“Jay Semko’s new, self-titled album is a lively and occasionally moody mix of rock and country, the whole set rounded out by one hairy, electric gospel number. Jay Semko's back and he's knocking down mountains." Rating: 5 out of 5 - Bill Robertson, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
“Jay Semko, chief singer-songwriter of Canadian pop icons The Northern Pikes, feels like a kid again. More accurately, a kid making a comeback." - Marshall Ward, Waterloo Chronicle
“JAY SEMKO - REDBERRY
New Brunswick Telegraph
The Northern Pike continues his quiet solo career, away from the boisterous pop of the band. Best known as the singer and writer of thoughtful fist-pumpers Teenland and Things I Do For Money, Semko's more comfortable here, laid-back and a little alt-countryish. Many of the tracks feature pedal steel to great effect, and the down-home feel keeps going with guest harmonies from Serena Ryder and Theresa Sokyrka, who's not the only homey from Saskatchewan: Pikemate Bryan Potvin guest-guitars for several tunes, as well.
The disc's best songs are prairie home companions, including the title track and the heart-tugging Saskatoon Smile. Always a keen observer, Semko now has a more sentimental and reflective style than his Teenland reporting days.
“ "Jay Semko also shows a real knack for creating some off-beat tunes - songs like Before You Leave Canada, Mountain Song, and Love You For A Million Miles all carry interesting and different messages. Girl Who Can Whistle, featuring Alana Levandoski, brings yet another musical sidetrip in what Jay Semko offers us...and he presents even more diversity with his country/folk/gospel flavoured Drop You In The Water, this one featuring New Brunswick bluesman Matt Andersen on guitar and vocals." - Larry Delaney, Country Music News -
“Jay Semko - "Sending Love with new album on Valentine’s Day
Saskatchewan’s Jay Semko is best known as the frontman for the iconic pop band the Northern Pikes, but he’s also one of the country’s most significant songwriters. Semko has written Canadian classics like “Things I Do For Money” and “Girl With a Problem.” He also worked for many years as a film and television composer, and was twice Gemini-nominated for his original scores for Due South.
In recent years, Semko has turned his creative imagination to solo projects. And today, Feb. 14, he’s releasing his ninth solo album, appropriately titled Sending Love. When Semko talks about the impetus for the record he says, “In a nutshell, the four-letter-word ‘love’ is what really inspired the whole album.”
Semko sees the title track for the record as “a combination of spiritual and relationship. I don’t know where the line crosses there. I don’t know if there is a line. And often deep love, and there are so many different forms of love, can be a combination of physical, personal, spiritual. And I left that topic really open.”
Semko’s life journey hasn’t always been easy, and he’s worked through his fair share of personal challenges. The last five years have brought some positive changes in his life, though. The extremely personal nature of Sending Love is due, in part, to new perspectives he’s gained in that time:
Despite the universal nature of love songs, Semko says making Sending Love was “very much a journey, because I really didn’t know what kind of a record I was going to make. I knew I wasn’t going to make as country-sounding a record as I had with the self-titled Jay Semko from 2010. I knew it was going to be a little different from that.”
In the end, Semko found himself at Calgary’s MCC Recording Studio playing everything from electric guitar, to acoustic guitars, all the keyboards and all the percussion. He even sang some of his own backing vocals. Some other great players joined Semko for the recording, but he says he “just totally went with instinct. That’s something I’ve really learned over the last two or three years, is to trust my instincts when it comes to musical ideas. Being a somewhat analytical person sometimes I tend to take a second look, take a third look, take a fourth look, and then really become so over-obsessed with things. And this time I consciously said ‘No, just go with it. Go with those musical ideas. If that loop sounds good just use it. If that mix sounds good, even though you only spent two hours on it, why mess with it? Let’s make it happen here.’”
Semko explains further: “I did consciously set out to make an album of love songs, and that’s really what it was, and once I got into it I realized things aren’t exactly going to be perfect all the time, but you can at least aspire to that. That’s what really ends up happening on this record, lyrically and musically. It’s aspiring to perfection in a relationship, aspiring to remaining optimistic in the face of sometimes difficult situations. The song “Nothing Left But Love” is sort of, when you strip it all away – that’s it, really. Whether that be a one-on-one relationship or any kind of relationships.” - Shauna Power - CBCMusic.ca - Feb. 14, 2012
“SEMKO AND TRUSTY GUITAR CONTINUE MUSICAL JOURNEY
May 2, 2012
By: Lindsay Seewalt, Cochrane Eagle
Jay SemFrom the steel-studded glare of a bustling Toronto to the open prairie skies of Saskatoon, the Northern Pikes’ singer/songwriter and bassist, Jay Semko is as Canadian as they come.
With a hearty career in the bank and a long history with Canadian rock band, the Northern Pikes, Semko smiles at being able to pack up his acoustic guitar — normally a Gibson J-45 or a Martin D-28 — and put on a solo show, filled with stories of his life as a musician and songs that contain a rich and eclectic mix of country, folk, roots, rock and pop.
On May 12, Semko will be joining the ranks of Tim Williams, Will Hamm, Doug McLean and Terry Kruger who will be hosting various workshops on instruments, as part of the 2012 Cochrane Guitar Show at Frank Wills Memorial Hall from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Following the day’s festivities, Semko will perform, along with local musician, Angus Wilson and special guests at 8 p.m.
“I have more fun playing live now than I ever have before,” said Semko. “I just don’t take myself too seriously.”
“I just feel like I’m so lucky to get up and play every day,” said the songwriter, armed with his ninth and most recent, release on Busted Flat Records, Sending Love (2011).
“I kept calling this ‘the romance album’ as I worked on it,” said the song man of his newest release, which he is currently toting cross-country. “All the songs are sewn together in a subconscious stew of love and raw emotion…I just laid everything on the line, straight from the heart both lyrically and musically. . . ”While he’s rocked stages from coast to coast, and continues to do so whenever he plays a show with his fellow Northern Pikers, Semko is in a groove where he enjoys taking a song back to its basics.
“It gets a whole new life blood to it when you strip it down to the bare bones,” said Semko, who these days, seems to be having a good time donning a cowboy hat — with considerations for his newly-found relationship with country music radio stations.
“Even though I’ve been around for a while, I’m relatively new to country music,” he said. “I think people have been very friendly and receptive to what I’m doing.”
The Northern Pikes, who were a four-piece unit from their 1984 inception until their 1993 break-up, reuniting in 1999-present as a trio, wasn’t the only musical mindset for Semko.
In 1993, as The Northern Pikes went on hiatus, television producer Paul Haggis approached Semko about writing the musical score for what would become the Canadian hit TV series, Due South.
“I kind of got lucky in some ways,” reflected Semko. “I never had aspirations to write music for television, but basically the producer for Due South was a fan of the band and approached me when the band was breaking up in 1993.”
One thing led to another, and since his success with writing musical scores in the early nineties, Semko has enjoyed a healthy career of composing various scores for television and film, including orchestral and even vocal compositions.
“It expanded me musically,” said Semko of writing music in so many genres. “Before that, I was always a pop-rock songwriter.”
Semko was recently nominated at the international 2012 Independent Music Awards for Best Gospel Song for the song “Drop You In The Water”. These days Semko finds himself spending a great deal of his time in Nashville, co-writing songs with other artists. Whether writing solo or with a partner, however, Semko said that it’s a craft he will never cease to work on.
“I learned songwriting a lot by osmosis,” he said. “By looking at really good songwriters and seeing what they did.”
“Songwriting is still the most fun thing I do — it’s challenging. Some parts happen quickly and other parts I’ve had to struggle with.”
Learn more about the Canadiana troubadour at jaysemko.com.
For tickets to the Cochrane Guitar Show, contact Legacy Guitar House at 403-981-1808.”
“SEMKO ALL ABOUT LOVE ON HIS NEWEST RELEASE
by Bill Robertson, for the Starphoenix April 19, 2012
JAY SEMKO - SENDING LOVE (BUSTED FLAT RECORDS) Rating 5
Saskatoon's Jay Semko is a man in love and on his latest disc, Sending Love, he is doing just that. From out of his heart, from under the covers, from the personal to the universal, this guy's in love.
Playing many of the instruments on all self-written songs, Semko gets things going with the medium slow, acoustic strums of the title track, a careful but firm declaration of his intentions. Sending Love is followed by the wild and woolly, retro rocker Come Get a Little Love, and the sweet vocals and melody of the gentle love song, Undeniably Love. Attentive readers will notice a theme emerging in these titles.
Harmony is a gentle tribute to a smitten couple, with Semko singing in a high voice. In We Shine he layers on those high voices to create a rich harmony. In Sweet Sweet Love, Semko uses a big, big bass to let listeners know that the whole universe is in love with this girl. It's a hypnotizing beat.
In The Moon, the Stars and You the happy couple waltzes in heaven with a bit of mandolin for accompaniment, and there's more mandolin on the slow waltz of For Certain. Sizzlin', on the other hand, sounds like an old Jack Scott tune, with its big stride, low voice and raw harmonica fills. It sizzles.
There's more tender time under the covers in Nothing Left But Love, then Semko goes for an eight and a half minute reprise of the title track to close out this album of wholehearted love and gratitude. Semko's got the love and he wants us all to feel it.
Jay Semko – Jay Semko (Busted Flat) :: Wherein Jay uses his emotive voice to ably express these eleven country cautionary tales of life’s up and downs. Bonus points for writing the greatest cross-border breakup song ever, the humorously hurtin’ “Before You Leave Canada.”
- Jefferey Morgan's Media Blackout #237
“Jay Semko: Self-titled
Review by: Calvin Daniels
Yorkton This Week - August 2010
It is interesting how time evolves the music of some musicians.
Saskatchewan’s Jay Semko is certainly one such artist.
Most readers over the age of 40 will remember Semko as one of the driving forces behind the rock band The Northern Pikes, who still do gigs as many of the bands of that era, Streetheart, Trooper, The Stampeders still do filling a thirst for the old rockers out there to recapture a bit of the past.
Aside from the Pikes Semko has had a solo career, while not having him fill stadiums, has meant a series of really fine CDs.
The best of them might still have been Mouse, a CD which really showed the modern poetic side Semko. It was softer than the Pikes, but still pop/rock/alternative in nature.
With follow-up CDs such as Redberry and International Superstar, Semko began slipping toward the country side of things, a journey now pretty much complete with his recent self-titled effort.
I am not sure what the transformation will mean for some fans. This is not the music of the Pikes, and I’d love him to do Mouse II, but you know, in the end, Semko can do two things; he writes good lyrics, and he can sing.
When you are able to do both with the level of skills, and the input of heart Semko does, the music ultimately wins out.
On this one Semko is helped out on several songs. Kelly Brock chimes in on Nobody’s Watching and Let’s Wake Up the Moon, the latter song being a very nice one. I mention Brock because she is memorable among the hundreds of CDs I have reviewed. I didn’t like her disk, and she was quite upset with the low rating, vowing not to send me her future disks. You know I can’t say I’ve lost sleep over that, but I do remember it.
Then there is Canadian veteran Patricia Conroy helping out on That Kind of Blue. She is a musician always up to accommodate the media.
The same can be said of Semko. We email on occasion on Facebook, and follow each other’s artistic effort.
In this case Semko is solidly country, and not the Nashville tripe either. There is some element of ‘real’ here that works.
The first single release to radio is Comeback Kid, a rockier piece that has a good beat.
For sure one worth having. Check it out at www.jaysemko.net
“Country Roads Beckon Semko
By Cam Fuller, Sept. 16, 2010
For a fish out of water, he sure is happy.
Jay Semko, a practitioner of rock and pop for most of his career as a member of the Northern Pikes, is now a country singer-songwriter.
“This is very much a new beginning for me. I feel like a new guy in many ways.” Semko said this week.
His new album, self-titled to herald the new start, features 11 original songs played mostly live off the floor by a band with serious country roots. Counter-intuitively, the first single and video are for the album’s rockiest song, Comeback Kid. Lo and behold, it’s charting on country radio. Semko is going through all the steps, such as visiting each station and introducing himself. The reception has been warm, he reports.
“It’s pretty grass roots. It’s nice to meet people.”
Semko’s solo career has been heading in this direction for awhile. Even in the early days of the Pikes, there was no ban on pedal steel or mandolin, he says. Frequent songwriting trips to Nashville have solidified a sound which ranges from John Mellencampian on the lead-off track Mountain Song to Ian Tyson-esque on That Kind of Blue (with Patricia Conroy) to gospel-blues on the song Drop You in the Water (in the Tom Waits-ish vein of Way Down in the Hole).
It’s a switch which may not have been possible even a few years ago; the music industry ain’t pretty, it just looks that way. And the country music industry used to have very strict purity laws. But if a soul singer like Johnny Reid can win trophies at the Canadian Country Music Awards and if Corb Lund’s shadowy past as a punk rocker can be forgiven and forgotten, anything is possible. For his part, Semko says he feels welcome in his new milieu, although the new direction might puzzle his old fans.
“Every time you try to change things artistically or musically, it’s going to be different for people,” Semko says.
“At the end of the day, I just try to write the best songs that I can.”
Variety is nothing new in Semko’s career. He’s released six solo albums outside of Pikes stuff. That band continues, incidentally, with retro gigs alongside the Stampeders and Loverboy that are a hoot.
“We have more fun playing now than we ever did,” Semko says.
Over the years, he built a successful career writing music for film and TV, including 66 episodes of Due South. He still lives in Saskatoon, but he’s got friends all over the country, in all kinds of music industry positions. But a couple of the closest relationships are right here with Saskatoon singer-songwriter Kim Fontaine and Regina-area producer David J. Taylor. Semko produced Fontaine’s new album Blue Sky Girl. Together they’re the group Semko Fontaine Taylor. Their debut just out, recorded last summer in Semko’s living room, is Heartaches and Numb3rs.
“More than anything, we all just have a lot of fun together,” he says.
There was always a distance between the artist and fan. Now, Semko is having a blast doing house concerts and small shows; one of his favourite gigs was in a Regina Beach art gallery. The Refinery provides another intimate venue that, unlike a bar, promotes listening.
“It’s kind of up to you as an artist what you want to do and how you want to do things. The door is kind of wide open. You’re only limited by your imagination.”