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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Review: Fern Viola - My Faith (With Al Bachmann)

Fern Viola (with Al Bachmann) - My Faith
2008, DJ Companion Records

Hamilton, Ontario's Fern Viola has been wowing audiences with his deep Baritone voice for years. Nicknamed by none other than former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau "Mr. O Canada", Fern Viola is back after twenty years with a new recording with old partner in crime Al Bachmann handling songwriting duties. My Faith is a collection of love songs and religious songs done in classic crooner style, ala Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Perry Como.

The voice is perhaps not a strong as it was twenty years ago, but Viola's charisma hasn't lost a step. Viola sells the songs on My Faith as well as any of his idols. At 83 years old his voice has held up at least as well as that of Tony Bennett. The material on My Faith is somewhat dated in sound, recalling a period in Las Vegas lounge music that saw the Rat Pack at their peak. That being said, My Faith is extremely accessible. In an age when much music relies on effects and sounds, Viola and Bachman take it back to the basics: melody and lyrics. My Faith works by keeping it simple, allowing the inherent beauty in each of the songs to come through; relying on Fern Viola's showmanship to sell it. And he does.

There are even a few surprises on My Faith. Ave Maria Bach Gounod takes the traditional hymn and places it in a minimalist rock arrangement that works better than you might think. There's almost an Andrew-Lloyd Webber quality to the composition, and you could easily imagine Michael Crawford's Phantom Of The Opera chiming in. Panis Angelicus follows a similar track, working the minimalist route with a slight Latin feel. Viola and Bachman go full cathedral on Agnus Dei, with the pipe organ almost stealing the show.

The highlight of the album comes toward the end, when Viola takes on Schubert's Ave Maria. The arrangement here is lovely, and Viola still puts his heart into each song he takes; he soars on Ave Maria. Bachman gets to show off a bit on My Faith as well. Instrumentals such as Latin Blues, Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring, Serenade In A and Amazing Grace are all great listens. Other highlights include Now Is The Time, the vocal version of Amazing Grace, The Wedding Song and Ave Verum.

Fern Viola is 83 and going strong. If My Faith proves anything, it’s that Viola hasn't lost his touch. Time steals from us all, but for whatever time has stolen from Viola, his heart and panache more than make up for it. Ditto Al Bachmann. The music here is certainly dated in sound, but Viola and Bachmann keep it fresh in the utter joy with which they sing and play. My Faith is a great listen that can be shared across generations. And if you happen to be in the vicinity of Southern Ontario and Viola is performing somewhere. Viola's legendary status may not have passed beyond the boundaries of Canada, but the reputation is well deserved.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Fern Viola at You can purchase a copy of My Faith at

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