CD Review – Glen Hornblast “Once In a Blue Moon”
I received this CD recently from Toronto-based singer-songwriter Glen Hornblast. Usually, when I receive material in the mail and it’s a self-produced effort I assume it was probably recorded in someone’s basement or the artist mortgaged his house for the third time and ventured to the neighborhood recording studio — more accustom to working with wedding photographers and school bands. But not this time.
Mr. Hornblast has a wonderfully produced sounding collection on his “Once In a Blue Moon.” But, I’m not surprised. I have yet to hear a Canadian artist I didn’t like. Canada has produced some great artists: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, the McGarrigle Sisters, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Burton Cummings, and except for the late Levon Helm – the original parts of The Band were all Canadian. Then, there are some the United States just hasn’t noticed yet: Alfie Zappacosta, Paul Hyde and Ian Thomas — now Glen Hornblast. He’s in good company and hopefully he will make a dent in our market.
What is particularly good about Glen is his voice. It has a distinct sound – and this is what sets him apart from many artists who sing well, write fairly good and sound like a million people that came before them. But, Glen can sing and write as good as the greatest from Canada and Americaas well. Glen – to my ears – is in that family of unique voices similar to John Prine, John Haitt, Peter Himmelman, Mickey Newbury, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Cat Stevens and a few select others who carved out a niche for themselves in originality and creativity.
The lead off track “True Blue Forever,” features some engaging male-female vocalizing. Reminiscent to me of the early 60’s style of arrangement for voice and melody. This would have been considered a plug side if released back then on a 45 rpm record. I think it’s a real cool slice of retro without being dated at all. The music is fresh, catchy and seems that it’s just a tip of the hat to another era. But that’s my interpretation and that’s where the nostalgia ends. Glen then shifts into high gear and he never looks back.
Glen’s music is a perfect blend of Americana. The track “Loretta” is excellent. A haunting melody with clever lyrics, lovely pedal steel and the accordion and violin are solid. Again, that lovely female vocalist adds to the sultry mood of this Tex-Mex style track. There’s humidity in the melody but the song is just so cool. Definitely something The Texas Tornados, Los Lobos or even the late Richard Manuel of The Band could have done. This is a first class effort. I fell in love with Loretta while listening. That’s good storytelling.
“Mary” reminds me of the excellent under-rated singer-songwriter Michael Dinner — who only issued two albums back in the 70’s (“Tom Thumb the Dreamer” and “The Great Pretender”) with help from major artists like Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne. On this song Glen captures that warmth that Michael Dinner had as a storyteller.
It’s difficult to say for certain if Glen was influenced by any artists I mention because I don’t know Glen personally. It’s just the influential-feel I get from listening to this very attractive album.
It’s as if Glen invited you to his home to try something he cooked — his own recipe. As you taste it you know you’re familiar with the cuisine but there are ingredients that Glen added that you just can’t put your finger on — but they’re in there – and they have to be because it’s what gives it flavor. That’s what Glen is doing with his songs. Adding spices to an already established music style, filtering it through his own musical muse and the music somehow comes out sounding familiar….yet new….and, it does taste good.
Glen is also peppering (no pun intended) his material with a variety of styles which keeps the listening interesting throughout – and he does it successfully.
“Evangeline” reminds me of old world Parisian café songs with its accordion and moody trumpet.
I can’t emphasize more that Glen Hornblast does not soundlike any of these other artists I mention. It’s just a reference point for approach and style.
So, from a European flavored tune Glen slides easily into a rollicking harmonica driven track reminiscent of The Band – when they had help from The Staples Singers. “Freedom Train,” is Americanawith soul. A down and dirty slide guitar and harmonica exchange smokes in this one. Glen’s voice is Marc Cohn – Jack Casady here and it’s like discovering a lost Hot Tuna or Little Feat song. Underneath all the action is this pumping piano worth trying to hear as it snakes its way through everything. It’s these little magical things like this that make many Glen Hornblast songs a pleasure.
Aside from the possible influences I cite Glen is good at his craft. So far, another wonderful item this album projects is the pacing of songs. If someone sat down and actually figured out the track order they did a good job.
The variety and musicianship are also excellent. Each song is carefully constructed, the addition of female vocals are never overbearing and adds to the well thought out presentation. It has a little soul, a little jazz, dabs of sugar and vinegar — that are needed to bring the flavor of each song out.
With the beginning of “Isla Mujeres” – Glen returns with a beautiful European melody framed in Americana music. How crazy beautiful is that?
The guitar is superlative and supported by a gypsy-like Scarlett Rivera violin that reminds me of Bob Dylan’s “Desire” album and has a similar classic, mournful yet hypnotizing melody. I played this a few times.
“She’s loaded down with silver, enough to fill a coffin….”
Glen continues his French excursion with “Le Pont Des Arts,”and it’s like looking at a painting. The McGarrigle Sisters (Canadian) would have enjoyed performing this. A delightfully upbeat Parisian-type melody. It conveys the feeling of: It may be raining and we have little money — but we have wine and cheese and we’re alive and happy. Great song to play in a café serving pastries and cappuccino. Older people would probably get up and start dancing and claim they heard this song seventy years ago. The déjà vu of good music.
Then, another shift of gears: “Miracle” comes with a John Prine feel and it’s a pleasure.
“You were one of God’s holy fools, giving your heart to everyone you knew….”
Glen even conjures the ghost of Hank Williams in this. Nice dobro, mandolin work alongside harmonica.
“Lines on your face like railroad tracks….”
On this song there is musicianship that would make the finest Grand Ole Opry veteran proud.
Eventually, Glen will deserve to take his place among the best tunesmiths and lyricists of Canada. This album is a fine example of why.
The LP closes with a violin supporting the smoky, jazzy piano driven “Tomorrow Is A Friend of Mine.” Again, excellent song pacing. The track is a very appropriate closer and no where else on the album is there a similar song.
There is a large supporting cast on this album and each of their efforts was focused and deserve mention. Producer David Gavan Baxter provided excellent guidance because it all sounds so good. My attention span is not what it used to be. I shut things down quickly. I often ask myself before placing an album on for review – “where is this going to take me? Can it tell me a story? Will it give me a groove? Will it at least set a mood?”
This album: “Once In a Blue Moon,”– I enjoyed it. Will play it many more times and recommend it. I find every song on this album worth the price of admission. The CD art also perfectly represents the music within. There’s a beautifully printed brochure with full color photographs, lyrics and credits.
Let’s hope another Glen Hornblast album will come – and not “once in a blue moon,” but often.
For more information about what really influenced the writing of these songs, samples of many Glen Hornblast songs, performance dates visit: http://glenhornblast.com/
John Apice /// No Depression / August 10th 2012