Archive for October, 2016




It’s not the “norm” to not talk about the music right away in a review when I write.

But first some context.

Growing up in the mid sixties in Northern Ontario and going to school in South Porcupine (5,000  people) 5 miles from Timmins everything seemed the way it should be.

It was for us a Mining culture. Your Dad was a lifer, and many of us worked the summers at the mine.

In public school and at high school even though I knew many First Nations acquaintances, in class, out of class, everything seemed cool hanging out on the surface.

That may be hard for some to understand in 2016 but I’m being honest here.

Yet, none of my friends and I  knew nothing of  the misuse of Governments, and Churches further up the treeline.

We did not know of how their culture and families were being broken up.

Maybe the conversation was not that deep at 17 or 18 years of age in 1970?

Nobody told us.

It was never talked about if we were standing watching a hockey game, or later on having a beer downtown.

Yet fast forward to 2016 my wife and I sat stunned last night as CBC broadcast Secret Path.

It was mind blowing, gut wrenching, we could hardly speak

I had been playing the audio tracks for a few days, but with the documentary and animation it had a generational impact on us both.

I’m 64 years of age folks and if takes Gord Downie to show me things up North where I live have never been harder, so be it.

Let’s be honest our mutual friend Charlie Angus has been the leader and educator on these tragedies while taking a proactive approach.

Both Gord and Charlie know this is a crisis. A Canada wide crisis.

Musically, most songwriters don’t go this deep.

Even Gord’s work with the Hip which has been groundbreaking at times in the group’s career has never cut this close to the bone.

The concept of the album and the true story of Chanie Wenjack a 12 year old indigenous boy who ran away from a Kenora school 50 years ago is powerful.

Chanie later died on a railway track from exposure.

That is something that this country should know about for all kinds of reasons let alone the seven generations who were affected.

The sheer isolation you will feel on the songs like The Stranger, Seven Matches, and the title track I cannot describe musically despite the mostly acoustic instrumentation and Downie’s voice.

This has to be felt.

I find it amazing this album sat on the shelf since 2013.

I also have to say the organic approach that musicians/producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin as well as graphic novelist Jeff Lemire give is essential to this recording.

On the songs I Haunt Them, Haunt them, Haunt them, and the closer Here, Here, Here where Downie sings about the despair of dying alone with visions of ravens and the wind in the trees I felt shame.

On the big screen as my wife and I sat comfortable in our living room watching the broadcast the hurt was very real.

Maybe this fifth solo album will be Gord Downie’s  last album.

I hope not.

I honestly think it’s his most important work and as he has mentioned the most good for his heart.

Growing up all these years in the North it never occurred to me in 2016 I would learn such a lesson that presents itself with this project.

JOHN EMMS is veteran music journalist, singer-songwriter and contributor to Sun Media and Post Media

John also fronts his own band THE SHAFTMEN

John is on Twitter






It’s very clear the new JW-Jones album High Temperature continues to build upon the solid foundation of his last album Belmont Boulevard.

However, on High Temperature producer Colin Linden makes an immediate impact by condensing Jones natural blues talent into a more traditional roots southern style.

You can hear this all over the album starting with the first two tracks. Price You Pay and How Many Hearts a superb rave-up duo with country singer-songwriter Jaida Dreyer.

Jones’ B.B. King-esque lead guitar solos and fills are still played with the same passion even as he dips into the amplified Chicago vibe of the Little Walter title track.

Working with his very capable touring band of Laura Greenberg and Mathieu Lapensee this album is integrated with the big addition of Kevin McKendree’s keyboard playing on almost every track.

The layering of organ to tracks like Who I Am, Away Too Long and the fantastic R & B Memphis vibe of Same Mistakes brings in a very Reese Wynans vibe.

The teaming up of Jones with songwriter Dick Cooper (The Cooper Brothers) produces sparks on the excellent Leave Me Out and Already Know which reminds of me mid seventies Elvin Bishop.

The covers of Moby Grape’s Murder In My Heart for The Judge and Charlie Rich’s Midnight Blues are excellent Americana choices although as noted they expand out of  Jones live trio format.

Mixing Americana with blues is not new, but it feels simply righteous on this album.

JOHN EMMS is a veteran music journalist, singer-songwriter and Sun and Post Media contributor.

JOHN leads his own blues rocking band THE SHAFTMEN  who are now working on their fourth release.

JOHN is on Twitter




Soulful , grooved out, and steeped in dynamics Strong Like That The Fabulous Thunderbirds new album gets better with repeated listens.

I can’t say why but if this album was made in the mid 70’s it would not seem out of place.

That’s a good thing friends.

Al Jackson’s Drowning on Dry Land, Kim Wilson’s own Smooth which sounds like killer radio fare, the swampy cover of R & B singer Paul Kelly’s You’re Gonna Miss Me and the excellent title track are flat out superb.

Kim Wilson’s lead vocals and harp work are steeped in confidence and soul, and keyboard man Kevin Anker’s feel on every track adds a glue that is essential to the sound of the band.

Other highlights include the smoky groove of Where’s Your Love Been, The Cate Brothers vibe of Don’t Burn Me and the killer funky groove cover of (I Know) I’m Losing You.

Despite their past superb cred Strong Like That is ample proof this band is as vital as it’s ever been.


JOHN EMMS is a veteran music journalist, Sun Media/Post Media contributor and singer songwriter with Canadian Blues rockers THE SHAFTMEN

John is on Twitter

October 2016