Listen to your 2019 Folk Music Ontario award-winners
When the Folk Music Ontario conference unfolds in Mississauga this weekend, two of the highlights will undoubtedly be the Sunday morning awards brunch and the Friday afternoon awards showcase. Each year, FMO salutes up-and-coming artists by offering a range of prizes for outstanding songwriting and then fetes the recipients during the conference. There is also an award for the recording artist of the year. Inevitably, these awards provide a great opportunity to discover artists we’re likely to be seeing on festival stages in the next couple of years – if we haven’t already – and to hear some great music that might otherwise fly under our radar.
Here at Roots Music Canada, we’re more than happy to contribute to this process of discovery. Here below are all of this year’s Folk Music Ontario award-winners along with the songs for which they are being celebrated.
Stingray Rising Star Award-winners
English: Danielle Knibbe – “Absence of You”
The moose was pretty impressed with Danielle Knibbe when she sent us a couple of songs last year, and we’ve had the pleasure of featuring her stuff since then – and everything we’ve heard from her has hinted at greatness to come: strong songs, an expressive voice and a beguiling minimalist sound. But THIS song, this is the most wonderful thing I’ve heard from her yet. The lyrics are simple yet profound, almost in the way that David Francey pulls off that balance; it’s a love song that communicates its passion in a totally original way – and let’s face it, that’s pretty hard to pull off – and the performance is stirring. A rising star Danielle certainly is.
French: Moonfruits – “Les Marins”
Moonfruits is the Ottawa-based bilingual art-folk duo of Alex Millaire and Kaitlin Milroy who’s debut album, Ste-Quequepart, is a fascinating concept piece about a town trying to stay hopeful in hard times. “Les Marins” is a song from Ste-Quequepart that’s downtempo and melancholy and marked by subtle harmonies and some lovely violin-playing. I had a chance to catch the fruits at the Folk Alliance International conference in February, and their stage show was both original and captivating, far exceeding my expectations. They are part of a new generation of folk artists who are taking the genre in new directions by imprinting a millennial esthetic onto the music. It’s exciting to watch.
Songs from the Heart award-winners
Blues: Julian Taylor Band – “Gone”
Julian is no stranger to the Ontario music scene, and his range and versatility are such that he could probably qualify for half a dozen of these Songs from the Heart awards. His sound draws from funk, soul, blues, jazz, folk – even a bit of country, to my ears – and his overall sound straddles a magical divide between vintage and contemporary. It’s not hard to hear what the Songs from the Heart jury heard in this number here. “Gone” is a downtempo bluesy pop song with way groovy keys and a smoking horn section that’s just drenched in emotion and soul.
Children’s: Matt Gerber – “Buzz Off, Mosquito”
Matt Gerber is an avid camper who once sang in a barbershop quartet, and both of those influences come to the fore on “Buzz Off, Mosquito.” It’s a jaunty little number with an old-time string-band feel and harmonies straight out of said barbership quartet – all of which is to say that you really don’t need to be a child to appreciate it. Heck, you’ll never really appreciate a song about how annoying mosqitoes are until you’ve lived long enough to have had one stuck in your tent. It’s been a long time since I was a child, but I can totally imagine singing this on my next camping trip.
Global Folk: Jorge Miguel – “Sin Verguenza”
Jorge Miguel has been devoting himself to the study of authentic, capital “f” Flamenco guitar for the better part of 25 years now, after selling his worldly possessions and returning to his ancestral home of Seville in 1995. But this new song is special in two big ways. First, it’s the first song to ever feature Jorge on vocals, and there’s a reason he’s singing this one: the song is his own story – about being the son of a Spaniard and a Pole, who came to Madrid after the war, and about those who cast doubt on his skill and authenticity as a Flamenco artist. In fact the title of the track translates into “Shameless.” Secondly, the song is special because it features Jorge’s 15-year-old son, Iggy, on bass – one of the first times father and son have recorded together. So all told, this is a very personal number for Jorge, and it’s nice to see him rewarded for taking a risk and putting himself out there like this. Thumbs up too to the splendid percussionist Luis Orbegoso, who co-produced the track and also performs on it.
Singer/Songwriter: Jane Lewis and Eve Goldberg – “Bringing in the Light”
We’re stoked to be featuring this brand new song from Eve and Jane, better known as Gathering Sparks, who are actually launching their new album, All That’s Real, at this weekend’s Folk Music Ontario conference. The angelic harmonies on this track are enough to give you goosebumps, and the metaphoric message about persisting through times of despair – a message one can interpret on many levels these days – seems a propos at a time when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is touring the US pleading for politicians to put aside their differences to solve the climate crisis. Eve is a well-known figure in the Toronto music scene and a versatile folk singer-songwriter and interpreter in her own right, with a sizeable repertoire of original and traditional numbers. But when she joined forces with author-turned-musician Jane, she created one of those magical musical unions where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t wait to hear the full new album from these two.
Instrumental: Eric Stein – “The Whole Thing”
Eric is perhaps best known as the founder and leader of the Jewish fusion group Beyond the Pale, with whom he recorded this particular number. But make no mistake about it; that’s not the only thing he does. He also leads the Brazilian choro ensemble Tio Chorinho, is a member of the international super group the Ger Mandolin Orchestra, performs with the acoustic classic rock cover band King Harvest and the Allman Brothers cover band Eat a Peach, and is a member of the jam band Electric Meat. Oh! And he’s the artistic director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival. All of that to say, I’m not really sure where he found the time to write this piece, but it’s really quite lovely. It’s a sophisticated, relatively down-tempo and slightly cinematic number that features the lead instruments – clarinet, violin, accordion, and Eric’s mandolin – trading a similar lick before coming together in harmony, at times reaching triumphant crescendos.
Political: Sarah Hiltz – “Retching in the Wings”
Here’s another song you won’t find anywhere but here on Roots Music Canada – at least for now – and we’re super thrilled that Sarah has shared it with us. If you’re not yet familiar with Sarah, she’s an artist whose style ranges from jazzy pop to contemporary folk-pop and who launched her music career in epic fashion around eight years ago by quitting her day job to perform on a Via Rail train as part of their Artists on Board program. It’s Sarah’s jazzy stuff that I’m personally most enchanted by, and this song is a great example of it. It also has a great story to it, which I’ll leave to Sarah to tell:
I was inspired to write this song after I saw a video of Sinead O’Connor’s performance at a Bob Dylan tribute concert that took place in New York in 1992. The concert was less than two weeks after Sinead ripped up a photograph of the Pope live on SNL, and people were still pretty upset about that. When she walked on stage, the crowd started booing her, and they were so persistent, she was unable to perform her selected song. Instead she stood there, staring out at the audience as they sent all that hatred at her, and eventually shouted the same protest song she had done on SNL into the mic, before walking off-stage, dry heaving and nearly collapsing.
When I saw the video, I recognized myself in her experience—the defiance in her eyes, as she stood her ground in full conviction of the rightness of her own anger (she had torn the photograph as an act of protest against the Catholic Church’s perpetuation of child abuse). I also recognized myself in her collapse, because that is how I feel when I choose to express anger; it always costs me something, both energetically and emotionally, and often socially too. I’ve found that’s a common experience for a lot of women, but it’s a cost I am more prepared to pay these days.”
Roots: Jane Carmichael – “Reason”
I admit it. I was starting to sing along with the lyrical hook of this song before I was even done listening to it for the first time. The easy-going vibe and simple message – everything happens for a reason – masks just how darned catchy it really its. This song is performed by Jane’s duo, the Marrieds, which is comprised of her and her husband, Kevin Kennedy, and it comes from their brand spankin’ new album, Heavy Hearts, which just came out this month. They describe it as a more melancholy affair than their previous efforts, but I wouldn’t describe this track as melancholy. Far from it really. It’s relaxed and hooky and the kind of thing you’d sing to yourself walking along the waterfront on a carefree day.
Recording Artist of the Year award-winner
Rosie & the Riveters
Rosie and the Riveters have been performing together since 2011, and, as their name suggests, they’ve always been about women’s empowerment. Rosie the Riveter, after all, was the iconic headscarf-wearing, bicep-flexing working woman declaring, “We can do it” on posters recruiting women for tradtionally male occupations during the Second World War. But the Riveters really turned heads last year with the release of their sophomore album, Ms. Behave, a collection of numbers with more of a political bent – chief among them, “I Believe You,” whose inspiration likely needs no explanation. These gals’ sultry, harmony-rich, 40s-inspired music is a whole lotta fun both live and on record, so it’s no surprise they’re taking home this prize this year.