Holding tight onto a lifeboat song has been a way-through strategy for many of us, ever since the slings and arrows began to pop up as regular features in our daily routes and routines. With the recent increase in inconvenient pivots, swerves, and outright ditch runs, we have been requiring epic tunes to serve, not merely as therapy, but as temporary remedies and roadblocks to the ongoing viral ennui. Here are ten tunes that helped protect me from the intrusive effects of Covid’s notwithstanding clause this year.
1, Jane Mathew – “No One”: After Heather recommended Such Perfect Lives, a barcode-free release from young Toronto singer Jane Mathew, I caught a case of Kitch’s goose bumps immediately. Jane’s sweetly ironic lyricism is buoyed up by the magnificent sea-swell settings arranged by her friend, Simon (a guy she knows from her church), lighting the heart in a way that only a voice full of phosphorescent honesty and compassion can. This song gives voice to a feeling of bitter frustration with hypocrisy that is as universally transmissible as any virus. Light within the dark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUUA06eW1Hs
2. The Fretless featuring Lady Phyl – “Wondering Where The Lions Are”: Open House is a broad invitational album concept, providing an opportunity for the virtuosic neo-trad string quartet to host some of Canada’s most dynamic song stylists. By removing the reggae exo-skeleton from Bruce Cockburn’s anthemic 80’s hit, “Wondering Where The Lions Are,” the Fretless has provided a timeless meditative core for the application of beautifully harmonized vocals that breathe in spirituality and breathe out soulful sensuality. Some kind of ecstasy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b2ozSrdXP8
3. Indian City – “Smile”: On Vince Fontaine’s recent soul-cleansing album Code Red, this one is an especially brilliant pinnacle of inspiration. It’s got all of the effects of summer sunlight in it and rises up as a unique pandemic love song for people who can still smile with their eyes above the masks. Jeremy Koz’s aquiline voice lifts you right out of whatever and effortlessly infiltrates the pop-glide streamway, spinning you into a cooler and better place. Every time. Sometimes this world is a miracle place. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Kpy9BYAJ-U
4. Isaac Murdoch and Matt Epp – “Indian Song”: Daniel Lanois famously insisted that this song be reduced to its bare accompaniment and be crafted to augment the sincerity of the vocal performance. In so many songs about poverty and homelessness, pathos and perseverance are served up as the main course. The striking suggestion that compassion redeems the giver nourishes the flower of generosity at the heart of this song. Help me sing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX2infILwKk
5. Jazz Lovers Society – “Drum Song”: A jazz instrumental is no one’s idea of roots music, unless it is helmed by folk / reggae cornerstone Fergus Hambleton, whose songs have been adorning Canadian charts for almost 50 years. He used his Covid vacation from the Sattalites to rally drummer John Adames and bassist Rob McBride to help liberate some original compositions, a few standards, and one enormously significant cover tune from his saxophone. His version of transplanted Jamaican-Canadian Jackie Mittoo’s “The Drum Song” cascades across a monotonic polyrhythm with imperial tranquility. Jackie’s time spent in Toronto helped to crystallize Canada’s reggae legacy, and to hear his masterpiece given such deep production with a full horn section is both triumphant and thrilling. Aeolian mode to the max. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJJxjffPlmQ
6. Stringbone –“Wow! Oh Yeah!”: Hooked up to an infinitely renewable electric guitar power riff, Barry Payne ponders the vague possibilities and clear failings of our current socio/economic culture. A gang chorus, a punky tenor sax and the growls of some kind of, perhaps, carnivorous mammal reaffirm his hopes and fears during breaks in the recitation. Did YOU ever wonder what would happen…? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te7QgV94Ay4
7. Shawna Caspi -“Celebrate”: Producing her most recent album, Hurricane Coming, while maintaining a day job and struggling with the absence of gigs was a labour of love for the typically industrious Shawna and her producer Joel Schwartz. The result is a classic time capsule of her apprehensive thoughts and feelings. Our impatience with society’s current vogue of ennui is nowhere more evident than on this simple tune of encouragement. We don’t have to wait. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0El4IZPXNVY
8. Maria Dunn -“Joyful Banner Blazing”: When you first hear this opening title track from Maria’s elevating release from early 2021, (which won silver in the recent Penguin Eggs Critics’ Poll) it’s hard to keep from going back to it just to hear her sing “You are young / you are precious / you are loved” until it loops around your heart like a soft bright scarf. An episodic homage to her activist aunt, it is magnified by the wistful pipes and accordion for additional comfort. One big heart on one big sleeve. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljfGBaIY5as
9. Broke Fuse -“Strawberry Moon”: With Rocket Ride, harpist Jay Moonah has made a decisive career leap by releasing an album of original compositions that alternately rocks, swings and soothes. This tune will ease you into a florally-scented midnight hot tub with an aura of spiced reverb and a haunting haze of twang. Recognized with a nomination as best new artist at the recently postponed Maple Blues Awards, Jay will doubtless continue expanding his affiliations to new horizons of the blues. No matter how you hold it, it always slips away. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFgBVN4Bw_c
10. Dana Sipos -“Light Around The Body”: Apocalyptic visions drowning in morphic resonances bring us intimately close to the sense of overhearing an internal monologue on Dana’s CFMA-nominated album, The Astral Plane. Her bluesy phrasing on this tune, as well as the intricate and nebular detailing by producer Sandro Perri, merge the song into your celestial consciousness effortlessly. Choking on eucalyptus and rose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNayPsohNnM
P.S. Amongst the hundred other great songs I would like to share, here is my 2021 video crush, a salubrious and unCanadian, unRoots British disco hit with a strong positive charge called “Keep Moving by Jungle” that no one should really have to live without. Apply as needed. You’re welcome. 2022, you been served.