Tomorrow night is the election in Ontario. It is likely to bring down the Liberal government and herald in what looks like a Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford which will bring some challenges. My hope against hope is that there will be an NDP minority government which will give the Liberals and the PCs a chance to find new leaders that can have a better contest a couple of years from now.
I have taken a keen interest in this election as a transplanted Ontarian. I have watched with nervousness as Doug Ford has become PC leader and taken advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the Liberal and NDP to have a realistic chance of being premier of Canada’s most populous province. I have watched many people compare him to Trump because the comparison is too irresistible but I’ve also seen him compared to Mike Harris which is also not a comforting thought.
Mike Harris was premier from 1995 to 2002, just as I was finishing high school and going to university. As I was poor and making the transition to university, Mike Harris was nothing but awful in my eyes. He not only cut social assistance, he demonized being poor by starting welfare snitch lines which cost more to operate than they saved in welfare snitching (the precursor to Harper’s Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline). His cuts to the education system, which was ironic given that he was trained as a teacher, led to teacher strikes, larger class sizes, and higher tuition fees. His first Minister of Education didn’t even graduate high school which I took for disdain for the education system. Mike Harris’s government was partially responsible for Ipperwash and Walkerton. He was responsible for the loss of community identity in many places through the ill-conceived idea of forced amalgamation of municipalities, which in many cases resulted in illogical local government structures and boundaries (see Quinte West).
I understand why people voted for Mike Harris after the Bob Rae NDP era as the promise of reduced taxes and reduced provincial debt was alluring and the perception that he was going to stick it to fat cat civil servants and to poor welfare bums was likely appealing. He marketed the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ to great effect because really, who doesn’t like common sense. Mike Harris was the precursor to Stephen Harper and ushered in a much meaner type of politics in Canada where there were clear winners and losers in society.
I say all of this because while Doug Ford has been compared to Donald Trump, he is more akin to a Mike Harris – meanness and policies that help a select few. I wish Ontarians well as they go to vote tomorrow – it can’t possibly be easy. May the best woman win…
ArtsWell 2016 – I read in the program that this experimental musician was going to play a daytime show at the Tempest (an old church). The description was promising so I made a point of getting to the show which I believe was on the Sunday. It seemed that this show had some buzz to it which was interesting given that I hadn’t heard of Uschi Tala. When we got to the church there was a long line-up outside – the fascinating part was that there were so many other musicians in the line-up.
When we got into the church it was completely dark with the exception of a couple of lights on stage. The windows were covered so it was slightly disorienting given that we had just come from daylight. Then Uschi Tala started and the show was mesmerizing – lush instrumentation including guitar, cello, and keyboards, looping pedals, reverb, a mixture of operatic tones with hip hop and beat boxing, and an artist doing drawings in sand projected. The show was haunting and heavy. Emerging out of the church at the end of the show from darkness back into light I remember feeling that my world had shifted slightly.
I immediately went to the merch tent and bought the CD. The album is a reflection of the live show in many ways. It’s an immersive experience listening to this album – it needs to be listened to loud or on good headphones to capture all of the nuance. Despite listening to it loud, it can also be a meditative journey going through this album. For me, there are no favourite songs or songs that particularly stand out – each song is in its right place on the album and the album deserves to be listened to as a whole.
In February 2002 I was still relatively new to Kamloops and didn’t know too any people outside of my work colleagues. I lived downtown so I would often just wander around town to kill some time. While I was wandering around one time I saw a poster for a band called Xavier and the Hum. They were going to play at the library downtown and best of all, it was going to $2 which was something I could actually afford on my meagre wage at the time. I did a little bit of internet research on Xavier and the Hum and found out that Xavier was an Australian guy who played didgeridoo. I think there was one video that I was able to watch to get an idea of what it’d be like. I decided to go by myself to the concert. When I got to the library there was an elaborate set-up with a bass drum, a wide assortment of percussion instruments, guitars, and 3 didgeridoos. It was pretty wild. Then this wild looking guy in barefeet got up and started to play all of these instruments, sometimes, simultaneously while also singing with this powerful voice that was controlled yet all over the place all at once. It was intense, it was amazing, it was absolutely mind blowing. Having seen a bunch of crappy one-man cover bands at Sergeant O’Flaherty’s over the previous months, this was a breath of fresh air. I don’t know what happened to the ‘Hum’ part of the band, but Xavier Rudd was enough.
While at the concert I bought the album Live in Canada and like the live show, it blew me away. Of course, it was recorded live so it was able to capture the frenetic energy of a Xavier Rudd show. This album was like nothing else in my record collection to that point – the obvious part is that I didn’t have any other albums from Australian didge players. Epic jam songs, didge solos, mellow songs, slide guitar, primal yet beautiful and a crazy energy associated with it. ‘To Let’, the second song on the album is like a microcosm of all these elements. ‘River Groove’ and ‘Like This’ are slow grooves that hang out on a knife’s edge wanting to break out but staying contained…barely. ‘The Native Eye’ is a great song about is the idiocy of some tourists to foreign cultures who dress the part but are very superficial in their cultural appreciation. Sadly, I’ve seen this character and perhaps more sadly, I have likely been that character from time to time in my travels. ‘Green Spandex’ is the kind of song that if you lived a good life that meant something to those around you, someone would write. It’s a wonderful tribute to someone who must have been loved. The album ends with a mellow song ‘This Little Space’ which is a mix of sadness, anger and hope for a relationship.
That Xavier Rudd concert in February 2002 was helpful in getting me out of the funk I was in trying to get used to Kamloops and being away from home. Xavier Rudd’s music became a fundamental part of my listening for the next several years after that. An interesting tid-bit – that concert, which was only attended by maybe 50 people, was likely the first time Leanne and I were ever in the same room together. It only took us another 10 years to get together…
Coco Love Alcorn is another discovery from the ArtsWells Festival in 2015. Leanne and I first saw her at the Bear’s Paw and it was amazing. On top of being an incredible performer with an exceptional voice, she was personal, engaging, and funny. She was playing around with a looper that she used to great effect. We saw her a couple of more times that weekend and it was a great time. She was back again in 2016 and this time she co-led the traditional Sunday morning gospel session at the Tempest (an old church) with Bocephus King. She had just completed her album Wonderland which had a lot of gospel-type music on it so she was able to borrow material from that and lead a sing-a-long on many songs. Adding to it was that there were no mics being used and many of the songs were done acapella. Her powerful voice and the engagement of the audience as one voice nearly blew the roof off of that rickety old building. It was such an invigorating event that I still get goosebumps reminiscing about it.
Wonderland is an amazing album with many great songs generally in the gospel realm. Like I said, Coco has an amazingly powerful voice with great range and it shows on many of the songs. When combined with her use of the looper and instrumentation, you have a very enjoyable album to listen to – the songs are catchy without being sugary pop music or necessarily being ear worm material (i.e. a song that gets stuck in your head and you can’t get it out). This is one album that I can listen to and it actually lifts my mood. Coco has said she crafted these songs to be sung, not only be herself but by others and many of the songs have been adapted by choirs and acapella groups and she often sings with community choirs as back up singers for her live performances. Whatever the case, Wonderland is an amazing showcase for Coco’s talents.
Weeping Tile was Sarah Harmer’s band before she went on to her long and successful solo tour. I remember them being the first band to play at Nipissing during frosh week of my first year and myself and a newly made friend being the only people that had ever heard of them. It was a somewhat sparsely attended show but it was great and it was part of a great start to my university days. I seem to recall they might have done a version of ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd which would have been in honour of our now departed university pub.
I got into Weeping Tile when the video for ‘Cold Snap’ came out and I really enjoyed the energy in that song. I bought the album Cold Snap and subsequently really enjoyed that as well. Sarah Harmer’s lyrics and singing combined with simple but interesting musical arrangements really made this album for me. There are many gems on this album – ‘Westray’ which questioned how we could ever allow something like the Westray mine accident happen; ‘In the Road’ which is a simple song but overlain with a rich cello; ‘UFO Rosie’ a song about seeing UFOs; and ‘Handkerchiefs and Napkins’ a nice mellow song to end the album are all highlights for me.
Corwin Fox is a folk music genius and in my mind will be inexplicably linked to the glorious ArtsWells Festival. His Monday show at the Barkerville Church has become a bit of a tradition for us to attend and his shows turn into a giant sing-a-long. Man and Her Symbols was the album that he was playing a lot of songs live from when we saw him for the first time. The album is mostly Corwin singing along with his banjo but each song is a unique story, mostly humourous, without being tacky, and his mastery of lyricism allows you to visualize many of the situations he sings about. It helps because we have seen him play a lot of these songs live and he has provided a story for each of them. My personal favourites are ‘Rough Couple’ where he sings about the most unlikely relationships that could form among his friends and ‘Cleanse’ where he expounds on the lack of benefits of going on a cleanse but frankly, all of the songs on this album are great.
Feist’s stellar album Metals is the type of album that I can listen to over and over again in a variety of moods. This album has a lot of things that I really enjoy in music – a great opening song in the ‘Bad in Each Other’ that sets the tone for the rest of the album, notes that hang in suspension leaving evocative gaps in the music, cool lyrics that set the landscape for each song, incredible mixes and fills, and a unique voice. There is an excellent mix of louder more energetic songs mingled with mellower, dreamier songs. My personal favourite songs are ‘Undiscovered First’ and ‘Comfort Me’ because they seem to bring most of the musical themes on the album together in one song and they both seem like they could be pretty awesome jam songs that leave lots of room for flexibility in a live show.
I have always thought that 1996 was such an important year for me. Most significantly, I graduated high school and left home to go to university and navigated the transitions of that. Almost as significant, it was important to me from a musical perspective. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the life changing events for me musically happened at Edgefest when I saw the Tea Party. Another event I went to that summer was EdenFest which was a weekend long festival held at Mosport Park. I went there with my friend Mike. It was a weekend full of chaos that is likely worth a reminiscent post of its own at some point. A ton of the most popular bands of the mid-90s were at this event. The big show for me that weekend was to see Bush who were playing the Friday night (the band, not the president – also still known as Bush X at this point I believe). I remember running into my friend Kris somewhere at the festival and he said he couldn’t wait to see the Cure who were closing the Friday main stage after Bush but I didn’t really know their music and after expending a lot of energy at the Bush show, which was great, we went back to join the party at the camp. I heard rumours that the Cure show was great but paid them no mind.
Fast forward a few months later and I had become part of Columbia Music House and they were sending me CDs. Usually people stayed part of the program for long enough to get a bunch of CDs and then opted out before their credit cards got dinged too bad. I, on the other hand, a known procrastinator, never got around to that step of opting out so they kept sending me the CD of the Month which I also would rarely return. One of the CDs I received was the Cure’s Wild Mood Swings. I think it sat wrapped up in plastic for a while until the time in which I could return it elapsed and I realized I was stuck with it. So I finally ended up playing the CD and I felt sick to my stomach when I realized I had made a mistake not seeing them at Edenfest. This album was awesome. The album name was apt as it was all over the place in terms of tone – there were upbeat songs, upbeat songs with dark undertones and just plain dark songs. It would have been cool to see them played live. The opening song of the album in one of the best opening songs of any albums – ‘Want’ is a multi-layered wall of sound that starts with an epic intro section and builds to the end of the song. It sets the stage for what I think is a wildly creating album. Other highlights for me are ‘Club America’, ‘This is a Lie’ ‘Numb’ and ‘Trap’.
Looking back, this album was probably a good representation of the transition I was going through at that point in life. A little erratic and all over the place. And a bit full of regrets for missing out on the show…
As I have written before, the ArtsWells Festival in beautiful Wells, BC has exposed me to a wide variety of incredible musicians that most people never get a chance to see or listen to. One such group is Dirty Grace. Leanne and I first saw them playing a small stage at the Wells Pub in 2014 I believe. While principally a trio, they also had a violinist with them. I was immediately hooked on their harmonies, musicianship, beat boxing and eclectic songs that I could best describe as gypsy/circus/beat box folk music but it’s hard to put them in a box. Adding to the variety is that each of the musicians in the group can take on lead vocals and each has a very unique voice.
Dirty Grace’s album Coals and Crows came out in 2015. This album follows the eclectic nature of the band and features each of the members of the band taking the lead on various songs while incorporating less conventional instruments such as accordians and mandolins. It is fun in parts, and incredibly deep in others. Songs like ‘Barenaked’ and ‘Animals’ highlight the fun eclecticism while songs like ‘Hinton’ and ‘Starlight’ highlight the album’s deep sensibilities. ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a suitable warm-up to the album featuring superb harmonies, while ‘Crows Call’ is a soulful lullaby to finish the album. And while I don’t always notice it on albums, the mixes on the various tracks is a highlight and increased my enjoyment of the album. The songs are well crafted and while there are lots of fills on each song, there is no egregious filler.
Two songs that stand out though are ‘Earth Song’ and ‘When I Die’. ‘Earth Song’ is the type of song that fills the spaces between notes through the use of fills keeping a consistent melodic beat. Marley Daemon’s singing on this track is mesmerizing.
‘When I Die’ is, in my mind, is an incredibly special song. When I first got the album, I listened to this song constantly. There is a story about Neil Young popping nickel after nickel into a jukebox to listen to ‘Four Strong Winds’ – I felt like this with ‘When I Die’ trying to decipher all of the layers and complexity in the song and how it was mixed together with the various instruments and the harmonies. While it has a dark title, this song is incredibly soulful about how one can approach death by living life well. Betty Supple’s voice in this song oozes wisdom.
My second album is Blind Melon’s Nico. Blind Melon was introduced to me in a few ways. One was the video for No Rain which was their greatest hit. The video played incessantly in the early 90s. I hated that video and the bee costumed girl. To this day, I don’t know if I have ever watched the whole video. The second was that my friend Mike was actually a fan of Blind Melon and I think he might have introduced me to them a little deeper than the video. And the third and most profound way I was introduced to them was through the CD Soup – I bought it based on the video for ‘Galaxie’ but the whole album was fantastic (‘Mouthful of Cavities warrants special attention – an opening to the song that is a rare combination of mellowness and urgency). At the time that Soup came out, Blind Melon recorded a MuchMusic Intimate and Interactive concert which was spectacular and was recorded only a few short weeks before Shannon Hoon, the lead singer’s death from an overdose.
Nico was released after Shannon Hoon’s death and was a tribute to the singer, a dedication to his newborn daughter, and a fundraiser for artists seeking treatment for drug abuse. The music itself is all over the place from frivolity to sheer angst, sometimes in the same song – there is a chaotic vibrancy undercut with raw emotion. There are two gut punches on this album. The first is ‘Soul One’, which in light of the circumstances, may be one of the more poignant songs out there. The second is the end of the album itself which is abrupt with ‘Letters from a Porcupine’ being cut off mid-song by an answering machine beep and then silence (the song was recorded over the phone by Hoon into a bandmate’s answering machine). I’ve never been able to tell if this was tacky or just an appropriate way to describe the totality of addiction. This album has always bothered me in some ways because it represents so much promise and so much finality, but most of all, it bothered me because it was so obvious that Nico Blue Hoon was going to grow up without her father and to me that was always sad.