The radio stations I’m listening to here seem to play their fair share of Canadian music. I caught a song called “Crabapples” the other morning by an act called bruce peninsula. It was great, with a gritty sound, and clap-along choir choruses. A bit Arcade Fire, a bit of The Polyphonic Spree. There’s also some Afrobeat going on in some of the songs, which I think is supercool.Here’s their MySpace: have a listen.
I got this email from my pal Dino in Ottawa overnight:
Mark and I went out for drinks on Friday and ended up crashing a rockabilly rehearsal that was going on in some garage. It was very surreal. The space was full of garage-sale ephemera: old license plates, artwork (black velvet, oil, charcoal), toys. It was awesome. After Mark dropped me off…where the [other neighbourhood] guys were hanging out celebrating a birthday, I managed to convince another 3 to go back for with me for a second visit.
The band in question is, it seems, Ottawa locals the Devillaires. They definitely have a fun rockabilly sound: check out this video (in which they make a couple of brief appearances).
You can hear a couple more tunes on their MySpace page, too. They sound like the genuine thing to me. If you’re anywhere near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, I say you should be following Dino’s lead: check your local listings and track them down.
Canadian music overload last night at a Buck 65 gig at Dingwalls’ in Camden. Interestingly, each act was just a single performer.
First up was the oddity known as Mayor McCA. A lo-fi one-man band, the Mayor played a sad ukulele ballad, sat atop a kickdrum he played with his heel, made use of set of bass pedals, threw in some electric guitar and keyboards, and treated us to a wandering clarinet solo. He was stoner-goofy but endearingly good natured and funny. The epic “Hey Man You Gotta Nice Job” featured a crowd singalong and a snazzy tap-dancing interlude.
Next up was CR Avery, a beatboxing Tom Waits poet. He was a lot more intense, especially during his spoken-word-with-vocal-scratching bits (which the crowd really got into), but still wickedly funny. Avery throws piano and harmonica into the mix, too, adding a bluesy, organic element to his unusual hip-hop.
Buck 65 came out with his Mac laptop, a turntable, and a microphone and started to rhyme. I’ve only very recently gotten into Buck; perhaps oddly, since (as he proclaimed last night) he’s from Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia, only a couple hours from where I grew up and just a few minutes from where I went to university. It’s not like he’s new, either. He’s been releasing music since the mid ’90s. But I’ve come to like his style, country-geek rapping that indie hipsters can admit to enjoying. Buck’s later beats have included more country, rock and blues influence. His lyrics are offbeat and often story-telling.
Last night he sounded good, rapping swiftly and solidly over his computer tracks (though he admitted his laptop was on its last legs) with some turntablism interludes. He was charming and funny and danced his pseudo-running man white-boy dances. It’s the last show of his tour, but it didn’t show. The whole thing was upbeat, cheerful, catchy and sounded good.
Buck did songs from across his career; while I’ve not been a fan long enough to know all his tunes by heart, I recognised “Dang”, “Way Back When”, “1957” (which ended abruptly due to a laptop glitch), a blistering and country-mixed “Wicked and Weird”, “Roses and Bluejays”, crowd-pleasing “The Centaur”, “Bandits”, “463”, and “Cries A Girl”.
In 1988 I was between my first and second years at university. Like anyone else in their late teens I was heavily into exploring new music, especially the favourite music of all the other students I was living with and attending classes with. Someone got me listening to Jimi Hendrix, and, well, that was that. I heard something inside his psychedelic rock sounds – supporting those sounds, really – that moved me. At around the same time, during one of my last summers home working on the farm, my dad bought a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, Texas Flood. That two-pronged attack made me realise: I loved the blues. Suddenly, my appreciation for ZZ Top and George Thorogood made a lot more sense.
Shortly afterwards, back at university, I saw a music video for a Canadian blues-rock trio called the Jeff Healey Band. Healey, the guitarist, was amazing. Even more amazing was that he was blind, and played his guitar while it sat flat in his lap. I bought his first album, See The Light.
This isn’t going to turn into a story about how Jeff Healey changed my life. He didn’t. He was not the most original songwriter, and the big hits off that first album were “Angel Eyes” (a John Hiatt cover) and “Blue Jean Blues” (a ZZ Top cover). He was a phenomenal guitarist, though, and his songs were light and fun if nothing else. You could tell he had a love for the roots of music.
I saw the Jeff Healey Band perform live twice, and they were very good, as all blues-boogie stuff is better live and unproduced. Healey himself would get up and jump all around the stage, hopping blindly with his guitar held to his lap, lost in his solos. I followed his pursuits for a couple of years, and bought his next two albums,Hell To Pay (which had a very good cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”) and Feel This (which I actually have an autographed copy of – I bet that’s suddenly worth something). I even smiled when I saw Healey and his band play opposite Patrick Swayze in one of my favourite worst movies ever, Road House (which has a couple of the band’s cuts on the soundtrack).
I lost track of Healey after a couple of years, although I knew that he’d gone back to the roots music he loved by hosting a Toronto radio jazz programme. I thought that was a pretty cool thing.
I didn’t know that he was ill, but the article says that he’d been fighting cancer for a while. It’s too bad that he died so young.
Some YouTube videos: