POP / ROCK
When the Magic Hits (Midnight Shine Music)
Roots-rocker Adrian Sutherland hails from Attawapiskat First Nation, a Mushkegowuk Cree community on the western shore of James Bay in northern Ontario. He’s lived there all his life and he has worn and continues to wear many hats — he was once an EMT and is now member of a Canadian Ranger patrol, he and his wife own a restaurant/convenience store and he’s also a community leader, traditional hunter and father and grandfather.
That said, Sutherland’s true callings are performing music and storytelling. The 44-year-old singer-songwriter has led Indigenous rock band Midnight Shine for a decade, recording and releasing three albums, and he’s just finishing a memoir of growing up in Attawapiskat, set to be published by Penguin Random House next spring.
When the Magic Hits is Sutherland’s first solo album and he’s clearly looking to leave his mark, seeking out the talents of co-writers such as Serena Ryder, Jay Semko (Northern Pikes) and Colin Cripps (Crash Vegas, Blue Rodeo, Kathleen Edwards), as well as enlisting the producing and performing chops of Canadian roots icon Colin Linden (for seven songs) and Tim Vesely of Rheostatics
That’s a rich supporting cast, but the most impressive thing about this record is Sutherland’s voice — a rich, high tenor that immediately soars above the moody, almost ominous opening of Big City Dreams, a song that articulates the hopes of many in isolated communities. The record’s first track it is a distillation of all that is to come — personal themes explored within a lush musical setting.
Nowhere to Run is Sutherland’s message to his mother, an acknowledgement of her childhood at a residential school and his wish that he could have done more or her. Once That Was You is a lovelorn, Roy Orbison-esque ballad, replete with strings and keening pedal steel, while Scared is a bluesy lamentation of the emptiness of modern life. Right Here (one of the Vesely cuts and the album’s first single) is a kinetic, upbeat celebration of life and love, while the gentle Walk With Me offers the album’s finest vocal performance.
(Note: CD buyers get two bonus tracks — previously released solo single Respect the Gift and Politician Man — both of which are worth it.) ★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Big City Dreams, Nowhere to Run, Walk With Me.
— John Kendle
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Long Time Coming (Rounder)
West Virgina native Sierra Ferrell may not be the missing link between Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur and Iris DeMent, but she bridges the years and stylistic links between them with admirable poise and earthy charm.
Ferrell has been championed by such roots-music savvy artists as Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson. She seems to have stepped, fully formed, out of an alternate creative universe that is entirely free of artifice, fuelled by musical purity and authenticity.
Asked in a recent interview how she describes her music, Ferrell replied: "Past life."
It’s an accurate response, but it doesn’t do justice to how impeccably crafted her trend-free music is on this 12-song album. Ferrell co-wrote 11 of those songs and her consistency of quality would be impressive in far more experienced and acclaimed artists.
Steeped in tradition, yet fresh and vital, Ferrell’s music defines and transcends Americana. It’s a stylistic tag that seems well-suited for her work, but is ultimately inadequate. And the fact that her unadorned country ballad of failed love, Made Like That, amassed four million views on YouTube — before she earned a record deal — underscores how hungry discerning listeners are for music so genuinely homespun.
There’s not a single false note on Long Time Coming, Ferrell’s overdue debut album. She is completely in her element whether singing gentle swing (The Sea), a perky mambo (Why’d Ya Do It), a ragtime-flavoured ode (At the End of the Rainbow), a jaunty bluegrass song (Silver Dollar), a snappy calypso (Far Away Across the Sea), or a new country song that sounds wonderfully weathered (West Virginia Waltz).
The album also boasts finely nuanced support from dobro master Jerry Douglas, guitarist Billy Strings, multi-instrumentalist Sara Jarosz and other like-minded musicians. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Silver Dollar, West Virginia Waltz
— George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune
Kenny Wheeler/Johnny Dankworth
Windmill Tilter (Fontana/BGO Records)
I confess to being a huge Don Quixote/Man of La Mancha fan, as well as loving the music of Kenny Wheeler, so this reissue was bound to catch my eye. (My mouse pad is Picasso’s Quixote sketch.)
In 1969, Canadian-born trumpeter Kenny Wheeler teamed up with the English Johnny Dankworth Orchestra to release this album, referred to as "The story of Don Quixote told by Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra." While alto player Johnny Dankworth is sometimes defined simply as the (then) husband of singer Cleo Laine, he led a truly fine jazz ensemble for many years. Wheeler is always considered Canadian (by us), although he spent most of his adult life in Britain. He was one of the real trumpet masters in all of jazz.
The music here is wonderful, a nine-part suite that outlines the theme perfectly. While reflecting a big band style that perhaps has changed since 1969, it doesn’t sound in any way dated. There is excellent writing and wonderful solos by Wheeler and especially by tenor player Tony Coe. Wheeler’s sometimes beautifully melancholy sound is perfect for the concept of the story. A young Dave Holland is on bass, and a young John McLaughlin is on guitar, making this an even more interesting historical release.
Wheeler’s compositions are evocative as they weave through the life of the famous windmill tilter and his sidekick. The album starts with a lovely Preamble before moving into Don the Dreamer, which kicks the mood and the energy into the description of the early adventures of our hero. Coe’s solo here is terrific as it sets up Wheeler to drive it home.
Sweet Dulcinea Blue is a gentle ballad with McLaughlin and Wheeler leading the message. Other tracks, such as Sancho and The Cave of Montesinos, move the musical story along all the way to Don No More, which ends the album. Highly recommended. ★★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Propheticape, Don the Dreamer
— Keith Black
Rachmaninov: oeuvres pour piano
Luis Fernando Pérez (Miraré)
In his seventh album on the Miraré label, award-winning Spanish pianist Luis Fernando Perez performs works by Sergei Rachmaninov, described in his own exuberant liner notes as a composer who "has always been a very close friend, one I have always had a special love for."
Regarded as a specialist in Catalan-Spanish piano literature, including works by Granados, Mompou, Albeniz and Falla, the musician provides the first taste of his luminous artistry in Moments musicaux Op. 16, written over three months in 1896 and amid both personal and professional turmoil.
Two highlights include No. 4, Presto, which immediately displays Perez’s bravura ability to withstand the rigors of the relentless left-hand sextuplet figuration, and a shimmering No. 2, Allegretto, providing contrast to the more lyrical opening No. 1, Andantino and No. 3, Andante cantabile. His careful voicing of sonorities is particularly apparent during the more gently rocking barcarolle, No. 5, Adagio sostenuto, leading to the climactic etude, No. 6, Maestoso, with the pianist once again bringing clarity to its densely written textures.
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2, a frequently heard encore piece and oddly disliked by the composer himself for overshadowing his other compositions in popularity, follows, with the pianist’s deeply felt interpretation of his first Rachmaninov piece, learned at age 10, reflecting his history with the work. The album rounds out with four additional Preludes from Op. 23, spanning the highly romantic No. 4 in D Major, contrasted by a too lightly militaristic No. 5 in G major, another unabashedly lyrical No. 6 that sets the stage for an enthralling finale of No. 2, fuelled by thundering arpeggios and cascades of sound. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 performed by Luis Fernando Pérez
— Holly Harris