The Ancient Prayers of Compline

poster4

I’m definitely an amateur photographer at best.  So I was pleased to be asked recently to allow a photo I’d taken of a simple, well-worn pew inside an old church on the Nova Scotia shore to be used for a poster for an upcoming concert  by Acadia University’s distinguished Manning Chapel Choir.  Of course, I was more than happy to do so (and the request  made my day)!

The sunset concert of Compline, or night prayers, will be sung, appropriately, in a former old church in the small town of Harbourville on the Bay of Fundy about a week before Canada’s Thanksgiving Day.  The concert poster is above and the original blog post and series of photos that prompted the request is here.  More about the concert and the Manning Chapel Choir can be found here.

Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia

Ballads Cover 1

Front Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Helen Creighton, a  then-budding musicologist, set about criss-crossing Nova Scotia to collect songs peculiar to the province.  In 1933 she published 150 of these songs in Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia, the first of her many song collections.

I had the good fortune recently to come across a lovely first edition of this book and have enjoyed thumbing through it, while marvelling at the laborious effort reflected in its pages.  Here may be found songs of the sea, of love and its missing, of battle, of children’s play, as well as connections to the English, Scottish, French, Acadian and Mikmaq influences on this rich local music.  The book’s front and back covers are graced with an exquisite woodcut by the noted illustrator, Reginald Knowles, and depict scenes suggestive of the songs within.

Title Page

Title Page, Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Homeward Bound

“Homeward Bound,” from Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Devil's Island Scene

Frontispiece Illustration by R. Wilcox for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

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Ballads Back Cover 1

Back Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

The Sweet Lowdown: “Red Shift Blues”

The Sweet Lowdown

The Sweet Lowdown is an amazingly talented folk and roots music trio based in Vancouver Island, B.C.  The group consists of Amanda Blied on guitar,  Shanti Bremer on banjo, and Miriam Sonstenes on fiddle.  Their wonderful harmonies and skillful musicianship and songwriting are starting to attract much-deserved wider recognition, including coveted nominations by the Canadian Folk Music Awards as 2015 Ensemble of the Year and 2015 Roots Group Recording of the Year by the Western Canadian Music Awards for their album “Chasing the Sun”.

The video above is for “Red Shift Blues”, a soulful tune from the band’s 2011 self-titled album “The Sweet Lowdown”.  More info on them and their music can be found on their official band website.

(Photo Credit: Ashli Akins)

Joni Mitchell’s Sublime Artistry; Memorial for Newtown’s Victims

I’ve long admired Joni Mitchell and previously mentioned her collaboration with fellow Canadians, Neil Young and The Band.   A number of her songs serve as place markers for my memories in that special way that songs do when they touch deeply.   So I read with interest the finely crafted essay in this week’s The New Yorker (Dec. 17, 2012, pages 30-35) by Zadie Smith about Smith’s eventual appreciation of Mitchell’s beguiling singing.  The following observation by Smith stood out for me for its thoughtful insight into the straitjacket of expectations against which many artists struggle once they’ve achieved a measure of critical acclaim :

“We want our artists to remain as they were when we first loved them. But our artists want to move.  Sometimes the battle becomes so violent that a perversion in the artist can occur:  these days, Joni Mitchell thinks of herself more as a painter than a singer.  She is so allergic to her audience that she would rather be a perfectly nice painter than a singer touched by the sublime.  That kind of anxiety about audience is often read as contempt, but Mitchell’s restlessness is only the natural side effect of her artmaking, as it is with Dylan, as it was with Joyce and Picasso.  Joni Mitchell doesn’t want to live in my dream, stuck in an eternal 1971 — her life has its own time.  There is simply not enough time in her life for her to be the Joni of my memory forever.  The worst possible thing for an artist is to exist as a feature of somebody else’s epiphany.”

In Memory of Newtown’s Victims

Among Mitchell’s many songs that have meaning for me is “The Circle Game,” which resurfaces memories of my long ago routine of playing this piece as an accompaniment to rocking to sleep each of my boys when they were infants.   The video below of this poignant song of childhood innocence and the journey of life is shared here in memory of the many innocent souls tragically killed this week in Newtown, Connecticut:

Great Lake Swimmers: Put There By the Land

Driving back from the airport in the early morning a few months ago, I turned on the radio and happened upon the mesmerizing “Put There By The Land” by the Great Lake Swimmers.   That led to exploring this Toronto-based group further.  Nice variety of styles, including some with catchy hooks, such as “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “Pulling on a Line”.   This group deserves more attention.  More about them on their website here.

Above the Ground by Mark Berube & The Patriotic Few

Lately I’ve been wearing out both “Above the Ground” and “Hello” by Mark Berube & The Patriotic Few.  The clip of the first song, which is available on YouTube, is a shortened version that provides a good feel for the whole of this very mellow piece and its terrific lyrics.  Guest singer Emily Loizeau joins the band on that piece as well.  “Hello” is hypnotic.  Both are on the band’s June in Siberia album, released earlier this year.

Music Spotlight: Neil Young and The Band

Robbie Robertson’s recent receipt of an Order of Canada award reminded me that I had not posted anything about music lately and that I’d been looking for an opportunity to comment on both Neil Young and The Band. 

One of those cultural semi-secrets about which many of us in the States are unaware is how much of what we consider to be American entertainment derives from Canadian performers.  Sticking just with music, notable Canadian performers with numerous fans in the States include not only Neil Young and The Band, but also Arcade Fire, Tragically Hip, Hidden Cameras, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Rakish Angles, Leonard Cohen, Shania Twain, Gordon Lightfoot, Celine Dion, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell and Matthew Barber, to name just a few.   But of all these, I have a special regard for the classic folk-rock sounds of Neil Young and The Band.

Although born in Toronto, Neil Young spent much of his teen years in Winnipeg before later taking up a long time residence in California.  While there are many things to appreciate about Young, his deep lyrics and the shades of knowing melancholy in his delivery are what stand out most for me.  So many of his songs — “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “Ohio,” “My My, Hey Hey,” “Helpless,” and “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” among others — stand up well in the test of time. It’s amazing that well after his initial rise to prominence in the 1960s this guy is still going strong all these many years later, even having released two new studio albums since 2009. 

It’s probably no coincidence that The Band also initially hit it big in the rock music scene in the 1960s, carrying a bright musical torch until their break up in 1976, which was famously captured in Martin Scorsese’s documentary of their valedictory concert in “The Last Waltz”.  While all but one of their members was Canadian, the one non-Canadian, Levon Helm, was hugely influential in that group as the rare  drummer with so much talent that he brought his Arkansas-twanged voice to bear as lead singer on two of the group’s most notable songs, “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”   Nevertheless, as with NHL teams, which count many “cross-over” countrymen from both sides of the border among their ranks, it’s fair to regard The Band as being as much a product of Canada as it is of the States.

The following video nicely features Young performing with The Band at The Last Waltz concert, with Joni Mitchell providing back up vocals.

JUNO Awards 2011

Last night the 41st annual JUNO Awards — Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards — were announced at an awards gala and presentation ceremony in Toronto.  Winners included The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs for Album of the Year, The Arcade Fire for Group of the Year, Neil Young for Artist of the Year, and Meaghan Smith for New Artist of the Year.

The official JUNO Awards site (http://junoawards.ca/) has details on winners, sound clips from nominees, photos of event and much more.

Awesomeness! Album of the Year Grammy Goes to Arcade Fire

 

“City With No Children” from The Suburbs

No big surprise to fans of Quebec-based Arcade Fire that this past weekend their superb album The Suburbs received the Grammy Award for 2010’s best album.   (See 8/15/10 O’Canada Blog posting here.)  What is particularly interesting to me are many of the comments I’ve seen posted on various blogs and popular music-related sites where so many people have expressed bewilderment about who is this group called Arcade Fire and how could they possibly have won this award.  Never a better moment for the good old “LOL”.  Fans of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber (another Canadian, of course), both of whom had albums nominated, seemed especially perplexed about the indie rock band’s win. 

Situations like this make me realize that with the extreme fragmentation nowadays of genres within the music world just how truly difficult it is for talented musicians of any sort to break through to the mainstream.  Anyway, I’m glad there are  enough critics and fans with discriminating ears who are able to help elevate to wider prominence underappreciated groups like Arcade Fire.

Getting Sirius About Canada

A little more than a month ago, I got a trial subscription to Sirius satellite radio for my car but until the past two weeks I had not paid much attention to it.   Then I downloaded a channel guide and skimmed through the varied options and was intrigued that in addition to channels devoted to music and musicians I like, there are several channels devoted to Canadian music, news and sports.  It seems fitting that my attention would be drawn to these channels given that the first occasion I had to listen to satellite radio was in a rental car on a trip to Nova Scotia a couple of years ago.   During that initial experience with Sirius’s offerings I hopped around from channel to channel appreciating what was for me a sense of novelty, but because I did not have a list of channels I was unaware of satellite radio’s breadth.

So, here are some of the Canada-related channels I’ve been sampling of late (descriptions and Sirius channel number in parentheses):

  • Iceberg Radio (Canadian Alternative Music, Ch. 85)
  • CBC Radio 3 (Canadian Indie Music, Ch. 86)
  • Bandeapart (Radio-Canada New French Music, Ch. 87)
  • L’Oasis Francophone (French Contemporary Music from Canada, Ch. 88)
  • The Score (Uncensored Canadian Sports Talk, Ch. 98)
  • CBC Radio One (Canada News, Ch. 137)
  • Canadian Weather Network (Canada Weather, Ch. 138)

Although I need to explore each of these more, I’m already impressed at the way these channels add another dimension to my understanding and learning about Canada’s diverse culture.   I’m not certain whether I’ll keep the Sirius subscription after the trial period but if I do I’m sure that being able to tune into Canadian radio will be the balance tipper.

Matthew Barber’s “Easily Bruised”

I’ve been listening to the soothing indie folk melodies of Toronto-based singer/songwriter Matthew Barber for the past year now and I think he’s a musical artist who’s likely to garner much-deserved greater attention in the near future.  The video below is for “Easily Bruised,” which is from his 2008/09 Ghost Notes album.  I couldn’t locate a high quality video for another standout song of his, “True Believer,” from the 2010 album of the same name, but you can listen to that on Barber’s MySpace page (link below) — and get a copy from iTunes or elsewhere and make him (and yourself) happy.   : )

Official website for Matthew Barber

Myspace link for Matthew Barber 

Arcade Fire’s Take on The Suburbs

During a visit to a local hardware store earlier this week, the announcer on the radio playing on the store’s sound system commented that when she was a teen learning to drive in south Florida she always resented French Canadians because the cars with Quebec license plates always seemed to occupy all the available public parking.  That observation alone made me chuckle and got my attention.   She continued by noting that she has since changed her views and now she loves French Canadians, and one of the reasons is because of the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire.  She brought this up because of the band’s release a couple of weeks ago of its superb new album “The Suburbs”.  

Even though it’s generally regarded as an indie rock band, Arcade Fire and its label, North Carolina’s Merge Records, have done such a good job of promoting this latest album that there is a thread of discussion in the press and blogosphere about whether the band has sold out from its indie roots.  Wow!  What a spurious view that seems to suggest that an artist (musical or otherwise) whose craft is critically acclaimed can only be taken seriously so long as the artist is willing to live in poverty and not “play” any part of the commercial game.  I don’t get that as the two are not mutually exclusive except, if at all, from the narrowest viewpoint, and say more power to creative types who are able to enjoy commercial success for their efforts.  And, of course, it’s a big plus if, like the music on “The Suburbs”, the result of that effort is something that brings great pleasure for so many to enjoy.  So, thumbs up to this latest release by Arcade Fire — on which the music is really good, by the way!   All the tracks on this album are consistently good, with my favorites being “Modern Man,” “Rococo,” “City With No Children”, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).”

Link to Arcade Fire’s web page:  http://www.arcadefire.com/

Barenaked Ladies Postcard Prank

Last night the Barenaked Ladies performed at Chastain Park Amphitheatre, an outdoor venue here in Atlanta at which it is difficult not to enjoy oneself, especially with a band as infectious as these lads from Canada.  While I wasn’t able to attend the concert, knowing that the group was here reminded me of a prank I played on my youngest son that centered on one of the band’s hits, “Another Postcard.”

A few summers ago, my two sons, then 13 and 16, and I took a week-long road trip through the Southeastern U.S. to camp and tackle about a half-dozen whitewater rivers in this part of the country that we had not yet rafted or kayaked.  Along the way, we listened to mixtapes, mostly rock, that each of us had made for the trip.  On one of my sons’ CDs was the Barenaked Ladies song “Another Postcard”.  Although I had heard it before, it is a piece to which I had never really given a good listen.  When I focused on the lyrics, I enjoyed the good-natured humor expressed in the song about the band receiving anonymous chimp-themed postcards.  So much did I enjoy it, that the song was played over and over to the point that my kids may actually have regretted bringing it along.    Along the way, we also predictably shared a fair number of chimp-related jokes.

Shortly after we arrived home from our outdoors adventure, I proceeded to locate postcards or greetings cards that I could convert to a post card and that featured images of chimps, usually in some silly pose.  I jotted short nonsensical notes, ostensibly from “Chimpie”, on each card and over a week and a half sent one card a day to my youngest son.  Fortunately, my sons are possessed with a natural good sense of humor (like their dad!), and throughout the week my youngest seemed to take note of the cards without much remark.  Then one Saturday as his brother and I were chatting in one of their bedrooms, my youngest son walks in from getting the mail and says with slight annoyance and in an almost perfectly scripted moment, ” I don’t get it.  I just got another stupid postcard of a chimpanzee!”  Up to that point, I had not let either of my sons  in on my sophomoric joke but at that moment each of them, hearing me chuckle and seeing the smile on my face, knew that it was a prank from their dad and they too could not help but join in the laughter (although my youngest vowed to pay me back!).

Thus, in the way that music has a way of conjuring up memories, whenever I hear “Another Postcard” it brings me back to that enjoyable summer road trip and its mirthful endnote.

An Appreciation for Leonard Cohen

 

Although I love both all sorts of music and all manner of documentaries, when several years ago my wife proposed that we see the documentary Leonard Cohen:  I’m Your Man, which was then playing in theaters, I was initially reluctant.   My problem was that I suffered from a woeful ignorance and underappreciation of this musical maven of Montreal and the impact of his gifted songwriting.  Funny thing is that I had previously heard numerous covers by others of his songs — including “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and “Chelsea Hotel” — I just did not realize that he was the songwriter.  

Well, not long into the screening it struck me how truly good this music was.   The movie is really a wonderful tribute to Cohen, bringing together numerous noteworthy singers to perform their own interpretations of Cohen’s songs.  There are several standout performances and I’d recommend most.   Rufus Wainwright does an emotional version of “Hallelujah” in the movie, even though I best enjoy Jeff Buckley’s rendition of that song among the many exceptional covers that have been done of it. 

So, I’ve since mended my ways with respect to Cohen.  In addition to his lyrical talents, there are many things to appreciate about Cohen, not least of which is his very laid back, wise and humane perspective on the human condition.  Cohen seems to be enjoying a renaissance these days, no doubt propelled in part by his being rediscovered by many through the recent documentary.  While I fall into the camp that believes Cohen to be a better songwriter than a singer in his early music career, I believe his now gravelly voice adds a welcome soulful texture that prompts a further listen to his own singing.  In this respect, the poignant singing and narrative of Cohen’s own version of “Tower of Song” is riveting.

Canada’s Regional Sounds on Smithsonian Folkways

French Canadian Folk Songs Track Listing  (Song suggestion:  “A la Claire Fontaine”)

Pretty much for as long as I can remember I’ve always liked folk music.  Among the earliest folk songs I can recall is the French-Canadian song “Alouette,” which every now and then would be played in one of my grade school classes as I was growing up in New York.  I enjoyed the fast, playful pacing of this simple children’s tune and, not knowing any French at the time, was more than amused years later to learn that it dealt with the plucking of a chicken.

Folksongs of Saskatchewan Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=761

(Song suggestion: “Saskatchewan”)

That song, along with hundreds of other Canadian regional tunes, can be readily found through the website for Smithsonian Folkways.  Over almost  40 years, Folkways Records devoted itself to recording songs and sounds from America, Canada and other parts of the world, producing a prodigious 2,168 albums.  Several years ago, the Smithsonian acquired the archives of Folkways Records and part of the Smithsonian’s mission was to make the collection widely available, which it accomplishes, in part, through the website.

A search of “Canada” on the Smithsonian Folkways site reveals a total of 118 Canada-related records.  Because most of these recordings are from the 1950s and 60s, they are very difficult to find elsewhere, so it is amazing that so many are collected in one location.  (Link to Canadian-Related Records on Smithsonian Folkways:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/searchresults.aspx?sPhrase=canada&sType=’phrase’).

While the Smithsonian Folkways collection is broader than just Canadian music, there is a further strong Canadian connection of this music by virtue of the University of Alberta’s folkwaysAlive! project that is part of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.  The University of Alberta has also made a significant grant in support of the mission of Smithsonian Folkways.  (Link to University of Alberta’s folkwaysAlive!:  http://www.fwalive.ualberta.ca/home/about-us/)

There are many albums worth noting on the Folkways site.   A few examples, with links to album track listings and a suggested song to which you might listen for a flavor of the album, are noted above and below.

Canada’s Story in Song Track Listing: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2116

(Song suggestion:  “Poor Little Girls of Ontario”)

We’ll Rant and We’ll Rave Track Listing:    http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=1523

(Song suggestion:  “Harbour Place”)

Heart of Cape Breton Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2973

(Song suggestion:  My Great Friend John Morris Rankin, etc.” — Medley)

Songs and Dances of Quebec Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=1241

(Song suggestion:  “Danse Carre”)

The Rakish Angles: “Dan and Misha’s Wedding”

A couple of months ago I stumbled onto the web site for Bearwood Music, a small music label in British Columbia.  While there are several artists recording with Bearwood that interest me, one of the standouts is the band The Rakish Angles, who are from Gibsons, British Columbia.  The amazing quartet performs a wonderful mixture of instrumental bluegrass and jazz, that has both traditional elements and some experimental aspects (for instance, a couple of their pieces meld bluegrass with flamenco — a combination I’ve not heard before).  Although they were justly among the nominees for “Instrumental Group of the Year” in 2009 at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, I sense that these solid musicians don’t yet get the exposure their considerable talents deserve.

The song “Dan and Misha’s Wedding”, from their debut CD “The Rakish Angles”, is particularly beautiful as both a hopeful piece and as a contemplative elegy containing musical threads that, at least to me, are readily connected to  Scottish and Irish traditional pieces.  Because of this, I’m sure that the graceful notes of the violin in this song would have been familiar to many early pioneers in Canada from the British Isles.  It’s also reminiscent of any number of instrumental folk tunes still common today in the mountain regions of the southern U.S., which was also populated early on by immigrants from the same region and which has its own rich bluegrass heritage.   The song, which I’ve had on one of my recent iTunes playlist and which I’ve listened to repeatedly this past week, can be listened to in full on the band’s MySpace page (link below) or sampled and purchased on iTunes.  Give them a fair listen and I’m sure you’ll find some other truly good things  by these worthy performers.

Link to The Rakish Angles on MySpace:  http://www.myspace.com/therakishangles

Link to The Rakish Angles on Bearwood Music site (and from which other Bearwood recoding artists can be accessed):  http://www.bearwoodmusic.com/artists/the-rakish-angles/the-rakish-angles/

The Hidden Cameras: “In the Na”

Among the songs that I’m wearing out in my iPod this week is the retro sound of “In the Na” by The Hidden Cameras, an indie folk rock band based in Toronto.  (This video is an extended version of the song, with the music actually starting at 1:43 for those that want to skip to that point.)  Other notable songs of theirs include “I Believe in the Good of Life,” “Doot Doot Ploot,” and “We Oh We”.

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