As a “songwriter’s songwriter,” Toronto-based Patrick Ballantyne has lent his natural talent for hooks and lyrics to artists such as The Trews, Big Sugar and Tim Chaisson, helping to create a formidable catalogue of radio staples over the past two decades. However, it wasn’t until 2008 when Ballantyne began releasing music under his own name, and now with Calendar—his third album—he proves definitively that he belongs in any conversation about Canada’s great contemporary singer/songwriters.
The concept behind Calendar actually grew out of Ballantyne’s tireless craftsmanship; in 2015 he embarked on a personal challenge to write and record a new song from scratch each month. When revisiting his output the following year, he recognized how these tracks could be brought together as an album. That goal was ultimately attained with some sonic tinkering courtesy of Matt Connell of Northwood Records and Mark Plancke of Sharktank Productions to create a cohesive listening experience while retaining each song’s individuality. With sounds encompassing everything from pop to Americana to psychedelia, Calendar presents the most well rounded picture of Ballantyne’s skills to date, all tied together by his honest, and often heartbreaking, storytelling ability.
As Ballantyne explains, “My last record, Days of Rain, was thematic and intended to be heard all at once. That approach doesn’t seem to reflect modern music listening, which is clearly singles based. Calendar is very much a collection of ‘singles.’” Ballantyne points to songs such as “Someone You Should Know” and “My Excellent Boy” as examples that adhere to classic structures, while songs like “Mirror, Mirror” find him stretching out into more experimental territory. He adds, “Several tracks feature [husband and wife Roots duo] The Oh Chays on keys, drums and vocals. Those tracks were basically cut live, while other tracks were built up in my home studio where I had a bit more time to experiment. ‘Fore the Harvest Comes’ is an example of that, with its sitar loops, drones, Arabic percussion and lo-fi drums.”
Calendar’s most personal moments are contained on the tracks “Close Your Eyes” and “Plans,” both written in tribute to a friend who died young, with the latter featuring a guest appearance by Ballantyne’s longtime associate, Kelly Hoppe of Big Sugar. Overall, though, the album showcases Ballantyne’s musical evolution since his formative years growing up in Windsor, Ontario. “My strongest touchstones are still the pop music made during the mid-to-late ‘60s, especially the Beatles,” he admits. “I think I’m the only person whose favorite Rolling Stones records are Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. I always go back to Jimmy Webb’s songs as well. ‘MacArthur Park’ reflects such a strong vision of what a pop song and pop production can be. I love artists that aren’t afraid to follow their vision. Prince and David Bowie are great examples of that, always changing and challenging themselves and their audience, while remaining fundamentally musical.”
He concludes, “I sincerely believe that my writing is improving with time. I’m taking more chances, allowing my artistic vision to dominate over any overt commercial instincts. That said, even my most challenging songs have a pop sensibility that makes them approachable.” The great thing about pop songwriters is that they indeed get better with age. When young audiences were once expected to grow into more “serious” styles of music as they matured, modern pop has become the mirror we all now hold up to reflect the complexity of life, while at the same time use to keep us grounded in the notion that a three-minute song can still be the most perfect thing the world can offer. Patrick Ballantyne hits all of those targets on Calendar, an album sure to resonate this year and well into the future. Get it from Northwood Records.