Tag Archives: Reviews of music: live and recorded

Woodsmen carve their mark

Despite being a fairly young band, the eclectic indie-rock collective Woodsmen has quickly made a name for itself within the tightly knit Victoria community. Even before releasing their debut EP, Woodsmen has shared the stage with such acts as Jon and Roy, Kytami, and The Zolas, and has received airplay through CBC Music. The band’s opening track “For Keeps” was nominated as the Island Song of the Year in the 2013 Vancouver Island Music Awards. Members Maryse Bernard and Sean Kennedy talked recently with Chris Ho about their successes.

Woodsmen has been described as “an accessible blend of blues, jazz and rock” with “unconventional time changes and experimental song structure.” How do you find a balance with accessibility and experimentation in your music?

MARYSE: I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious thing—that we sit down to write with the intention of creating music that surprises without distancing the audience—but it is an important balance to keep in mind. I think the best songs evoke in us both a sense of familiarity, as well as the unexpected. It’s always fun to throw in some wacky time changes, but songs still need to follow a certain structure. We aim to deliver new discoveries without pulling people out of the listening experience.

SEAN: Yeah I’d say it’s pretty spontaneous. A lot of the cooler parts of our songs come from mistakes we made while writing that we thought sounded awesome. The hard part is to  recreate them and incorporate them into our songs.

I have to say Maryse’s vocals definitely tie our songs together in terms of accessibility. They’re really emotive and draw a lot of attention, which I guess distracts from some of the strange things going on in our songs. For instance,  “Memo” changes time signatures 4 or 5 times and “Not the Same” has separate vocal and instrumental choruses, but you’re focusing more on Maryse’s melodies and lyrics throughout those songs. Essentially we all get weird behind the veil that is her voice.

Was the recording process of your debut EP just as experimental as your musical style, or was it by contrast very straightforward? What was your overall vision for the EP, as far as song selection and general soundscape goes?

MARYSE: We generally stuck to the same vocals as when we perform, but came up with the three-part harmonies for “Not The Same” in the studio. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to singing, so it was fun to add more of a spontaneous side and come up with parts right during the recording process. We carried them into our live shows, and I love now getting to jazz-geek out for that part of the song. I think Sean also got experimental with the keys for “Memo”?

SEAN: Yeah we reversed some of my key parts in “Memo,” added some reverb, then used the sound for transitions and building tension in certain parts. We also put a microphone in a refrigerator for some of the drum parts to make them sound more dirt-nasty.

MARYSE: Vision-wise, the songs go in chronological order of when we wrote them. It was our first time recording “Memo” and “Not The Same”, but we also wanted to include a revamped version of “For Keeps,” since it’s one of our favourites from our 2012 Demo. Hopefully there’s some growth that can be heard both in sound and content over the course of the EP. To me, each song brings up a distinct chapter in its theme.

What would you say are the ideal listening conditions for your self-titled EP, and why?

MARYSE: I can’t assume this for everyone, but I like to think of it as a really good driving soundtrack. When Sam Weber first sent us the rough tracks, I listened to them during a road trip to California, and that environment of looking out at the passing landscape to the music kind of stuck. Our friends recently took the EP with them on their drive to whistler. They said afterwards that whenever a Woodsmen tune came on it made everyone feel good, which is one of the best things musicians can hope for: for it to be enjoyable in a group setting, but also appreciable on a more personal level when listening to it alone. I hope that when people really pay attention to the lyrics, they can find something that rings true with them.

Would you describe your band as being unified in its musical influences and preferences, or is there quite a bit of diversity?

MARYSE: I think our influences are all pretty diverse, and that that creates one of our sound’s best qualities. I love that everyone comes from different musical backgrounds and brings their own flavor to the conception of our songs. It inspires lyrics and melodies I may never have come up with otherwise. I was trained in jazz with heavy RnB and blues influence, but also adored punk rock as a teen, so it’s awesome to create this fusion that becomes our own genre of alternative. In the studio, Sam Weber called us the “Motown Grizzly Bear.”

Oftentimes a band’s perception of their best song doesn’t line up with what others perceive as their best song. Is this the case for your track “For Keeps,” which has evidently garnered attention through its nomination in the Island Song of the Year?

MARYSE: In my opinion, if you’re making music for the sole purpose of it being popular, the lack of substance is going to be obvious. If it doesn’t resonate with us, then it probably won’t with fans either. What’s great about “For Keeps” is that it can be taken as a lighter track—danceable and a little poppy—but also as a darker confessional when you listen to it closely. There was some heavy turmoil going on when writing the lyrics— the fear of essentially being broken when it comes to relationships. So I think it can be connected to on a number of different levels, depending on how listeners want to approach it.

Singer Edwards Takes Listeners Places

By Kathleen Edwards
Maple Music 2011
Produced by Justin Vernon and Kathleen Edwards

Reviewed by Andrea June

Kathleen Edwards’ fifth CD, Voyageur, makes me feel like I’m flying. And that’s probably one of the reasons it was short-listed for the Polaris Prize.

With an unadorned voice sometimes reminiscent of a boy soprano, Edwards’s lyrical melodies glimmer over a wash of acoustic and electric mid-ranges, and deep, pulsing rock drum beats and bass. Her impressive collection of sounds, including guitars, vibraphone, synth, organ, violin, rhodes (yum!), and choir, among others, can seem oversaturated at times, but the powerful beats provide a foundation that keeps the lyrical melodies and atmospheric arrangements driving forward.

What I really like about this album is the nonstop, sustained sounds of the choir-like vocalizations, synth, organ and other instruments of that syrupy potential. These sounds shimmer above the song like ethereal connective tissue, giving me a sense of lift and expansion. Edwards’s lead vocals are sometimes joined in octaves by other voices or instruments, enhancing this sense of space. It’s like the sonic equivalent of an aerial view. I can’t help but think of sprawling wild landscapes and big skies – of voyaging.

As I listened, I wished I could understand more of the lyrics. Edwards has a choir-like vocal technique, which makes little of consonants or dipthongs, instead favouring the wide-open vowels. This sound contrasts well with the flurry of instruments around the singer, but sometimes also makes lyrics difficult to discern. But the mixing is primarily to blame for this. Edwards’s lead vocals are often faded to the level of back-up vocals. There are some songs where the mix puts the leads up front, such as “Chameleon/Comedian,” and the slower songs like “House Full of Empty Rooms,” and “Pink Champagne.” The effect of louder lead vocals creates an intimacy between performer and listener. Perhaps it is the opposite effect that the uber-blended sound was meant to achieve? Still, I think an effect is not worth completely obscuring the words.

From what I can understand of the lyrics, most songs centre on romantic relationships and associated feelings (longing, regret, fulfillment). There are some lines which stand out as particularly marvellous. For example, in “A Soft Place to Land”:

I’m looking for
a soft place to land
The forest floor
The palms of your hands

What I love about this line is the sense of space created by paralleling the forest floor (macro) and palms of hands (micro) as equally possible places to land. This collapsing and expanding of space, through words and music, is most fascinating about Voyageur. I’m reminded of Rae Spoon, a musician who’s journeyed from classic folk/country toward a more nuanced, electronic sound. Like Spoon, Edwards has also ventured from her previous folk-rock territory. I hope on her next album we’ll hear music that is comfortable in its new body, with a fully realized synthesis of thoughtful – audible – lyrics.
Andrea June is a Victoria-based singer/songwriter; find more of her work at www.autojanszandreajune.com

Boyle’s recital kept audience leaning forward

Patrick Boyle, trumpet, flugelhorn, resonator guitar, electric guitar

Brian Anderson, double bass
Jonathan Goldman, accordion
Joanna Hood, viola
Ian McDougall, trombone

Review by Jennifer Messelink

“Tonight someone’s going to get a haircut!!!!”

That phrase was the last thing I expected to hear thundering through the Philip T. Young Recital hall on Friday, Sept. 28, but this was Patrick Boyle’s recital, and having witnessed many of his performances, I should have known it would be remarkable.

Boyle is assistant professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Victoria. CBC Radio calls him a “trumpet personality” and “one of Canada’s top trumpet players and jazz musicians in general.” The audience was treated to an unexpected array of original compositions, jazz standards, and unique improvisation. Boyle described the program as having, “no theme, just melodies I like with people who will tolerate being with me.” Being the tolerant audience we were, we sat back and enjoyed the show.

Boyle opened with Dave Douglas’s “Charms of the Night Sky” joined by Joanna Hood on viola, Jonathan Goldman on accordion and student Brian Anderson on double bass. Dave Douglas is a trumpeter and composer whose music derives from classical, European folk and Klezmer, and his composition was a fitting beginning. The unique orchestration produced a rich texture, with each instrument having a complementary voice. The bird calls, beautiful melodies, and walking bass were seductive and exotic, and the ensemble clearly enjoyed this piece. As a performer and composer Boyle moves easily between the genres but is consistently true to his own style. His composition “Fresh Duds” was written for legendary guitarist Bill Frisell. He calls it country music, and it had distinctive country touches: Hood strumming her viola like a guitar along with a bass solo. Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Boyle’s Esquimalt-inspired composition “Paradise Found” segued into “Did I Ever” with the Dobro, a resonator guitar, visually beautiful with a distinctive sound. The spacious open chords resonated throughout the recital hall. To finish the first half Boyle was joined by Ian McDougall on trombone for the jazz standard, “Everything Happens To Me,” and he effortlessly switched between trumpet and guitar on McDougall’s composition, “Mc Not Mac- Two”L’s.” As the first half closed, the trombonist said what we were all thinking: “he’s a versatile little bugger isn’t he?”

The second part of the recital began informally with Boyle alone on stage playing a jazzy impressionist interpretation of “The Flintstones” on electric guitar, filled with whole tone runs and resonant harmonics. The final piece of the night, an improvised soundtrack to a 1980s wresting match projected on the wall, was unlike anything I have seen. As a female with no brothers, I have never been exposed to wrestling, especially wrestling circa 1987, in a Detroit stadium filled with 93,000 screaming fans. Imagine, in the dark recital Hall, large men in tight pink shorts and improvised music. “There are a lot of elements in wrestling to be mined, socially and emotionally,” Boyle explained. ”

As the night drew to a close, I reflected on his diverse influences, his ease performing and his comfort with silences. The audience was not overburdened with constant sound; instead, Boyle, utilized silence to give each chord, note and phrase deeper meaning. It is analogous to listening to someone rambling on without much substance, or listening to someone who has wisdom to share, without saying too much: we lean forward attentively in our seats and savor every word and sound.

Jennifer Messelink is a regular reviewer for The Coastal Spectator.






Waiting Room reflects diversity of society

The Waiting Room
By Anne Schaefer
Baker Studios 2012, Victoria B.C.
A MAPL qualified album (composed, performed, and recorded by a Canadian)

Reviewed By Kelvin Chan

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to categorize Anne Schaefer’s second album, The Waiting Room into any one musical genre. The styles exhibited in the 11 tracks are eclectic: each is linked to one of the 11 “patients” in the “waiting room,” reflecting a condition they suffer from. According to Anne Schaefer, who composed, sang, played, and produced the album herself, life is like a waiting room, where people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and walks of life have one thing in common: they all suffer variously from the human condition.

During my first spin of the CD, it became evident that Anne Schaefer is as multi-faceted as her imaginary characters. Take the opening track, Fragile, for example, where her raspy, thin tone makes Georgia’s condition, “acute sensitivity,” all the more delicate. Or Black Canary, where her playful, seductive teasing breathes life into Dinah’s dark super-heroine fantasy. Schaefer’s collaborators are a talented bunch as well: the prominent cello accompaniment in Elixir is played by Kevin Fox with robust, rich tone, sumptuously blending into the smooth vocal harmonies.

Although each track is largely unique in terms of mood, I noticed that more than half of the CD features prominent piano lead-ins, which helped establish the mood effectively but were just a bit predictable—the rigid timbre of the piano’s recorded sound didn’t help either. It was a welcome change when I arrived at Track 8, which began with the exotic sonorities of a bandoneon probably sampled from a folk band. Titled Chanson d’amour, it is also the only song in the album that is sung in French—in the intoxicating key of B minor, no less.

The whole production is polished: the tracks are well-engineered and recorded. I was especially excitied to read in the liner notes that the album was produced from beginning to end in Victoria’s Baker Studios. Musically speaking, The Waiting Room offers plenty of diversity to satisfy listeners of all types, especially indie enthusiasts who are tired of the predictability of mainstream pop.
The noble, we-are-all-different-but-we-are-all-in-this-together artistic concept behind the album comes across well and raises awareness about the heterogeneity in society. Schaefer reminds us that the human condition, like our options in musical taste, is perhaps more diverse than represented by blind worship of a barely-legal teenage boy or gaga responses to a provocatively dressed woman.

Kelvin Chan is a fourth-year Music student.

Review of Auto Janz and Andrea June’s Latest Album

Musical collaboration provides lingering ear-worm

Auto Janz and Andrea June
13-track, album, (MP3 320/FLAC), $10
Released January 2012
Recorded in 1Ton Studios, Victoria, B.C.

Reviewed by Hanna Leavitt

Local musicians Auto Jansz and Andrea June deliver a highly entertaining collection of tribute songs about extraordinary, everyday women from Canada’s past.

The CD’s haunting title track, Red Lights, Money and Wine, is a tribute to the gritty realities of the dying days of Winnipeg’s bordellos at the turn of the century. The exquisite harmonies of the opening four songs are reminiscent of the Emmylou Harris/ Linda Ronstadt/ Dolly Parton sound of the Trio album of 1987. Ian Tyson comes to mind with the Canadiana mood evoked by I’m in Alberta. The harmonica intro of Hanna makes me think of Murray McLauchlan. And Sarah McLachlan could easily have sung Track 10, Tide.

This CD combines the singing/songwriting of Auto on the first half, Andrea June on the second. Spell-binding harmonies are showcased initially. The mood changes in the latter portion of the CD with more experimental songs such as Mary Shelley and Bon Nuit. Occasionally, rhyming schemes often feel forced and predictable, a little too easy.

I’m a writer of creative nonfiction, so I’ve got my own biases. If this album were a work of CNF, I’d commend it as an excellent first draft. Finding one’s unique voice is always the challenge, no matter what the creative endeavour. I’m anxious to hear how the pair’s musical identities develop in future efforts. And the good news is, the duo is taking the fall off to develop a new CD. Check out their new website autojanzandandreajune.com. They’ll tell you how to help them out.

In the meantime, I can’t get Track 6, Long Gone, out of my head. Now that’s a signature Jansz-June tune.


Hanna Leavitt is in the first year of her MFA in Writing




The Very Thought of You: Trombone with String Orchestra by Ian McDougall

The Very Thought of You: Trombone with String Orchestra,
Ian McDougall SOCAN TMMPCD01,
2012, compact disc.

Reviewed by Jennifer Messelink

Juno Award winner Ian MacDougall is perhaps best known for his work in the Big Band idiom, with the Toronto Jazz ensemble Boss Brass. But his former students at the University of Victoria know the now-professor emeritus as a supportive and inspiring trombone instructor for fifteen years. With the release of his most recent recording, The Very Thought of You, Ian McDougall once again has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young musicians.

The Very Thought of You benefits the “Ten Mile Fine Arts Student Assistance Fund” with ten dollars of every $20 CD sold going to support struggling fine arts students. The fundraiser was conceived one night after McDougall witnessed a student buying his dinner at a local grocery store: a single potato. McDougall and fellow Boss Brass bandmate Rob Wilkinson have arranged fourteen jazz standards for trombone and string orchestra. Performed in a relaxed, intimate swing ballad style, McDougall brings that warmth and intimacy to this recording of well-known 1930s and 40s classics.

The Thirties fostered the development and popularity of the swing era, and Big Band orchestras led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey were well regarded. Tommy Dorsey was the first to play the trombone as a lyrical instrument. His featured soloist Frank Sinatra stated, “My greatest teacher was not a vocal coach, not the work of other singers, but the way Tommy Dorsey breathed and phrased on the trombone.” Ian McDougall continues in the tradition with “Everything Happens to Me,” a recognizable standard originally recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. McDougall effortlessly blends the lyrical qualities of the trombone with the rich harmonies of the orchestra. “I’m Through With Love” features solo oboe, as well as trombone, and a comfortable conversation develops, creating a multi-voiced orchestral experience. In the memorable title track “The Very Thought of You,” McDougall offers us familiarity with a unique view, reminding us that what is old can still be fresh and new.

The Very Thought of You is available at Lyle’s Place, Munro’s Books, Larsen Music, UVIC School of Music, Fine Arts café, and Ian McDougall’s website.

Jennifer Messelink is a fourth-year student in the School of Music at UVIC.



A Steinway Celebration: Robert Silverman & Lafayette String Quartet

September 23, 2012, Philip T. Young Recital Hall at UVic School of Music
Rhapsody in B minor, op. 79 no.1 –Johannes Brahms
Six Piano Pieces, op. 118 –Johannes Brahms
Rhapsody in E-flat major, op. 119 no.4 –Johannes Brahms
Piano Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44
Robert Silverman, piano , with the Lafayette String Quartet

Reviewed by Kelvin Chan

When you realize you should shove aside your daily routine to explore a composer further, you know the performance you’ve just heard has left “a lasting legacy.” Robert Silverman’s magnificent playing at his recent Sunday afternoon concert made me shelve my Mahler symphonies cycle and pull out the late piano works of Brahms for the night.

The program for the first half comprised a selection of works from Brahms’ late period—this is fantasy-like, probing, at times introspective music, and Silverman has an obvious affinity for this kind of expression. He paid meticulous attention to the treatment of both the sustain and una corda pedals, and a lush, burnished approach was apparent by the time of the second theme’s arrival in the Rhapsody in B minor, which he played with highly polished voicing in the treble register (which is notorious among piano majors at the School of Music for being recessed on the old Steinway, the instrument of Mr. Silverman’s choice).

The Six Piano Pieces, op. 118, one of a few cycles of piano works Brahms wrote toward the end of his career, is regarded as among the finest works in the Romantic literature. Being a pianophile, I have heard and studied multiple recordings of these pieces before, but never experienced them in a live setting, where the spontaneity truly adds to the quasi-fantasia nature of the music. Silverman presented the cycle with its strong thematic unity in mind, only briefly pausing between each of the six pieces, and in some cases, such as at the end of the Intermezzo in A minor, carefully linking the first notes of the following piece with the sustain pedal. Throughout the cycle, Silverman exhibited his mastery of tonal control, especially in soft playing: the last note of the serene Intermezzo in A major, for example, was produced with breathtaking softness—yet still with a remarkable degree of firmness, allowing it be projected over the lavish bass he frequently and beautifully conjured. He wrapped up the first half of the concert with a thrilling rendition of the Rhapsody in E-flat major, which allowed him to display his highly-refined tone at a wider dynamic contrast. The results were impressive.

After the interval, UVic’s Lafayette String Quartet joined Silverman on stage. The ensemble work throughout the Schumann Piano Quintet was first-rate. In the Development section of the Allegro brillante, for instance, the string players breathed and swayed freely yet were synchronized at the same time. Silverman provided a sensitive accompaniment throughout, frequently glancing at the violinists for visual cues. The brilliant chemistry in the ensemble was especially evident in the exhilarating Allegro, ma non troppo finale, where rhythmic excitement and structural buildups moved uniformly from first violin to piano to cello. The majestic culmination at the coda drew deservedly loud applause from the audience members, the majority of whom stood in ovation.

Kelvin Chan is a student in the School of Music at UVIC