Review: David Myles It’s Christmas at The Arden

To say that the Christmas season is a time of year that David Myles really gets into is probably a bit of an understatement — his website for the month of December features an Advent Calendar, with different videos, songs and even some colouring pages! And while Santa might not have brought him a banjo, with a guitar Myles packed St. Albert’s Arden Theatre for his It’s Christmas show.dsc_0602

In his signature suit, flanked by Kyle Cunjak and Alan Jeffries, Myles spun stories of Christmases past in between classics such as “White Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride”. Myles’ family, including a rather precocious four year old, featured heavily in the stories. Last week Myles’ daughter’s playschool class was the test audience before he played two shows with the Halifax Symphony. The kids, so the story goes, didn’t want to hear any “sleepy songs” like “Star of Hope” and instead demanded repeats of “Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo” … which is decidedly NOT a sleepy song.

It was one of those rare shows that you left with a sore face because you spent two plus hours with a massive grin on your face. Myles kept us in stitches, reliving in great detail a Christmas morning when his brother Sean focused on his new GT Snow Racer missed (or rather didn’t miss) the present left behind by the family dog Ginger.

dsc_0603From cajoling to carolling, audience participation was natural. Beginning with level one participation: imagining ourselves on a beach for “Simple Pleasures” off of Myles 2011 album Into the Sun, to full involvement for an acoustic encore that brought Myles, along with Jeffries and Cunjak, in front of the microphones for what felt like a spontaneous collective version of “Silent Night” at the concert’s close.

Myles made a point of mentioning that Christmas albums can come back to haunt performers (yearly, in fact) and if they didn’t REALLY like a song, in the long run it would be not good for them. He spoke about selecting the songs for the album, apparently his daughter is a fan of Nat King Cole’s voice, his mother-in-law was able to point him to a French song to include (“Have you listened to Céline Dion?”), and how a bluegrass version of most any Christmas song but especially Meaghan Smith’s “It Snowed” (non-bluegrass original here) is his default.

Based on the reactions of those around me I doubt that I am alone in hoping that It’s Christmas haunts Myles for many years to come. Like the playschool friends of Myles’ daughter I’ve got “Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo” on repeat, and I will be heading back to Myles’ website every day from now until Christmas to see what fresh treat awaits me in the It’s Christmas Advent Calendar.

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The Arden Theatre’s Professional Series musical offerings continue with The McDades on December 16 & 17, for more information please see their site.

Review: Danny Michel at New Moon Folk Club

The words on Danny Michel‘s red guitar (matching those found on the late Pete Seeger’s banjo) state: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” Friday night’s show epitomized that same message, that the love embedded in music could conquer all. From “Feather, Fur & Fin”, to “Sad & Beautiful World”, and eventually “Click, Click” Michel led us to sense a profound connection between his music and the reality that we now are living. The concert was a moment away from the ugliness that has bubbled to the surface in 2016, but it wasn’t an escape.

But the current Geo-polictical reality wasn’t the only theme of the evening, technology-mediated connections also played an integral role. Both Michel, and the opener Mohsin Zaman, are familiar with stage technology utilising loop pedals to create invisible backing bands, but as strange as the one-man-tech-band may have seemed 15 years ago, on Friday it was the technology of the phone that was featured in a different way. Beginning with Zaman calling/skyping his sister in Dubai (she seemed far more gracious than I would have been if my brother had called me at 7 on a Saturday morning); and, later on in the evening we got a sneak preview of some of the orchestral parts in Khlebnikov the album Michel wrote this past summer on an ice-breaker in the arctic with astronaut Chris Hadfield (can we all just take a moment to realise how cool of an adventure that must have been???) when he played a track through his phone. And with those two phone moments it became clear that the evening was about connections — those between us and the performers, between the songwriter and the topic, between the music and the lyrics.

Through out the evening Michel drew on the wealth of his extensive back catalogue (playing requests called out from the audience) in addition to newer works such as those off of Khlebnikov … check out “24,000 Horses” now:

In typical Danny Michel fashion the music mixed the thoughtful (“Nobody Rules You”) with the humorous (“Wish Willy’s” & “Whale of a Tale”), the nerdy with the sublime (“Samantha’s in the Sky with Diamonds”), and left us all questioning how we can make the world a better place (“Who’s Gonna Miss You” & “Sad and Beautiful World”). Khlebnikov, due out in January 2017, promises to continue the tradition of Michel’s earlier writing, although this time with a bit of a Russian-classical music twist … take the final few lines of “24,000 Horses”:

Through the northwest passage
I stand at the bow
And I thought I’d seen beauty
Until right here right now

Once we had dreams
but they fell through the seams
Like the ice here all melting away

The precise memories of the New Moon show in time will melt away, but maybe the message of the songs that were sung that night will remain.

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The past three New Moon Folk Club shows have been sell-outs. To avoid the disappointment of missing a Friday-night folk music fix in 2017 when the club resumes on January 13th with Ben Rogers you can get five-pack of tickets for the 2017 shows. Please see the New Moon site for details.

Review: Ron Hynes Tribute at Northern Lights Folk

The Northern Light’s Folk Club‘s tribute to Ron Hynes on Saturday was full of poignant stories and beautiful reflections on the man of a thousand songs. Bookended by St John’s Waltz and Sonny’s Dream the event allowed six performers—Ben Sures, Eileen Laverty, Bill Werthmann, Shantel Koenig, Tom Wilson, and Maria Dunn—the chance to take stock of Hynes’ legacy, both personal and professional.

The stories of Hynes impact were exchanged like gifts. Sures and Laverty discovered that they both had first met Hynes as part of a songwriters session in Regina, where the upcoming musician played some of their songs and Hynes would explain how they could improve their work. Both Sures and Laverty had inadvertently created rhymes with the same word, and both would do well to learn from Hynes’ iconic Sonny’s Dream. Dunn described the learning of songs for the evening as putting Hynes’ work “under the microscope” in order to unravel the  intricacies he had woven into his songs. While Wilson commented that learning Hynes’ songs was akin to taking “a Berlitz course in conversational Newfoundlander”, and Werthmann reminded us that Hynes was more than a talented songwriter, but a good friend and a man proud of his family. An actual gift in addition to a story was also exchanged, when Wilson presented Bill & Bettyjo Werthmann with a framed artists’ proof of the album art for Hynes’ self-titled album from 2006.

I never got to hear Ron Hynes perform in person, but after hearing the stories and seeing the range of emotions play across the musician’s faces on Saturday I feel as though I got to know the fragments of him scattered throughout his songs. I don’t have a thousand words for the man of a thousand songs, but hopefully these photos will speak a few for me.

 

The Northern Lights Folk Club resumes in January 2017 with Rosie & the Riveters and Jim & Penny Malmberg, please see their website for ticket information.

St. John’s Waltz – A Ron Hynes Tribute at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Northern Lights Folk Club is hosting a Ron Hynes tribute with musicians, Maria Dunn, Eileen Laverty, Saskatchewan’s Tom Wilson, Bill Werthmann, Ben Sures and Shantel Koenig sharing their voices to honor his tunes.

Singer-Songwriter, Maria Dunn, had time to speak with FOTR in anticipation of the upcoming performance at NLFC.

What is the significance for you as a singer/songwriter to pay tribute to Ron Hynes?

Ron Hynes was a profoundly gifted songwriter who wrote so eloquently about Newfoundland and its people, bringing that part of our country to life in his songs.
His songs made a huge impact, in Newfoundland, across Canada and beyond. Sonny’s Dream is sung by people everywhere and was recorded by artists as varied as country star Emmylou Harris and Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach.

As a songwriter who wants to improve my craft all the time, I admire Ron’s ability with words, story, melody, point of view. His catalogue of moving and memorable songs is huge.

Do you have any specific musical memories of Ron Hynes tunes from your childhood?

I didn’t know Ron’s music as a child, but became aware of his songs in my 20s, when I was a volunteer DJ with a weekly folk/roots show on CJSR FM88, University of Alberta Campus/Community Radio in Edmonton. In fact, Hamish Imlach’s version of Sonny’s Dream might have been one of the first that I heard in the late 1980s.

By the time I met Ron Hynes in person, at the 1999 Vancouver Island Folk Festival, I was sufficiently in awe of his abilities as a writer and not very articulate about how much I admired his songwriting. He was kind to me in that first meeting and encouraging in many other meetings over the years at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Northern Lights Folk Club (Edmonton) and The Ship Inn in St. John’s, NL.

Around that same time, I heard a CBC Radio live recording with Ron singing a song of his that I hadn’t heard before. I rushed to record it on cassette and caught about half the song. It was called “Dublin With Love”. In those years, I still drove a Firefly hatchback with a cassette deck as part of the car stereo and for several weeks, every time I was driving in that car, I would play that half-a-song and harmonize with Ron, I loved his singing of that melody that much. Lo and behold, the Edmonton Folk Festival rolled around a summer or two later and Terry Wickham gave me the wonderful opportunity of performing on a session stage with several Atlantic Canadian music icons, including Ron Hynes and Cape Breton Fiddler Buddy McMaster. Of all the songs that “The Man of a Thousand Songs” could have chosen to sing in that session, he started Dublin With Love. When I chimed in with the harmony that I had been singing for weeks in my car, he raised his eyebrows and gave me a sidelong glance which seemed encouraging at the time (as opposed to a “stop-that-racket!” glare). The experience was one of those little dreams come true, getting to sing along with one of my songwriting heroes! I must have done OK, because he invited me back to sing harmony with him at his folk fest concert the next afternoon.

What are you most looking forward to at the Ron Hynes tribute?

Hearing Eileen Laverty sing my favourite Ron Hynes song, Godspeed, written for the late songwriter Gene MacLellan (writer of Anne Murray’s hit song “Snowbird”) and brilliantly referencing Gene’s own song “Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man”. Ron had huge respect for Gene’s songwriting talent and his compassion in this song for Gene (who had taken his own life) rings through every line. Godspeed always moves me to tears and Eileen is a beautiful interpreter of songs. She will do a gorgeous job, I’m sure!

What current projects are you currently focused on in your own repertoire?

I am currently promoting and touring the new album, released in April 2016, entitled Gathering.

I’m thrilled that Gathering has received some accolades recently:

(1) Winner – 2016 Independent Music Award – Social Action Song category for the song “Malala”
(2) Shortlisted for the 2016 Edmonton Music Prize

In the months ahead:

I’ll be heading to Folk Alliance 2017 in February. I’ve been selected to perform an Official Showcase.
March 2017, I’ll be performing 4 special Triple Bill concerts in NY State with two US songwriters Si Kahn (legendary songwriter of “Aragon Mill”) and Joe Jencks.
Sep 2017, I’ll be heading back to the UK for another month-long tour of folk clubs.
And more dates to come in Summer 2017.
All shows will be posted on the website at: http://www.mariadunn.com
Folks interested in my music can subscribe to my e-mailing list there too, listen to lots of song samples and purchase the music.

Newfoundland has a rich history of folk music but you have documented many tales in Alberta which you have shared through song, what kind of stories inspire you to communicate them?

Stories of resilience and grace in the face of adversity.
Stories of courage and compassion.
Stories of so-called “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things.
Stories of people standing up to injustice.

The most recent CD, Gathering, is devoted to celebrating those kinds of stories with songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, the songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global (Malala, When The Grandmothers Meet) and local (When I Was Young, How I Live).

Stories from our history that I think more people should know about, for e.g:
When I Was Young – inspired by the 1980s-90s work of indigenous rights activist Dorothy McDonald-Hyde for her community, the Fort McKay First Nation.

We Were Good People – tells the story of the 1932 Hunger March in Edmonton

In the Shadow of the Rockies – about Ukrainian Canadians forced into the Castle Mountain internment camp (Banff National Park) in WWI
I Cannot Tell You – the story of a Vietnamese refugee coming to Canada in the late 70s

The Ron Hynes tribute is Saturday, November 26, 2016. Please see the NLFC Website for more ticket information. Upcoming acts at the NLFC include Rosie and the Riveters and Jim and Penny Malmberg,

Review: Séan McCann at Horizon Stage

This was Séan McCann‘s first time at the Horizon Stage, and although he was battling a cold he caught in the mountains he captivated the audience with his songs. You may have heard that since leaving Great Big Sea McCann’s concerts have taken on a reflective and almost confessional quality, but experiencing one of these intimate concerts is something else entirely. The evening revolved around McCann sharing how his life has been transformed in the past few years—from sobriety to a shift in his world view—McCann’s stories were funny, tragic and personal (sometimes all in one).

With Son of a Sailor we learnt how the small wharves of Newfoundland were destroyed in the early 1990s and how McCann’s children would never experience the way of life that he grew up with. With Red Wine and Whiskey McCann told us not only about his issues with addiction but also gave us a lighthearted glimpse of his work with Joel Plaskett who produced his 2014 album Help Your Self and his songbook  You Know I Love You.

A talented story-teller McCann had the audience singing along to his newer songs [including Plaskett’s addition of a call & response refrain in Red Wine and Whiskey], and connecting the audience not only with him but to each other. A particularly poignant moment was when McCann spoke about Ron Hynes life and death before singing us a stunning version of Sonny’s Dream.

McCann wasn’t alone on stage, he was joined throughout the evening by the singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Murphy, who at McCann’s urging also shared his own song Finally Coming Home. The second set which included McCann revisiting some GBS hits like The Night That Paddy Murphy Died and Ordinary Day, began with (now) local Martin Kerr singing Little Screens. Kerr played after McCann described a surreal scene of modern-disconnection ,he had flown into Toronto Pearson airport and found it eerily silent because everyone was engrossed in their phones, hundreds of people staring down at little electronic devices.

Fortified by green tea at the intermission McCann’s second set ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation and both Murphy and Kerr joined McCann on an acoustic version of You Know I Love You which he brought right into the audience. The message of the night was that although the world increasingly feels like a dangerous place that love is more powerful than anger, and that our connections with one another are important, and those two ideas together equal hope. McCann through the transformation of his life, through his starting over, embodies that message of hope for the future.

There is a lot going on at the Horizon Stage, please see their site for full performance details.

Review: Tom Russell with opener Lucas Chaisson at New Moon Folk Club

For the third time this season the New Moon Folk Club was packed for Tom Russell with opener Lucas Chaisson. But before  they took to the stage the #yegfolkies at New Moon took a few minutes to remember Leonard Cohen with an ingenuous rendition of the Bard of Montreal’s Hallelujah.  There was a therapeutic sense of musical healing granted by singing in an audience chorus.

From the first strum of his intricate guitar playing Lucas Chaisson‘s set zapped the stress of the week right out of the audience. His mellow vocals created a meditative atmosphere that continued through the rest of the night. The repeated phrase within Ashes : “We are all born from the ashes of another” also provided an organic transition to Russell’s act.

Lucas Chaisson – Ashes from Daelan Wood on Vimeo.

Beginning with Chaisson and continuing through Russell’s two sets each song that rang through St. Basil’s Culture Centre on Friday night told a story. Russell’s stories weren’t chronological (don’t think about it like a Facebook timeline where everything is organized by date & time) and they weren’t always related by topic. It was more like sitting down with a family photo album and paging through it. Sometimes you flip forward, and sometimes a story from one photo forces you back through earlier pages. Russell’s vocals, have matured with years of life experience, compelling the audience to listen closely to his words. Some of the messages may not be apparent upon the first telling; however, there is the sense that the understanding of his poetic lines will be complete later within the appropriate context. Each song, like each photo in an album, was accompanied by a story. For Blue Wing Russell told us about playing a gig at the Edmonton penitentiary and about a game reserve near Edmonton that had five wolverines; for East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam he transported us to Nigeria and a career switch from criminologist to singer; and with Jesus Met the Woman at the Well we got one of many glimpses into Russell’s on-going friendship with Ian Tyson. Russell also revealed that he was going to be meeting up with Tyson when his tour heads towards Calgary. It was just enough of a teaser to tempt Edmonton audiences to consider a trip down south for a continued encore.

Touring with Russell right now is Max De Bernardi on guitar and Veronica Sbergia as tour manager. Sbergia and De Bernardi are also known as The Red Wine Serenaders and both joined Russell for a tune in the second set. Veronica’s clear and gentle vocals provided a refreshing new vocal texture as they harmonized with Lay Down My Old Guitar.

The audience was craving a sing-along throughout the performance as he surveyed the audience for what they wanted to hear next. He joked that the audience needed to listen to some of his newer records to replace the requests for his classics. Russell’s prophetic Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall was the final song of the night, and was met with a standing ovation and cheering. This response brought Russell back out on stage for Navajo Rug as the encore. Navajo Rug sung in unison with the entire audience, ended with a gradual decrescendo, settling like a gentle hum in the hearts of audience members to conclude the evening.

Ay, ay, ay Katie
Shades of red and blue
Ay, ay, ay Katie
Whatever became of that Navajo rug and you, Katie?

Danny Michel on December 2nd is sold out! If you want to attend and don’t have your ticket, your best bet is to make friends with a season pass holder who can’t come that evening. The season pass holder can lend you their card or you can give their card number at the door.

This review is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Interview Preview: Jayme Stone at the Arden Theatre

Jayme Stone graciously managed to spare a few moments for FOTR during his busy tour to answer some questions about his Lomax Project, an album which encapsulates the folk process in action!

As a banjo-player well versed in the history of the instrument it seems reasonable that you would be familiar with Alan Lomax’s work in a general sense, yet the tunes selected for Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project demonstrate a deep knowledge of and engagement with the breadth of Lomax’s work. How did you get started utilizing Lomax’s recordings as material for shows (and ultimately a recording)?

I started listening to field recordings 22 years ago when I took up the banjo. Lomax’s recordings have been a touchstone for a long while but it was reading John’s Swzed’s riveting biography, “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World,” that really instigated the project. I started listening voraciously and the book brought the stories behind the songs to life.

For Africa to Appalachia you made your own field recordings (like Lomax did) do you feel a responsibility to contribute to the collecting aspect of Lomax’s legacy?

I made recordings when I travelled to Mali in 2008. I was interested in instruments that predated the banjo, like the n’goni, and there were few commercial recordings available. I wanted to document the people I was meeting and capture the sound of these instruments in their natural environment. I’ve never released them—they were purely for my own learning process.

In the late 1990s Wilco and Billy Bragg set unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics with the Mermaid Avenue albums, and more recently The New Basement Tapes have set some of Bob Dylan’s. Your Lomax Project on the other hand takes whole songs and reimagines them; do you feel that there is a similarity between the three projects?

Conceptually, I suppose there’s some similarity. That said, those other projects were about crafting new songs around old lyrics. We didn’t do much of that. We kept original melodies (for the most part) and focused on creating new arrangements and reimagining how these songs could be heard. I’ve heard a couple tracks from Mermaid Avenue but not the Basement Tapes so neither were an influence.

How have audiences responded to the recording and tour? Have you found that people are going back to the “original” recordings of Lomax and becoming more familiar with the cultural history that he archived?

People are moved by the songs and stories behind them. The chemistry of the musicians I’ve brought together is always powerful. It feels like a community gathering and that energy is contagious. Some people certainly go back to original recordings and we encourage that. I wrote 6000 words of liner notes for the album and share all the details so folks can trace the provenance of the songs.

One of the tunes, track ten “Now Your Man Done Gone” isn’t actually based on a Lomax recording, but a recording made by Harold Courlander — do you see the Lomax Project as a way of engaging your audience with the vast recorded repertoire held at archives such at the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) and the Library of Congress (LOC)?

Yes and in fact, my forthcoming album, Jayme Stone’s Folklife, branches out to the larger Archive of Folk Culture at the LOC and the Smithsonian Folkways collection. It’s been great to focus on the Lomax archive exclusively, but there are many other fantastic collections and folklorists doing similar work and it’s time to branch out.

In a 2015 interview with Brianna Goldberg of the Toronto Star you noted that “It’s like each style of American music is a different recipe of European- and African-American influence.” Following this analogy are there any specialty (music) dishes in the Lomax recordings that you have discovered a particular taste for?

I adore the Caribbean recordings and always come back around to the vast repertoire of shouts and spirituals from the Georgia Sea Islands. 

Accompanying the Lomax Project are extensive liner notes. Do you think the providence of a tune is important for the audience? The performer?

Having a connection to a song’s history helps me foster a deeper connection to the music. It’s also balances out the fact that we often take the songs in a decidedly more modern direction. I feel better branching out when I know the roots. Plus, I’m simply fascinated by the rich history of this music!

In his preface to Folk Song U.S.A.†, Alan Lomax said:

“If these songs had composers at first, they have largely been forgotten, and rightly so, since folk composers are adapters of old material rather than creators of original set pieces. The folk ballad-maker prefers to change an old song slightly to fit a new situation, making use of a tried tune and a well-loved plot formula and thus assuring himself of the favor of his audience. Every singer may then make his own emendations, to be accepted and passed on or rejected and forgotten by his audiences. So the mass of a people participate in folk song’s growth, forever reweaving old materials to create new versions, much as an old lady creates a new quilt out of an old by adding, year by year, new scraps and patches.” (viii)

Do you feel that the Lomax Project is partaking in the tradition that Lomax describes here?

Absolutely! This is the folk process in action.

So in a sense you’re making a new musical quilt? 

I believe so.

Do you plan on continuing the Lomax Project with more recordings?

Jayme Stone’s Folklife will be out in March on Borealis Records.

Is there anything else we didn’t ask that you’d like to say?

Thank you!

 

Folk Song U.S.A. is an 111 song collection published in 1947, collected and adapted by John A. Lomax & Alan Lomax including musical arrangements by Charles & Ruth Seeger.

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Some of the source recordings (available online) for & about tunes included on the Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project album:

1 Lazy John
[from Lomax’s commercial album Raise a Ruckus]
2 Before This Time Another Year
3 Shenandoah
4 Goodbye Old Paint
5 Sheep Sheep Dont’cha Know the Road
6 I Want to Hear Somebody Pray
7 T-I-M-O-T-H-Y
8 Hog Went Through the Fence Yoke and All
9 What is the Soul of Man
10 Now Your Man Done Gone
[from Folkways album Negro Folk Music of Alabama]
11 The Devil’s Nine Questions
12 Bury Boula For Me
13 Julie and Joe
14 Susan Anna Gal
15 Maids When You’re Young
16 Prayer Wheel
17 Old Christmas
18 Whoa, Back Buck
[recorded several times, JS recommends the Golden Gate Quartet version]
19 Lambs on the Green Hills

Many of these tracks have introductory segments and feature multiple takes, these are just a few of examples. Take some time to explore the Lomax tapes that inspired Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project!

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Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project is coming to St. Albert’s Arden Theatre November 12, 2016. For more information on tickets and The Arden Theatre’s Professional Musical Series, please visit their website.

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals