photo by Howard Gladstone
Noah Zacharin has been travelling for a long time, living the troubadour’s life, labouring along his deliberately chosen career path of being a masterful guitarist, an engaging storyteller and a singer of great subtlety and persuasiveness.
Along the way, he has remained a conscious wordsmith.
His newest collection of songs, written over the last couple of decades, Points Of Light, has just been released.
Although the album was finished in February, Noah has waited until now to light the fuse.
“Yes,” he said with a smile. ”I’ve decided to assist the divine plan for this record by hiring a bunch of people to publicize it and promote it and see if I can tour it, and get it into the States and Europe.”
“I have a great deal of affection for all of these songs,” he said,” They all have a very prominent place in my life. And they all have big stories behind the apparent simplicity of the narratives. I had previously recorded a couple of the songs, but the versions never felt fully realized. Now, although some of them had to wait a couple of decades for this record to be made, I feel this was a fortunate thing, in that a collection of songs I most enjoy performing all have found a fine home together.”
The record eventually took shape under the guidance of veteran producer/guitarist Danny Greenspoon (Ian Tyson, Spirit Of The West and many more).
“He was a real hero in moving it forward,” Noah said, “He hired the rhythm section and kept me on track.”
Danny and said rhythm section (Gary Craig and Russ Boswell) showed up to offer succinct instrumental support on Noah’s recent launch show at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, which also featured the inspired pedal steel meditations of Burke Carroll and guest vocals from Laura Fernandez.
The room was full of admiring Toronto folk friends, including Erica Werry, David McLachlan, Tony Quarrington, Lynn Harrison, Clela Errington, the Gladstone brothers, and Douglas September.
As much as Noah astonishingly “reinvents the guitar” in a live setting, as Steve Paul Simms asserts, the shine of his lyrics is one of his most unique assets.
“My musical interests predate my poetry,” he said. “I got my first guitar before I was ten. I was all about Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, Dave Van Ronk, and then Dave Bromberg came along and changed the way I thought about guitar. Those were my guys.”
“I was known first as a guitarist, and then as a songwriter,” he continued. “I probably began performing my own tunes around the age of 16 or 17. Poetry publication and readings came a little later. I started reading and writing poetry when I was in my late teens, primarily inspired by a program that was bringing poetry to the CEGEPs. I thought they were cool! In my last ten years in Montréal I went to a lot of readings, and met a lot of poets and drank with them, wrote a lot, published a lot…and consequently, my lyric writing became focused on always saying the right thing the right way, not falling into traps and easy rhymes. Patrick Sky was one of my lyrical heroes; he had a great sense of humour and at the same time, he was a deep thinker. Leonard Cohen, his early work, probably influenced my work in one way or another. His vocabulary was a bit wilder, his concepts a bit more surreal, a bit more violent, deeper.”
“But,“ he said,” one of the first poets that I ever read was James Wright, the American poet; one of the first books I bought was Al Purdy’s For All The Annettes; Robinson Jeffers, who I heard about through Charles Bukowski, whom I also loved, wrote sagas, wild, wild poems, based primarily in Carmel, CA, so, full of rocky ocean landscapes. When I was living in Montréal, and then Toronto, it would have been very easy to fall into the “subway poems” genre, and I did a lot of observation of people in the streets. But I wanted to be a biologist when I was younger, so I have always written of birds — ‘Red Red Bird,’ ‘Crow Dark Wind’ — trees have always been in there too. I have an acute awareness of the species that surround me, and, living in the country now, I remain really focused on the natural world and all its songs: the peepers in the spring, the cicadas through the season, the coyotes who live just south of me…”
His signature song, “Red Red Bird” has been named the lead single from the new record, and has already been heard in recorded versions by Rehan Dalal and (in Spanish) by Laura Fernandez. It is so well known that, as his closing number at the recent Roots Music Canada anniversary bash, it provoked an unsolicited sing-along from the
“Red Red Bird’s” popularity makes sense for a song of hope and faith. It’s a more intangible form of compensation for what I’m doing as a musician and in the larger practice of my being an artist. What I do is faith-based work, so audience appreciation is a highly valuable reward.”
And, as noted by RMC editrix-in-chief Heather Kitching,” It has been reported that at the moment Laura Fernandez began singing the song to close an outdoor concert several years ago, a cardinal flew boldly past the stage. It is also known that cardinals were a favourite of Noah’s late mother.”
Wry irony is one of the forms that Noah, both in his conversation and in his creative imagination, turns to repeatedly. One of the songs from the album, “Tom Morrow” “worked out to be a tender story,” Noah said, ”but
it began as a pun that came to me while I was walking, and I started imagining a whole family and, based on the refrain, I extended it into another song of hope.”
Of one of his more acerbic songs, “Bed Of Nails,” Noah confesses that “It’s a harder look at the human condition. It contains a lot of characters, some of whom I met and some of whom I imagined, and each of them represents a certain difficulty that we have in the long walk from the cradle to the grave. There’s a certain level of acceptance
that’s necessary in order for a human being to survive in the turmoil of being human and I feel it’s really important to be compassionate. It’s hard sometimes. I do have a dark vision, but I try to temper it too, by attempting to be more generous, forgiving, and just hope for a bit of reciprocation.”
“With the image of being on a bed of nails, the strategy is don’t move around! Just distribute your weight properly and have faith that things are okay. I wrote that song by the river, just seeing the fireflies that are beautiful and then flicker away, and the falling stars that come down beautiful and then disappear. Be accepting of it, and look up and be inspired and be consoled that there’s always going to be more.”
“I do get a little sneer in right at the end, though, when I say ‘It’s all…right’ meaning it IS all right, but also ‘Hey, alright buddy, whatever you say…”
“The closing song, ‘Been a Long Day,’ is, at its nucleus, a very simple song that was written over a very, very low point of my life. For me, it’s one of the deepest songs that I’ve come up with. And when we finished it, all I really heard was: strings! So we hired Drew Jurecka to add a string section. I felt grateful for having been able to plumb the depths, and I always marvel that it is also a song of hope. The denouement in the third verse is like, I can breathe, and there’s a little breeze, and it’s quieter, and everything’s okay, and it’s been a long day, but it’s later now
and I feel a bit more like myself.”
“For those who have met me, really know me, and even me, when I look at myself in the mirror, I think, you’re dark.”
And I do have a dark vision; nihilism is nipping at my toes, trying to drag me into the vortex all the time and – like – even when the mosquitos are gone, I’m still swatting. And maybe it’s just my survival strategy, but the record is
liberally sprinkled with songs of hope.”
You will no doubt be affected in a variety of ways, and find much to admire in the words and in the superb musicianship on this record, and maybe, as it begins to access your heart, YOU might even start to feel a bit more like yourself.