Favourite things Heather Kitching heard in 2018
After more than a decade of working as a roots music publicist, during which my attentions were concentrated on a relatively small number of talented clients, I’ve delighted this year in having the opportunity to get out and discover new talent, thanks in part to this here web site. And truthfully, I’ve seen and heard a lot of things I’ve loved, so trying to narrow it down is pretty hard. But here are a few things that really stood out.
Jeremy Dutcher – Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Choosing Jeremy Dutcher sounds terribly unoriginal given that he won the Polaris Prize this year and ended up on just about every year-end favourites list in genres from classical to pop. But I was hip to Jeremy before all those hipsters got on board, let me tell you! Back when the reborn Roots Music Canada was merely a twinkle in my eye, I was contemplating how to make sure we gave a fair shake to minority artists while working with a volunteer writing team whose personal preferences would reign supreme. So I popped over to RPM, the Canadian Indigenous music web site, to see what they were writing about, and lo and behold, they had a premiere of Jeremy’s video for “Honor Song” – which, as everyone now knows, is freaking amazing. So I fired off an email to Jeremy’s manager and said we’d love to feature him on the site when his album came out. Imagine how happy I was when I found out that the album would come out the same week that Roots Music Canada relaunched. We featured some tracks from Jeremy that week, and the next thing you know, he’s the hottest new artist in North America. Coincidence? You decide.
Ian Tamblyn – Let it Go
It’s easy to take veteran singer-songwriters for granted. By the time they’ve put out a handful of fantastic albums, we simply expect nothing less from them, and the next fantastic thing fails to impress us quite as much as the first one did – that is, unless they’ve got Madonna’s gift for constant reinvention, which, let’s face it, isn’t really a thing in the roots world. So it felt like a revelation to put on Ian’s new record and remember why he’s been such an enduring presence on the scene. He’s just simply that good and that consistent. At 71, Ian has lost a bit of his vocal power, but he cleverly conceals it by employing the phenomenal Rebecca Campbell to sing alongside him on key refrains, giving the album a Leonard Cohenesque feel. And like Cohen, Ian’s writing chops are as strong as they’ve ever been, evidenced in particular by the song “Not a Day Goes By,” a haunting, autobiographical number about the traumatic experience Ian lived through as a youth that he says put him on the path to becoming a songwriter.
The Janzen Boys – live at the Trout Forest Music Festival
The Janzens are a dad and his two teenage sons who do for three-part male vocal harmony what acts like the Wailin’ Jennys did for female three-part harmonies. Couple that delightful sound with some catchy, uplifting tunes and a super fun on-stage rapport that will leave dads everywhere wondering what John Janzen is doing right as a father, and you’ve got an act that’s ready for festival prime time. And if there’s any justice in the world, that’s where they’ll be this coming summer.
Shreem x Celtic Remixing – Showcase at Folk Music Ontario
I first learned of Shreem (a.k.a. Jay Andrews) when the Stan Rogers Folk Festival cleverly booked him as part of its impressive East Coast-centric line-up this year. I got to see him showcase at the Folk Music Ontario conference in September with fiddler and step-dancer Emily Yarascavitch on stage with him. Shreem, whose background includes working with Ashley MacIsaac and co-producing his FDLER album, is the latest in a proud tradition of DJs mixing up trad music, and his set is downright captivating to watch, thanks to his talents as a beatboxer and percussionist and Yarascavitch’s fiery foot and bow work. Talk about mixing it up!
New Tradition – Showcase at Folk Music Ontario
Another discovery from Folk Music Ontario, this Afro-Columbian act raised the roof with its mix of Latin American music, hip hop and electronica, but what really set these guys apart was the dancing. I’m pretty sure two thirds of the band could populate a season of World of Dance. You know, most of the people who attend these conferences and watch these showcases are grizzled industry vets who have seen a lot of great music in their time and aren’t easy to impress – but you wouldn’t know it by watching their response to New Tradition. They were dancing and waving their hands in the air like teenagers at a concert by Katy Perry – or whoever the kids are listening to these days.
Bellegarde – Anba Tonèl
It’s a real mixed bag o’ stuff that shows up in the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox – everything from promising and not-so-promising young upstarts to rock n’ roll bands who have apparently never actually looked at our web site to see what we cover. And then there are the real gems. I wasn’t familiar with Daniel Bellegarde before this turned up in our mailbox, but he certainly has an impressive CV, having worked as a percussionist with iconic Quebec acts like Daniel Belanger, Zachary Richard and Michel Rivard. This record is an exploration of the European influence on Caribbean music, something I honestly knew nothing about. I did not, for example, have any idea that the contradance and quadrille were part of 19th century Caribbean culture, nor had I heard of the minuet-Congo. But I have now, and my life is better for it. Everything about this record is first rate, from the concept to the performances, which feature top-tier musicians like Hassan El Hadi, Erik West-Millette, and Nicolas Boulerice (Le Vent du Nord).
Honorable mentions: Lonesome Ace Stringband live, Raine Hamilton live; Annie Sumi live; Danny Bell and his Disappointments – Good Timin’ Man album, Melody McIver live; Rae Spoon’s new single, “Do Whatever the Heck you Want,” Kelly Bado, Red Dirt Skinners covering “Comfortably Numb” and Craig Robertson’s “Cheap Old Watch” single.