Joey Wright takes centre stage with “Hatch”

Joey Wright is a musician’s musician, used to working outside the spotlight as a top-notch accompanist. A long-time collaborator with musicians including Sarah Harmer, Amy Millan, and partner Jenny Whiteley, his skills as a guitar, mandolin and banjo player are well known. When performing his own music, Wright maintains the generous spirit of a sideman, conducting and welcoming others into the circle. The feeling of the live show is that of an organic and organized jam, in which he holds the centre.

The launch of Joey Wright’s new CD “Hatch” at Toronto’s Great Hall on November 25 revealed his elegant ease as a headliner. Wright, on guitar and vocals was backed by Christine Bougie on drums and lap steel, Dan Whiteley on bass, and Jesse Zubot on fiddle and mandolin, with Oh Susanna and Jenny Whiteley singing backup. The performances were as flawless as Wright’s arrangements, revealing the players’ strongest suits in good time. A highight was a three-mandolin barn-burner with Wright, Dan Whiteley and Zubot trading finger-blistering licks.

Playing all of the songs from Hatch (released November 16), Wright’s quiet confidence and acute sense of tone and nuance brought a captivating richness to the work.

As for “Hatch” itself: the title informs the album, but subtly. The songs tend thematically toward a sense of long incubation rather than new beginnings, and indeed Hatch benefits from the wide-ranging musical experiences of Wright’s career thus far. His previous album, 2007’s Jalopy, was entirely instrumental and earned him a Juno nomination, demonstrating an intense focus on musical structure. Though he’s a technical master, Wright goes beyond showing off skill–his melodies are blissfully otherworldly.

There are a few instrumentals on Hatch, but here they act as accents to the songs on which he debuts the first vocals he’s written and performed on record. Coupled with his cinematic guitar sounds, Wright’s sweet voice and artful lyrics are a mellow departure from the bluegrass he’s been known for. His phrasing is a patchwork of sepia-toned images from a far away time and place. The resulting feel is dreamy, with whispery background vocals and lap steel adding layers to a texture that never feels muddied.

At eleven tracks, Hatch is one song short of a dozen, but isn’t missing a thing.

“A dreamy, psychedelic folk vibe”: Exclaim! reviews Hatch
“A feast for the ears”: Village Records reviews Hatch

Photos courtesy of Ali Eisner. Visit Ali Eisner’s Flickr site.

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