Ann Vriend’s Love & Other Messes Is One of My Top 2 Favourite CDs of 2011

CD Review
Title: Love & Other Messes
Artist:  Ann Vriend
Label: Independent
Released: 2011
Stars:  4.5

I should have written this a LONG time ago but I generally don’t review the work of my clients once they’ve become a client as this could be seen as a conflict of interest and undermine the influence of my opinions, for all they’re worth.  However, I have to make an exception in the case of Ann Vriend’s Love & Other Messes.  Critically acclaimed by numerous major Canadian newspapers & publications, listed on CKUA Radio’s Top 100 of 2011, honoured among The Ottawa Sun’s Top 7 Indie Album Picks for 2011, and following successful Canadian, Australian, Dutch & German tours to showcase it, Love & Other Messes is one of my top two favourite CDs of 2011. I’m declaring this because Ann’s a superb talent and not because she’s my client.  I started out as a fan and I’ll be one of her biggest fans forever!

Love & Other Messes, Vriend’s 6th album since 2003, is a collection of 12 exquisitely crafted songs, punctuated by Ann’s unique and easily recognizable vocals, that can’t be defined by one genre.  It falls somewhere between pop, soul and Americana, and opens with the country ballad “Everybody Sings in Nashville”, a song with backing vocals by Coco Love Alcorn & Chloe Albert that should have been a hit in Nashville and would be if Dolly Parton sang it.  (There’s still hope!)  “Best Thing” is a sophisticated, upbeat pop ditty with echoes of Motown careening through it, also supported by the very gifted Alcorn & Albert, and highlighted by Ann’s keyboards as well as Alcorn’s trumpet and the distinguished organ of David Aide (which is the case for every track).  James Forrest contributes bass, Robin Pelletier and Alan Wall play guitars and Thom Bennett adds drums throughout.

“Don’t Cry” is a revamped, stripped down version of the same pop ballad that was over produced on Vriend’s 2nd album, Modes of Transport.  This is by far the superior version of the song but it’s one of my least favourite tracks on Love & Other Messes.  “The Way You Let Me Down” is bluesy pop with some of the best playing by the musicians on the album not to mention a prime example of Vriend’s spectacular ability to hit some really high notes!  The blues make another appearance on “Possession Blues”, a simply produced song with only piano, guitar & vocals, and its’ recording reminds me immediately of Robert Johnson.

“Excuses No. 1-8” is a stark, plaintive piano ballad depicting various excuses one may give for not wanting to marry that certain someone while “More or Less” reiterates the importance of accentuating the positive while gently letting a lover down by not lying to them about your feelings.  “Tin Man” is a splendid ballad, using a brilliant metaphor from Oz, the likes of which you may have heard from the star that is Jann Arden.  Love is messy after all.

“Graffiti On My Heart (You Must Not Love)” is the only song of its kind on this CD, recorded live with a gang of vocal participants who carry on the bracketed refrain, and with its memorable gypsy/carnival romping sing-a-long gives Ann a reason to play the kazoo when she plays it live.  Sheer fun!

There are so many great tracks to choose from that it’s hard to pick a favourite.  I have three favourites including the sultry & divine duet with Matt Epp, “If You Were Here”, a ballad dedicated to the incomparable Jeff Buckley; “Long Distance Call”, another impressive ballad with background vocals by Epp that reminds me of someone special from my past; and my very favourite, the gospel charged call for divine assistance that should impress even Van Morrison and was my mantra for 2011: “Somebody On The Ground.”

Love & Other Messes’ CD packaging design by Simon Farla is the best of all of Vriend’s collection and offers a 28 page lyric booklet with terrific sepia tone photographs featuring splashes of washed-out vermillion.  Oh, and I was very honoured to be mentioned in her Thank Yous too.

You will honestly be hard-pressed to find many other female, Canadian singer-songwriters who aren’t already a household word who deserve to be more than Ann Vriend.  If she stays true to her own vision and continues to write classy songs of this magnitude, I have no doubt that she will be a Canadian music legend some day.

Roadhouse Sun by Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses

CD Review
Title: Roadhouse Sun
Artist: Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses
Label: Lost Highway
Released: 2009
Stars: 4.0

I saw the brilliant movie Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal yesterday and it changed my life a little bit. Discovering a new artist that rocks you to your very foundation and connects with your spirit is a rare thing, but Ryan Bingham, who sings the Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated song, The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart), co-written by Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, has done just that. With his beautiful doe eyes, old soul, and whiskey & cigarettes voice, he’s grabbed my attention and won’t let go.

Last year, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses released their second album for Lost Highway RecordsRoadhouse Sun – to positive critical reviews. Bingham, although born in New Mexico, calls Austin, Texas home and as that’s a place I’ve spent a bit of time in on and off since 1985, it fostered my love for roots rock that’s peppered with country, Cajun, and blues.

Ryan, a former rodeo and roadhouse performer, and his accomplished band: Corby Schaub (guitar & mandolin), Matt Smith (drums) and newest member, Elijah Ford (bass) have released a 12 track collection of personal, political, hard-living, superior country cross-over songs on Roadhouse Sun. Imagine a cocktail mixed with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Kris Kristofferson and you will have an idea of the flavor of this offering. Influenced by Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others, Bingham sounds like someone much older than his 28 years and doesn’t hesitate to offer up his personal, painful experiences for the sake of his songwriting. Thoughtful, honest lyrics punctuate authentic, enthusiastic southwestern melodies and while some of his lyrics may be somewhat clichéd, Bingham’s voice will hold you enslaved.

Roadhouse Sun is an album with style and substance and it opens with Day Is Done, a slide steel rocker infused with wailin’ blues, followed by Dylan’s Hard Rain, an alt-country-folk-rock political anthem for these times that pays tribute to the 60s. Tell My Mother I Miss Her So is a foot-stomping, barn-burner of a folk ditty and Country Roads, a harmonica-laced highway rocker. The slightly Spanish, sparse acoustic ballad Snake Eyes features a bittersweet vocal performance akin to Bingham’s on The Weary Kind and is one of my favourites. Change Is has been described as “seven minutes of meditative, hypnotic riffing that builds to a near-psychedelic crescendo as Bingham spins his tale of empowerment and responsibility”, but it’s not my favourite track on the album. I prefer the slower tempo, piano and steel guitar stylings of the Rollin’ Highway Blues and the humourous political rant, Hey Hey Hurray.

For me, this quote says it all:

Smokey and yearning, Bingham’s songs of border-town heartbreak tremble like living, breathing things- Epic yet intimate, rugged but crafted, Bingham forces you to hang on his every whiskey-drenched word. – Matt Diehl, BlackBook

I’d really love to see Ryan team up with Jack White to write some songs because I think that pairing could inspire some explosive thunderbolts of musical genius. If he doesn’t succumb to the bottle that almost swallowed Bad Blake whole in Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham has one helluva future ahead of him and I want to bear witness to it.

Scully Love Promo Review Policy

I am open to accepting review requests from authors, agents, publishers, and publicists. If you would like to have your book read and reviewed by me then please read my review policy and contact info here. When contacting me, please be sure to include a description of the book as I will reserve my right to graciously decline if I don’t think it’s for me. Please be advised that it may take me several months to get to your book for a review but if you send it to me, I WILL read and review it.

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Some Choice CD Reviews for 2008

Hello and welcome to Scully Love Promo Reviews! I’m Christine Bode and I’ve been writing CD and concert reviews for a Kingston, Ontario entertainment website owned and operated by the fabulous Chris White called for almost four years. I would like to begin my new blog by sharing my most recent CD reviews for with you here:

Vancouver, British Columbia’sThe Ormidales

Find out what an ormidale is and why this Canadian genre-bending, melodramatic alt-country and electro-acoustic pop band sounds so decidedly British!

Kingston, Ontario’s – Craig Mcintyre

Find out why Craig’s soulful, rockin’ second CD, Silent, is my favourite CD of 2008!

London, England’s – Andy Smythe

Discover this talented acoustic folk rock artist and why Mike Scott of The Waterboys thinks he’s got it going on in Live For The Future:

Edmonton, Alberta’s – James Murdoch

Unlock the secrets of his perfect pop album In Transit:

I hope you enjoy my reviews, which I’ve been told are more like mini biographies. I believe in letting people know as much as I can about the artist because most of them are independent artists whom you may not have heard of…yet!