August Arrival, Bridget Melody, Rick Sparkes, Shyanne, Jay Pollmann, Sean Cotton & Sweet Santa Fe
Gordy the Moose presents some of his favourite new music from the submissions that have arrived in the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox.
The August Arrival – All Blue and Gold (Release date: Feb. 1, 2021)
When I saw that the August Arrival were from the Yukon, I immediately had a mental picture of what I thought they’d sound like: rootsy, lovely harmonies, and tasteful, possibly old-timey string arrangements. That’s because, for decades now, Bob Hamilton has been cranking out records that sound just like that from his Old Crow recording studio in Whitehorse, with nary a miss among the hits. Think Kim Barlow, Kim Beggs, Annie Lou, the Breakmen, Diyet and the Love Soldiers – you name it really. To be fair to Bob, he’s actually a versatile guy, who’s also produced a lot of records that depart from that formula, but you can’t argue the man’s got a sound.
So what a surprise to get something in the moose’s mailbox that was helmed, not by Bob, but by Jordy Walker – an album that is not anchored in traditional sounds but rather in contemporary indie folk.
The stand-out element of the August Arrival is the voice of Sara MacDonald, who possesses a mournful, unadorned instrument that recalls early Margo Timmins or Sarah Polley’s work on the soundtrack to the Sweet Here After. The production on this album is very raw and “college radio,” which makes for a pretty cool debut. But it would be neat to hear what these guys would sound like in the hands of a guy like Howard Bilerman, who has built delectable atmospheres around singers like Basia Bulat and Coeur de Pirate.
Bridget Melody – Spirit Dance (Release date: March 11, 2021)
Bridget is both a talented visual artist and a contemporary roots-pop singer-songwriter who is armed with a powerful voice and a compelling artistic vision. Her goal with her debut album, according to her website, was to perform a collection of uplifting, inspirational and socially conscious songs to counteract some of the doom and gloom of our current era. It’s not a Pollyannaish record by any means, and not all of the songs are about love, healing, and empowerment. For example, Bridget, who draws inspiration from her Mi’kmaq ancestry, wrote “A Canoe and a Ship” about the relationship between settlers and Indigenous people in Canada – but even that song is really a celebration of the strength and resilience of Indigenous people and an anthem of hope for a better outcome to come. It also happens to be bathed in an infectious electric guitar riff that’s distantly reminiscent of the one in Toto’s “Africa.” In fact, the production and instrumentation on this album are extremely diverse, thanks no doubt to producer/arranger Chris Birkett, who has worked with the ever-innovative Buffy Sainte-Marie. You can even hear Harpin’ Norm Lucien on harmonica in places.
Rick Sparkes and the Enablers – Pleasure in the Pathless Woods (Release date: March 18, 2021)
The photo on the cover of the Enablers’ new album is a pretty good hint as to what lies within. It’s a 60s era school photo of – one of the band members? I don’t know. But this new album skillfully walks the line between contemporary folk and 1960s nostalgia, with particular nods to the Byrds, the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkle. This is only the sophomore album from Rick and the Enablers, who are based in PEI, but it demonstrates a strong sense of musical identity. I could see this being a great soundtrack for the sunny weather to come.
Shyanne – “I Still Break” (Release date: March 12, 2021)
Shyanne’s debut single has been steadily climbing the Indigenous Music Countdown, and for good reason. This young Ottawa-based singer-songwriter has a lovely, mellifluous voice and shows tremendous promise as a songwriter. Backed by little more than piano, she delivers a performance filled with emotion and authenticity. Please spread the word on this girl!
Jay Pollmann – One Day Older None the Wiser (Release date: March 26, 2021)
Like David Francey, Jay Pollmann was a woodworker before he was a full-time musician, and I’m starting to think that maybe all songwriters should do carpentry apprenticeships before taking up music. If these two are any indication, it seems to contribute to a sense of authenticity in one’s music. Jay, who did 10 years with the rock trio Gruve before releasing his solo debut in 2017, has a sound that’s pure, feel-good roots music that leans toward the country end of things most of the time. Jay isn’t reinventing the genre here, but who needs to when there’s so much to love about the genre just the way it is?
Sean Cotton – Almaguin Gothic (Release date: April 30, 2021)
Prior to retiring to the Muskoka region a few years back, Sean toured the world with Corin Raymond as a member of the Undesirables. Since then, he’s been entertaining tourists to cottage country with his songs about the region. This is his second collection of them, and it’s a charming work of small-town Canadiana. I don’t know if the characters he’s singing about are real or not, but they sure do come to life in these musical portraits.
Hear it HERE.
Sweet Santa Fe – Dichoso EP (Release date: March 31, 2021)
Add this to the list of acts we probably would’ve seen on the festival circuit this year if not for COVID-19. Sweet Santa Fe is the B.C.-based duo of Cuban émigré Michel Rivero and Alberta transplant Christine Baxter, and their music is marked by folky acoustic guitar, two-part harmonies, lyrics in English and Spanish, and Latin percussion. There is also some tasty flute in the mix. The closing track, “Fragile,” is a tender song dedicated to families dealing with dementia.