GOOD WATER Leahy (independent/ North 28 Music) ****
Here is the latest release from this Juno Award-winning Canadian progressive folk/ roots group. On Good Water their sterling vocal sound is front and centre of course, but they’ve stepped things up a notch with the addition of electric guitar and accordion to their arsenal of instruments. This record absolutely sparkles.
If you’re not familiar with the group, it features Leahy sisters Julie, Erin, Maria, Siobheann and Denise on vocals, along with their brother Frank on drums. Xavier Leahy has been added on electric guitars, and guest musicians include Bill Dillon (ex-Boomers), Nick Johnson and Adam Agati. In another new development, the band was guided on Good Water by Grammy winning producer David Botrill, noted for his work with Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins, Rush and Afro Celt Sound System.
If it’s possible for an album to be aggressive and breezy at the same time, that would be Good Water. Their reputation as excellent musicians, singers and multi-instrumentalists is on full display over these ten tracks, which makes the depth of their lyrics and songwriting that much more compelling. As always, the songs have personal themes that anyone can relate to; Friend is a tribute to the natural ups and downs of an enduring, life-long friendship, Any Other Way encapsulates the Joni Mitchell truism that something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day, and on balance it’s worth it. And, of course, there are some instrumental numbers where you can sit back and quietly thrill to Leahy’s impressive musicianship.
It’s hard to place Good Water within the context of modern musical genres. Yes it has that east Coast Celtic vibe weaving in and out, it can also be rootsy within the framework of a driving pop song. On first listen this feels like a cross between Enya and The Corrs with an uplifting Disney/ Frozen optimism, but the deeper you dig here the more you realize that the truth is more complex. With such rich vocal harmonies and arrangements and wonderful playing, Good Water will keep you engaged for a good long while.
KEY CUTS: Tears, Any Other Way, Friends
THE BLUES ALBUM Whitesnake (Rhino) *** ¾
This 14 song collection completes Whitesnake’s comprehensive and inventive “Red, White & Blues” trilogy, a ‘best of’ series that started with the Rock Songs set last summer and continued with Love Songs in November. As you might imagine, The Blues Album collects some of the band’s best blues/ rock tracks- hits and deep cuts. Like the Rock and Love issues, these songs have been re-mixed, re-mastered and it’s volcanic.
That the blues is crucial to David Coverdale as a singer was evident when he debuted with Deep Purple on their 1974 record Burn. Artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and BB, Albert and Freddie King had a monumental effect on him. In the liner notes he says “It’s hard to find the words to show how profoundly they connected with my soul. But ‘blues’ to me is a beautiful word that describes emotional expression… feelings, be it feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness… but also those that express great joy, celebration and dance, sexiness and love!” I couldn’t agree more.
If you’re a fan and are already deep into Whitesnake’s catalog, most if not all of these songs will be familiar. The Blues Album includes multiple tracks each from Slide It In and Whitesnake (1987). It also includes songs from Restless Heart, Good To Be Bad and Forevermore, plus a studio bonus track (If You Want Me) from Live In The Shadow Of The Blues and River Song from David’s Y2K solo album Into The Light.
Compilations offering ‘new mixes’ can be borderline atrocious. Kiss’s Smashes, Thrashes & Hits is a prime example, with Eric Carr singing Beth so Gene Simmons could get his hands on the publishing, and I Love It Loud without the big, booming drums is the epitome of lame. For this Whitesnake series, the exact opposite is true. In re-visiting, re-mixing and re-mastering, they’ve made songs from various sources sound and feel like they actually belong on the same record. And there are delightful surprises too, like the new guitar-based mix of Give Me All Your Love from that 1987 record, worth the price of admission here on its own.
The Blues Album (Rock Songs and Love Songs too) are not quick record company cash grabs to milk a few more dollars from the fans. Thought and care have been taken and time well spent to bring these songs forward and making them sound great. With each of these albums I’ve found myself falling in love all over again with songs I haven’t heard in years. All 13 of their studio records are in my collection, some live stuff and Into The Light too; even so, the way the songs have been handled across this trilogy make Blues, Rock and Love crucial additions. Yeah… I’m going to spend the afternoon with Whitesnake.
KET CUTS: Slow An’ Easy, Give Me All Your Love, Too Many Tears
OUT OF THE DARK Joyann Parker (Hopless Romantic Records) *****
Here is some green-eyed soul out of Minneapolis. Out Of The Dark, Ms. Parker’s second album, is a powerhouse combination of jazz, soul and blues driven by her remarkable voice. I haven’t heard a singer with this kind of emotional command and impact since I first heard Beth Hart.
Out Of The Dark sessions started in January 2020, halted in March by you-know-what with basic tracks for 5 songs completed. Sessions re-started in June, but with only a small number of musicians entering the studio at a time. The break in the action was an opportunity for Parker to clear her mind and re-affirm her purpose. “When you’re so busy, you get caught up in the competitiveness of things” she says. “So, it was good to stop and examine why I’m doing this and where I’m going.”
Stylistically, it’s hard to file this disc in just one category. There are elements of soul, blues, jazz, gospel and vintage pop in play, and the bio material that came with this suggests putting it under ‘Americana’ is the way to go, but even that feels restrictive. Carry On, the first single, is a blues/ rock/ gospel combination; “When the dark clouds gather round and the night is dark and long/ when the devil is coming for you carry on, child, carry on”. Gone So Long manifests as southern rock, Bad Version Of Myself moves into funk and R&B, Hit Me Like A Train is a Chuck Berry-style rocker, and Out Of The Dark is a powerful ballad. “I love that song” Joyann says. “It’s about the way I’ve been feeling and changing over the past year, figuring out who I am. I was coming out of my own darkness.” There’s something in that song that we can all use.
Out Of The Dark is a deep record, well worth our undivided attention, reflective of the inner struggles most of us have been going through over the last year. “I’m an artist who shares everything with my audience” Joyann concludes. “We’re all coming out of the dark. Let’s look at how we can be better, how we can heal. Let’s look to the light.” All that aside, on a purely musical level, this is one hell of an album.
KEY CUTS: Carry On, Out Of The Dark, Predator, Hit Me Like A Train
THE BEAST AWAKENS Durbin (Frontiers) ***
Here is a new album for this 4th place finisher from season 10 of American Idol. Known most recently for fronting Quiet Riot (2017-2019) and recording 2 albums with that band, as a singer James Durbin has metal in his veins. With The Beast Awakens, he’s finally been able to make the album he’s always wanted to. “We are establishing the musical direction I’ve been envisioning in my head all these years” James says of his namesake band, “and (with Frontiers) I’m so happy to have finally found a home for it.”
On ‘that TV show’, James sang Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law with Judas Priest, establishing his rock credentials early on. With The Beast Awakens Durbin’s sound holds echoes of 80’s Sabbath, Dio, and classic American heavy metal in general. As a singer he has an impressive range, going for and effortlessly reaching notes Rob Halford is capable of. Halford has good things to say about Durbin, as do Sammy Hagar and Steven Tyler. The kid works hard; his voice can be heard on various other albums.
His band (James is also the rhythm guitarist) digs in and plays hard- bassist Barry Sparks and drummer Mike Vanderhule- but I think their overall sound would have benefitted from a heftier, up front production approach and ballsy mix. There are several guests on this record too on guitars and keys, including vocals from Fozzy front man/ wrestler Chris Jericho. On some of these tracks it feels like they might be playing it safe, perhaps trying to fit into the metal revivalist scene that’s taking hold particularly in Europe, but satisfaction can be had in hard charging numbers like Calling Out For Midnight.
While this isn’t my favorite album so far this year and I haven’t suddenly become a huge Durbin fan, there is much to enjoy on The Beast Awakens that should be heard at maximum volume. James is an impressive vocalist and the overall the band is solid. With some seasoning and a lot of roadwork- let’s hope that becomes possible in the year ahead- this is a good band with the potential for greatness.
KEY CUTS: Calling Out For Midnight, Battle Cry, Kings Before You (w/ Chris Jericho)
TIME FOR A MIRACLE Perfect Plan (Frontiers) ****
Speaking of time, there’s a saying; better late than never. This has been sitting in my download folder since September, and I’m just getting around to it now. If you’re a fan of Foreigner-style AOR rock & roll Time For A Miracle, the 2nd release from this Swedish outfit following 2018’s All Rise, is singing your songs.
Perfect Plan started out in late 2014 in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, writing songs for what would become their debut album released in 2018. One listen to Time For A Miracle and some of those influences will be readily apparent. I can’t speak yet on All Rise, but I’ve been enjoying this disc so much I just took a quick pause and bought it on I Tunes to listen to later. That’s something I never do with a new-to-me band, but I have faith.
I had not heard of the band prior to this yet am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy it. Time For A Miracle is reminiscent of some of my favorite 80’s and 90’s rock; aside from Foreigner I’m also hearing echoes of Journey and Brian Howe-era Bad Company- their non-Paul Rodgers albums weren’t huge, but I have them all and I know what I like. Perfect Plan is singer Kent Hilli, guitarist Rolf Nordstrom, bassist Mats Bystrom, keyboard player Leif Lehlin and drummer Fredrik Forsberg. Their songs are melodic, catchy and tight. To some this might sound like the ‘corporate rock’ that plagued much of the 80’s and I understand that but such observations ignore Perfect Plan’s strengths too, like the sheer musicianship and the songwriting itself. Couple that with great production and it’s almost impossible to argue with this record.
Though Perfect Plan is a Swedish band their sound is quite American, and they’ve really done their homework. Time For A Miracle is rock & roll escapism, that could be why I’m enjoying it so much; songs like Fighting To Win and Living On The Run certainly play into that narrative. From the melodies to the playing and the lyrical content itself, this is a really uplifting album. As soon as I put my keyboard away, I’m going to listen to Time For A Miracle again.
KEY CUTS: Time For A Miracle, Living On The Run, Heart To Stone