Peter Katz: First of the Last to Know

CD Review

It begins with the voice, a gentle, vibrato-free, tenor panty-peeler if ever there was one, but one that mercifully stops just short of shudder-inducing breathy pop-schticks. Enter the trusty acoustic guitars, smart enough to successfully float Peter Katz and his new collection of songs alone around the world, leaving behind its many starring studio friends from First of the Last to Know sessions: french horns, grand pianos, strings, organs, drums and basses, instruments whose fingerprints include those of Adam Warner, Joe Phillips, Jesse O’Brien, Bryden Baird, Anne Lindsay, Mike Olsen, and Dave Tolley.

And, as always, it comes down to the songs, the arrangements, the lyrics. Peter is one of those storytellers who is mastering what Jesse Winchester recently told us was the key to crafting great pop songs: distilling. He wastes no words, leaves no heads scratched, engages hearts with stories we know, and leaves enough space for listeners to storyboard their own imaginary music videos. Stories of love, respect, gratitude, dangerous lovers, encouragement, following one’s bliss, loneliness, and an incredible tribute to the late Oliver Schroer.

Finally, this record was conducted by one of Canada’s emerging producer-superstars, Rob Szabo. Fans of his music will recognize his trademarks all over the CD, the occasional grungy juxtaposition of quiet and loud, the crescendos, and the emphatic musical punctuation.

But mostly, it’s the risks; Rob Szabo knows how to drive a sentimental song to its musical extremes, but never drive it over the cliff. From the use of The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard on the title track – including a counterpoint sequence (!) with Peter – to the permission he offers session players to contribute, to his deft touch with female backing-vocalists Melissa McLelland, 2010 Juno-hoisting-Good Lovelies, and its most distinct-sounding member, Caroline Brooks, Rob’s work on First of the Last to Know is excellent.

But it all comes down to Peter Katz, master of his musical domain, First of the First to Know.

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