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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Carmanah's debut and new music by Midnight Shine, High Up, Katy Guillen and Frank Turner

We start this week's journey of music discovery on the west coast of Canada with Carmanah, an indie band named after an ancient rain forest on Vancouver Island. Their music is an eclectic blend of folk-rock with what they call "gritty vintage flavors" of funk, reggae and more. Laura Mina's vocals are backed by a wide assortment of instruments. In our search for new and interesting sounds, Carmanah's debut album, Speak In Rhymes, is an exciting find. Our pick for the New Music bin this week is "Roots," and you'll be hearing more from the album in the coming weeks.

Moving across Canada to the James Bay area in northern Ontario, we find roots-rockers Midnight Shine. Lead singer Adrian Sutherland grew up in Attawapiskat and bassist Stan Louttit and lead guitarist Zach Tomatuk hail from Moose Factory. They just released their third album, High Road, and while it's filled with original music, we can't resist featuring the one cover: a fresh take on Neil Young's classic "Heart of Gold." The band brings its Indigenous cultural background to the song, with touches of powwow singing and a verse translated into Mushkegowuk Cree. "Growing up in a very isolated area, I listened to a lot of music," said Sutherland. "Neil Young was one of my biggest musical inspirations, and 'Heart of Gold' is still one of my favourite songs. I've performed it many times, so why not record it, and give it a little something of our own."

Next we dip south across the border and catch up with High Up, a retro-soul quintet that's just released its debut LP, You Are Here. The band came together after Christine Fink moved from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Omaha, Nebraska, to be closer to her sister, singer-songwriter Orenda Fink. Orenda urged her sister to take the lead singing role, and Christine brings southern touches reminiscent of Texan Janis Joplin or even Alabama Shakes's Brittany Howard to her singing. Powerful horns, drums and guitar back her up on our featured track, "Domino."

From Omaha we head a few hours south to Kansas City, where Katy Guillen and the Girls strive to create a fresh mixture of blues, country and folk. Their new album, Remember What You Knew Before, due next week, revisits material from previous releases, but it's all new to us. The trio mixes acoustic and electric sounds. Lead singer Katy Guillen plays flamenco, resonator, acoustic and electric guitars. The rhythm section is Claire Adams on upright and electric bass and Stephanie Williams on drums and percussion, with both contributing vocals. We're spinning the lead single, "Can't Live Here Anymore."

Now we jump across the Atlantic to check in on Frank Turner, whose next album Be More Kind is due in May. It promises to be a mix of both harsh and gentle songs. We've been playing the single "There She Is," a love-smitten song that also appeared on last year's Songbook collection. The second single, "1933," angrily compares today's political world to that very dark year. Now comes the title track, a plea for a sane response to insane current events: "In a world that has decided that it's going to lose its mind / Be more kind my friend, try to be more kind."

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