Monday, June 29, 2009

Stingray of the Day:: The Stanfields - The Dirtiest Drunk (In the History of Liquor)

the keys are in the truck...

...and the truck's in the harbour








MP3:: The Stanfields - The Dirtiest Drunk(In the History of Liquor)
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/thestanfields

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Reviews:: Laura Merrimen Love Letters for Lonely Hunters

For those relatively unfamiliar with the South Shore of Nova Scotia, spending a few hours driving through the region probably tells you more than a history book or wiki entry ever could. The stretch of coastal land was one of the earliest European settlements, but in the last few years has become one of NS biggest tourist retreats, full of beautiful cottages nestled up to jagged coastlines and tiny inlets filled with gently bobbing fishing boats and buoys.

On even the most casual glance, you'd fall in love with the region, and to be honest, many out-of-towners already have. Every free plot has been snatched up by Ontario and American visitors looking for "cheap" summer homes, and mom and pop diners were forced to step aside to make way for trendy cafes, restaurants and shops. The quaint cottages and small town store fronts dominate your view, but the history of the region and its foundations are still there. All you have to do is listen.

The same can be said about the current obsession with neo-country and roots music. It seems everyone wants to take a kick at the can and revisit the past with their new work. It may all sound authentic, but when you really listen, very few get it right. Young Laura Merrimen is one of those precious few. There are obvious jump off points – her voice and delivery on the opening track (Go On Now), should hit home with any Kathleen Edwards fan and Merrimen has obviously listened to Gillian Welch’s catalog – but for an artist that refuses to use cheap hooks as an easy way out, trying to find an easy comparison seems like a slap.

From her smoky voice to her vintage arrangements, it’s obvious Merrimen appreciates the history of the music she plays and probably grew up listening to classic records instead of simply mining influences from a thrift store find she stumbled upon last year. The South Shore born singer doesn’t speed along the road looking for the pretty picture, no, she prefers to head off the road most traveled. Instead of clever narratives and foot stomping country pop melodies served with side orders of slide and harmonica, Merriman offers up heavy subject matter and heart felt emotions, refusing to soften the blow for the listener.

The slow moving Stand Alone barely gets passed a crawl, and Merrimen’s husky voice floats out as if propelled by her last breath. When she asks, “Can you hear what your heart’s saying now? Is it only beating for ow…own blood now?” you fixate on the pain and empathize feeling your own heart start to tear at the seams. It's only when you keep listening that you hear the subtleties of the tear jerker, like the gentle, barely audible organ that dances in the distance. Merrimen has the charisma to carry the simplest of arrangements and handle the tenderest of emotions. Laura's voice dominates the touching Keepin' it Low, a song that shouldn't be as interesting as she makes it and when she sings about a low income family barely getting by (Too Many Nights) or a broken heart, you believe her.

What I really love about this record though, are the chances she takes. Closer to the Door could have been found on a slab of acetate from the 50’s, but again she freshens out the melancholy with the aid of an organ and a big electric solo - to keep the 11 songs from blending. With some help from her Guthrie heavy backing band (and Dan Hache's aggressive guitar work) she handles more muscular sounds effortlessly, but never lets go of the reins tight and makes you stick with her, listening to her words instead of stomping along to familiar riffs. Keep an ear out for this up & comer from NS.








MP3:: Laura Merriman - Time







MP3:: Laura Merriman - Don't Worry Baby
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/lauramerrimen

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Posted at 7:39 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

herohill / music nova scotia artist of the month:: Kestrels

Well, June has started and that means we need a new Music Nova Scotia Band of the Month. This month, for me, the pick was easy. From the first time I heard Seaside blast out of my shitty computer speakers, I knew the Halifax/Truro trio Kestrels was going to be a band I was all about. In fact after one or two listens to the 7", not only did I try to get them signed on for our HPX showcase, I also said:
Seaside starts with a simple electric that resonates in the vast emptiness, but quickly vocals and rapid fire drums fill your ears. The bass line dances around your headphones and for a few precious moments you get fooled into thinking the band is hiding under the disguise of a catchy indie rock outfit. They take their foot off the pedal briefly on the slowed down chorus, but for me the band’s potential is revealed at the 2:16 mark.

Finding a riff and running into the ground is easy, but Kestrels throw you a curve ball when they explode into a Mascis-esque guitar solo out of nowhere. They don’t belabor the point with useless notes - it’s only 15 seconds - but it changes the complexion of the entire song and the abrupt shift lets the band transition into a subdued, melodic outro. All too often, a young band tries too much, too soon, but the complexity of Seaside mixed with the infectious, carefree sounds how they are going to be getting some serious attention when a full length surfaces.

The trio – Chad (guitar), Adam (bass) and Marcus (drums) – obviously have a great record collection and a big appreciation for the bands that shaped the indie scene, but it’s more than that. They are passionate about music. Live, they tear it up and you can see they love playing together. When they record, they take their time and each song is better than the one before it. They care about the things that music fans care about (vinyl, packaging, cover tracks from obscure bands). They make you want to care about music again.

So why are they the band of the month? Well, because their new LP – Primary Colours - is finally finished and it’s going to be one of the best records coming out of Nova Scotia this year. We’ve previewed the single already, but I’m pretty sure we could talk about any song and it would come back to the three simple things I love about this band: guitars, bass and drums. They aren’t layer after layer of obscure thrift store junkstruments. They aren’t banging out dance floor sythn-onies. It’s good old fashioned shimmering guitar, banging drums and old school indie sing-alongs.

Normally I don't pressure people into buying a record - we all know it's tough times out there and if you aren't winning music you probably just end up downloading it from some rarblog site - but Kestrels put a lot into this and also want to give you something back. The first 25 people who pre-order the album will receive a bonus limited edition CD EP as well as a pin and poster. These tracks will not be available anywhere else so make haste/hurry up/don’t waste time/etc. The vinyl is limited to 200 copies of black vinyl and that’s it. It also comes with an individual 5×5 print from a Lomo Diana which will include a download code for the album. Head over to kestrels.ca to find out how to order.

As a special treat for you, the band is going to be offering 4 exclusive songs for herohill. The first - the early release of Sailed On - was a nice primer, but as a special treat, Chad recorded a stripped down acoustic take on the Dinosaur Jr. classic, Thumb. Why? well, because it's a great song and he's a great guy. Enjoy it and go pick up the new record. You'll thank me later.







MP3:: Kestrels - Thumb (Dinoasaur Jr. Cover)







MP3:: Kestrels - Sailed On
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/kestrelskestrels
WEB:: http://kestrels.ca/

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reviews:: Jon Epworth Turn Off Your Name

Jon Epworth knows the size of the room he’s destined to play and the life he wants to lead. That might seem obvious considering the years that he's spent playing shows and touring, but the delusions of grandeur that plague musicians is often what alienates their fans. Writing soaring anthems and vicious political commentary for the masses when you are playing empty rooms creates a distance that sound and melody can never cover.

When Passing Chords creeps out of the gate and Jon admits, “I'm a small cog on a smaller set of gears and perhaps we'll reach a few handfuls of ears / but won't you listen to my pretty passing chords / I'm a no-one in an empty room yeah I should give up and go to bed real soon / but won't you listen to my pretty passing chords”, he puts himself along side us and starts a discussion.

Which is good, because he's got a lot to say that we really need to hear.

I'll admit, hearing a musician tell us the world is fucked up is nothing new, but hearing one so grounded and eloquent is. Epworth isn't preaching at us about things we can't control, he simply wants us all to look inside, figure out how things got so bad and how we can make it better. He doesn't offer up false promises or hope, because really, he's doesn't have any of the answers we need. He's looking, just like us.
i can't promise anything to anyone at anytime but i want you all to love me/ I can't think of everything for everyone all of the time but I want you all to trust me.
Nervous, sympathetic, angry, scared, insecure... Turn Off Your Name shows that Epworth is all of these things, and more.

That freedom lets Jon move between styles and try whatever idea comes into his brain. He's able to drift from a Wainright inspired number (Golden Age) into frantic, spastic blasts of guitar and emotion (The Beaten Down and Cities) without losing the listener. He can bust out a touching, soulful number (Long Way Down) or a cruncher like A Cormorant, and lace both with insight and observation. Even when he's at his most catchy (The Driven), he's not singing about bar room conquests or crafting another road trip anthem. The song is asking a friend to keep fighting, keep pushing and never give up. And today, with everything else going on, someone asking us to push on and keep fighting is exactly what we need.

Jon is having his CD release party @ The Paragon here in Halifax on June 6th.






MP3:: Jon Epworth - Long Way Down






MP3:: Jon Epworth - Cities
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/jonepworth
BUY:: http://www.jonepworth.com/

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hot off the presses:: Kestrels

It seems like I've been waiting to hear the full length from Halifax/Truro-based noise affectionados, Kestrels for decades. Their teaser 7" - Seaside (review)- that came out last year warmed my J Mascis loving heart and the play count on iTunes shows that I've not even come close to tiring of the jam.

The thing that makes them so appealing is how well they balance melody and layers with a love of noise that reminds me of the music I grew up, but never sound dated or formulaic. Honestly, they make the type of songs you'd stumble on when you'd stayed up to watch on The Wedge.

Thankfully, that wait for the record is coming to an end. Primary Colours is slated for an early Summer release (end of June/beginning of July) and the band is giving everyone a sneak preview today on their web site. Sailed On is a 5-minute sparkler, full of beautiful feedback laced guitar notes, drums and catchy "indie-when it still meant something" sing-along vocals. It's gritty, loud, beautiful and already one of the best songs I've heard this summer.

I wont' go into hyperbole mode quite yet, as I'm still waiting to get the full record, but this is one I've marked on the Best-of list months ago and Sailed On does nothing but firm up a spot. If the whole record is this good, you are going to have to move past seeing in red, yellow and blue and open up the whole spectrum.







MP3:: Kestrels - Sailed On
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/kestrelskestrels
BUY:: http://kestrels.ca/

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Reviews:: On Film Covers EP

It's no secret we here at the hill are homers. We'll tell anyone that will listen - and judging by our stats, it seems that's not many - that NS music can hold it's own with any other area in Canada. We've been putting out terrific music for years, and even after a little downturn a few years back, the NS music scene is stronger than it's ever been. Countless artists are getting national attention, but I want to put our shine on a local label that consistently puts out solid releases with little to no fanfare.

The label? Noyes Records (home to Kestrels, The Got to Get, Medium Mood, Memories Attack... oh, and of course Tomcat Combat) and thanks to a surprise email, I was recently introduced to another act that calls the Truro shop home. On Film is the bedroom project of Michael MacLellan, and his creaky folk should warm the heart of any home recording, folk-ie guitar slinger. He’s going to be releasing a full length later this year, but to get everyone ready he released a series of stripped down, grainy covers (title? Covers, natch) on a free CD-R EP.

Opening with the ever popular Fight Test, Michael gives everyone a quick trip around his influences and preferred sounds. The familiar strums give way to his cracking falsetto and honestly, it makes you remember how great the Lips used to be before the theatrics became the biggest focus. MacLellan’s solo take is emotion charged, and the solitutde of the recording works really well. The tracks he chooses to fill out the EP are more surprising. Pulling out a quick hitting, gem from Paul Simon’s self-titled release (Papa Hobo - one of my favorite Simon tunes) and reworking Melissa Etheridge’s tender piano ballad, The Weakness in Me are not your everyday cover choices, but the lo-fi crackle gives the songs the required depth and really opens up Michael to the listener.

The only “new” song is Amy Winehouse’s You Know I'm No Good. Replacing the soulful arrangement and booming voice with nothing more than guitar strums makes the song seem even more desperate (which is pretty amazing considering the original singer’s current state). I’ve never been a fan of guitar reworkings of Top 40 hits, but when someone throws together a free EP of covers, it’s hard to look down your nose at the artist’s decision to just do something fun.

Long story short, this 4-song CD-R isn’t going to change the world. People have been four-tracking covers since the dawn of time, but the songs help get you familiar with On Film and keep you entertained. Considering the company MacLellan keeps and the quick glance at his style Covers provides, it’s hard not to get a bit excited about his upcoming full length.







MP3:: On Film - You Know I'm No Good






MP3:: On Film - The Weakness in Me
MYSPACE:: http://myspace.com/onfilm

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

herohill / music nova scotia artist of the month:: Share

Some big changes here on the hill. For those of you that hit us up on feedburner, you can't see the lovely new design we are sporting (logo courtesy of Jenn Hughes) but trust us, it's there. We busted out a new colour scheme to fit her logo and made listening to the MP3s a bit easier for y'all, but more importantly we have some great new focal pieces for our East Coast readers.

We will slowly be adding a shows calendar, (rant) because heaven forbid any of the venues here could keep an accurate listing. I'm no marketing expert, but I'd think if I opened up a club and needed people to show up and buy drinks and pay cover, I'd at least want to have a web site that told people who was playing?(end rant) We've also thrown together a collection of links for anyone looking for even more info the bands we cover and the venues we see them play.

But most importantly, we are teaming up with Music Nova Scotia to promote local acts. Every month we are going to work with the good people at MNS to select a band, and feature them on herohill for a month in an attempt to showcase the band to a larger audience.

So, without further ado... the first herohill/Music Nova Scotia band of the month is:
SHARE



Band: Share
Members:: Andrew Sisk (vocals, guitar), Nick Cobham (guitar, vocals), Kyle Cunjak (bass, vocals), Dennis Goodwin (synth, guitar) and Zach Atkinson (drums)
Discography:: Ukulele Tragic (2005), Pedestrian 2007(), Slumping in your Murals (2009)







MP3:: Share - Date & Time
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/andrewsisk
WEB:: http://www.sharetheband.ca/

Share – driven by front man Andrew Sisk – has been putting out quality music for years, but with the upcoming release of Slumping in Your Murals (Aug 14/2009) the quintet might finally get the credit their songs deserve. Slumping in Your Murals explores a bigger sound, but still offers up the folky intimacy the band is known for around the East Coast. That’s probably because for the first time, Share is a band not just a recording session to document Sisk’s songs. The band took the time to write together, holing up with Dan Ledwell in a farmhouse and the recording really captures the spontaneous feel of fleshing out ideas whenever they surfaced.

Since the new record isn't coming out until August so we are going to hold off on the full review (spoiler - the duet with Jenn Grant will knock your socks off), but the guys have graciously offered us a sneak preview of the opening track - Date & Time for you to check out. Long story short, the band has progressed so much since we saw them at HPX'07 and they way they experiment with more challenging arrangements is fantastic.

Much like the subject matter they prefer, Share is fixing to leave the comforts of our friendly region with a quick jaunt overseas, followed by a cross Canada tour with Grand Theft Bus and The Olympic Symphonium via train - VIA Rail represent. Be sure to check them out when they stop in your town.

18 May 2009 The windmill (w/ Pit Er Pat) London (Brixton), London and South East
20 May 2009 The Slaughtered Lamb (with the Olympic Symphonium) London, London and South East
21 May 2009 Liverpool Sound City Liverpool, East
23 May 2009 The Cluny (The evolution Festival) Newcastle, Northeast
25 May 2009 The Duchess (w/ Teitur) York, Midlands
11 Jun 2009 Via Rail on board performance (trio) Moncton to Montreal train Moncton to Montreal, New Brunswick
12 Jun 2009 Green Room (with Snailhouse and Silver Starling) Montreal, Quebec
13 Jun 2009 Wally’s Guelph, Ontario
15 Jun 2009 The Cameron House (with Julie Fader) Toronto, Ontario
16 Jun 2009 Kingston, Ontario
17 Jun 2009 Mavericks (w/ GTB and The Olympic Symphonium) Ottawa, Ontario
18 Jun 2009 Clinton’s (NXNE) Toronto, Ontario
19 Jun 2009 Dickens (with GTB) Calgary, Alberta
20 Jun 2009 Canmore Hotel (with GTB) Canmore, Alberta
22 Jun 2009 The Rose and Crown (with GTB) Banff, Alberta
23 Jun 2009 Woody’s (with GTB) Kananaskis
24 Jun 2009 Edmonton, Alberta
25 Jun 2009 The Atha-B (with GTB) Jasper, British Columbia
26 Jun 2009 The Media Club (Vancouver Jazzfest) with GTB Vancouver
29 Jun 2009 Via Rail on board performance (trio) Vancouver to Toronto route Somewhere between Vancouver and Toronto
30 Jun 2009 Via Rail on board performance (trio) Vancouver to Toronto route Somewhere between Calgary and Winnepeg
1 Jul 2009 Via Rail on board performance (trio) Vancouver to Toronto route Somewhere between Winnepeg and Toronto
3 Jul 2009 Via Rail on board performance (trio) Montreal to Moncton route Somewhere between Montreal and Moncton

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Quick Hitters:: Jason Haywood

myspace || label

I’ve been plowing through releases trying to ready my Polaris long list nominations (spoiler - Elliott Brood and Timbre Timber will be on it), and honestly it’s a bit overwhelming. Even with all the great bands everyone gets to hear on CBC3 or college radio, the amount of quality music coming out of Canada is staggering. Every time I think I have my 5 records selected, a song on my IPOD triggers a new thought and a quick reorder. That being said, yesterday I think I hit critical mass with "new shit" and a fresh listen to an old record was just what the doctor ordered.

The Divorcees have made a big splash on the East Coast country scene, arguably fighting neck and neck with Ryan Cook for top spot in the public eye, but former Divorcee Jason Haywood is a little known artist that pens some terrific Canadiana country. I talk about it all the time, but the temptation to put a little steel in your songs is en vogue these days and as a result, the term alt-country leans heavily on the first three letters of the word. For people that grew up with Buck, Merle, or Willie, it must be frustrating to see all the people ignoring the tradition, classic subject matter that makes country music so timeless.

More importantly – especially if you consider that Jason finds a home on Haysale Records, a label run by former Guthrie Serge Samson (a band that honestly was too far ahead of the curve and would be one of the biggest bands in Canada if they were playing now) – the rise in popularity and number of people soaking up Townes or covering The Band must leave a bad taste in some purists’ mouths. When you’ve been playing that music for years and listening for even longer, the cash and dash feel of a lot of artists looking for the hottest sound must sting. Haywood approaches the “alt-country” style from a firm country background, setting up a solid foundation of familiar sounds and subjects. Instead of thinking about how to splice tone setting steel and down on your luck, head on the bar emotions into his tracks, those elements come naturally to his 2005 solo debut, Nothing Stays the Same.

His challenge was to fuse the sounds of those old-time heroes with more popular artists like The Byrds or even Gram Parsons and he handles the mix with aplomb. Honestly, the best compliment I could give him is that the record could have been made 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago. Whether it’s the backing female vocals and straight ahead melody of Waiting for Me, the road weary feel and loneliness A Million Miles Away or the banjo/steel heavy I'll Make it Through, you get the feeling Haywood is an artist that would get the nod from people aged sixteen to sixty. I could throw the record on for my dad or a North End hipster and not receive a complaint from either party.

The best part about taking a look back and digesting Jason’s full record is that now I’m even more excited for his upcoming release (spring '09 on Haysale). He’s giving away the first demo, so take a listen.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reviews:: Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres Hot Times

myspace || web site

Here’s the thing. Country – no, not alt-country or roots... actually country – is a genre that really doesn’t get much attention from the ole music blogosphere. If you aren’t a rebel dressed in black or a pot smoking tax evader, well, you might toil in obscurity unless you get some CMT type love. Thankfully, with people like Corb Lund making a splash in the National scene with original sounds, terrific artists like Ryan Cook are not only being tolerated but celebrated.

South Shore's Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres put out Hot Times in 2008, and the country sounds they play are as good as I’ve heard in forever. Filled with heartache and down on your luck tales, you could easily slip Hot Times into an old juke box in a local bar and as the glasses kept emptying to forget the pain, most patrons would be none the wiser. Like any classic country crooner, he's proud of the place he grew up and lays his hat and tends to prefer the classic subject matter of love, heartaches and hangovers, so when they bust into a traditional sounding gem like Lovin' or a classic about the perils of pretty girls (Pretty Sure), you instantly realize that Cook understands what made the greats great.

But the more you listen to Cook and his band, the more you realize how comfortable they are forming their own sound. He stays true to who he is - I mean, when's the last time you heard someone drop Canso in a song - and it's that confidence helps him experiment with different styles without losing the feel of the record. When they break up the misery and pedal steel on Sharpest Knife with some heavy electric guitar, the track becomes more than just another dance floor swayer. It makes the track explode and stand out. How often do you picture a country singer playing in a coffee shop and winning over the inattentive crowd? Well, if you walked in off the street and heard Cook and Mandy Atkinson creating the warmth that resonates from the beautiful Children Smiled, I have no doubt you'd stay for the whole set.

Growing up we all say things like, “I’ll never be like my Dad”, without noticing that over time we've developed have the same mannerisms. No matter how much we fight it, we are who we are. With Cook, I’m not sure he ever set out to be a country artist – and his punk rawking/heavy metal past seems to prove the point – but over time it just happened and those subtle glimpses of his musical past give the music an authenticity you just can’t manufacture. You just feel like everything about Cook (and his band) is real and that's why a song like Gaspereau Valley hits with the jangle of guitar, banjo and a chorus as catchy as the common cold, they can win over anyone... even those people who say "I like all music, well, except country."

Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres will be up in NL this weekend for the East Coast Music Awards, and if all things are equal, they will walk home with Country Recording of the Year.

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