Born on a Wednesday, Rob Hudec, Jess Knights, and Athena Holmes
Gordy the Moose presents some of his favourite new music from the submissions that have arrived in the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox. This is part one of a two-part column.
Born on a Wednesday – Western Wind (Release date: Oct. 14, 2020)
This is an absolutely captivating debut from a quintet based in Nelson B.C. that has somehow managed to perform together for 14 years without previously releasing an album. I don’t know if COVID has something to do with this, but I’ll consider it a pandemic silver lining if it did. The sound is mostly understated indie folk with Beatlesque harmonies. At times, it slides toward blues, with harmonica and slide guitar finding their way into the nearly all-acoustic arrangements.
Given that the band has been together 14 years, it probably goes without saying that this isn’t your typical debut. The ensemble has a very clear musical identity and a distinctive sound. It doesn’t announce itself from the fist notes. But the gentle, easygoing melodies and harmonies sneak up on you over the course of a song or two, and before you know it, you just want to keep listening and listening.
Rob Hudec – “I Don’t Need a Doctor” (Release date: Dec. 13, 2020)
Rob Hudec strikes me as your quintessential journeyman musician, raised in a musical family and well-adapted to the life of a working artist. He’ll play bars, restaurants, weddings, parties, funerals – you name it, and he knows how to read a crowd. He’ll take requests and can play anything from blues and rock to country, jazz, folk, and Latin. He also, it turns out, can write a perfectly nifty number of his own. Rob isn’t blazing any new musical trails with “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” but I sure wouldn’t turn up my nose at it if he slipped it into a cover set. It’s catchy, fun, and showcases some solid electric guitar work, especially for fans of the wah wah pedal. Also, hats off to Rob for the original lyric, which pokes fun at people who refuse to ask for help. If you live in southern Alberta or Saskatchewan and you’re looking for a night of fun after the pandemic’s over, keep an eye out for Rob’s name on a marquee near you.
Jess Knights – Best Kind of Light (Release date: June 20, 2020)
Jess already made the YYScene’s best-of-2020 list in her hometown of Calgary, so you probably won’t be shocked to know that I also thought her album was pretty great. The selling point is really Jess’ voice. To be honest, it reminds me a bit of teenage Suzie Vinnick in the way that it combines youthful purity with gobsmacking elasticity and soul. Fellow Albertan Ann Vriend is another artist who comes to mind at times when I listen to her. Her sound is a rather unique blend of blues, soul, RnB and pop, all with a bit of a vintage feel. I suspect we might see Jess on the Maple Blues nominee list one of these days soon.
Athena Holmes – Shine (Release date: Feb. 13, 2021)
Athena Holmes is a singer-songwriter who blends folk, jazz, blues and pop with much artistry and, at times, a delightful theatrical flair. And speaking of singers with elastic voices (see Jess above), add Athena to that list. What a delightful, versatile, pure, crystalline instrument they possess. The themes on Shine range from pet love (the playful, bluesy “Lucie”) to the entitlement men feel toward women’s bodies (the sultry, “Asking for it”). The latter is indicative of Athena’s depth as a performer who brings a critical lens and a passionate curiosity to issues of gender and race. I’m told they have an alter-ego named BiG SiSSY, who is a drag performer from a planet called Black Star Planet who performs an Afrofuturist rock-opera. THIS I want to see.