti was surrounded by country music that he tried desperately to avoid, or at the least ignore. Rebelling heavily against the suffocating culture that country music provided, he got heavy into metal and punk music, eventually forming the seminal punk-metal hybrid, the Supersuckers. He couldn’t deny his roots and started stepping back into the waters of his past in 1993 with the Junkyard Dogs, a Supersuckers country side-project. Though they only released one full-length album, it reinvigorated another aspect of Spaghetti’s musical background and luckily for listeners, it’s a path he’s continued on since.

Spaghetti’s growly drawl bring a surprising humanity to slightly misanthropic tracks like “People Are Shit” and “Empty,” a song built around the defeated refrain, “I’m empty, got nothing inside/Totally blank and completely dry / I’m empty, take a look in my eyes / Don’t listen to me ‘cause it’s all lies.” To be able to tow a line of empathy without ever falling into pity with such self-indulgent wallowing is a wonderful trick that requires a certain lyrical honesty. It’s a quality that Spaghetti has in spades.

It’s not all doom and gloom on The Value of Nothing. Spaghetti gets downright happy singing about matrimonial love on “You Get To Be My Age,” going so far as to knowingly wink at the fact when he sings “It might sound kinda cheesy but I’m happy when you are happy too.” The winning slacker-anthem “Waste of Time” wittingly pokes at the lazy life of a disaffected stoner-sort over a raggedy country stomp to charming effect.

Eddie Spaghetti starts the last track of the album, the aching ballad to aging, “When I’m Gone,” with the declaration, “I’m in decline, on the backslide/decadent, degenerate, the worst you might ever find…” It’s a hard statement to believe after a record’s worth of strong, steady songwriting filled with piss and vinegar and it’s a statement I can say I hope isn’t true.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

White Hot Jet’s (skillfully) bizarre debut

White Hot Jet
Rehab Nightclub, Victoria BC
June 7, 2013

 Reviewed by Blake Morneau

I was filled with an unhealthy dose of skepticism as I walked into Rehab nightclub for the unveiling of new all-girl rock band White Hot Jet–after all, the press release I received stated that the band was put together through auditions by local producer and songwriter James Kasper (who has also written the bulk of the band’s music to this point), where he “cast” Animal Amber (drums), Messica Wild (guitar), Jillian Drayz (bass/lead vocals), Jennie Boomboom (lead vocals) and Courtney LeStrange (guitar). It wasn’t only the idea of a male setting out to build an all-girl band which made me a little uncomfortable, but of a band built by a mastermind. This goes against nearly everything I’ve been taught to believe in regards to honest, pure music. But playing their first show months after the audition process began must be a wholly exciting time for White Hot Jet, so I assured myself over and over I would go in with an open heart and mind, ready to honestly embrace whatever I saw on the stage.

White Hot Jet kicked off after what can only be called “The Great Raffle Disaster of 2013,” which left the band standing awkwardly on the stage, filling with impatience as ticketholder after ticketholder abandoned their door prizes and chose to remain silent. It was an auspicious start to say the least.

The band’s strength is danceable power-pop that lies somewhere between The Donnas and Metric. The first track they played, their first single “Never Comin’ Down,” is a piece of pop-rock clearly written as an introduction to the group that features singer Jennie Boomboom declaring the band’s name as the hook drops. “I’m a white hot jet, I go the speed of the sound!” I didn’t like it when Bad Company did it, and I can’t say I really like it any more now.

All competent players, the women of White Hot Jet can kick out a jam, no doubt. This is tight, lean music, devoid of filler. I would have liked to see more guitar solos (with two guitars playing this kind of music, the solos seem sort of requisite) and maybe a longer appearance of the accordion, briefly played by Messica Wild. This would have prevented it from feeling like some bizarre, out of place gimmick. Really, these are minor things that any new band goes through. There’s always room for growth.

As this was the band’s debut, no one knew the songs they were playing but people seemed to be digging it. The crowd was ecstatic as the Jet broke out a pretty raucous cover of Adele’s all-too-covered hit “Rolling in the Deep,” a song that really needs to not be covered any more, by anyone. It seems a strange choice, if not just an all-too-easy choice, for a band trying to establish their identity to choose such an iconic pop song as their lone cover. The crowd was eager and appreciative to hear a song they knew and it would have been an ideal closing track. Playing such a heavy-hitting and, more importantly, familiar, song in the middle of their set seemed to suck some of the energy out of the remaining songs. After those final few songs the concert ended as abruptly as I have ever seen with simply the proclamation “Thanks. We’re done.” Hold for the audience’s awkward befuddlement. I still haven’t gotten over mine.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

Get kicked in the ears by Blackberry Wood–in a good way

Blackberry Wood
Logan’s Pub, Victoria
June 6, 2013

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

I remember being 11 or 12 years old and seeing the video for Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” and having the image of Waits dressed in his ridiculous devil costume, riding a tricycle and holding a magnifying glass burn itself into my mind. For years that image has represented everything that is good and pure and fun, a treasured frame to remind me of the absurd silliness that enveloped all things. As Blackberry Wood front-man and mustache enthusiast Kris Wood took the stage dressed in an outfit wholly inspired the one worn by Waits in that video, that soul-freeing feeling that image has always brought up was front and center. Really, that’s the best way to see Vancouver alt-country-gypsy-circus outfit Blackberry Wood–with a childlike enthusiasm and boundless imagination.

Blackberry Wood’s energy is unflinchingly infectious, spreading through the room like an amoeba on speed. Drummer Amrit Basi’s rhythms could be considered a sort of aural warfare, forcing people to shake their bodies with reckless abandon. The recently added bass sound really gives the band the bottom-end groove that benefits the danceability aspect of their gypsy swing music. It acts as a sort of musical bouncy-castle for the rest of the group to jump off of. Hearing all these elements come together for an incredible reading of the haunting jazz standard “Saint James Infirmary” is a real wonder. Infecting such a legendarily song with their trademark joy and energy without taking away any of the song’s inherent eeriness is a feat of musical agility and precision.

There were people on the dance floor much quicker than I usually see at shows. At nearly every show I’ve been to, even those in smaller venues, the trickle to the area in front of the stage is slow, with nobody wanting to be first to initiate the festivities. I don’t know if it was the crowd this night or the magically contagious spirit of Blackberry Wood (I’d like to believe it was the latter), but by the end of the opening song more than half the people in the house were shaking their groove-things wildly. Admittedly, I was one of the first people out there, finding myself quickly surrounded by fellow body-shakers.

It was all of a bit of whirlwind–a mass of sweaty, smiling bodies jumping and flailing to the sounds of a band oozing psychotic energy. If you don’t like dancing and prefer your music subdued with space for quiet clapping and reflection, you may want to skip Blackberry Wood. But if you’re like me, and apparently the patrons of Logan’s, and you like to get kicked in the ears, get yourself to a Blackberry Wood show as soon as you can. Your musical soul will thank you.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

Queer Across Canada

The Rogue Folk Club presents
Kate Reid
Queer Across Canada CD Release
Saturday, June 8, Doors at 7 pm
St. James Hall, 3213 West 10th Ave, Vancouver
Tickets $20 | Members $16
Accessible, All ages & Licensed Event

Sure same-sex marriage is legal these days, and gay people don’t get fired from their jobs like they used to, but the growing number of queer parents and openly queer youth means that young people are facing homophobia like never before.

Moved by stories of queer teens and kids with queer parents feeling isolated and ostracized, singer-songwriter and musical comedienne Kate Reid embarked on her most audacious recording project yet. She conducted 74 interviews with queer parents, queer kids, and straight kids of queer parents and used them to create Queer Across Canada, a pioneering collection of songs for queer families that bursts with a spirit of radical celebration of the rainbow spectrum.

For more on Kate Reid, visit her website, or check out The Coastal Spectator interview we did with Reid in October.

Alec Dempster explores roots via images and words

Ontario artist Alec Dempster was born in Mexico but moved to Canada with his family when he was five years old. He recently came out with a unique two-fold expression of his heritage with the book Lotería Jarocha: Linoleum Prints, published by The Porcupine’s Quill, and with the CD, Nuevos Caminos A Santiago (New Roads to Santiago), produced by Anona Music. Lynne Van Luven talked to Dempster via email, after listening obsessively to the CD and reading his book.

Alec, I’m a bit confused about the “birth order” here: which did you do first, the book or the CD, and how did one give rise to each other?

First, in 1999-2000, I did the prints which appear in the book. Then Kali and I released our first CD in 2006. We released our second CD, Nuevos Caminos a Santiago, in May 2012. Around that time, I had already started writing the texts for the book. Composing, arranging and recording was very absorbing. I wasn’t able to think about anything else. The same occurred with the writing of the texts. I didn’t stop playing, but I was not creating much new music–although we were working on eight new compositions in the same period with support from a Popular Music Grant from the Ontario Arts Council. We were a bit late submitting our grant report because I was so involved with the book project and then promoting the launch.

I have been to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and to Xalapa as well, so I did know a little bit about “son jarocho,” but I was totally ignorant about the role Lotería plays in Mexican and Latin American social life. Can you explain it a bit more for this gringa? It seems to have a vital cultural importance.

I was attracted to lotería because the graphics are so engrained in Mexican popular culture, even though most of the images aren’t very “Mexican.” The loterías I have created have more Mexican iconography than the traditional lotería. It does raise the question of what and who is Mexican. I am like that in a sense: born in Mexico but not brought up with lotería by parents who are not Mexican. However, I was exposed to a broad range of Latin American and Spanish culture, mostly through my father’s friends. The cultural importance of lotería has to do with the fact that most people in Mexico played lotería with their parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and cousins. I have seen people really enjoy the playing of the lotería but I think the pleasure lies as much in the fact that the family is doing it together as in the playing of the game itself. I have also seen it in more public social events such as church fundraisers in outdoor venues. There are certainly places where more importance is given to the lotería as a past-time like Cosamalopan in Southern Veracruz. I have heard that Campeche has a unique version of the lotería. I am not sure about Northern Mexico. In order to do my loterías, I  did not do a lot of research into the game itself. I did some but my focus was on the themes I had chosen for my loterías.

As you just mentioned, you have a fascinating background: you were born in Mexico City, came to Canada as a young boy, and then were raised in Toronto. How old were you when you returned to Mexico to live, how long were you there, and what were you looking for?

I must have been about 20 when I returned to Mexico for the first time, and my Spanish was quite basic. I went to see the film Danzón which takes place in Veracruz, and enjoyed it but didn’t understand much of the dialogue. I knew enough to get around and stay out of trouble — it seems I was there on two occasions for a month each. The second time I think my grandfather had given me some money to take driving lessons but I spent it on a plane ticket, and I still don’t know how to drive.  The first trip I had no expectations but planned to visit a small town in the hills called Quetzalan, because I had a vague recollection of the place . . . there where some striking photographs my parents took when we went there and I must have been about three. Other than that, I spent time in Mexico City visiting museums, markets and also Tepoztlán, where I eventually lived for a year. Although I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was extremely happy being in Mexico. It helped that my hosts where my padrino and his wife, two of the most generous people you could imagine and extremely connected with diverse aspects of Mexican culture. Good cooks as well. I ended up very taken by Mexican artists such as the muralists, and Tamayo as well as Toledo but Mexico City is also a place where you are likely to see exhibitions of contemporary art of all kinds from all over the world.

The linocuts in Loteria Jarocha are beautiful, and the descriptions you have created of them teach a reader a great deal about this aspect of Mexican culture. Are these stories and images in danger of being lost as the great wheel of Americanismo grinds away at your birth-country’s traditions?

The word “Americanismo” has a different connotation for me. I  know you mean USA which is definitely imposing itself on Mexico as it does all over. Canada also is exploiting Mexico’s mineral resources. A Canadian project to do open air silver mining close to the Port of Veracruz has been put on hold due to grass-roots resistance. Stories are always in danger of disappearing without the pervasive influence of foreign cultural domination. However, stories and traditions also have the ability to resist, as well as absorb new elements. Good things have also come from the US, such as the remarkable interest in son jarocho from people living in California to name just one state. The result has been culural exchange, economic growth for instrument makers, and musicians who are constantly travelling to the USA. to teach and perform. This year, three different groups that use son jarocho as an important part of their music were nominated for awards. That said,  there are languages disappearing, ceremonies being forgotten and many stories  are no longer passed on from one generation to the next.

You sing with your wife, Kali Nino, on Nuevos Caminos a Santiago. Is your musical group Café Con Pan something new, and how does it tie in with your artistic self?

Our musical collaboration goes back quite a few years, but Café Con Pan became something quite different and more ambitious since we moved to Toronto in 2009. We had performed here before that but it is only recently that we have made such an effort to forge our own identity within the framework of son jarocho. We continue to play the traditional repertoire but are also playing our own songs which we want to be recognized for. I feel like two different people, the musician and the visual artist, but they complement each other because my visual art often adorns our CDs, posters and even clothes that we wear on stage. I fell fortunate to be able to jump from one art form to another while I also realize that sometimes one discipline will require complete attention. It is not always possible to juggle the two.

Po’ Girl Awna Teixeira tours with solo album

Awna Teixeira and Jennifer Louise Taylor
Sunday, June 2, 2-4 pm
Spiral Cafe, 418 Craigflower RD, Victoria
$10 at the door

Awna Teixeira has toured the world from Africa to Spain and back again with internationally renowned roots band Po’ Girl. She is currently doing a tour in support of her first solo album, Where the Darkness Goes. With a uniquely sultry voice and incredible songwriting, Teixeira brings beautifully styled music to the world.

She joins popular local folk musician, Jennifer Louise Taylor, for an afternoon show this Sunday, at Spiral Cafe.

Rococode in Victoria May 18

Rococode with River
Saturday, May 18, Doors at 7 pm
Lucky Bar, 517 Yates ST, Victoria
Tickets $12.50, available at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, and TicketWeb.ca
Sponsored by the Zone 91.3 FM

Rococode is an ever evolving indie rock band from Vancouver, BC. They “May appear to be a spunky indie-collective, but beneath the rag-tag exuberance is a feral demolition squad plowing down tired indie archetypes and proudly building [their] own identity.” (iTunes Canada)

Their debut album Guns, Sex & Glory “Breaks in the door from the start, knocking you down with its heavy hooks, bewitching you with charismatic charm.” (Soft Signal) The band plays upon juxtaposition of light and dark, scary and harmonious, heavy and weightless, demonstrating “A seriously impressive knack for finding the sweet spot inside angular, almost cheerfully psychotic exercises.” (The Tyee) All whipped together with the help of Mother Mother’s Ryan Guldemond (co-producer) and mixer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Polyphonic Spree, The Walkmen), Rococode’s debut album provides the “Perfect jumping off point for a band ready to overtake the music scene.” (Youthink)