New Music from the Other Canada – Spring 2012
By Doug Heselgrave
Staring Contest by Reid Jamieson
I’ve been completely sideswiped by Reid Jamieson and the songs on his new record and I’m trying to figure out why. I’m pretty crusty when it comes to music and songs that are sung as beautifully as he sings them are often enough to send me running in the opposite direction. But, I keep coming back to listen again to the Vancouver native’s third album and frankly, it sounds better every time I hear it. Whether it’s the John Lennon songwriting contest winner, ‘Rail’ that proves there’s always room for another train song, ‘By Your Side’ with supporting vocals from Sam Parton of ‘The Be Good Tanyas’ or ‘Staring Contest’, the gorgeous title track, Jamieson puts heart and soul into everything he sings and sounds completely natural and effortless as he does it. Easy comparisons include Harry Nilsson, Roy Orbison without the vibrato, and a young Elvis Presley, but – not surprisingly -each of these fails to capture what’s so unique and compelling about Jamieson’s music. Fans of CBC’s Vinyl Café radio show (a kind of Canadian Prairie Home Companion) are already familiar with his easy songs and warm delivery, and he’s become a favourite in the Canadian heartland. But, a record as good as ‘Staring Contest’ shouldn’t be held back by radio frequencies, regional borders or time zones. Its simple songs are endearing and unforgettable and should expand his audience to a size that reflects his undeniable talent. ‘Staring Contest’ is an unexpected pleasure and can be found on itunes.
No Talker by Ivy Mairi
‘No Talker’, the second album by the Toronto area singer-songwriter, Ivy Mairi is almost a great record. It has good songs, the arrangements and dynamics within the music are compelling and pleasing, and having Michael Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies in the producer and occasional guitarists’ seat certainly doesn’t do any harm. Unfortunately, Mairi’s inflection and phrasing drags many of the songs down. She has a lovely voice and a wide range at her disposal that could elevate each one of these songs if only she would trust the innate power she has been blessed with. Instead, on track after track, she holds back and gives in to many of the ‘emo’ excesses that seem to plague young pop singers these days. Unfortunately, this aesthetic of singing as if every word has been painfully wrung from her throat robs her wonderful songs of their true emotional power. Rather than opening up and singing, Mairi seems to be in a tug of war with her own voice as she all but strangles many of her best lines. By opting for the kind of overwrought delivery that belongs on the Glee TV show and not on an otherwise fine recording like ‘No Talker’, Ivy sells herself short. On the few tracks such as the countrified ‘Scar’ or the breezy ‘Passing Cars’ where she relaxes into the music and allows it to carry her voice, one gets a sense of how great an artist Ivy Mairi will become when she begins to trust herself and allow her beautiful vocals to lead the way.
More Lies by Doug Cox and BettySoo
The Vancouver Island guitarist and singer, Doug Cox probably had no idea of how much his professional life would change when he taught a course at the Acoustic Alaska Guitar Camp and met the Austin based singer, Betty Soo. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard two artists who complement each other so perfectly. Cox has long been one of Canada’s greatest acoustic players, but as a singer, his voice has never really been more than serviceable while Betty Soo is a confident and mature singer whose lovely voice far exceeds her ability as a guitarist. Together they are a force to be reckoned with and their 2011 debut ‘Across the Borderline’ was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year with its passionate mixture of acoustic originals and traditonal songs. The single, ‘Lie to Me’ was certainly one of the best recordings of 2011, and though ‘More Lies’ lacks that kind of career defining track, it is a better album overall. Recorded while on tour in the Netherlands, ‘More Lies’ features great versions of Woody Guthries ‘Vigilante Man’ and ‘I ain’t Got No Home’ that offer as beautiful and heartfelt a commemoration of the old Okie’s centenary as anyone could ever hope to hear. Add to that a stunning version of Noelle Hampton’s ‘Blackwing Butterfly’ and an unexpectedly enaging acoustic version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘More Lies’ is a record that will surely be one of the most memorable releases of 2012.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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