I continue to be amazed and a little amused that I’ve gained a reputation as a music blogger who artists and bands reach out to in hopes I’ll listen to and write about their music, especially given the fact I play no instruments, cannot read music, have never written a song, and know zero about computer music programs or synthesizers. Hell, I only learned a few years ago that a bass guitar has only four strings as opposed to a standard six-string guitar! That said, I’m immensely impressed by people who can do all those things. I also try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and (almost always) know a good song when I hear it.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature a young, promising musician from Canada who goes by the artistic name PHYSIA. It’s the basement project of 19-year-old college student James Bings, who just released his self-titled debut EP Physia on the 25th of January. Now based in Victoria, James grew up in the small city of Williams Lake, deep in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, and learned to play guitar and bass at a young age. He developed his skills performing live with his late grandfather, mostly jig and waltz songs. Drawing inspiration from bands like Mac Demarco, HOMESHAKE and Mild High Club, he wrote the songs for Physia during his freshman year of university, and recorded, produced and mixed them by himself. He played guitar and bass, and used synthesizers for the percussion.
His songs are all instrumentals, characterized by his lush-sounding reverb-drenched guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The first track “Cool Cat” is an aptly-named, pleasing song with jazz-infused jangly guitars and just a hint of percussion. The title track “Physia” is sublime, with a lovely melody and terrific jangly and chiming guitars. I especially like the watery guitars that appear later in the song that add a bit of funkiness to the track. “Beach Interlude” is a short track, only 1:16 minutes long, but it’s a beauty, with some fine guitar work that conveys images of a romantic night on the beach.
“Nice Dog” is a mellow, happy tune with jazzy, reverb-heavy riffs, accompanied by a pleasant little percussive beat. The song seems to end at the 3-minute mark, then suddenly starts back up with a sped-up version of the same melody and guitar riff, ending on an exuberant note. “Floral” is another brief track, but James’ intricate guitar work is really beautiful.
My favorite is “Drag Queen” which has the most complex and fully-developed melody of all the tracks. The sweeping jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I love the effect of James’ soaring vocals that meld so beautifully with the guitars, creating a wonderful glittery soundscape. I asked James why he gave the track that title, and he said he was inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he and his girlfriend enjoy watching. The laughter of who I’m guessing is James and his girlfriend at the end is a fun touch.
Physia is a great little EP, and a very respectable debut effort that James should be proud of. He’s a fine guitarist and composer, and I really like his sound. I’m confident his skills will continue to grow and improve as he matures, and I’d like to see him use more complex melodies, guitar riffs and synths, and perhaps even try writing lyrics and adding more vocals to his songs.
The cool artwork for the EP was created by graphic and digital artist, editor/motion designer and composer Harrison Ames Barrett https://www.ames.digital/
I’ve noted in previous posts that one of the things I like about Twitter is the huge amount of new music I’m exposed to from the many musicians and bands who follow me. And in addition to all the terrific music, I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know some truly kind and generous people who I can call friends. They’ve not only supported me and my blog, they’ve also shown themselves to be strong supporters of other artists. One of those musicians is singer/songwriter Patrick Talbot, who goes by the artistic name GhostlyBeard.
Somewhat of an enigma, Ghostly Beard is originally from France but now calls Montréal, Québec, Canada home. Preferring the focus to be entirely on his music rather than him, he’s chosen to remain physically anonymous, so he never shows his image on any of his albums or social media, nor does he perform live. That said, he’s a creative and talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a lot to tell us, which he expresses so beautifully through his intelligent lyrics, sublime vocals and dreamy, mellow soundscapes that draw from soft rock, jazz, pop, progressive rock and fusion, among other influences. When listening to his music, one can hear his inspiration from such legendary artists and bands as Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Michael Franks, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Genesis, XTC, and Weather Report.
Ghostly Beard has been a busy man, recording and releasing lots of music over the past year or so, including his superb album Invisible, which dropped last October (of 2017). More recently, he’s released two new songs that will be featured on his forthcoming album Inward, which is scheduled to drop on May 4th, and the subject of this review. The album contains ten tracks that have more of a soft-rock vibe than the jazzier Invisible, though jazz elements are still well-represented on Inward.
Like all his music, the album is entirely self-produced. He wrote all the music and lyrics, played all instruments, and recorded, mixed and mastered the songs at his own Studio GB in Montréal. He sang all vocals, other than for guest vocals provided by Emma Caiman on “Night Train” and his daughter Sarah Talbot on “Going Away.” The imaginative album cover photography is courtesy of Pol Ùbeda. Also, it must be noted that all proceeds from album sales will be given to MusiCounts – https://www.musicounts.ca/ – a Canadian charity organization that promotes music education through a wide variety of programs, including scholarships and providing musical instruments and equipment to after-school music programs and other community non-profit organizations.
The album opens with “How Does It Feel?” a laid-back tune with rather pensive lyrics about feeling that your life hasn’t mattered…that your existence has made no impact on the world: “When you’re so invisible what do you do in the title role? And when you know it’s far too late to take your place again in the human race. How does it feel? To be less than real.” The gently strummed and chiming guitars, accentuated by just a hint of reverb, are really pleasing, and the electric guitar riff that begins in the bridge and continues through to the end adds a nice complexity to the track. The languid drumbeat is accompanied by lightly crashing cymbals and a sweet xylophone that’s heard throughout the track. Ghostly Beard’s smooth vocals are warm and comforting, and seem to lessen the sting of the unhappy lyrics.
The warmth of his vocals, a major characteristic of his overall sound, are strongly evident on the bittersweet “The Love in Your Eyes,” an easy-going song dedicated to his mother, Christiane. His words beautifully express his feelings of loss and missing her in a way that everyone who’s lost a loved one can identify with: “Out of the blue I felt your absence. And into my heart an empty place. I reached for your light, I couldn’t find it. What would I give to see you now! And I had to say goodbye when I knew it would be for the last time. However hard I tried I couldn’t see all the love in your eyes anymore.”
In addition to his smooth, comforting vocals, another signature element of Ghostly Beard’s music is his layered, multi-textured guitar work that imparts a rich, fuller sound. His skillful use of strummed acoustic guitar alongside chiming and distorted electric guitars, all grounded by subtle bass lines, are exquisitely showcased on tracks like the Country-tinged “Gone,” the soft-rock ballad “Let Go” and the jazzy “It Doesn’t Matter.” And his ace guitar playing really shines on the sparkling instrumental track “Autumn Blues,” where his fantastic bluesy guitar work seems to channel Steely Dan.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Night Train.” The captivating song tells the story of two unhappy people on a train fantasizing about a chance encounter: “We were strangers on the night train riding in the dark. Going nowhere to speak of, just escaping from the past. / And the tears started falling down. Was it yours or was it mine? / As the train was heading north, I thought of all I’ve left behind. Who knows what crossed your mind when your eyes crossed mine?” The dream is disrupted by a explosive riff of distorted guitars, then the music calms back down to its previous languid pace as reality returns: “Never spoke and never will. It all happened in a dream. During that fleeting moment in the world that passed away. / We leave so little trace but a memory in the dark. Ooh, taking the life train. Ooh, riding the long way home.” I love the instrumentals on this track, and Ghostly Beard’s vocal harmonies with Emma Caiman are marvelous.
Another standout is the darkly beautiful “9 to 5 (Barely Alive).” Nearly eight minutes in length, the influence of Pink Floyd is clearly evident, with extended guitar riffs floating above a somber but lovely piano movement. The track opens and closes with the sounds of voices as if at a gathering, adding to the sense of isolation. Ghostly Beard sounds resigned as he wistfully sings of the soul-crushing tedium of a 9 to 5 job: “9 to 5, you leave your soul behind and drag your worried mind to earn your place back in the line. / You’re barely alive. Just another day to make it through. All you do is give your light away.”
“Let It Rain” is a pretty but very sad song about being heartbroken over a loved one’s betrayal: “I’ll never trust another one. I need some time to be sane again. My whole being out of hand. Entire world just turned to sand.” Not wanting to end things on a down note, Ghostly Beard delivers upbeat feels on the bouncy album closer “Going Away.” With assistance from his daughter Sarah on backing vocals, he sings about the thrill of getting away from life’s daily routines and problems, and going off on an adventure filled with possibilities. It’s a fitting closing track to an aptly-titled album filled with beautiful, introspective songs.
1. How Does It Feel?
2. The Love in Your Eyes
4. Autumn Blues
5. Night Train
6. Let Go
7. It Doesn’t Matter
8. 9 to 5 (Barely Alive)
9. Let It Rain
10. Going Away
Krosst Out is a talented young hip hop artist from Toronto, Canada. In March 2017, he released his debut EP Life of the Party, an outstanding effort that examined the darker aspects of the party life, and its attendant abuse of sex, drugs and alcohol (you can read my review here). He’s now releasing a new autobiographical single “The Death of Me featuring Jor’del Downz.” It drops February 26, which is also his birthday and will be available on all music streaming and purchase sites.
The track is fantastic, with a strong trap beat and mysterious wobbly synths creating a deep sense of foreboding. The production is flawless and tight, and Krosst Out’s performance shows how his vocals have matured since Life of the Party. He passionately sings of his anxiety and insecurities of trying to make it as a hip hop artist, and the frustration of having to spend much of his precious time working at dead-end jobs instead of devoting it to his music dream:
When I’m gone they’ll know they’re wrong
These words are all I got They’ll never know what I go through It’s the death of me I’ve really been at my wits end lately This back and forth between jobs got me going crazy Now I don’t want to fight with my boss It’s just that he don’t pay me How do you expect me to not say these things? Not pretend that I am not bleeding
Jor’del Downz enters 2/3 of the way through the track, rapping about the pressures of being a rapper and confirming the feelings expressed by Krosst Out:
I’m fed up and I’m stressed out And I could care less about who’s opinion on who’s the next out Probably cause you’re left out But that’s expected when it’s rap I mess with Or any other genre I might invest in
Since the song’s release, Krosst Out has dropped a cool new video that includes only his portion of the track.
See Krosst Out at one of these upcoming Cognitive Diss Eastern Canada Tour shows:
APR 13 FRI – Overtime Sports Bar, Kingston, Ontario
APR 14 SAT – The Diezel Room, Oshawa, Ontario
APR 18 WED – Lexi’s Lounge, Moncton, New Brunswick
APR 20 FRI – Menz & Mollyz Bar, Halifax Nova Scotia
APR 21 SAT – Baba’s Lounge, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
APR 27 FRI – Detour Music Hall, St Catharines, Ontario
APR 28 SAT – Cognitive Diss Tour/ Melotika EP Release Party @ The Cavern Bar, Toronto
Singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson has the voice of an angel. Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Shimmer started out writing and recording Country songs, but has recently drifted toward a more pop-oriented sound. In addition to playing guitar, she’s also a fairly decent pianist. She writes compelling lyrics that speak to the joys and pain we all experience in life, and sets them to hauntingly beautiful piano-driven melodies. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals skillfully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, allowing us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level.
Shimmer has been collaborating with other songwriters, including Michael Jay, John West, Richard Bergman and Relik Gregos, in the creation of her newer songs. She’s recorded five over the past year, in preparation for a new album Pride, scheduled for release in May. One of those songs, released as a single in the summer of 2017, is “Getaway.” Addressing the subject of mental illness, the poignant track offers a positive message of hope and assurance that things will get better.
Everybody needs a little faith, a little love, a little break A private getaway to collect those thoughts inside Everybody needs a getaway sometimes When life is hard and you can’t breathe And you fall to your knees Just remember that everything will be OK When you can’t struggle anymore You’re giving up, you want no more Just remember you can breathe
I’ve stated in previous reviews that one of the things I like about Twitter is how it enables me to learn about so many great artists and bands from far and wide. And though a lot of them are based in large urban centers like Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto and London, many are located in smaller, out-of-the-way locales. One such artist is Swilly, a Canadian singer/songwriter (born Steven Williams) from the northwestern British Columbia town of Kitimat.
Heavily influenced by some of his favorite bands, especially ZZ Top, The Cult, Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman, Swilly is a rocker with a huge sense of humor. He writes the kind of down and dirty, kick-ass songs you wanna hear on a Saturday night, throwing down a few beers with friends at the local Roadhouse – something he in fact sings about on the track “Canadian Beer.” Just good old rock’n’roll, baby!
He’s been a busy guy, writing and releasing lots of songs over the past few years, and in December 2017 he dropped his first full-length album Play It Loud. It’s a long album, featuring 13 great tracks and clocking in at just over an hour. Swilly played rhythm guitar, bass, keys and drum tracks, and sang vocals for all the tracks. He had assistance from Kevin Campbell, who played lead guitar on all but one track (“Breaking some Glass”) where he only played some rhythm guitar, and guitarist Klaus Passegger played lead guitar.
The album gets off to a strong start with “Let the Fire In,” a superb rock track propelled by snarling riffs and a hard-driving beat, the kind that breaks your will to keep still. The influence of ZZ Top – a band I also happen to love – is strongly evident, and this song would do them proud. And not only do the beats and guitars have a ZZ Top vibe, but Swilly’s vocals at times sound a lot like Billy Gibbons. He also channels ZZ Top on the appropriately-named title track “Play it Loud” and the high-energy “Start Talking.”
Swilly slows it down on “Baby I’m Back,” a smoldering rock tune with some terrific bluesy riffs that’ll have you swaying your hips with your honey. Those dirty, bluesy guitars come roaring back even stronger on the deliciously satisfying in-your-face track “You’re a Dick.” Swilly snarls the lyrics informing an A-hole of just what he thinks of him – something I’m certain we’ve all wanted to tell someone:
It’s plain as day to the rest of the world, oh yeah You’re a dick and everyone knows it, oh such a dick You’re a dick. The kind of guy who knows it all You’re a dick. The kind of guy who beats on little girls
“Wasted” delivers some awesome screaming guitars, while the rousing “Who Says” is a little slice of rock’n’roll heaven. Accompanied by tasty riffs of shredded guitars, Swilly defiantly proclaims: “Who says we have to behave? Who says that you gotta be in by 10? I ain’t livin’ someone else’s life, I have to live my own.” Employing generous helpings of funky bass, he dials the thermostat to a slow burn on the sexy tracks “Feels Like” and “Sun Girls.”
Guest guitarist Klaus Passegger lays down some great guitar noodling on the melodic “Breaking Some Glass.” The song’s about letting loose and having a good time: “It ain’t a party if we don’t see you shaking your ass.” Indeed! “Batman” is a real head-banger, with superb gritty and distorted guitar work. Swilly informs his girl of who’s she’s dealing with: “I’m your batman. I’m not always you’re good guy.”
One of my favorite tracks on the album is the lovely ballad “Friends.” It’s a departure from Swilly’s typical hard-rocking style, and the guitar work and vocals are positively sublime. The touching lyrics are about friends who’ve grown from children to adults with children of their own, affirming that their friendship will endure:
We’re all older now, and have kids of our own And we watch with wonder as they find the unknown And the sweet sound of laughter echoes through our yards Recall all the things we thought so hard We’ll all be friends to the end of our days. Our days Cause you and I will always be friends And I will be there when you need me
Play It Loud is a terrific album, chock-full of great tunes that will satisfy your thirst for rock’n’roll the way it was meant to be played. Swilly’s a prolific songwriter, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing lots of new music from him in 2018.
Listening to the music of Guy Paul Thibault, it would be easy to assume he’s from somewhere like Nashville, Tennessee. In reality the singer/songwriter/guitarist – who plays tremendously satisfying folk music with strong country and rock influences – hails from beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. An accomplished musician, Guy Paul has written, recorded and produced six albums on his own. He’s also played acoustic, electric, bass and slide guitar, and sang vocals for original acts and cover bands. In June he released a new album It’s About Time, an appropriate title given the span of 17 years since his last solo album.
I’ve always loved songs that tell a story, and It’s About Time is loaded with them. Let me state right here that Guy Paul is an incredible wordsmith. Through poetic, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous lyrics, his songs address the oft-covered subjects of life, love and heartbreak, but in ways that reveal the contradictory facets of good and evil inherent in each of us. Furthermore, these colorful stories are delivered with his sublime vocals and accompanied by some pretty nifty acoustic and electric guitar. I usually like to highlight a few song lyrics in my reviews, but in this case I’ll be featuring quite a lot of them.
“Here She Comes” kicks off the album with a pleasing country-rock rhythm. Guy Paul instantly hooks us in with his laid back vocal delivery and nimble acoustic guitar. Gentle percussion sets the beat and the sweet violin in the bridge is a nice touch.
One of the best ‘story’ tracks is “Misdemeanor,” a catchy, guitar-driven and wry tune about an older woman who’s still got it, and always out looking for a good time:
Takes the complications with a delicate smile Avoids one night affairs, well she has for a while That’s what she says
Well, hello boys is her natural style
Moves on her prey like a cat in the wild With a closer look, well she’s showing her age But she’s still got her wit and she’s still got those legs
Ahh those legs
Guy Paul turns serious with “Hills,” a compelling song about people living a hardscrabble existence in rural America who’ve endured more than their fair share of military service and the consequential casualties, PTSD and societal breakdown:
You can hide a body forever in these hills A thousand square miles and a hundred little stills They took us from our homes and taught us how to fight Now justice comes in the middle of the night Now terror comes in the middle of the night
He strums his guitar with a forcefulness to match the searing lyrics, backed by an assertive military drumbeat and mournful harmonica. The generous use of electric guitar and bass also lend greater impact to the track.
The poignant “Tallest Man on Earth” addresses the realization that the father you once idolized, thinking you wanted to be like him, wasn’t so high in stature after all:
When I was just a young man, trying not to fall The only thing that seemed to matter was growing up and being tall Growing tall brings great things, like seeing past the trees You can’t hear the whispers, your head up in the breeze He seemed the tallest man on earth
His heart died alone they say, running against the wall He never could comprehend life wasn’t about being tall He seemed the tallest man on earth The smallest man on earth
Another powerful and standout track is “We Just Don’t Care,” a hard-hitting country-rock anthem that speaks to the apathy and sense of futility caused by feelings of betrayal by society and our government. Those sentiments are expressed by an attitude of entitlement – ‘I want what’s owed to me, and to hell with everyone else’:
Sacrifice is such a lonely word There’s not much left in this world We’re all trying the best we can Can’t see the beach for the grains of sand Belief is just a long-lost dream Slowly fades from what I’ve seen Lack faith in our fellow man Lost in time a simple slight of hand This is how we are now And we just don’t care
Guy Paul shows us his rocker side on “Saving Grace,” a rousing song with a driving beat and lots of terrific electric and rhythm guitar riffs. One of my favorite tracks is “Saturday Night,” a catchy and breezy country song about hooking up with strangers to avoid being lonely. The lyrics are rather bittersweet until he lightens things up at the end:
It’s alright, I still got my friends That’s what I’m talkin’ about Hey wait a minute, is that another bottle over there? Same time next week?
“Stay (For Riley)” is a lovely but wistful ballad about saying goodbye to a loved one – or a pet perhaps? “You were my best friend, chased all of my fears. Now you live in every tear. Stay.” Guy Paul serves up jangly guitar riffs on “If I Had,” a really nice folk tune about dreaming of enjoying life by hitting the road in his car with a girl and guitar. Wrapping up the album is the sorrowful “How Far Could I Fall.” The country song speaks of hitting bottom after his girl left him and he sought comfort with booze and drugs.
It’s About Time is well worth the wait of 17 years, as it’s superb on every level. In addition to Guy Paul’s impressive songwriting and musicianship, he was assisted on the album by the musical talents of David Bradshaw and Shawn Cherry.
Before leaving Ottawa, Canada behind, where I just featured The Elegant Devils, I must make a second visit with The Occasional Angels, whose amazing single “Fool For Love” I reviewed last month (which you can read here). The trio, consisting of David Hart, Scott Paterson and vocalist Cris Ruggiero, have dropped a new single “It’s Only Love,” and it’s another fantastic tune. The song was written by Hart and arranged, mixed and produced by Paterson, who also plays all instruments.
Though slower in tempo than “Fool For Love,” it’s even more soulful, and Ruggiero’s bluesy vocals shine once again. “It’s Only Love” evokes images of dancing at a quiet little piano bar like the one imagined in the beautiful video, or spending a romantic evening by the fire with a loved one. Paterson’s lovely piano, gentle percussion and guitar set a warm instrumental backdrop for Ruggiero’s sultry, beguiling vocals. Even though I adore rock music (the harder the better), it’s also incredibly heartening for a middle-aged guy like me to hear great new music like this being made today. Check it out:
A recent submission to my email inbox introduced me to a new EP release by a singer/songwriter from Alberta, Canada who goes by the unusual artistic name Hail Taxi. Intrigued, I checked out the artist and his music and was pleasantly surprised. Born Nathaniel Sutton, Hail Taxi plays indie folk-rock with touches of alt-country and pop, and occasionally meanders into electronica, giving his music a unique sound and style that sets him apart.
Sutton recorded a debut album Dramatic Scene in 2005, as well as a follow-up self-titled album, for Engineer Records under his given name. Both albums were worthy efforts with some pretty good songs (I especially like “Zombies Are Everywhere” and “Worldwide Catastrophe”) . After a five-year-long hiatus, Sutton decided to resume his solo music career under a totally new moniker Hail Taxi. He told me he “chose the name because it is intriguing on how it can be taken a couple different ways: 1. Hail Taxi – when people flag down a taxi for a ride. 2. Hail Taxi – all hail the taxi, salute the taxi! I’ll leave it to the listener to decide on how the name should be interpreted.”
It makes perfect sense, then, that he would name his new EP Apart For So Long. The 5-track offering sounds more polished than his previous work, while still retaining his honest, straightforward folk-rock style. The first track is “Crystal Clear,” a catchy song about overcoming a painful break-up. The song has a wonderful acoustic guitar riff that contrasts with the darker lyrics: “I see you in my dreams, I see you in my mirror. I see you crystal clear, I see you in my pictures. I don’t know why but it’s so hard to move on.” Sutton sings the song in almost a monotone, at times whispering the lyrics, giving the song a haunting, ethereal vibe that perfectly fits the subject. The clever video uses some great footage from silent films, and the song on the video version starts off sounding like an old 78 being played on a Victrola.
Sutton’s signature plucky acoustic guitar and light percussion are nicely employed on the tracks “Northbound” and “We are Not Doomed…Yet.” On “Northbound,” the gentle riff is accented by some scraping sound effects in the middle of the song, perhaps to convey the sense of traveling, and smooth electric guitar is introduced halfway through, adding complexity to the track. Sutton’s pleasing vocals reveal a vulnerability as he sings about telling his love interest how he feels: “Shaky hands, keep ’em steady. With a rose I’m standing. Come on hands, stop shaking. / You’re always in my thoughts, now I’ve been love shy. I like you a lot. / I’m glad we’ve got each other.”
The poetic lyrics on “We Are Not Doomed…Yet” speak to reconnecting with a lost love that he’d hurt, and now wanting to start over and give it another go: “And I looked into your eyes, and you looked into mine. That’s when I knew we are not doomed…yet. And now that you are on my side, I never want to say goodbye. We were apart for so long.”
The EP contains two beautiful instrumental tracks. “Mount Robson” consists primarily of acoustic guitar, gentle drum and violin. The song is basically a simple repeating melody, but the haunting guitar riff is so compelling that the song feels more intense. The gorgeous, synth-heavy “An Untitled Ending,” has a very different sound from the other songs on the EP. I’m a sucker for lush synthesized sounds, and this song has them in spades. Some really excellent guitar work adds a dramatic flourish to the atmospheric track.
All in all, Apart For So Long is a well-crafted EP that makes for a pleasant listening experience. If you like what you hear, support Hail Taxi by following him on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribing to his YouTube channel. The EP, which drops today, November 4,can be purchased on iTunes, Bandcamp or other sites offering music for sale. You can also stream Sutton’s earlier music on Spotify here.