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Chris Altmann: A Man For All Summers

Guitar in Woods

Transplanted Aussie native, Chris Altmann clearly enjoys the best of all worlds. Moving from Adelaide to Peterborough, the seasoned musician wasted no time finding out who was who, musician-wise, and, by early 2010, had recorded his first solo record, Que Paso. Now living in Hamilton (when he’s not in Nashville), he’s about to release another self-produced record and has taken the time to create his own label, Ridin’ High Records.

Somehow, he finds the time to return to Australia each year to play in still-familiar settings, staying in touch with friends and fans on both continents simultaneously. For those of us who sometimes have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, people like Chris Altmann are hard to fathom. Boundless energy, a firm commitment to his craft and he’s only 30-something. He even married a local girl – Alysha Main, from Norwood, who manages and promotes his career, the label and their ridiculously busy lifestyle when she’s not touring Australia with him. She also finds time to promote the Peterborough-based, forward-looking music label, Seventh Fire Records, who have released a 7″ record of a pair of Altmann’s tracks.

On this occasion, Chris and his talented cast of friends and players were teasing the forthcoming release, Nothing But Nice Things. Hey. Isn’t that Washboard Hank on dobro? It is! Rounding out the small Dakota stage is Rob Foreman (bass), Brandon Humphrey (acoustic guitar), Matt Greco (drums) and the delightful Peterpatch export, Grainne Ryan on backup vocals.

Now, you’re likely wondering what sort of music a globetrotting Aussie who has found the light in southern Ontario might play? You must first understand that Altmann is one of those people whose veins flow with equal parts blood and music. He plays everything instrument-wise, and what he hasn’t yet learned, he will. His first release was a fresh take on an old school – akin to the school that Leon Russell attended. Circa Mad Dogs and Englishmen, his music has a laidback, party feel that lays a warm, loose groove atop a rootsy collection of complementary instruments and like-minded players.

Originally in a Melbourne-based rock band called The Vandas, Altmann shifts to the lower gears and uses strong vocal chops and his signature piano sound to give birth to a soulful, good time. Mix in some pedal steel (Altmann) amidst lead piano parts, dobro (Hank), acoustic guitar (Brandon Humphrey), bass (Rob Foreman), drums (Matt Greco) and sweet vocal support from Grainne Ryan throughout and you begin to get the idea. Think of a drunken BBQ bash over at Doug Sahm’s summer house – with Leon manning the bar and T-Bone Burnett bringing dessert. Loose, laidback songs – built to last and fun to listen to – the title track to his new album, a case in point, with its pedal steel, piano and sturdy chorus.

The highly animated “Carrodus’ Mountain View Hotel” reads like a twisted love letter to a favourite watering hole – because
it is. Contrast this rowdy chant to the surprisingly delicate “I Told A Lie” to gain some perspective on the range of Altmann’s songwriting abilities – clothed as a rock’n’roll number driven by his piano style, underlining the value of his well-rehearsed band. The rootsy bent of “Living It Up” makes for a perfect, feel-good song while being, at the same time, a strong code to live life by.

The strong country bent to Altmann’s voice is revealed with the fiddle-free “Whole Wide World” while Grainne Ryan’s show-stopping, low-end support vocal on “Lukewarm Heart” proved a highlight of the night. “Love Like This” – clearly the front-runner track from Que Paso – provided Altmann with another chance to ply his prowess on pedal steel while the honky-tonkin’ “Who Knows Where” – also from the last record – drove home its solid hook while registering its hearty, rowdy chorus. “Zig Zag Rag” continues to pick things up with solid, rock’n’roll energy, pumped up by three singers and Altmann’s rollicking piano, ultimately bringing the evening to a close. Served up as a preview of the forthcoming Nothing But Nice Things proves to be a dramatic understatement – both this release and the one before it are loaded with great things. Altmann is clearly singer-songwriter enough for both countries to share.

Photos by Eric Thom


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