Greg Drummond: Drive

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Greg Drummond released his second full length album Drive last week and embarked on a month long tour of Western Canada.

Drive is a solid representation of the various strengths of Greg Drummond and his band. It has its fair share of folk-n-roll upbeat tunes that defined his first album, but the true standouts are some of the emotionally weighted tracks that have significant depth both lyrically and in their musical arrangements. The arrangements on the whole are stronger and leave a lasting impact while the songs are primed to connect with the listener in a personal and individual way.

Having spent many hours in the company of this album over the last week, it is safe to say that my connection with the songs has solidified. Music can be cathartic and revealing, but it can also be pure entertainment, simply something to distract you from the daily grind of life. Greg Drummond’s album Drive achieves a myriad of connections throughout its 11 tracks. There are songs that will relax you, inspire, spark a certain memory, take you to an imagined reality, get you dancing, work well in the background of a get-together with friends, or to put on repeat during a long car ride when you need to think on something important. For an album to have elements that make a personal impact in a variety of ways is an achievement to be celebrated.

There is something for everyone within the 11 tracks; here is a selection of my personal choice pics:

The Jasper – This instrumental has that Coldplay-esque quality to it that digs deep and carries you away; Man On The Hill – The guitar riff that opens this track and reappears throughout gets me every time, and the song’s lyrical story provides a mystery to get lost in; Against The Sun – Everything about this song grabs me, the harmonica intro and interludes, tempo choice, lyrics, the specific tone of Drummond’s voice, female vocal accompaniment, I could go on and on; Worse For Wear – It builds to provide the most beautiful climax to not only the song itself but the entire album, exquisite arrangement and perfect placement; Terminal Street – In the last few days I have been drawn more and more to this track, like many others the arrangement is pulling me in to the point where I can’t let go.

Greg Drummond has developed a signature sound that continues to mature. Drive achieves a broad universal appeal, with songs that have the ability to reach audiences on a large scale. The high quality production value of the album incorporates the wide array of instrumental choices in a format that is accessible and appealing. At the heart of the album is Greg Drummond himself, whose voice is one that you want to take with you, as it provides a sense of comforting strength that we can all use once in awhile.

For links to music, tour dates, social media feeds and more visit http://www.gregdrummond.com.

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Photo credit: Creative Copper Images.

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Damn Fools: LIVE at the Serenity acreage with a reason to celebrate

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Having your expectations met is a great feeling. Especially when those expectations were rather lofty, maybe even somewhat fantastical.

When Damn Fools agreed to perform here with only two weeks notice we all had to pinch ourselves. The band that had been originally booked for the date was not able to make it, and canceling the show was not an option. This night was intended to be a celebration concert for venue owner Shirley de Vooght officially being in remission after completing five months of chemotherapy following her leukemia diagnosis this past December. She never dreamed one of her favourite bands who are on the lineup for the Harvest Music Festival in September would come all this way for one show. But they did, and they did with an enormous amount of respect, heart and humility. It was no small feat to arrange their various schedules in such a short amount of time, but they pulled it off and gave Shirley the night she deserved.

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Damn Fools is a rock band based out of Vancouver, and I don’t use the term ‘rock band’ loosely. Imagine a 60’s-70’s era garage band right before they become platinum record selling headliners. With talent burgeoning from every angle, and dreamy looks that make audiences swoon, this 6 piece band is aimed at making their mark in Canadian rock and roll; an impressive feat in the present state of the popular music scene. Not that I would ever be an extremist and remotely hint at rock and roll being dead, but at times it can be harder to find in the sense of experiencing it.  After the show a few of us were talking about the loss of real connection in society in general and how this particular venue’s philosophy is to have people connect in person through experiencing live music. Watching Damn Fools lay it out on the stage like they did was like a punch in the gut to say, “Do you feel that?” I did feel it, along with the company of others, and then we were all given the space to talk about music and anything else that came to mind under a sky full of stars around a glowing fire to our hearts content. What a concept.

One of my barometers of a great rock band are guitar riffs that get under your skin, you know when your body almost tenses up because you dig it so much? In my opinion riffs can do more for how a song connects than lyrics; they can be everything from sad to sexy. Lead guitarists Andrew Twining and Alex Gordon-Firing were mesmerizing in how their individual solos and understated chord progressions balanced out over the course of the night. They have this intense focus and energy that is completely in sync although they are on opposite ends of the stage and rarely look at each other. It was impressive.

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Lead singer Mike Twining has both the voice and look to take this band as far as it dares. By the second set when the band had really found its groove, Mike let loose and brought the house down by the end of the night. When a singer can really give ‘er and hit those notes while looking like he’s on the cover of Rolling Stone, it’s fairly clear they are headed in the right direction.

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The baselines performed by Chris Ball were some of the most memorable to date at the venue. Sometimes bass players get lost in the shuffle. They are there to support and define the harmonic motion of the song, not to get noticed. But when a bass player is as good as Chris, they are hard to ignore. He also has really cool coloured eyes – kind of a smokey grey/green/gold in case you were wondering.

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Drummer Jovan Vujatovic nailed it. He’s a rock star plain and simple. He also has this natural way of making people feel at ease which is appreciated and memorable.

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Mike Turner on keys was unfortunately unable to join the band for this show, which makes the anticipation for their return here in September that much greater.

I spent the majority of time chatting with Andrew and Mike Twining after the show, the songwriters and brothers who are very much at the core of how this band came to be in 2012 and what has kept them together.

As it turns out five out of the six band members have known each other since childhood, with some of them playing together previously on a different music project before it dissolved and Mike and Andrew began to write music that was inspired by the sounds their father raised them on.  Their parents even made the trip for this show from their home near Penticton. It is always special when artists bring family or friends along with them to the venue. It provides another level of connection and creates a context for who they are and where they come from.

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Mike and Andrew’s mother is from Peru, which they have visited often throughout their lives, including spending a year there as a family when they were younger to immerse themselves in the culture and develop deeper relationships with their extended family. Although not raised by classically trained musicians, their parents always had music playing in the house and their father had an epic vinyl collection that set the foundation for their love and appreciation for classic live off the floor recordings. Their mother described them as being very athletic from a young age, which influenced her decision to not introduce formalized music lessons as an option until she felt they could be responsible for practicing and were ready to give up some time playing sports. They were instant naturals and music has been what ultimately bonded them as brothers.

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From my brief time shared with them, I went away musing how their different personalities are beautifully reflected in their roles within the band. Mike, the expressive and dynamic older brother who wants to take the time to get it right and Andrew, the easy going younger brother who has a deep passion for music in general with a gentle, accessible quality that is nothing short of endearing.

One of my favourite things about seeing a band perform live for the first time when I am already somewhat familiar with their music is how their songs come alive on the album when I listen to it again after the show. Known as a band to see live, their album is as close to an auditory replica of their live show as you are going to get.

Choice tracks from their debut album “Off The Floor:” I’ve Been Waiting – a fun party song that will get people pouring drinks, dancing and having a great time; On Your Own – a feel good track to sing along to and get you through whatever your day has in store; Commotion – continues to build and build and makes you want to lose all inhibition about 2/3 of the way through; Miss Saigon – has a little of everything from killer lyrics to just the right amount of kick – it’s just cool; Storm – this is the song you put on while cooking dinner which eventually leads to you dancing with that special someone and you both end up forgetting all about the food…remember how I said guitar riffs can be sexy? Yep.

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The band is currently focusing on writing and we had the chance to hear some of their new songs performed live. Two standouts were “Struggling” and “All My Love” – hopefully they will end up on the new album when recording time comes around.

A huge thank you to Damn Fools for making the effort to be here and for completely rocking it out for our appreciative crowd. A truly memorable night.

If you want to see this band up close and personal (which you do, believe me you do), join us for the Harvest Music Festival September 11-13, 2015 here at Serenity. Damn Fools are on the lineup and they will be camping out on the acreage.  You don’t want to miss it! http://www.serenitymusic.ca/harvest-music-festival

Damn Fools performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on June 13, 2015.

Visit http://www.damnfoolsmusic.com for links to music, tour updates, social media feeds and more.

Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem @ Serenity Performing Arts Centre, June 13, 2015.

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The Lion The Bear The Fox 3.0

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I still don’t have a formula for how these pieces come to be. I can write something the night of the show, within a week, or if life is really busy, it can stretch over two. For what it is worth, I continue to use this online space as more of a public journal, to reflect on how a show made me feel, and what the artist has come to represent in my mind and my heart.

Last Sunday night, I packed up my truck with a blanket, met some friends and headed out to experience the first outdoor show of the year on the expansive grounds of Serenity Performing Arts Centre along the North Thompson River.

The band gracing the stage was The Lion The Bear The Fox (Christopher Arruda, Cory Woodward and Ryan McMahon). It was their third time performing here together.

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The lives of these three men have become harmonious with one another over the past three years as they have grown together as a band from that of solo artists.

What they have is something special, they are not just in a band together, they are best friends, they are brothers. It is this kinship to one other that has elevated the quality and heart of their music.

I tend to refer to the live shows out at Serenity as an experience. You don’t just listen to the music, you feel it, you breathe it, you live it.

For the band and the audience on this night, it felt as though we were getting to know one another among the vastness of open space surrounding us. The transition from house concerts in a tightly confined space to 45 acres of open sky can take time to adjust to. As an audience, the beauty of the surroundings always enhances the music, but the physical space creates a different energy from the intimacy of the house concert experience.

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As the night went on, people became attuned to the fresh air, how loud we needed to cheer to have it resonate with the band, and to the messages that each of these men conveyed.

What was immensely clear is the respect each of them have for one another, the music they create, the people they perform it for, and being able to perform in the first place.

At the mid-break set they dispersed among the crowd, catching up with those they had met before, meeting those they had not, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the venue.

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The highlight of the entire night was when Ryan made the call to move the show down to the bonfire for an acoustic performance of their last three songs. This was a genius move as not only did it give people a chance to warm up around the fire, it solidified a connection between the band and the audience.

Christopher, Cory and Ryan all have their unique qualities – from the tones of their voices, to the lyrics in their songs, each brings something different that provides a balancing quality to their three-piece ensemble.

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It was incredibly interesting to have seen Ryan play solo only a week before. His energy was completely different this time around with the band. His antics and emotional intensity was tempered, he was balanced. This is what they bring to one another, balance.

As I write this, Cory has left their current tour for the best possible reason – to be at his wife’s side for the birth of their first child. Cory was bursting with anticipation, the love for his wife just hanging there, waiting to return where it belonged. But he still gave his time and attention to the audience, listened to their stories, delighted in their company and performed in a heartfelt way.

As it turns out, Cory only left the tour for a few shows and was back in the fold last night, with his beautiful family in tow!

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Maya Angelou once said, “ I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thank you to The Lion The Bear The Fox for inspiring feelings of hope, love, loss and redemption.

The band is currently on tour. Check out http://www.thelionthebearthefox.com for details. They have a special live EP available for purchase on this tour with some audience favourites. Choice tracks: “All I Ever Do,” a political, yet heartfelt tune with a timeless message and melody; “Above,” one of the most touching, beautiful songs I have heard in awhile (written on behalf of their friend for his children before he passed away).

With peace and love I dedicate this to Cory, his wife Sarah and their newborn daughter Willow.

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Ryan McMahon

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Disclaimer: This is not a review, because it would be callously unfair to write a review or even refer to this as a complete piece when I was unable to stay for the entire show. This was a first for me due to the fact that I brought my young children who needed to get home to their beds so I could remain a somewhat responsible (albeit effortlessly cool) mother.

So why write anything at all? Because Ryan McMahon is so fucking dynamic that’s why. Award for “First curse word in a piece” goes to you Ryan.

Seriously though, there is enough entertainment value in 5 minutes watching this guy then I have seen others attempt in an entire night.

To see someone so passionate about their art that it translates to this electrifying, intense, bursting-at-the-seams energy is an experience in itself. It also helps that he has one of the tightest voices you can hear live. His pitch, tone and volume are on point every time and his ability to change everything within one song for emotional effect is incredible.

It is also worth mentioning that Ryan is among those few people who look better the closer you get to them in proximity. I kept thinking, “Isn’t he older than me with more kids than me? Why does he look 10 years younger than me, like seriously, who has skin that perfect?” Perhaps for him, making music is his own fountain of youth (or fantastic genetics, either one).

A warning however. Anyone who is faint of heart or who clearly cannot take a joke at their own expense must be prepared at a Ryan McMahon house concert. He is ruthlessly sarcastic and lives up to his moniker “The Fox” from his highly acclaimed 3 piece band; he is quick, sly and ready to bite at any moment. He creates this chaotic energy that makes you want to punch him or hug him, preferably at the same time. But this is what makes up the entertainment value of his artistry. He puts it all out there. He is ready to embarrass himself just as easily as anyone else, and isn’t afraid to show every facet of human emotion.

His performance calibre aside, Ryan McMahon is a master songwriter. He has the ability to write a chorus that you can sing along to within seconds of hearing it and makes you wonder why it isn’t a chart topping hit. The man is one of BC’s true artistic treasures. I could go on and on about his charity work, family ideals, writing and producing credits and the much anticipated The Lion The Bear The Fox upcoming tour. Without a doubt, as I drove away at the mid-show break, my heart sank knowing I was going to be missing one hell of a second set.

Ryan McMahon performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on May 14, 2015.

Visit http://www.ryanmcmahon.com for music, bio, links to social media feeds and more.

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JJ Shiplett: Something To Believe In…

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Two weeks is a long time to wait to write a piece…even for me. There are many reasons why it has taken this long to put words to JJ Shiplett’s most recent visit to this back road venue, but the only one that matters in the context of JJ himself is the trickiest to explain.

You see, JJ Shiplett is a star. He was the moment he arrived on the doorstep of this humble home-turned music venue. After each subsequent show here, this reality has only become clearer and sunken in that much deeper.

Serenity matriarch Shirley de Vooght knew it the moment she heard his voice. His initial producer, mentor, and friend Ryan McAllister has known it for as many years as he has known him. Every fan he has garnered has also come to believe this to be true. The only person who didn’t know it was JJ himself.

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This past visit, I saw something in JJ that I had not seen previously. His talent was always there of course, but his charming Canadian self-deprecation was no act. But this time, he was beaming from within. There was a lightness about him that exposed a sense of hope and wonder that had not been present before. Not that he was ever overly serious, but I always had a sense that he was waiting to succeed at failure. Not now. Maybe it took a certain someone, or even a certain amount of time to see what everyone else has been telling him for so long; that the ‘something to believe in’ he has been belting his heart out about for years is right there in the mirror.

I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do. But as sure as the sun rises and sets, a good sounding voice and some well written songs never goes out of style, and JJ Shiplett has that locked down solid.

Be sure to find yourself at any show you can get to in coming months, and don’t miss his performance at this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival, July 23-26, 2015.

JJ Shiplett performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on April 11, 2015.

http://www.jjshiplettmusic.com

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Scott Cook & The Second Chances

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What is there to say about Scott Cook which has likely not already been said? For an artist who has circled the globe more than once touring and performing his music steadily over the past 7 years, it seems a tremendous feat to put words to what he has accomplished as an independent artist and be somewhat original.  I can speak to what I experienced as an audience member here at Serenity Performing Arts Centre, one of the countless shows he has performed to a multitude of venues and crowds.

Scott Cook gives the impression of a man who has gotten to know himself quite well and is suited to who he is just fine. He is casually charming and confident without a hint of bravado. Serenity’s venue owner Shirley deVooght judges the character of the artists she books almost as highly as their musical talent, and Scott Cook’s name has come up often in both categories since he last played here 3 years ago.

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Joined by his acoustic band mates The Second Chances consisting of Bramwell Park on banjo, guitar and harmony vocals, and Melissa Walker on upright bass and harmonies, Scott Cook serenaded the room with songs that told tales with intricacy and wit, while the trio delivered fluent musicianship with exquisite timing.

A touch of whimsical nature lies within the heart of this vegabond songwriter. There is an undeniable twinkle in his eye that tells of adventures had and lessons learned. If one was to do the math his age is easily placed, but he possesses a sly youthful gaze that omits a Peter Pan-like energy which is dazzling and interesting to say the least. But one should expect nothing less from a man whose voice can breeze right through you like a warm summer wind and beckon down into the depths of the most hardened of hearts. With hands as strong as oak, they brushed over his guitar with the softness and quickness of a hummingbird’s wings. I delighted in the show from start to finish.

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When you can sit back in the comfort of a venue that treats both its performers and audience with the warmest of hospitality and kindness, every show becomes its own unique experience and beautiful memory. Reflecting on Scott Cook’s performance, it was the details in the stories of his songs that he delivered with both sincere intention and a healthy dose of fun that truly stood out.

He mentioned the network of house concert opportunities he has had the pleasure of connecting himself with over the years and how these shows have kept him afloat in the sea of bars and less-than-appealing “gigs” he has had to endure in order to keep himself employed as a full time musician. It is the connection that house concerts breed that I imagine is a desirable and gratifying experience for any artist, but not all can win over a room with as much ease and talent as Scott Cook.

From the looks of his website, Scott Cook never stops. After only being back in Canada for a few weeks following his 3 month tour in Australia, Scott Cook is globe trotting yet again as he embarks on a UK tour running from April 24 – June 14, 2015. When he returns he will head right into a North American tour with his full electric band The Long Weekends for their album release “Scott Cook & The Long Weekends Go Long.”

Fellow Canadian artist and touring musician Jeff Pike from Windborn was here on a mid-tour stop with his family to take in Scott Cook’s show and said, “I’ve never come across a musician who has lyrically nailed the musician’s life so perfectly.” It’s no surprise that Scott has an unending number of musicians that rally to his side in each corner of the world (including his home-away-from-home Taiwan) to accompany him on stage. From a constant touring schedule, to designing his own album art, to writing personal essays to share with his fans, this Edmonton-based artist is one of a kind.

Choice highlights: “When We’re Back Around” – the tender-hearted lyrics coupled with the melodies of the band sparked something special; “The Bus Song” – it is a safe assumption that this tune is enjoyed by most as a quick witted tale with a Johnny Cash flare; “The Lord Giveth (and the Landlord Taketh Away)” – because who doesn’t dig a song about sticking it to “the man.”

Scott Cook & The Second Chances performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on April 9, 2015.

Visit http://www.scottcook.net for news, tour dates, music downloads and more.

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Ryan McAllister: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…

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Ryan McAllister, what a treat. Truly, he is an artist to be reckoned with. The once front man of a high profile Canadian rock band on the rise, his resolve to lead a life centered around family, faith and music is something to behold. As only he could attest, choices that ultimately forced a life of fame and fortune out of reach in turn provided him with opportunities to carve a path that has brought him tremendous fulfillment. Although he jokes about what could have been, he does so with an air of understanding of what it would have meant if it had.

On a hand crafted stage in the heart of a home bursting with love and friendship, Ryan proved that music lives. It lives in the stories he so effortlessly shared through his songs and words with the audience. It lives in the notes of his multiple guitars he switched over through the course of the night. It lives in the way we took in every word, every note, every tone, to get lost in the web he weaved. Ryan McAllister is beloved by this venue and his presence only solidified the force this place has created among music enthusiasts. His genius songwriting and quick wit has earned him a place in the hearts of all who have come to call Serenity home. As he embarks on the development of a new album, along with a much anticipated visit to Africa to record with a village of children in efforts to raise awareness and funds to build infrastructure to support their future, Ryan McAllister has embraced a life of endless possibilities coupled with a healthy dose of uncertainty and self-doubt. He is honest, humble, hilarious, and most importantly, has really great hair. What more can you ask for?

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His debut independent album is entitled “Music For a Rainy Town,” and the following are a few of my choice tracks: “Bell Tower”: Hauntingly beautiful, this song reminds me of lost love and a darkness of the heart that is hard to shake; “This Black Heart”: A pop-like tune with a chorus that is catchy and resonates instantly; “I Believe”: This feel-good track written for his wife lifts the spirit in hopes of what love can feel like.

Ryan McAllister performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on March 6, 2015.

Visit http://www.ryanmcallister.com for links to his social media feeds, music downloads and more. Check out Ryan’s other music project, his critically acclaimed band North Country Gentlemen at http://www.northcountrygentlemen.com

To learn more about Ryan’s world as a music producer, visit his Five Acres studio in Abbotsford, BC. http://fiveacresmusic.tumblr.com/

Ryan’s bandmate and good friend Jeremy Friesen is an incredible musician and person who has been dealt a mighty obstacle and it would mean a lot to Ryan and the entire Serenity team for you to provide your support. http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-the-friesen-family/309568

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