01 Glenn ChattenBaked Cafe
Glenn Chatten
Independent (glennchatten.com)

All of us who grew up in the Yukon knew it was a special place and were never surprised when “cheechakos” would arrive to work for a summer and wind up staying for years and making a life there. Glenn Chatten waited until later in life to move to Whitehorse, and had already recorded several albums as a songwriter and fingerstyle acoustic guitarist. His “Yukon” album, Baked Cafe, is named after one of my favourite places to eat and hang out in Whitehorse (known as the “Wilderness City”). The title song has a grooving beat and makes “flying to Whitehorse on a Saturday” sound exciting and intense, especially if it is to meet a very special person at the Baked Cafe. 

Liam’s Lylt, Tagish Morning and Sima (named after a nearby mountain that has skiing and a zip line) are three marvellous instrumentals that showcase Chatten’s fretboard dexterity. Although Chatten is a relative newcomer to the North, his lyrics show a clear appreciation for the landscape and people. In One Land he sings “beyond the sun dogs, and the ice fog, beyond the deep woven aspen tree, lies a quiet, part of nature, from the mountains to the Arctic Sea.” The words evocatively capture the essence of the Yukon’s territory. 

In addition to Chatten’s fine acoustic guitar and insightful lyrics, the many excellent local musicians add a spirited community vibe to this work. Baked Cafe is expertly engineered and mastered by Bob Hamilton who has been part of the Yukon music scene for decades. Chatten’s album is uplifting and insightful and I hope he remains a permanent part of northern culture.

Listen to 'Baked Cafe' Now in the Listening Room

02 Shirley EikhardOn My Way To You
Shirley Eikhard
Independent SEM2021 (shirleyeikhard.ca)

Internationally renowned award-winning Canadian songwriter, lyricist, singer and multi-instrumentalist Shirley Eikhard is back with this collection of 12 songs dating from 1982 to present day. This is a fabulous overview of the creative artistic output of one of Canada’s foremost musicians.  Recorded in her home studio in Mono ON, Eikhard produced, arranged, recorded and performed all instruments and vocals here.

Opening track Anything is Possible (2020) is a positive, engaging song. Eikhard sings lead and backup vocals above repeated cadential pattern instrumental grooves and uplifting minimalistic melodies with such lyrics as “I refuse to be frightened,” and closing line “anything is possible…”, making my COVID fears miraculously vanish! Title track On My Way to You (2019) has a more traditional folk feel with longer phrases, guitar accompaniment and colourful sultry vocal tones.  

Great contrast is Good News (1982) showcasing her superb keyboard skills and lyrical singing. Especially powerful are the detached piano chords and vocals to the words “I wish I could bring you good news” while in the Good News reprise track (also 1982) her lyrical keyboard and vocal duet is passionately tear-jerking. The so-current, pop-music-flavoured What I Wish (For You) (2021) features an amazing wind solo. Bound to be a giant hit, My Final Chapter (2020) is a rhythmic up-beat dance and singalong song with such attention-grabbing lyrics as “I am not angry anymore.”

Another all-encompassing, riveting musical masterpiece from Shirley Eikhard!

Listen to 'On My Way To You' Now in the Listening Room

03 Party for JoeyParty for Joey – A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato
Various Artists
True North Records 270573 (truenorthrecords.com)

Singer, songwriter and bassist Joey Spampinato co-founded NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) in 1969. Perhaps not a household name, fans appreciated this multi-genre-influenced rocking band’s and, specifically Spampinato’s, musical greatness, resulting in subsequent gigs for him. Sadly, Spampinato was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and has been recovering ever since. Many of the musicians here were invited by his wife Kami Lyle and producer Sheldon Gomberg to record a Spampinato-composed song for this benefit tribute album, as well as other generous musicians, who all recorded/donated their proceeds to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to financially support him now.

Highlights include the opening track You Can’t Hide featuring former NRBQ member Al Anderson singing and playing his rock-star heart out, until a classic, crashing rock-star drum ending. Los Lobos adds accordion and sax Cajun-tinged solos to their rocky Every Boy Every Girl rendition. Ben Harper’s clear vocal tone and repeated short melody line keep the lyrics up front in full rocking band Like a Locomotive cover, which features a Keith Richards guitar solo. Unexpected free improv atonal opening and closing of Don’t She Look Good contrasts the rest of The Minus 5 rock performance. Touching, hopeful lyrical ballad last track, First Crush, has Kami Lyle and Joey sing in tight, vocal blends.

Other musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, Penn and Teller and Steve Forbert cover Spampinato strong earworm songs. Time to party with these 14 tunes, and to support a worthy cause.

04 YYM Notes For The Future Album coverNotes for the Future
Yo-Yo Ma
Sony (yo-yoma.com)

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s new album Notes for the Future is a series of intimate and heartfelt studio collaborations with singers from five continents. The album’s nine tracks feature Ma with well-known divas and a few names new to me: Angélique Kidjo, Mashrou’ Leila, Tunde Olaniran, Jeremy Dutcher, Andrea Motis, ABAO, Lila Downs and Marlon Williams.

Ma, United Nations Messenger of Peace, writes that this album’s global musical journey explores “how culture can help us imagine and build a better world, featuring vocals in Arabic, Zapotec, Catalan, Paiwan, Spanish, Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqey, Ewe, Maori, and English.” Celebrating the “wisdom of the generations that were and the possibility of those to come,” Ma aims to express “our fears and hopes, reminding us that the future is ours to shape, together.”

Given that stirring mission statement, how does Notes for the Future deliver musically? To answer, I’d like to focus on Honor Song, the collaboration between Ma and tenor-composer Jeremy Dutcher. Juno and Polaris Prize winner, Dutcher, a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, describes Honor Song as “a Mi’kmaq anthem […] that invokes our collective responsibility to care for the planet we share.” Dutcher’s soaring and emotion-filled Wolastoqey vocal is brilliantly counterpointed by Ma’s lyrical bass-heavy cello and powerful chordal accompaniment.

Dutcher wrote: “This collaboration changed my life, and I’m so grateful to him for sharing his platform and allowing so many more people to hear our songs + languages!” I found the entire album a stirring journey.

05 SubaSuba
Omar Sosa; Seckou Keita
Bendigedig BEND18 (grigorian.com/webstore/view.php?iid=2188258)

Every now and then the world is graced by an album that has a certain kind of gentleness – the gentleness that contains compassion for humanity and the quest for change. Suba, meaning sunrise in Mandinka, is a melodious microcosm of quietude and hope. There is nothing forced in the music on this album. Each song unfolds in a moment, unhurriedly, as it is just meant to be. 

Omar Sosa (piano) and Seckou Keita (kora, voice) have a knack for creating music that is harmonious with the world and placatory in its core. Both are masters of their instruments, distinguished artistic voices that bring traditions of Cuba and Senegal to the forefront. Sosa plays piano soulfully, as if he is always aware of the preciousness of the moment. On the other end of this collaboration is Keita, whose playing and singing have a beautiful lightness, subtle and captivating. Suba is rooted in Africa and its traditions, with the occasional spice of jazz elements. Equally divided between instrumental and vocal pieces, the album also features a fantastic team of musicians, most notably Jaques Morelenbaum on cello. 

The opening vocal piece Kharit and the percussively driven Allah Léno establish the atmosphere of longing and peace that persists throughout the album. The music always moves forward and the beauty is always present. No One Knows concludes the album with a sonic sparseness that leaves the listener with a profound sense of peace.

Listen to 'Suba' Now in the Listening Room

01 Isabel BayrakdarianArmenian Songs for Children
Isabel Bayrakdarian
Avie AV2449 (naxosdirect.com/search/av2449)

A tribute to Isabel Bayrakdarian’s personal heritage, this collection of songs plays like a musical kaleidoscope – ever-changing reflective melodies are connected to beautiful and simple forms, creating a magical sonic space. The 29 tracks are comprised of compositions by Armenian composer and musicologist Gomidas Vartabed (aka Komitas) and his students Parsegh Ganatchian and Mihran Toumajan, as well as some traditional songs. 

One should not be deceived by the fairly slow tempos, there is plenty of movement here – swinging, rocking, bouncing, clapping. A wooden horse and a monkey hang around, and a scarecrow and a nightingale make friends. On the deeper level, there is much longing and sorrow connected to dreams and memories of the Armenian nation and their history. The melodies of these songs are beautiful, sometimes playful, often poignant. The arrangements are sparse, creating an abundance of space for breath and colour. Some of these songs have been sung through five generations of Bayrakdarian’s family and one cannot help but feel the sense of intimacy and immediacy that comes from the weight of life experiences.

Bayrakdarian is phenomenal in conveying the emotional context of these songs. Her voice is willowy and soothing at the same time and she is quite successful in combining the embellishments of folk idioms with the clarity of classical expression. The accompanying ensemble – Ellie Choate (harp), Ray Furuta (flute) and Ruben Harutyunyan (duduk) – has an understated elegance to it, allowing the intensity of Bayrakdarian’s voice to come through.

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