Some writings about The Red Orkestra:

Velvet Rope says:

The very beginning of Red Orkestra’s fourth and latest album, Burning Little Empires, really sets the tone for an overall solid CD. “First Night Back To Life” had me initially thinking of old western movies where the cowboy rides off into to the sunset. With its deep and powerful acoustic strumming and a voice that equally matches in deepness and impact, it soon evolved into a smooth and catchy foot-stomping tune. That sets the stage for the next nine songs.Hailing from Waterloo, the indie band Red Orkestra is a four-piece that walks the line between alternative, folk, county rock and rock itself. Their music is spirited, clean and simple and powerfully rocks out. Johnny Charmer, Steve Parkinson, Neil McDonald and Rick Andrade have found a formula that should take them far. Their song-writing skills show strong on all songs whether it’s about struggles in life and love, reflections, or even politics. There’s a great deal of soul and passion being emitted, especially with Charmer’s haunting voice.

“I’m Not Going to Live My Life the Way I Should” substantially steps up the energy from the onset with distorted guitar. The strumming is simple yet very effective, as is the lead guitar. Like I said, they have found a cool formula that works! “A Matter of Love” keeps that rock train rolling along. At this point, it hits me that these guys sound a lot like Blue Rodeo. (That is meant to be a big compliment.)

Ah, nice finger-picking on the acoustic with the start of “The Wedding”!  This fifth song is certainly the prettiest of all, and I include the lyrics in the statement.  But here’s the thing with this one: although it’s a pretty song, it brings with it an incredibly sad story.  It’s the one song where I actually got the album sleeve out and read the lyrics and was very surprised! So, with Red Orkestra, make sure you invest some time into soaking up the lyrics. They tend to be on the lengthy side, but that’s the entertainment of it all.

“World of Laughter” is a terrific song that soars through multiple levels of which I can fully relate. “The 7th Seal”, however, is the number one song of choice for me here. Stemming from one of my favourite movies, Ingmar Bergman’s epic film of the same name which depicts life battling death, it powers its way through the story of saving oneself versus what the devil has in store for you. The boys are rocking out here hard with a great ending!

The last two, “The End of the World” and “Oh My Beautiful World” have similar themes but are two very different songs. That’s a beauty of their clever songwriting skills.

Burning Little Empires is a class album. I had no expectations going into it as I had not heard these guys before, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Red Orkestra has produced a solid, good-sounding CD. I hope it gets out there enough for the public to be aware of it.  You are all in for a nice treat.

Score: 7.5 / 10

Ox (Germany) says:

9 / 10

Da der erste Eindruck nur schwerlich revidierbar ist, haben Red Orkestra aus Toronto mit dem Opener „First night back to life“ einen genialen Schachzug gelandet: zunächst erinnerte mich das zunächst ein wenig an die verehrungswürdige Basia Bulat und ihr „Heart of my own“, wenngleich man ihre Stimme freilich nicht mit der von Johnny Charmer vergleichen kann.

Mit der Bezeichnung „Folk“ ist es ja heutzutage nicht mehr getan und so bezeichnen Red Orkestra ihren Stil selbst als „Alt-Folk-Rock from Canada“ – was damit gemeint ist, wird schon beim nächsten Stück, „Entertainment for the nihilists“, deutlich, das mehr Rock-Elemente beinhaltet, bis dann bei „I’m not going to live my life the way I should“ auch E-Gitarren zum Einsatz kommen und alles ein wenig zügiger wird.

So schnell wechseln im weiteren Verlauf die Stile zwischen den und innerhalb der Stücke (wie in „The end of the world“, das atmosphärisch an Murder By Death erinnert), dass man das Album tatsächlich ein paar Mal gehört haben muss, um letzten Endes wertzuschätzen, mit was für einer tollen Band man es hier eigentlich zu tun hat.

Aus einem vielleicht eher aufreibenden ersten Hörerlebnis wird dann ein Album, von dem man kaum genug bekommen kann – vorausgesetzt, man schafft es irgendwann, nicht bloß wieder und wieder dieses tolle erste Lied zu hören.

– Myron Tsakas says:

May 2012
Burning Little Empires

Fourth studio album by Canada’s alt-folk project Red Orkestra, led by Johnny Charmer. Once again produced by Johnny Charmer and Steve Payne, and featuring ex-Machines Stephen Parkinson, Neil McDonald and Rick Andrade, the same line-up from the “Life with the Machines” 2nd album, this is the most rocking Red Orkestra album ever, still mixing the personal and the political in that classic Johnny Charmer way. They’ve come a long way since debut “After the Wars” in 2004, and the songs keep getting better: a sound of their own connecting the dots between Johnny Cash, Billy Bragg, the Smiths and Mike Ness. says:

MARCH 2007

Life with Machines, the newest from Red Orkestra, fronted by Waterloo’s Johnny Charmer, is a veritable study in consistency. From the opening strains to the last notes, Life With Machines offers up a steady stream of pleasing pop crafted with mellow yet highly engaging arrangements, subtly clever lyrics and a distinctly British sound recalling classic Smiths tunes.
Frontman Charmer’s distinctive vocals give just the right amount of edge to lyrics that might otherwise descend into melodrama, yet still manages to distinguish the overall tone of each, so that the album swings effortlessly from quirky and ironic to solemn and profound.
Although the entire album is consistent, the quality improves ever so slightly in the middle, where Red Orkestra seem to really hit their stride on tracks like “It’s Impossible”, “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and “Ten Thousand Miles”, showcasing a more upbeat tempo that really lets the listener have a little fun.
Red Orkestra succeeds in standing out among the masses of indie musicians by, frankly, not trying so hard. If a renaissance in Canadian music is on the way, look for Red Orkestra to be at the forefront with their refreshingly clean and simple sound.

by Moya Dillon

Bubblegum Slut magazine (UK) says:


The Fading Ways label’s radar for good music is rivalled by very few. So consistently do they find and release superb bands that I have begun to give serious consideration to the theory that Elvis, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, and several other rockers lost too soon are actually locked in the Fading Ways basement, being cajoled into breeding this new race of superbands. Red Orkestra, the Fading Ways signing in question here, sound roughly like a cross-breeding of Nick Cave, Morrissey, and Billy Bragg. Describing themselves as “urban folk” the Canadian ensemble characterise their second record by juxtaposing lyrical imagery of Radio Towers, bleak highways and towns on fire (ideas picked up in the grey, industrial-looking album artwork) with softer sounds from a bygone time. Folky and minimalist singer/songwriter tracks merge into rich, and appropriately orchestral, strings. The result is a multi-faceted record, which sways from grand peaks like the epic, fable-esque ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ to understated indie tracks laced with echoes of Lou Reed, such as ‘All my Life’. Gracefully knitting together this collection of mood swings are the versatile voice, and lyrics of Johnny Charmer. Across Life with the Machines’ 11 tracks Charmer gradually develops his poetry of seemingly insignificant urban detail, contrasting with more overarching and ironically universal ideas of alienation to create an album which will surely touch all those who open their hearts to it.

Lucid Forge online arts magazine says:


Red Orkestra is one of those bands that that just seemed to be born out of karma; a group of musicians who seemed to have been brought together through destiny to make music. The band follows up their debut called After the Wars with this new album, which will surely take them further along the path to musical self-reliance. The CD starts off smooth with the soothing vocals of Johnny Charmer easily carrying you into the ambient acoustics of the record. The band cranks the amps for “One By One”, but they let you get into it like a warm bath; a classic Oasis like manoeuvre as Orkestra plays between hard and soft throughout the track. They take things a bit up-tempo for “Radio Towers” and keep up that pace for much of the album. Sometimes Charmer and the guys try to deke and slip one by you, like giving “Ten Thousand Miles” a bass chord that has shades of U2, but is uniquely constructed into the band’s urban folk pop sound. Sometimes outgoing, other times introspective, Life With the Machines displays a band comfortable with there style, but with a willingness to add odd spices and flavours to their recipe in order to give their music an unexpected kick or a moment to savour. says:


Red Orkestra’s music is the kind that you could listen to anywhere at any time and seems to always blend in with the background perfectly. It does not give you a kick in the face with hardcore screams or feed artificial sweetener down your throat with boyish vocals. The best way to describe the sound on Life with the Machines is, perhaps, rock n roll fused with orchestra. The album starts catchy with “World Turned Upside Down” and “One by One,” and then mesmerizes listeners with refreshingly original guitar solos on “Radio Towers”. Acoustic rockabilly, bluesy guitars and a steady drums set the tranquil tone on Life with the Machines. However, as the record takes a turn for the slower, with “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” some momentum is lost. Although the tracks are just as well structured and composed with originality pop music lacks, they become almost too calm, and blends a little too well into the background. Red Orkestra, a band that blurs the line between rock and orchestra, if ever possible, is creating something new in music.

Broken Pencil (issue 35) says:

Life With The Machines
Spring 2007

Maturity is a concept I wrestle with every day. Of late, I’ve been beaten to a pulp by its demands, but I don’t think I’ll ever completely succumb. If that turns out to be a sad thing, rather than an admirable thing, only time will tell. If I had to predict where my immaturity will find sanctuary, I’d guess in music. I can’t help but fall for and into the unfettered expression of id in music. That’s my thing. That’s who I am. Listening to Red Orkestra only confirms this. They are mature. They are accomplished, in control of voice, instrument and song craft. They quote Oscar Wilde in their liner notes. They write seriously good songs that take you places and move you in predetermined ways. That’s all very grown-up and, despite my lesser nature, I enjoy it very much.

Terence Dick

Morning Star (UK) says:


Smart second

Canadian four-piece Red Orkestra take their name from a wartime Soviet espionage project. Life with the Machines is the second album from the band, with self-declared influences including The Smiths, Suede, Nick Cave, Billy Bragg, George Harrison and Gordon Lightfoot. The opening Hank Marvinesque track World Upside Down, with its reference to the “ones who would make us slaves forevermore” sets the conscious scene.
The rolling, guitar-picking rhapsody Radio Towers leads to It’s Impossible, a touching assessment of romantic love. She Stands Alone is a chance for Johnny Charmer to showcase his engaging vocals, while For a Little While wanders into Asian Dub Foundation territory. Lyrics that rhyme agitator with traitor command attention. A satisfyingly clever album.

Hugh Tynan

Stylus Magazine says:


“After The Wars,” Red Orkestra’s debut is the perfect soundtrack for a Sunday afternoon in the hammock. Johnny Charmer’s airy vocals are soothing and subtlely convey an optimism about life in general. It’s a very easy going pop album that gently flows and evolves, and makes for a great listen start to finish, so you won’t be tempted to skip any tracks. Charmer’s songs have a nice musical consistency that allows his lyrics to cover a broad range of topics from the heavy to the more whistful. Whether it be a personal reflection or political observation, the listener is never subdued by the intensity nor underwhelmed by the levity. It’s a wonderfully diverse, yet coherent collection that is as deep or as light as you want it to be.

Now Magazine says:

MAY 6 – 12, 2004
Rating: NNNN

Named for the Soviet spy ring that successfully infiltrated Nazi-occupied Europe, the Red Orkestra’s debut album is a brilliantly dystopian take on urban folk. Frontman Johnny Charmer (formerly of Charmer) wrote the album’s music and lyrics and combines disparate influences from Blue Rodeo to Bragg, from the Smiths to Lightfoot. And like the best of urban folk, the album carefully navigates between intimate tracks and political polemics with ease while constantly maintaining a theme of struggle and resistance. The title track is a melancholic yet hopeful meditation on life after the current world order of perpetual conflict and imperialism. Hear, hear.

Chart Magazine says:

JUNE 1, 2004
RED ORKESTRA – After the Wars

Funny how so many Canadian bands are doing their best to beat the Brits at their own game. We’ve got Pilate channeling Coldplay, and now Red Orkestra are doing the same with The Smiths and Stephen Duffy. Not to say that After The Wars is unoriginal. On the contrary, it’s an immensely engaging album characterized by gentle guitar and piano melodies and the mellow poetics of lead singer Johnny Charmer. Neil Leyton provides backing vocals, bass and piano duties. The album opens gently and beautifully with the acoustic guitar-driven “Still Waters” and ends with the lyrically evocative title track. Red Orkestra are off to a strong start and can only move up.

Exclaim Magazine says:

OCTOBER 6, 2004
RED ORKESTRA – After the Wars

Taking their name from a Soviet spy ring that managed to infiltrate Nazi-occupied Europe, the Red Orkestra is a new Toronto band featuring some veterans from the scene. Bringing together Johnny Charmer (formally of  Charmer), Neil Leyton (ex-Conscience Pilate), Devin Stoneham (ex- Madame Tussaud) and Ian Woodward (from the Pariahs), they not surprisingly sound like a band who’ve been playing together for many, many years. Like their ’40s namesakes, the band document the ongoing struggles and conflict, both social and private, that we all face. That translates into songs that Charmer calls “urban folk,” and while they are somewhat earnest, they don’t end up sounding contrived or preachy. They manage to avoid sounding too much like his admitted influences such as Billy Bragg and the Smiths, ending up closer in spirit to Gordon Lightfoot. That might be in part due to the overwhelming presence of the acoustic guitar, but Charmer’s warm vocals help to make each and every song inviting. After the Wars is a pleasant album that sneaks up quietly on the listener, but its stealthy approach is almost too subtle. Perseverance will pay off though.

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