The Moose’s 11 favourite discoveries of 2019 in the Roots Music Canada mailbox
Every month or so, Gordy the Moose goes through the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox, listens to everything that’s come in, and chooses the most interesting, most promising and sometimes just plain best stuff to feature in his column. From those, he has picked out his 10 favourites of 2019, republished here in the approximate chronological order in which they appeared on the site. It was a great year for new music and tough for Gordy to narrow down his list!
Debbie Adshade – Toss the Bones
Well now this is an interesting record. Debbie Adshade has been called the “Godmother of folk” in Saint John, NB, and she appears to exist where Ferron and Sinead O’Connor meet fantasy novels, Gregorian chants, Celtic, jazz and new age music. The songs from her new album, her first since 2004, are inspired by New Brunswick poetry – Debbie is from New Brunswick – but they have a distinctive spiritual and metaphysical vibe, and the production is shrouded in Celtic gloom. Debbie’s voice – whose resonance on the low-end approaches Ferron’s and on the high end approaches Sinead’s – has a timbre that at times nearly matches that of her electric guitar, creating almost drone-like passages. In fact, this album sometimes feels like a showcase of Debbie’s versatility as a vocalist. The opening title track features a chorus of vocalizations that recall traditional Indigenous singing (The Moose doesn’t know enough about Debbie to know whether this is appropriate or appropriation). The chorus of “Sancte” sounds very much like it was inspired by Gregorian chant – and, given that it is a Roman Catholic prayer, that would make some sense. And “Happy” has a modern-day bluesy jazzy feel. It’s a captivating record with a ton of atmosphere, and the moose is digging it.
Joe Nolan – Cry Baby
How does Joe Nolan make being down in the dumps so immensely listenable? I dunno. Maybe it’s the fact that he sounds like a mixture of Joe Cocker and a young Bruce Springsteen. Maybe it’s the delightful mixture of influences from pop, rock and classic soul, coupled with blistering shards of electric guitar, fuzz and distortion and a dash of punk rock attitude – like when he damn near vomits out the lyrical hook to “Blackout Drunk.” Maybe it’s just the fact that Joe is one of those writers who isn’t afraid to go deep, as they say. Maybe it’s all of those things. The Moose doesn’t know. All he knows is he wants to lay here all day with his hooves in the air listening. But he’s in a bit of a conflicted situation now. The moose is a nice guy. He really wants Joe to feel better after processing his pain through this recording. But the Moose also really loves this record. Is it wrong to not want Joe to feel TOO much better?
Veranda – Woodland Waltz
Meg Tennant – Echoed Light
Apart from getting some love from our friends over at Penguin Eggs, Meg Tennant has largely flown under the radar over the course of her 20-odd year career – so this sweet-voiced artistically mature singer-songwriter might come as a revelation to many. There’s something about her pure-as-the-mountain-air vocals, her country-tinged folk sound, and her homespun acoustic arrangements that reminds me of Emmylou Harris – particularly the way that Meg’s voice manages to sound both girlish and world-weary at the same time. And there are some beautiful songs here. “Glass Heart” is as lovely as a breakup song can be. “Shine a Light On Us” is a spiritual number, complete with a vocal chorus, which seems to have been inspired by the passing of a loved one. And “Live on Love” is an uptempo little ditty about lasting love that manages to be cheerful without being corny.
Meg Tennant – “Glass Heart”
Rob Murphy – “O La La”
Rob Murphy is from Cape Breton, but there’s not a hint of Celtic influence on this number here. It’s pure, heartfelt, acoustic roots-pop marked by a catchy chorus and an ever so slightly gravelly vocal delivery. Rob made his debut in 2017 with a single called “300 Days” about wait times for mental health treatment on Cape Breton. Already, that makes me like Rob an awful lot. But this new song is just ever so promising. I seriously can’t wait to see what Rob puts out next. If this single is any indication, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with on the folk scene.
Rob Murphy – “O La La”
Burnstick – Kîyânaw
Heather had the pleasure of seeing this duo perform during the Indigenous Artists Showcase last year at the Folk Music Ontario conference, and she loved their stirring harmonies and their chemistry on stage. So we were pretty excited when their new album showed up in our mailbox. For those unfamiliar with Jason Burnstick, he’s a Plains-Cree guitarist and a roots music veteran whose awards shelf features trophies from the Western Canadian Music Awards, the Indigenous Music Awards, the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards, and the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards – plus nominations for both the Junos and the Dora awards (for theatre). But these days, his focus is on this duo project with his wife, francophone-Métis singer-songwriter Nadia Gaudet Burnstick. And for good reason: they really sound lovely together, both live and on record. It’s understated, intimate and seemingly-effortlessly beautiful. Four hooves up.
Big Little Lions – Inside Voice
Heather has said more than once on this site that she would buy a ticket to a Big Little Lions show just to listen to Helen Austin talk. She’s that entertaining! She is a former stand-up comic after all. But the crazy thing is, Big Little Lions are as good at making music as Helen is at being hilarious. Which is why their current lack of world domination is something of a mystery to me. This new album from Helen, who lives in the Comox area of Vancouver Island, and Paul Otten, who lives in Cincinnati, kicks off with a couple of songs that rival “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in their sheer joy and catchyness. And the whole album is 14 tracks of perfect indie folk-pop marked by delightful harmonies from two people whose voices blend absolutely flawlessly.
Miranda Mulholland – By Appointment or Chance
Damn. This is beautiful. Miranda’s sophomore album is a collection of favourite songs – classics like “The Parting Glass,” “The Old Churchyard,” and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” coupled with original compositions and contemporary covers like the McGarrigles’ “Heart Like a Wheel” – all recorded in a cottage in Hampshire, UK, where Miranda has been spending her spring-times cat sitting. If the English countryside could be said to have a “sound,” this is certainly it. The album evokes Loreena McKennitt’s spare, early work, betraying Miranda’s classical training on voice and violin and featuring beautiful harp from Bjork accompanist Tara Minton. Those who are sad to see Loreena step back from music to focus on battling the negative impacts of technology on the creative class should really check out this new project from Miranda. Coincidentally, Miranda is also a powerful advocate for artists’ rights.
Kate Weekes – Taken by Surprise
This is the third solo album from Kate Weekes, who built her reputation as part of the same Yukon music scene that produced Kim Beggs, Kim Barlow and Annie Lou. Now based in the charming village of Wakefield, QC, a quasi-suburb of Ottawa that’s home to the iconic venue the Blacksheep Inn, she has put together a compelling album that showcases both her lovely, slightly girlish voice and her formidable songwriting chops. The musical influences range from folk to jazz, and the lyrics draw from countless travels, both geographic and emotional. The geographical influences include voyages to Norway and China; the emotional ones include “several intense personal relationships,” according to Kate’s bio. A particular highlight of the album is the lovely horn and string arrangements that envelop many of these tracks in warmth.
You can find the full list of Kate’s upcoming dates in the original Moose write-up on her album here.
Dustbowl Daddies – More Hurricane than Rainbow
This is awesome! This Ottawa-based quintet frequently sounds like a cross between Mumford and Sons and the Pogues on this new EP – a precursor to their sophomore album, Boom and Bust Economies of Love, due next year (great title, by the way). Best of all, most of the money they make from shows gets donated to great charities like Ottawa Inner City Health because, heck, these guys don’t need to make a living as musicians. Two of them are university professors. This is a band made up of super accomplished people who just happen to also make super great music. Do some people have all the talent or what?
Lonesome Ace Stringband – Modern Old-Time Sounds for the Bluegrass and Folksong Jamboree
A lot of the stuff that arrives in the virtual mailbox here at Roots Music Canada is the work of brand new artists – some of them sending us their first iPhone demos – or promising up-and-comers hoping for an introduction to our readers. Lonesome Ace Stringband, however, is an act as veteran as they come. Chris Coole is one of Canada’s leading clawhammer banjo players whose resume includes playing in David Francey’s band and as a member of the Foggy Hogtown Boys. Fellow Foggy Hogtown Boy John Showman is a leading fiddler known for his work with New Country Rehab and the innovative string ensemble the Creeking Tree String Quartet. And upright bass player Max Heineman, also a Foggy Hogtown Boy, is a versatile player who lends his talents to all sorts of projects in Toronto and beyond. This new album, the band’s fourth, showcases the super tight playing, innovative arranging, and gorgeous three-part harmonies the members perfected through seven years of residency at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto. The cross-section of covers ranges from old-time classics such as the Stanley Brothers’ “Stone Walls and Steel Bars” to reimaginings of songs from other genres such as Lhasa’s “Fools Gold” – so beautifully rendered here that you’d think it was written as a country song. A particular stand-out for me is the trio’s cover of the Carter Family’s “I Never Will Marry,” which showcases its ability to create a massive holy sound with just three voices and acoustic instruments. If you’re already a fan of the Lonesome Aces, this album will only reinforce their reputation as a rock-solid outfit with impeccable taste. In the off chance you’ve not discovered them yet, this new album will remind you what truly great old-time music is supposed to sound like.
“I Never Will Marry”