Category Archives: Review

Cool contrasts: Review of Chris Ronald Trio & Sam Spades at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Chris Ronald

Edmonton is a city spoiled for choice when it comes to folk music, and at times that means a finite audience gets divided up into quite small segments—I’m guessing that unintentional subdivision of the usual folkie crowd is what happened last night when the Chris Ronald Trio and Sam Spades shared the bill at the Northern Lights Folk Club playing to an intimate audience.

While outside the evening began with a brilliant sunset it turned into a cool, damp October night, the same sort of startling contrast took place inside the hall.  The evening began with Chris Ronald who has the ability (likely honed from time as both a busker and a schoolteacher) to hold attention whether he be telling you about touring via Via, or defining halcyon. Mike Sanyshyn and John Ellis joined Ronald on stage, and with dramatic melodic fiddle flourishes (Sanyshyn) and guitar/mandolin/banjo/vocal harmonies (Ellis) aided an already skilled storyteller in sharing tales. Ronald’s songs take inspiration from everything between (and including) a photograph of his brothers, busking, finding a lost wedding ring (8 years later in the back of a basement storage space), and even the heart-attack of a championship curler. The trio had the audience singing and clapping, and relaxing into the intricate sounds of Ronald’s latest album Fragments.

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Sam Heine of Sam Spades

An intermission, set change-over and few minutes later the local Sam Spades—John Richards (bass), Greg Hann (drums), Trevor B McNeely (lead guitar), and Sam Heine (guitar & lead vocals)—took the stage with their brand of blues-soaked rock’n’roll noir. From the first chord, the difference was apparent, we were in for heartbreak accompanied by epic swathes of pedal steel and blisteringly fast (yet somehow twangy too) passages from the upright bass. The Sam Spades set felt like it would be at home in a dusty western bar (probably only found in my imagination) where the floorboards creak from age and, the scent of beer and whisky seem to permanently infuse the air.

The effect of the two sets was entirely different, providing both a cool contrast and demonstrating the fantastic range of styles found in folk music. This is just the starting leg of Ronald’s tour as he heads East to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, if you can be sure to try to catch a show. Sam Spades plays frequently throughout the Edmonton area, including an upcoming (November) set of dates at Blues on Whyte, and Northern Lights is back with Hillsburn (whom we saw at the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest and thought were awesome) on October 21st.

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Garnet Rogers @ Northern Lights Folk Club

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Rogers reading an excerpt from Night Drive

Tonight marked the opening of Edmonton’s Northern Lights Folk Club’s 19th season, and it opened with a bang—Garnet Rogers commanded the stage for two sets (and an encore). In an unequivocal demonstration of support for live folk music, the line-up before the doors opened stretched out of the building and down the sidewalk. The show was sold out, just a few hopeful (and extremely lucky) folks got in when someone had an extra ticket because _________ friend/family member couldn’t come.*

Rogers cuts an imposing figure. He is a tall man, his voice is strong, and he selects his guitar from a rack filled with instruments possessing unique histories, which he happily shares. But the number one thing you take away from his concert has nothing to do with his height and everything to do with his stories. Whether it is through song or speech (or written down—now in the form of the book Night Drive) Rogers has an impeccable gift for telling a good story. With the song “Small Victory” he told us the tale of a mare rescued from slaughter, the very first stanza gives you a sense of Rogers’ attention to literary detail:

You’ve no business buying a mare like that
But buy her if you must
He bit the end off his cigar
And spat it in the dust
She’s old, she’s lame and barren too
She’s not worth feeding hay
But I’ll give her this, he blew smoke at me,
She was something in her day. 

Within seconds you are at that dusty horse auction buying that mare. Although the song has a melancholic air, it also conveys the hope in the title. Rogers succeeds in sharing a part of his emotional connection to his horses with his audience, and it set us up for a hilarious tale (FedEx and artificial insemination) about that mare’s offspring. Rogers’ tales read from Night Drive drew the audience in as much as his musical offerings did and he took us from being all of fourteen on a beach in Port Dover to a workshop stage on another coast line in Vancouver.

 

David Alan Eadie from their days in the Stan Rogers trio joined him on stage for the encore—beginning with a rousing sing-a-long chorus of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”, once again set up by a reading from Night Drive.  Seeing as I can’t even approach Rogers’ dramatic story-telling prowess, I’ll just say get the book, read it, and imagine a room filled with folkies singing along at the conclusion of Chapter 9. This is Rogers farewell tour of the West, so if you are from Edmonton and want to see Rogers play live then you are going to have to be the one to do the travelling. Check upcoming tour dates on his website,

*If this was you (or someone you know) I’d advise signing up for the Northern Lights Folk Club mailing list, HERE. They send you handy reminders so you aren’t standing outside the show in the cold hoping for a miraculous ticket to appear.

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Dave Gunning and JP Cormier are up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club on September 30th, 2017 and there are still some tickets available.

Top Picks from EFMF 2017

Main Stage

Sable: This was the first Folk Fest where I could feel my stamina slipping. Whether it was coming off from a OSHEAGA-packed weekend in Montreal or just general summer lethargy, I had to shake myself awake in the Saturday afternoon heat and will myself to get out of bed on Sunday. However, I was still there for a majority of the festival and I was happy to soak in the tunes and the rays to fuel me for another year.

 

Twila: This year in addition to my Folk on the Road duties, I also volunteered for the Greetings crew. The extra-early starts combined with the late nights of photos etc. definitely took a toll on me—meaning I ended up taking a few serious tarp naps (sometimes when I thought I’d just rest my eyes).

Note: Twila’s sister, Ardelle, took this accompanying pic of Twila passed out with a death grip on her coffee thermos.

Favourite Festival Moment

Twila: Having just mentioned that I took an unintended tarp nap (or two) and the fact that I am still recovering from lack of sleep I’d still have to say that my favourite festival moments all derived from the camaraderie of volunteering. The people I met while volunteering were interesting and all had fantastic tales of folk fests past. Most of my folkie friends have been volunteering for 10+ years, so I have a ways to go before I unlock that level of volunteer achievement, but I think that if they’ll have me that I will be back again next year.

Sable: Folk on the Road has been attending the EFMF for the past years now as media but this year I feel like we really hit our stride in the media tent. I enjoyed saying hello to all the familiar faces and volunteers in the media tent day after day. The volunteers do an amazing job of keeping a quiet and safe place for media to work as well as liaising with artists and their agents to book interviews. I wish I had this crew with me throughout the year to follow-up on e-mails and phone calls. It makes doing FOTR, which is a volunteer and passion driven project as well, so much easier in achieving our goal of sharing the work of fantastic artists.

 

Favourite New Discovery

Sable: For me it’s a close call between Marlon Williams  and Darlingside but I think Darlingside wins out for me this time. I love the cooperative use of the microphone which creates a dreamy, choral sound with the soft strums of their acoustic. They sound like one musical organism when they’re all singing and standing together like that. I hope this is not the last time I see them perform live.

Twila: I was also really delighted by Darlingside’s harmonies, but Ten Strings and a Goat Skin get my vote for my favourite new musical discovery at EFMF 2017. The trio was having such a good time, you couldn’t help but be pulled into the joy in their music making. Also I loved how they slipped between different instrumental sets and songs, with ease. I can hardly wait to see them play again next weekend at the Bear Creek Folk Fest!

 

Favourite Workshop

Twila: STAGE 3, Northern Exposure, Friday August 11, 2017. [Colleen Brown, The Jerry Cans, Dylan Menzie, Altameda]

There is a reason that The Jerry Cans won EFMF’s emerging artist award … musically they make everything better. At this session, they jammed along with everyone, creating a truly beautiful folk fest workshop experience. Just thinking back on how The Jerry Cans fit themselves into this workshop brings a smile to my face.

Sable: STAGE 6, Sing Out, Friday August 11, 2017. [Birds of Chicago, Darlingside, Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens]

There was a moment of utter vocal duo beauty from Allison Russell from Birds of Chicago and Rhiannon Giddens during that workshop. It was the perfect vocal pairing and they knew it too as they gazes at each other interweaving their melodic and harmonic lines for Barley by Birds of Chicago.

See you next year on the Hill for #EFMF2018!

 

Review: Brodie Dawson & Luke Blu Guthrie House Concert

Not to jinx anything but spring has finally, maybe, almost certainly sprung in the city of champions and Brodie Dawson and Luke Blu Guthrie played to a packed house (literally) of exuberant Edmontonians finally free of the shackles of winter. Just as spring’s sudden arrival juxtaposes with the bleakness of an interminable winter, Dawson and Guthrie’s songs on Saturday played off of one another, switching between light and dark, heavy and light.

LukeBluGuthrieAs the audience drifted into a basement space to hear the concert Guthrie jammed away on his guitar providing a musical underpinning to the sometimes awkward portion of a house concert, the in-between space where people are still searching for the drink they put down, grabbing that final snack and nabbing a seat in a room where the detritus of daily life has been moved aside for the evening. No longer a party and not yet quite a concert.

Once everyone had found a place Guthrie started with “Keep On Shuffling” which acted as a fantastic introduction to Dawson’s “I’m Moving On”. Throughout the night the two switched off on lead vocals (based on who wrote the song) but the contrast and similarities between the song pairings continued to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. With “Halfway There” Dawson allowed us a glimpse of her experience living and then leaving Yellowknife, while Guthrie’s “Canadian Clearly” (even with his quirky bigfoot references) struck a chord about tensions between and within Canadian culture(s).BrodieDawson

Ending the first set was a cover of “Love Has No Pride” which Dawson knew from Bonnie Raitt’s version (Bonus Fact: it was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus) the crowd then dispersed up the stairs and around the house, refreshing drinks, refilling plates, and meeting the musicians in a kitchen filled with the scent of warm apples and cinnamon. Soon enough it was time for the second half, and again Guthrie bridged that transitory time between party and concert with guitar riffs. In the second half the audience was brought into the performance as back up singers for tunes like “Words/Divine Soul” and “Begin Again”. Guthrie illuminated the current housing crisis in BC and the recent great recession in the Southern US with the haunting and serious “Blood from a Stone”, which was paired with Dawson’s cheekily irreverent “Paycheque to Paycheque”.

The constant contrasts between two equally talent and yet very different musicians kept the concert entertaining and the show felt very balanced, somewhat surprisingly since they only started playing together around half a year ago. If you weren’t at Saturday’s gig and will be in southern Alberta or the interior of BC in the next few days you can catch them for a few shows on this tour, or you can find them on Facebook to find out the next time they are through town.

MON MAY 1st – Cochrane @ My Greek Plate
TUES MAY 2nd – Golden @ Rockwater Grill & Bar
THURS MAY 4th – Peachland @ Beach Ave Cafe & Tapas Bar
FRI MAY 5th – Keremeos House Concert @ The Noteworthy Muse

Review: Maria Dunn Trio at Northern Lights Folk Club

Maria Dunn has a knack for story-telling. She gets to the heart of an event or memory of a person and brings that narrative alive — her grandfather in “Shoes of a Man”, the workers of the Great Western Garment (GWG) clothing factory in “Speed Up”, senior citizens living in rooming houses during the 1980s in Edmonton’s downtown in “Flora” and “Hans’ Song”, or “When I Was Young” inspired by the stories of Dorothy McDonald-Hyde of the Fort McKay First Nation.

Last night the Northern Lights Folk Club (Dunn’s self-professed “home” folk club) hosted Dunn for a sold out celebration of her latest album Gathering, which won an Edmonton Music Prize and was nominated for a Juno Award. But Dunn, joined by Shannon Johnson on fiddle and Jeremiah McDade on a vast array of musical instruments, didn’t restrict herself to selections from that album, pulling from all six of her albums and her other projects (Packingtown, On The River, The Carol Project, GWG: Piece by Piece and Troublemakers) as well. She shuffled through the stories with mastery, moving between the connection between McDonald-Hyde,  Alberta’s first elected female chief, and the Athabasca River to the labour history of Edmonton’s meatpacking North East to depression era trains. Dunn’s gift of exploring recollections and history is not limited by time or place as is evidenced by her award winning song “Malala” inspired by Canada’s most recent honourary citizen Malala Yousafzai. The song’s potent chorus:

Malala, where are you going?
I’ll walk beside you
I’ll meet you there

rang out for a final time with no musical accompaniment, just a joining of the musicians on stage and the audience’s voices, pulling the audience up into a standing ovation and heralding an encore of “God Bless Us Everyone” from The Carol Project.

Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs Magazine called Gathering as “essential listening” and I would argue that that description can be applied to all of Dunn’s work. Last night’s show concluded the 2016–17 Northern Lights Folk Club season, but until the fall there are still folk music events going on throughout Edmonton. PEI’s Lennie Gallant will be at Rio Terrace Church on May 19th see here for more details, and Maria Dunn has a local show earlier that week (details will be sent out to her mailing list so be sure to sign-up).

Review: The Small Glories & John Wort Hannam at The Arden

Songs, whether we are the performer or the audience, can help us to make sense of the world we live in. Last night a packed house at St. Albert’s Arden Theatre had perennial prairie favourites John Wort Hannam and The Small Glories (Cara Luft & JD Edwards) to help us unravel ours. When Wort Hannam described the imminent sense of home he felt when he saw the Dairy Queen in Claresholm while introducing “Good Night, Nova Scotia” I immediately was able to translate that to my own experience of cresting the Obed summit on the Yellowhead as I moved back home from a few years on the coast — I didn’t know the sight that Wort Hannam related but I certainly understood the feeling.

This deep sense of understanding permeated my experience of the evening at the Arden. When Edwards recounted introducing “Old Garage” to UK audiences including a heckler who apparently shouted that he had sheep that were older than Edwards’ garage, again I was transported to another time. A time which included me attempting to explain to my Welsh friends that back home there was a living history park (Fort Edmonton) that housed historical buildings — preserving things from the 1880s or 1920s — at which point inevitably someone would point at a building and say “oh, did you know that was built in the 11th century?”. Luft also stirred up memories when she described herself as a third generation Albertan (me too!) who got to share our beautiful province with the UK folk musician Bella Hardy a visit that resulted in the powerful “Time Wanders On“.

The evening addressed ideas of tradition and culture and was at times light and joyful, and by turns profound and dark.  Wort Hannam’s musical reaction to Edmund Metatawabin’s memoir Up Ghost River cracked open not only the devastating history of residential schools in Canada, but the repercussions of them in an individual’s life. While The Small Glories take on Sacred Harp singing with “Wondrous Traveler” embodied the American tradition’s emphasis on exuberant participation (you can typically hear a “sing” from outside the building it is being housed in) even if it did stray from the strictly vocal nature of it.

The double bill of The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam reminded me about what it meant to live in Alberta and Canada at this time, and helped to refocused my understanding of the world.

Review: Pharis & Jason Romero at Northern Lights Folk Club

I can only tell you what anyone in the standing room only crowd at the Pharis and Jason Romero show at the Northern Lights Folk Club would — the Romeros are phenomenal musicians and performers. Perhaps the best way to explain the essence of the show is to say what wasn’t there. It didn’t feel like the Romeros had adopted some sort of worn-out stage persona, they were themselves. Simply put there was no artifice.

Family was a big part the show last night, in the songs from the silly “Grandpa Bob” written about Jason’s father,  to “Long Gone Out West Blues” commemorating Pharis’ family’s move from Quebec out to Horsefly, BC generations ago, to “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” an old-timey tune which Jason’s grandmother danced to with her father; and, in the stories the Romero’s shared of their children. A laundry list of the tunes heard yesterday wouldn’t be helpful. Everything that was played and sung was executed with meticulous attention to detail (I’m guessing its the same assiduousness that makes them excellent luthiers). Some highlights from last night, however, were the title track off 2015’s A Wanderer I’ll Stay and their take on the Woody Guthrie tune “Oregon Trail (That Oregon Line)” which appears on the 2017 Smithsonian Folkways’ compilation Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie’s 26 Northwest SongsThey also shared some new tunes written in the wake of last year’s devastating workshop fire that destroyed all of the couple (and their daughter’s) instruments except for Jason’s banjo and guitar. Pharis explained that she wouldn’t wish a fire on anyone, but that she did wish everyone could feel the same wave of support, of having their community behind them, that they did after the fire. The evening ended with a standing ovation demanding an encore for which the Romeros sang the appropriate “Goodbye, Old Paint.” Old tunes mixed with newer ones, along with other people’s tunes that the Romeros have adopted, creating a timeless evening — that would be as much at home in the 1930s or 40s as it was in 2017. My photos may be black and white but my memories of their lyrical duets are in full colour.

The Northern Lights Folk Club has added an additional show to this year’s season with the Maria Dunn Trio performing on April 22, 2017 and their upcoming season will feature thirteen shows. Season tickets for next year (2017–18) can be purchased directly from Northern Lights Folk Club (not another distributor of their tickets) prior to this last April show, and will be slightly cheaper than if you wait.