by Doug Heselgrave
The renaissance in Canadian roots and indie music continues, and frankly can be more than a little overwhelming. In the last few years, we’ve seen artists like ‘Deep Dark Woods’, ‘Wintersleep’, ‘Roxanne Potvin’, ‘Kim Beggs’, ‘Steve Dawson’ and many more release albums that are every bit as good as work produced by their American counterparts, but unlike the sixties and early seventies when artists like Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young had to travel down south to have a chance at a career in music, today Canadian artists are making it on their own and developing their art in Canada before and even without journeying outwards. Some artists like Stomping Tom Connors and Ronnie Hawkins continue to have very successful artistic lives without ever stepping over the border. I’ve spent the last few weeks listening up a storm to some of the newest releases by our Northern artists and have started making playlists of my favourite new songs from Canadian musicians.
Here are three songs that have stuck in my head all week. Two fall solidly into the roots category while Mark Davis engages in some very credible genre jumping on his new album ‘Eliminate the Toxins’ with sounds ranging from chamber folk, to grunge and mopey eighties Brit pop stylings. Without further ado –
Lie to me – BettySoo and Doug Cox
‘Lie to Me’ is the opening track from BettySoo and Doug Cox’s newly issued CD, ‘Across the borderline’ and is a song I simply can’t hear enough. BettySoo’s powerful vocals slink and slide over Doug Cox’s subtle dobro work to remind listeners of the power that a single voice and guitar can have over an audience even in 2011. Originally written by Jeff Talmadge, ‘Lie to Me’ is a song that should be covered by more artists.
BettySoo is an Asian American singer with that rarest of voices – one that is capable of being strong, supple, booming and delicate all at the same time. Her phrasing is masterfully nuanced as it effortlessly adds dimension to the words of every song she sings on this album.Why haven’t we heard more of this Texas based singer? Doug Cox is well known to Canadian roots music audiences both as a solo performer and as a member of ‘Slide to Freedom’ – an ensemble that features Mohan and Salil Bhatt which explores the commonalities between Indian classical music and the blues. When not on the road or recording, Doug Cox lives in Comox Valley on Vancouver Island and is the artistic director of the Vancouver Island Music Festival.
‘Across the borderline’ is well worth checking out as the duo interpret songs by Doug Sahm, Jane Siberry, Loudon Wainwright II and more. The superb version of Guy Clark’s ‘Dublin Blues’ that closes the album is well worth the price of admission.
By Harry Manx and Kevin Breit
Harry Manx and Kevin Breit have recorded three albums together and tour extensively both alone and as a duo. Harry is a British expatriate who lives just a stone’s throw from Doug Cox on Saltspring Island off the west coast of BC. The two men share many passions – including a love for the Mohan Veena which he plays on ‘Dance with Delilah’ one of the songs on their new album, ‘strictly whatever’. Like Cox, Manx studied with Mohan Bhatt and enjoys exploring the intersections between western roots music and classical Indian strings.
‘Sunny’ is an old R and B chestnut written by Bobby Hebb after the assassination of John F. Kennedy which was later covered by Boney M. The rootsy treatment the duo gives the song serves as the perfect way in to the music on ‘strictly whatever’ – a title which aptly describes the myriad of styles found on the record. Manx and Breit share vocal duties on a variety of covers including ‘Mr. Lucky’ – a song originally written by John Lee Hooker, but it is the instrumental tracks such as ‘hippy trippy’ and ‘note to self’ which are the most musically satisfying. Worth checking out.
‘How many Angels’
by Mark Davis
From a different world entirely is the song, ‘How Many Angels’ by Mark Davis that opens his second solo release ‘Eliminate the Toxins.’ On it, Davis encompasses a range of styles spanning from the brooding folk of Nick Drake, the sonic landscapes of the Byrds as well as a healthy mix of Neil Young guitar grunge.
‘How Many Angels’ is the type of song that would usually drive me over the edge. The despair and nihilistic detachment of the vocals – that often sound more than a little like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis – are enough to drive a cynical soul like myself crazy, but somehow Davis rises above the ennui to create a memorable song. The universe the lyrics inhabit is very Cohen-like as the singer mopes about not ‘gaining virtues’ and blaming ‘him she was gone.’ Still, there’s a lot of integrity in the layered sound Davis creates and the 11 songs that never once give in and crack a smile. Other memorable tracks include ‘Go to Ground’ and ‘A good One’ which explores the different ways a person can die. This is not music for the easily disturbed.
Mark Davis – along with Shuyler Jansen – was a member of Old Reliable for 15 years, during which time they recorded four albums and gained considerable critical acclaim.
This article also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com