BluesReel, Don River, Bran Sanders and Alex Leggett
Gordy the Moose has been cleaning out the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox before the end of the year and catching up on all the new music inside. Here he presents Part 2 of his favourite finds.
BluesReel – Saint Quentin (Release date: Oct. 2, 2020)
If you’re a fan of trans-Atlantic roots music, have a listen to this project from Montrealers Patrick Hutchinson and John Kerkhoven, which features guest musicianship from veteran Montreal bluesman Stephen Barry. What makes it distinct from other trans-Atlantic efforts I’ve heard is the focus on merging Irish music with the blues, rather than bluegrass or old-time. Many of the tracks lean heavily toward one genre or the other with only subtle references to the other side of the ocean – although “Take me Down to the Mainstreet” merges the two traditions masterfully – but it’s nonetheless cool to be reminded of how easily these genres sit side by side. A particular stand-out for me was the duo’s cover of the country blues fiddle tune “Black Pine Waltz” done on harmonica. Very cool!
Don River – “Wasting” (Release date: Nov. 5)
Don River is the current nom de guerre of alt.folk singer-songwriter Bradley Pearson, who previously put out a record as Jimmy Pearson in 2015. He could prove to be a difficult artist to keep track of if he changes his name with each new project, but you know what? It will be well worth the effort if this song is any indication. What an absolutely gorgeous track this is! The lyrics to this moving number about living without ever really living are coupled with an equally beautiful stop-motion video, featuring exquisite animation on the song’s puppet performer, whose movements and expressions communicate its melancholy.
Bran Sanders – This Old House (Release date: Nov. 16)
Based in Westbank, near Kelowna, B.C., the semi-nomadic Bran Sanders is a devotee of old school folk music of the kind he discovered when tracing the influences of his idols, Dave Van Ronk and Doc Watson. That led him to the standards like “Hills of Mexico” and “Little Maggie” that make up the majority of this album – although his original number “Let it Go” shows he’s already starting to produce work that rivals the contents of the folk canon. Bran has a warm, smooth, resonant voice, with just a touch of twang, and an unadorned delivery that channels Guthrie and Dylan. His vocals sit right up front on the recordings, giving them an intimate feel. The sparse arrangements, meanwhile, couple traditional acoustic string instrumentation with a touch of wet reverb, creating a vibe that’s at once nostalgic and haunting. This is a really compelling introduction to an artist I’d love to see live.
“Let it Go”
“Hills of Mexico”
Alex Leggett – What a Year So Far (Release date: Oct. 27, 2020)
Gananoque singer-songwriter Alex has certainly tapped into the zeitgeist with the title of his latest EP, What a Year so Far, which, appropriately enough, has a skeleton on the cover. These three songs draw on classic southern roots and soul and touch on themes related to our insane year. The stand-out is definitely the dark, percussive “Down to the River,” which Alex says is targeted at anyone who is racist, sexist and xenophobic, and a conspiracy theorist.
“It’s an anthem for those of us who are tired of the belligerent few that are perpetuating fear and hatred,” he said. “The main hook is about holding someone under water, like a baptism, until they come to reason. Probably won’t happen, so it’s essentially [a] drowning. I don’t usually get too dark with my material, but the timing feels right to get this out into the world. Just a giant “fuck off” to those who thrive on the divide.”
I think I like this guy.