Circle of Music

One listen led to another, or how I got to here from there.

We (Joel Weatherly @ Spill Magazine and I) went to a concert last week to hear a band that we had been following for many, many years. We had been to see them every time they came to Edmonton, we had all of their recordings in multiple formats, we had played a cover of one of their songs in a now defunct band that we played in and we even had a test pressing from one of their recording sessions. In short, we are not your run of the mill fans, we are fanatics when it comes to Rural Alberta Advantage.

Rural Alberta Advantage, hereafter referred to as RAA, were on the last stop of a short but intense road trip to test drive some new material that they will be recording shortly and giving us, the fans, a first listen as well as our first chance at seeing their newest member play live.

On September 12, 2016, Amy Cole, a founding member of RAA, announced her departure from the group. Amy’s shoes, or socks which she often played in, would not be easy to fill. Amy was not just a multi-instrumentalist, she played those multiple instruments simultaneously. It was always fascinating for me to see Amy playing keyboards, singing, playing foot bass and either banging on a drum or shaking a tambourine. She would have both hands, one foot and her vocals all going at the same time and sounding perfect, an amazing talent. And big socks to fill, but Robin Hatch has stepped up to the task, and judging by the teaser songs they have released and by seeing and hearing her in concert, she fits. She sounded comfortable on both the older material, which they keep reworking with little tweaks and the new material which she no doubts contributed to the creation of. http://northernsessions.com/session/jordan-norman-the-wisdom-teeth/

Having said all of that, I can now get to the point I was trying to make. I liked the opening act. As per usual, they were a local act trying to get some exposure and I liked what I heard from Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. HIs web bio says that Jordan has been playing and writing since he was in his early teens, I would peg him at the late twenties or early thirties now, sorry Jordan if I blew the estimate. He comes across as easy going, comfortable with banter and a competent guitar player. His sound brought back memories of other artists with both the guitar and vocals. I heard faint echoes of early Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the guitar playing but it was the vocals that stirred the sharpest recollection for me. I couldn’t stop thinking of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks because of Jordan and the two ladies who sang with him. The harmonies put me on the Last Train To Hicksville.

I got off the train before it got to Hicksville, at a whistle stop called Original Recordings. This album has some great call and response between Dan Hicks and the female vocalists in his band, hence the connection to Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. This album has elements of jazz, swing, country and country swing. A highly listenable album that I find myself going back to revisit on a regular basis.

Listening to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks put me in the mood for some jazz so I pulled Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Featuring Woody Shaw & Cedar Walton – Anthenagin. This was a Goodwill bargain bin find but the vinyl plays clean and was a pleasant follow-up to Dan Hicks. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are an institution in music and this album does not disappoint, it is a good strong listen and the playing of Woody Shaw and Cedar Walton just make it stronger.

One jazz listen led to another, if I were to take Jordan Norman, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and put them in a blender I think something like this would come out: Norman Blake / Tut Taylor / Sam Bush / Butch Robins / Vassar Clements / David Holland / Jethro Burns. That is not only the list of performers on the album, it also the unwieldy title. This is a pretty tight set by some very talented individual who are able to leave their egos at the door and work some musical magic as a group. An album well worth looking for.

Listening to the violin stylings of Vassar Clements left me wanting more so I picked Oscar Peterson featuring Stephan Grappelli on the original Prestige recording.

This was another Goodwill pick and the cover is a disaster but the vinyl is like new. Some great swing, some great jazz and above all else: great musicians playing off the energy of each other. This is a really good double album that also features bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Kenny Clarke. Oscar Peterson is of course an icon of Canadian music and one good icon deserves another so Ian Tyson was next up on the turntable.

Ian Tyson has a deep catalogue and picking a single album to represent him would be an insult to the breadth of music he has released so I narrowed it down to one that sort of covers a good stretch of his career. It even has a nod in the general direction of jazz by the inclusion of “Irving Berlin (Is 100 Years Old Today)”. I did say it was only a nod, and only in the general direction. Anyhow this album does showcase Ian Tyson writing about what he loves, cowboys and open spaces. Having been an amateur cowboy back in my younger days, another nod and only in the general direction, I can relate to many of his song offerings. Those less enamoured of the cowboy music will no doubt find at least one song more pop music friendly; “Four Strong Winds”. A song that is an icon in and of itself, it has often been called the ultimate Canadian song. Originally released by Ian and Sylvia in 1963 it has since been covered by too many artists to list as well as being covered by Ian himself on this album. I prefer the original version myself but this version is decent enough. There is also some almost jazzy violin particularly on “Since The Rain”, once again it is only a nod and only in the general direction.

Corb

One good Canadian cowboy deserves another so I gave Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans a spin. I have had the good fortune of seeing Corb Lund live numerous times and I am never disappointed. He is not only a good musician but he also has a keen sense of history and cowboy culture, combine that with good songwriting and we have ourselves an eminently listenable album. I can relate to “You Ain’t a Cowboy) If You Ain’t Been Bucked Off”, I always got bucked off and that is not a nod in the general direction, it is a fact. I also get a kick out of “Bible on The Dash”, I keep mine in a dash cubby hole, never know when it will come in handy. Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertan bring a different sensibility to country and western music. Much of the sound and even the lyrics owe as much to jazz, blues and rock as they do to traditional country and western. This album covers everything from grave diggers to goth girls, a little something for everyone, except maybe the opera fans out there.

Having reconnected with the music of Corb Lund I just had to dig out my old copy of Waste and Tragedy by the Smalls, the band that broke Corb Lund into the music business. I have listened to this album many, many times and it just gets better each listen. This time I focused on the bass playing by Corb Lund and it was good.

Having come almost full circle back to Edmonton, Jordan Norman to The Smalls who both got their musical careers started in Edmonton I wanted one more full on Edmonton band to seal the circle of music. That belongs to manraygun and the album of choice is Twilight Speak. I had the pleasure of seeing manraygun play live and they are an amiable and musically interesting group. They sing songs that evoke images of rural Alberta as well as emotions that ring true no matter where you live.

So there we have; it a string of musical gems that start and end in my hometown of Edmonton.

I enjoyed Ksenija Sidorova on the accordion at the Winspear with Bill Eddins and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. There were moments during her performance that I was lost in the music. A wonderful place to be.

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