Bet Smith, Focus Your Audio, Glen MacNeil, Ronley Teper and Buster Crabtree
Gordy the Moose presents some of his favourite new music from the submissions that have arrived in the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox.
Bet Smith – Downer (Release date: Feb. 2, 2021)
A one-time west coast back-to-lander, who lived without power or running water, grew food and cooked it over an open fire, Bet Smith comes by her anxieties about the future of the planet honestly. That could be why Downer, so named because it unfolds like a stream-of-consciousness exploration of said anxieties, doesn’t feel like much of a downer to listen to. In fact, any twinge of melancholy evoked by the material is eclipsed by the thrill of discovering such a compelling talent.
There’s no pretense or preachiness in these songs at all, nothing cliché, and no sense of the material being forced. There are topics here that I’ve never before heard explored in song, such as on “I Would Rather Run,” a bleak country-noir number about a couple anticipating the decline of civilization by debating whether to buy a gun or flee. Another stand-out is “North Ontario,” a heartbreaking song of loss that alludes to how no amount of self-sufficiency prepares you for being alone. The album relies heavily on acoustic and electric guitars and vintage effects to create a sombre atmosphere that straddles alt.folk and country, but the really big selling point is Bet’s pure, intensely expressive country-folk voice, which has considerably more fullness and resonance than those of many singers tackling this kind of material. There are moments where the vocal quality, the phrasing, or the delivery will make me think of Kasey Chambers, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Lindi Ortega, Iris Dement or Dar Williams. Bet sounds nothing like any of them really, but the list gives you a sense of her calibre.
I believe Bet is back to cooking on a stove and using a toilet you can actually flush these days, but she still lives a pretty unique life, it seems, running a small blacksmith’s shop when she’s not working or making music. This album is an impressive collection from a relatively unknown artist, who only appears to have started recording in 2015. The plaintive, pristine vocals, atmospheric production values and original material make Bet an artist to keep a very close eye on. So hopefully she stays on-grid.
Focus Your Audio – “Out There” (Release date: Nov. 27, 2020)
This Vancouver-based duo just started releasing music in 2019, but so far so good by the sounds of things. They’ve put together a very nice contemporary sound that merges folk, pop and a bit of Americana. The band – nice name, by the way – is an east-meets-west pairing of Sarah McArthur, who grew up in Ontario and later settled in the Maritimes, and Bobby McAloney, who grew up in suburban Vancouver. Though relatively new to playing together, they’re both veterans of the road, which might account for how such a young act has managed to sound so fully matured. Have a listen.
Glen MacNeil – self titled EP (Release date: June 14, 2020)
Glen MacNeil is a Cape Breton MacNeil, who was born and raised in the land of salty air and kitchen parties, but these days he’s living in rural Essex County, ON, and the sound of this EP is definitely more country than Celtic. The dominant instrument here isn’t fiddle; it’s some really tasty steel guitar, and the sound is kind of retro country roots. Glen has a pleasing voice that’s both soulful and unadorned and a seemingly effortless delivery that nonetheless shows a lot of control. The songwriting is solid and the production stirring. Two hooves up.
Ronley Teper and the Lipliners – “New Love” video (Release date: Nov. 12, 2020)
I can’t possibly let Valentine’s Day go by without saluting this new project from Ronley Teper. Ronley is a composer and multimedia artist, and this is a perfect example of a piece where music and video work together. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an artist capture quite so perfectly the angst and excitement of the early courtship phase of a relationship. Watch and be charmed.
Buster Crabtree ft. Julie Arsenault – “Happiness” (Release date: Dec. 1, 2020)
Here’s one more for Valentine’s Day.
“I’m not sure if ‘Happiness’ is a happy or a sad song,” Buster, a.k.a. Graeme Moffatt, wrote in the materials accompanying this release. I get where he’s coming from, but I ended up settling on happy when I listened to it. It’s one of those songs that is lyrically very simple but that packs an emotional punch. You know, like the kind of thing David Francey writes. Although this is nothing like David Francey’s more traditional-sounding work. This is charming, contemporary alt.folk from a guy that spends a lot of time playing bass for other acts like Sameer Cash. Perhaps one of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that a guy like this had enough free time to put together a sweet little number of his own such as this one.