Saturday, July 30, 2011

fast talkin' melodies

Acoustic - Taylor Cochrane

There's no question that Taylor Cochrane is a witty lyricist. The former lead vocalist of the Kronic Groove Band displays considerable wordsmithery on his debut solo album, Acoustic, on which he bursts forth with a collection of songs spanning the range from youthful cockiness to eccentric self-reflection.

Sonically and lyrically reminiscent of The Passionistas, Cochrane steers clear of standard melodic formulae, leaning instead toward a more free-form approach within each song. As a whole though, the album is consistent, as one might glean from the title, in its acoustic approach, with a mixed degree of success. I found myself wishing that certain tracks had been fleshed out beyond the singer and strumming guitar reality, imagining the impact that they would have had with a bit more substance from a backing band.

The tracks on Acoustic focus heavily on quirky matters, the unapologetic irreverence of a young man. From the name-checking on the opening track, Narcissism and Yellow Fever, to the references to song-writing that pop up throughout the album, self-awareness is the predominant focus of this collection of rather eccentric songs. In an curious shift from the standard practice, some of the more interesting tracks reside in the bottom half of the album. From the surprisingly irresistible singalong chorus about murder on I'd Hit That to the equally surprising self-reflection on Hypocrite, Acoustic turns an inward eye on the raw emotions that lie beneath a cocky persona.

Although lacking some of the musical sophistication of equally novel musicians like Flight of the Conchords, Taylor Cochrane shows promise. He certainly knows how to turn a clever lyric. Keep an eye out for him.

Friday, July 29, 2011

we'll sleep when we're dead: day four of Calgary Folk Fest 2011

As a newly-minted coordinator in the Music and Merch tent, I knew that Sunday was going to be the day that for me involved more selling of than partaking in music. Naturally, it was also the day of my Lightning Dust interview. If you are going to be busy, you might as well be really busy.

Still I did manage a few minutes in a shady grove to catch my breath and catch up with the Spousal Unit for a bit of Jimmie Dale Gilmore magic.

With the sun and the climbing mercury came the crowds. Sales in the record tent were brisk, as supplies of CDs and albums by crowd favourites began drying up as rapidly as the previously swampy ground. We had a full roster for autograph sessions, some of the musicians like Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band coming back for multiple sittings. This was great news for some people, like my record tent buddy from two years previous, whom I encountered by chance earlier in the day. He confided to me that, this year, he was in love with the band's washboard player. We call her Babs, he told me, a conspiratorial grin spreading across his face, short for Bad-Assed Bitch.

Joshua Wells and Amber Webber from Lightning Dust proved to be charming and scintillating interview subjects. You will need to read my article coming out in the September-October issue of BC Musician Magazine in order to learn what they divulged to me, but I will tell you that Amber called Buffy Sainte-Marie a babe. I will also tell you that some of the real reporters wandering the Calgary Folk Festival site were absolutely cut-throat characters who think nothing of stealing the chairs that somebody else assembled in a shady spot by the river for their own upcoming interview. Never trust a reporter.

Following the interview, I miraculously connected with both the Spousal Unit and the Resident Offspring at the most jam-packed stage I have ever attended. And by jam-packed I am referring to the audience numbers, although the stage was rather full to bursting as well, holding all the inhabitants of Mighty Popo and Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, as well as Matt Anderson and Harrison Kennedy.

With a full evening of finalizing artists' contracts, counting and packing merchandise, and striking down the record tent ahead of me, my final show of the night occurred while broad daylight still graced the island. As the Resident Offspring, her buddy and I lounged back with our gelatos and watched the thousands of babies crawl around in the grass (including the toddlers from Thursday's toddler rollup whom we kept seeing everywhere all weekend), we bopped our heads to the groove beat laid down by Yohimbe Brothers, Inhabitants, Jim Moray, and MINOTAURS.

I regret having missed performances by Couer de Pirate (although I did catch a smidgeon of her and Chic Gamine at a workshop I paused for the day before), Blind Pilot, Ernest Ranglin, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. We did manage to hear Buffy Sainte-Marie from the record tent, and I will you that the degree with which she rocks absolutely belies her seventy years.

But there was part of one more performance and one more moment of magic for me before the final strains of music faded out over the river. That was the moment when all the coordinators and festival organizers were called to climb the boards of the main stage for the weekend finale. From inside the artists' lounge area, where we waited to take the stage, we watched Wayne Petti from Cuff the Duke perform the final show of the weekend with Blue Rodeo.

And then we all clamoured onto the stage - dirty, exhausted, but very satisfied - smiling and waving to the audience as they rolled up their tarps and folded up their chairs for the final time. Swaying from side to side, hugging and laughing and reveling in the koombawya of the moment, we promised to buy each other refreshments at the final after-party of the Calgary Folk Festival. But of course you know, what happens at after-party stays at after-party.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

days of mud & glory: day three of Calgary Folk Fest 2011

The rain clouds cleared overnight, leaving behind soupy puddles and slick mud paths to remind us that you can throw a festival, but Nature is still in charge. The south end of the record tent resembled a swamp, causing us to barricade the entrance and retrofit the exit until the primordial ooze subsided. The guys spreading wood chips around the site became the most popular crew on the island.

But the sun shone brilliantly, smiles returned, and right on cue, I was treated to folk festival magic moment #2. The David Wax Museum, who had been participating in a sonically gorgeous workshop with Imaginary Cities and Lighting Dust, meandered off the stage and wove their way through the charmed crowd, singing and playing the donkey jaw bone and saxophone, which of course are a natural combination.

Later the same stage heard Socalled, Yohimbe Brothers, Cadence Weapon, and Bernie Worrell's SociaLybrium attempt a rambling, shambodelic version of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. No one really knew the lyrics beyond the chorus, and even after a woman ran up to the stage to hand over her iphone with which she had googled the lyrics, the rendition remained a fittingly loose and scattered affair.

Lightning Dust, Dark Dark Dark, Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Dick Gaughan (he of the lovely thick brogue) took over the aptly timed 4:20 workshop on stage 4, just as the sky was promising to remain friendly for the duration of the festival and festival goers let go their collectively held breaths and noticeably relaxed. The grass dried and people lounged under trees or luxuriated in the solar rays, chasing away any remnants of last night's chill.

The ten-year-old hipster may have been the only exception to the fully relaxed vibe. Wearing a newsboy cap and a lovely patterned scarf arranged just so around his neck, he sat with his back pointedly toward the stage and read his Kindle. Voltaire, no doubt.

We dashed back to tarp central to grab for our suppers the giant bag of popcorn left over from the night before and headed back to the evening stage to hear Lightning Dust's achingly beautiful and soul-fulfilling solo concert. Seeing Amber Webber perform with twin sister Ashley was a satisfyingly surreal experience, particularly hearing the similarities in their highly unusual voices.

The Head and the Heart, a large rambling seven piece band from Seattle, quite literally took over the stage when Lightning Dust finished their set. Evidently they also took over the hearts of everyone in the largest gathering I have ever seen at the Twilight Stage. Even though I had been very pumped to see this band, clearly I had only heard their slower and more restrained songs, and thus was completely unprepared for the lively, unfettered joy that burst forth from the stage.

The magical connection between band and audience was instantaneous. Before the first bar had finished, people leapt to their feet and started dancing and clapping and singing along word for word. The reaction from the members of The Head and the Heart was delightful and heart-warming; with genuine amazement and gratitude they thanked everyone, obviously gob-smacked, and kept on playing with giant grins on their faces.

We hemmed and hawed over wether we should stay at the Twilight Stage to see Yo La Tengo or head back to main-stage, where the Spousal Unit had been holding down the fort, to watch the Felice Brothers. There are no right answers in these Solomonesque situations, of course, but I am happy to report that the Felice Brothers performed a mesmerizingly atmospheric and simultaneously punchy show. Reminding me a little of Califone, in their experimentally cinematic approach to music and to their subject matters, the Felice Brothers entranced me with their songs of raw inventive Americana.

Balkan Beat Box, to whose music I had previously been introduced by the worldly Resident Offspring, were a fiercely funky, dub-stepping, brilliant blast of urban Gypsy soul. Chair dancing was rampant and for-real dancing even more so. Booties shook all over the island.

It struck me as odd to follow up such a high energy performance with the decidedly slow and smoky k.d. lang. But apparently I was one of the few people in the sold-out crowd who felt that way. I have a tremendous amount of respect for k.d. lang, for what she has accomplished and for the sheer power of her voice of liquid gold, but her music doesn't really do it for me. Although I prefer her earlier cowpunk offerings, thousands of fans swooning all over Prince's Island Park on Saturday night would have disagreed with me, had I dared to voice my opinion aloud. She did put on a helluva show, though, and I have to give props to k.d. lang for covering Talking Heads.

coming up: interviewing and coordinating

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

a hard rain's gonna fall: day two of the Calgary Folk Fest 2011

Friday's cold driving rain which pelted those die-hard folk festers, who turned out in impressive numbers, called for wardrobe considerations beyond gauzy skirts, man-pris and flip-flops. The Resident Offspring pulled together a Derelicte hippie-chic ensemble that proved to be ingenious for the day's decidedly unsummery foray to Prince's Island Park.

After holing up in the hotel to recover from a hair-raising commute through torrential deluges amongst hydro-planing tractor trailers, we wandered over to the island during a letup in the rain to catch BRAIDS' side-stage concert. Despite a professed difficulty in sound quality, the bright and phosphorescent performance of the Polaris short-listed former local darlings proved to be a glowing point in dark and soggy day.

Matt Anderson, the big man from New Brunswick with the even bigger voice, rocked the mainstage with his rollicking blues and his impressively intricate guitar licks. He didn't make the sun shine, but he made the rain a little less cold for a while.

Nanci Griffith was one of the classic folk performers whom I had been waiting to see, and although she has been in the industry for over 30 years, her voice remains as clear and pure as when she began. She kept apologizing for the rain, thanking us for staying, and wiping her nose with a kleenex that I wished she would share with the rest of us drippy-nosed people. Although her heart and her political leanings were in the right place, when the Resident Offspring pointed out that some of her social commentary songs came across as "wikipedia pages in song format", that was the final impression that I was left with.

I was chilled to the bone and soaked through four layers of clothing by the time Bonnie "Prince" Billy took to the stage with his theatrical presence and heartfelt honesty. The Spousal Unit had already given in to the chills and headed back to the hotel, as had many of the increasingly chilled festival-goers, but the Resident Offspring, in her uncanny salesmanship, persuaded me to stay. Let's go for a walk, mom, get some coffee, do a little dancing...

That was how we ended up crawling out from under our drenched tarp to find ourselves over at the twilight stage, where Yemen Blues were just completing a spirited and stirring set. Although encores are generally frowned upon at a festival setting, the rapturous crowd begged for and received, another ten minutes of funky Mid-Eastern soul. The cloak of invisibility that comes with having two damp hoodies pulled over my head gave me the license to dance like I was alone in the kitchen instead of squelching around in the mud with a few hundred other half-drowned souls. And then the rain stopped for a while. It was the first magical moment of this year's folk festival, and the first time that day that I felt warm.

As the dusk settled into a cold wet night, Patrick Watson lit up the mainstage with his ethereal brand of cabaret pop, piano driven and fueled by his soaring falsetto that rang out into the open heavens. Some guy with twinkle lights on his jacket danced his way through the crowd during Watson's set and imparted some much needed warmth and light upon the night.

By the time the eclectic Herbalizer blasted onto the stage with their funk, jazz, hip-hop melange, I was slipping into the final stages of hypothermia, so we shuddered to the beat for a few songs and then squelched our way back to the hotel, to a hot bath and piles of thick blankets.

We patted each other on the back for what felt like a major accomplishment and an initiation into the Folkie Bad-Ass Hall of Fame. Anybody can folk fest in sunny warm weather, after all; it takes sterner stuff to keep dancing when your curry is floating in rain puddles on your dinner plate and you can see your breath.

coming up: day of mud and ecstasy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Calgary Folk Festival: interim report

cold . rain . wind . mud . hypothermia . sun . residual mud . heat . more sun . less mud . Yemen Blues . Matt Anderson . David Wax Museum . Patrick Watson . the Felice Brothers . The Head and the Heart . Lightning Dust . Imaginary Cities . Balkan Beat Box .

- details forthcoming -

Friday, July 22, 2011

Big Damn Start: day one of Calgary Folk Fest 2011

Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band are one damn fine way to start a festival. Big, loud, rollicking, stompy country blues delivered up with an extra helping of sass. No wonder there was a lineup all the way to the first aid tent when they did an autograph session after the show.

I ran my errands (checking in with my compadres in the record tent, booking an interview with Lightning Dust, partaking of my first volunteer meal of the weekend) during most of Socalled's set. I did catch enough to realize that the reality of Klezmer hiphop was not quite as compelling as it sounds.

But oh, Joel Plaskett! Canada's BFF, the sweetest guy in rock and roll, delivered a high octane set, marred only by the fact that the jumbotrons crapped out for most of his set. So instead of Joel's lovely boyish face, we were treated to an hour of two gigantic blue screens of death.

The insanely catchy Mighty Popo from Rwanda suffered the same blue screen fate as our boy from Dartmouth, but we chair-danced and sang along regardless.

City and Colour ended the evening with a well-received set, one that had decidedly more rock and roll chops than their extremely acoustic offering at the festival a couple of years.

Audience highlights:
- all the babies and toddlers rocking they heads off all around us.
- toddler rollups
- the Resident Offspring meeting with the charming Mr Plaskett for a photo op for the record books.
coming up: the rain and the cold set in for real during Friday of the folk fest.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

preserving time

The Trail of Time
The Twilite Broadcasters

The timing was too perfect not to be deliberate. It was as though Canada Post had expressly arranged to end the postal strike in order that this CD arrive in my mailbox during the Calgary Stampede. What better time to indulge in a little bluegrass, after all?

The Trail of Time by the North Carolina duo, The Twilite Broadcasters, is pure and simple indulgence. There are no fillers and nothing contrived on this album, just authentic early Americana and bluegrass, delivered with deft instrumental virtuosity and perfectly paired two-part harmony.

It's hard to believe that Adam Tanner (mandolin, fiddle and vocals) and Mark Jackson (guitar and vocals) have only been playing together since late 2008. Perhaps it has something to do with the selection of traditional songs on The Trail of Time, certainly it has a lot to do with the conviction with which they deliver those songs, that make The Twilite Broadcasters such an anachronism in the age of indie hipsters. The respect and the care that they take to honour musical history is obviously deep and genuine. They are also inspired instrumentalists.

The Trail of Time bursts forth with the only original song on the album, which left me hungry to hear more original compositions from The Twilite Broadcasters. I challenge you to refrain from air-picking along with this bright and spritely instrumental, North Buncombe Gallop, as you envision fingers flying joyfully across instruments.

The remainder of the songs on The Trail of Time are all authentic and respectful renditions of early American standards of country and bluegrass. Selections from the Louvin Brothers, the Carter Family, Charlie Monroe, the Delmore Brothers, and Hank Williams, performed with intricate instrumentals and gorgeous harmonies, create a parlour atmosphere, where we gather around the Victrola at the end of a long summer day. There is a timelessness to the instrumental tracks in particular, tracks like Fiddler's Dream and Land of Lincoln, that catapult me back to a Manitoba social on a sultry evening, when the hall door was propped open to let in the air and the old people took over the dance floor.

The Trail of Time is a highly evocative record. Each track draws out memories, whether personal or part of the collective consciousness. The Twilite Broadcasters are capable and caring archivists of those memories and under their stewardship these traditional songs are breathed new life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

if life gives you melons

The new issue of BC Musician Magazine is now online and being distributed to better music stores and cooler coffee shops around BC and Alberta. With this issue's theme being the musician as artist, some pretty intriguing content lies beyond the woodcut image gracing the cover.

My article investigates the phenomenon of synesthesia, a neurological oddity in which I have always been fascinated, and, truth be told, which I sort of wish I possessed. You really should read it, you may just recognize the good-hearted victim who was the subject of my interview.

And if you want more morphing of music and art, go ahead, check out the rest of the issue.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

speaking of folk festivals

My sister tells me that last weekend's Winnipeg Folk Festival was the best one ever. She readily admits, though, that she says that every year.

It is so tempting to spend the entire summer traipsing across this nation, folk festivalling along the way. There is no shortage of festivals from which to choose.

This weekend alone, I could be hanging out with a dear friend at Home County Folk Festival in beautiful London, ON where a piece of my heart still resides, or I could be making new friends at the Kulth Music Festival, arguably the newest kid on the block.

The Kulth is happening in Coombs on Vancouver Island, a town whose previous claim to fame are the goats who hang out on the roof of the general store. Who doesn't love goats? Even if you have to climb a roof for a personal encounter.

Sadly, I can't be at either of these festivals, but I am gearing up for the most wonderful time of the year which is mere days away - the four days when we pack up our festival chairs and head to lush tranquility of Prince's Island Park. Four glorious days of music and artist encounters and selling albums and dancing at after-parties and eating gelato and falafels and those incredible salads that they make at Hospitality.

Taking on coordinator duties this year means a bit more work before festival time, but it only serves to get me more excited for the countdown. Besides, I am picking up valuable tips for when I start my own Kittens and Moonshine Festival.

I'm inviting your input into the planning.

What would be the best weekend of the summer for me to hold my festival?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I love it when you sing to me

Is there a better way to spend a dark, rainy morning than tweaking your folk festival strategy? With the blessed event a mere week away, and with very decent shifts offered to me in my new role as a Music and Merchandise Tent co-ordinator, the time seemed perfect for planning my sonic attack.

Here's what I currently have. Bear in mind that my current concert and workshop strategy is a fluid entity, subject to whims and fancies and following sounds heard in the wind. Hearts will certainly be broken.

Thursday July 21

on5:30pmMainstageReverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
on7:30pmMainstageJoel Plaskett
on8:50pmMainstageCity and Colour

Friday July 22

on3:00pmStage 5Wilson, Swarbrick and Gaughan
on4:00pmStage 5MINOTAURS
on5:00pmStage 5BRAIDS
on6:50pmMainstageNanci Griffith
on8:00pmMainstageBonnie "Prince" Billy
on9:15pmMainstagePatrick Watson
on10:30pmMainstageThe Herbaliser

Saturday July 23

on10:30amStage 5Your Indie Heart
David Wax Museum, Imaginary Cities,Lightning Dust
on1:00pmStage 1Country Club
JImmie Dale Gilmour (The Flatlanders) T. Buckley , The Felice Brothers, Martha Scanlan
on2:05pmStage 6Vex Us
Chic Gamine, Coeur de Pirate, David Wax Museum, The Head and the Heart
on3:20pmStage 5Beat Down
Cadence Weapon, Socalled,SociaLybrium, Yohimbe Brothers feat. Bernie Worrell
on4:20pmStage 4Free Agents
Dick Gaughan Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Dark Dark Dark, Lightning Dust
on6:00pmStage 4Lightning Dust
on7:20pmStage 4The Head and the Heart
on8:10pmMainstageThe Felice Brothers
on8:45pmStage 4Yo La Tengo
on10:20pmMainstagek.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang

Sunday July 24

on12:50pmStage 5Darn Tootin'
Jason Wilson Blind Pilot, Dark Dark Dark,MINOTAURS
on2:15pmStage 5Dark Dark Dark
on3:15pmStage 4Geoff Berner
on4:15pmStage 2No Yo-Mas
Cris Derksen (Lightning Dust) Portland Cello Project, Raleigh, The Swamp Ward Orchestra
on5:30pmMainstageCoeur de Pirate
on7:30pmMainstageBuffy Sainte-Marie