Category Archives: Reviews

Blue-Eyed Soul, Meaford Style

Review by Bill Monahan of “Diving In” by Jayden Grahlman

Jayden Grahlman has completed his new album of original tunes and is planning a release party in Owen Sound at Heartwood Concert Hall on June 28th.  The album should please anyone who invested through crowd funding to help make it a reality.  There is a real soul feel to the album, often bringing to mind Earth, Wind and Fire or K-OS.  Jayden’s experience playing with local funk band Higher Funktion has obviously influenced him.  Rich with danceable grooves and excellent playing, the album has a unique quality that seems to reflect its origins here in Meaford.  It can’t be called an urban sound, despite some impressive hip-hop passages, and maybe should be labelled (if a label is necessary) small-town funk, primarily because of the nature of the lyrical content.

The water theme is recurrent throughout the ten songs, reflecting the fact that it was conceived here beside the big lake.  And in place of the gritty, dark mood of much of urban music, there is a soaring sense of joy and love, a positive outlook that echoes the artist’s world view.  Angels appear in almost every song.

Jayden Grahlman is well respected as a guitarist who can play just about anything. He combines an impressive technical ability with a light touch and sensitivity as a player that makes any style he approaches his own.  This album is full of great instrumental passages, from the easy groove of the guitar that opens “You Got The Power”, reminiscent of J. J. Cale or Eric Clapton, to the fiery solo in “Magnet”.  There are also a few very impressive piano solos (sounding like the work of Tyler Yarema) that decorate the title track, “Diving In” and “Stars”.

Along with the individual standout instrumental solos, every song sits on a bed of beautifully arranged sounds.  The vocal harmonies throughout, some evocative percussive elements and, on “Give Thanks”, a seductive pedal steel, make for sweet listening.  Much of the credit for this is probably due to the production work of Craig Smith.  Two albums released in the past year, by Drew McIvor and Jon Zaslow, have that same quality, where layers of musical accompaniment are so subtly and sensitively arranged that they create moods that greatly elevate the original tunes, and they too featured Craig Smith at the console.

While instrumental virtuosity makes a great first impression, it takes more than that to make a timeless album.  The greatest albums always have a special way of reaching down into your inner being and becoming part of your own personal soundtrack.  They attach themselves to your favourite activities and they inspire you to feel deeply and believe in life.  This album has all of those qualities.

It’s easy to imagine the joy of listening to these songs while cruising through a hot summer night with the windows down, head bobbing and heart beating to the insinuating rhythms.  And it’s just as easy to imagine sitting back and sinking into the songs, opening your heart to the messages contained in the lyrics.  In a world that is increasingly harsh, cynical and disturbing, these songs provide a balm.

There are simple messages of love and an odd reflection on the life of a goldfish (it’s hard to tell if it is an extended metaphor or a rumination on what it must be like for a fish isolated in a fishbowl), but there are also songs that would nicely serve as daily confirmations for anyone looking to elevate their spirit.  In particular “You Got The Power” and “Give Thanks” remind you of the value of the life you hold in your hands.  And songs like “Angel” and “Magnet” remind you what love is really about.

Although Jayden delivers both his vocals and his rap segments with an impressive punch, his voice isn’t burdened with the mannerisms that are usually built in to songs with funky beats.  It’s a pure voice, echoing a sense of optimistic youth despite his mature mastery of the form.  That, too, adds to the album’s special quality.  And sprinkled throughout the songs there are other voices in the background, shouting out for joy or laughing.  It seems to reflect the community of supporters that helped make this project a reality.

This album works on so many levels it deserves to be a hit that resonates well beyond its small town origins. Meaford can be proud of this young talent.  He will go far.

The album release party for “Diving In”, featuring Jayden with a stellar band, happens June 28th at Heartwood Hall in Owen Sound.  Advance tickets are $25.

Steve Dickinson’s Songs and Stories For A Saturday Night

Review of concert at Massie Hall, May 19, 2018, by Bill Monahan

This past Saturday, Massie Hall presented Steve Dickinson in concert as part of this year’s concert series.  Steve had been the first performer presented at Massie Hall thirteen years ago when a local group of volunteers had bought the historic school house to turn it into a community centre and Pete Miller initiated the tradition of summer concerts.  Last year Steve performed here as a kind of homecoming after several years of international adventures in the music business.  His return on Saturday night brought out an audience which included some die-hard fans who have all his albums.

Presenter Ralph Bergman introduced him as “a local legend”.  Despite a quiet humility, his talent lived up to that billing with engaging songs and a one-in-a-million voice.

After a few opening songs that reached far back into his past, including “Marlowe Lindsay”, an evocative look at mortality, Steve did a medley of Bob Segar songs.  It was fitting because his vocal similarity to Segar had taken him far afield, sharing the stage with bands like Boston and being included on a compilation album alongside legends that included Elton John and Rod Stewart.  The short Segar medley kicked it up a notch and the original songs that followed burned with intensity.

He introduced one song, “Summer Rain,” from his 2002 album called “Good Old Days”, saying, “I thought this was going to be a million seller.  Instead I had to get a bigger house to keep a million of them in my basement.”  It was ironic because the song really does sound like it should have been a huge hit, with all the touchstones of timeless classic rock.  Another irony is that Steve at one time played with members of Kid Rock’s band and “Summer Rain” sounds perfectly suited for that artist.

If it hasn’t become the radio staple that it deserves to be, you can still download and enjoy both the album and the song from iTunes, CD Baby or Spotify.  His music ages well and any of his albums if well worth an addition to your playlist.

Over the years Steve Dickinson has been backed up by the best.  When he started, some of the best local musicians played with him and since then he’s been backed by members of the bands of Bob Segar, Eric Clapton and Kid Rock.  He’s been produced by the talented Rick Hutt and co-written with artists like Dean McTaggart.  He’s had more than one ride of the roller coaster of music business success.

With all of this history lending a superstar legitimacy to his music he proved on Saturday night that he is, as Ralph Bergman quoted Trevor Mackenzie as saying, “a complete show all on his own.”  With just his voice, guitar and occasionally harmonica, he held the audience in his hands, hanging on every word even as he unravelled fairly lengthy anecdotes between songs.  And he was called back for an encore, for which he performed one of his airplay successes, “Ten Summers Past”.

And with that the concert was over all too soon.

Saturday night’s concert was one of a series of impressive shows lined up this summer at Massie Hall.  A small unassuming venue seemingly miles from anywhere, it is a real find for local music fans.

Return to Front Page for today’s update

One More Lumdi Lai by Jon Zaslow

Reviewed by Bill Monahan

When you finish listening to the eight songs on Jon Zaslow’s CD, “One More Lundy Lai” the tune keeps playing in your head.  Which tune?  Well, that’s the thing.  There is a consistency to this CD that makes it hard to distinguish in retrospect one song from the other.  Along with the melodies and rhythms, there is a theme throughout of relentless disappointment and regret.

The title “One More Lumdi Lai” comes from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ first hit, “Mickey’s Monkey”.  With that as the leading and title track, you might expect an album of Motown flavoured dance music (the song was about a dance called “the monkey’, not about the primate).  Instead it is reminiscent of a decade later, post-Beatles, when album oriented radio was dominated by introspective singer-songwriters like Eric Anderson, Jackson Browne and David Wiffen.

Those were the days of mournful reflection set in beautiful studio arrangements.  Jon has excelled in setting his tunes within that genre.

  From the opening chord, through very tastefully balanced elements like slide guitar and saxophone, and impeccably subtle backing vocals, this album sounds beautiful.

Meaford Musical Community Shines In “The Last Waltz”

Review by Bill Monahan
featured photo courtesy of Patti Kendall

On Saturday night at Meaford Hall, “The Last Waltz – Meaford Style” was a celebration of our musical community unlike anything that has been seen before.  A complete sellout more than a month in advance, the show featured a cavalcade of home grown talent that was equal to any visiting talent that has graced this great venue, and the audience loved it.

The template for the show was the famous Martin Scorcese film from 1978 that documented the last concert by The Band, with all of the performers who had been part of that celebration represented here by local talents.  It was actually the 41st anniversary of the original concert, which took place at Winterland in San Francisco on November 25, 1976.  The film set the bar high for a group of local performers who had little more than a month to practice.  They rose to the occasion. The band was tight, often indistinguishable from their model, and each performer who contributed tributes to the other performers did a stellar job.  The energy from the audience matched that coming from the stage.

Jaret Koop photo courtesy of John Scerri

A few of the vocalists stood out with their ability to mimic the originals to an uncanny extent.  Drew McIvor’s take on Doctor John’s (Mac  Rebennack) “Such A Night” had that New Orleans drawl down cold, and Jaret Koop perfectly captured Rick Danko’s anguished vocals on “The Shape I’m In”.

Fran Bouwmann photo courtesy of John Scerri

Fran Bouwman did a great take on Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote” (and even looked the part), and Tom Thwaits version of Neil Diamond’s “Dry Your Eyes” sounded like the real thing.  John Hume reproduced not only the vocal parts but the keyboards (that beautiful Hammond organ sound) with fidelity.

Sandra Swannell photo courtesy of John Scerri

Others added their own special talent to the songs that reflected what they bring to music.  Sandra Swannell’s violin solos on “Acadian Driftwood” and the encore “I Shall Be Released”, and Emma Wright’s vocals on “Evangeline” were spine-tingling standouts.  Chris Scerri’s vocals, of course, are 100% his.  He’s a belter and his style made new versions of the songs he covered.