Home New music in our mailbox! Gordy the Moose’s favourite new discoveries of 2023

Gordy the Moose’s favourite new discoveries of 2023

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The moose has been checking out music in the Roots Music Canada virtual mailbox all year long, and he brings us this selection of favourite discoveries from throughout the year. Please note: in the spirit of the moose’s new music column, these are ONLY acts that he discovered this year. There are all kinds of great things that turned up in the mailbox this year by artists we’ve featured before or who are already well established — like Cowboy Junkies, Le diable à cinq, Jimmy Rankin, and Bon Debarras. But this column is about finding the brand new diamonds in the rough. So here are a few that stood out in 2023.

Medusa – Medusa EP

I was captivated by this album from the opening notes, and that was before I’d even realized that Saskia Tomkins is in the band or learned of its feminist focus. “What was this?” I thought. It sounded liked classical musicians playing Nordic folk. As it happens, that’s pretty much what I was listening to. The chamber folk quartet, which released its debut album in May, is comprised of the aforementioned Saskia — whose recent work includes collaborations with Sultans of String — Marta Solek of Polky, Georgia Hathaway and Lea Kirstein, who have piles of classical training between them. They play a deeply affecting fusion of Nordic, Celtic, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and western classical music with incredible precision. And they have devoted themselves to resurrecting and celebrating the misunderstood Medusa and the long-outcast folk instruments the suka, nykelharpa and the ploak fidel. As musicians who themselves experience alienation due to racism, sexism, immigration, queerness, and disability, they have made it their musical mission to bring back what has been cast out

Sarah Orton – “Same Same”

You’ve heard Sarah Orton’s speaking voice on ads and promos for Oxygen Networks, Vessi, Agua De Coco. and other brands. But woah. Wait ’til you hear her singing voice! Sarah’s single “Same Same” is soul-drenched and a little retro. It’s an auspicious debut (?) from an artist I’d like to hear more of.

Vikki Gilmore – Mental Backroads

This is a fascinating album that, to my mind, showcases the best of what’s possible when artists try to merge electronica with folk. The songwriting is strong enough that it’s easy to imagine these songs standing alone with nothing but an acoustic guitar and Vikki’s mournful voice. But the moody, Beatlesque atmosphere that surrounds them really sells the emotion.

 

Mary Beth Carty – Crossing the Causeway (Release date: Nov. 25, 2022)

My buddy Bob Mersereau over at the Top 100 Canadian blog has referred to Mary Beth as “the Swiss Army Knife of the East Coast, playing accordion, guitar, bass, bones, and multiple percussion instruments.” But for my money, her finest attribute is her voice. It has a gentle and understated quality, a little like her fellow Nova Scotian Mary Jane Lamond, and yet it dances through the sometimes-complex melodies and Gaelic lyrics of many of these songs seemingly effortlessly – while at times showcasing a gorgeous resonance. This new album, Mary Beth’s sophomore release, is a tremendously varied mixture of original and traditional songs and tunes, with three sung in Gaelic, two in French and one in Mi’kmaq vocables. All are performed with her first-rate band: Mac Morin (Beolach, Natalie MacMaster), Howie MacDonald (The Rankins), and Colin Grant (Coïg, Sprag Session). Guest vocalists include Cassie and Maggie.

Miles Zurawell – Far Afield

Wowzers. If you’re looking for some fabulous instrumental old-timey roots music, this album is for you. Miles’ name may not be familiar to you, but the guitarist, dobro player, banjo picker and pedal steel player served as a side man for Zachary Lucky, and he’s clearly won over the big players in the western Canadian bluegrass and old-time scene. This album features no less than John Reischman, Trent Freeman of the Juno-winning Fretless, and Adam Iredale-Gray of the Juno-nominated Aerialists, among others. Of course, with that kind of ensemble cast, Miles could lean against a wall and tap his foot and the record would sound great. But he asserts himself just fine in that elite company, especially on tracks like “Follow the Boot,” making this record an exciting listen if you love fast fretwork. Not that it’s all fast, mind you. Its variety is actually one of its selling points. There’s a lovely cover of Chris Coole’s “Skating on the Waterfront” and even a Hawaiian-style closer. Also, hats off to Miles’ compositional skills. The originals are some of the strongest numbers on the record.

Alex Richard – “A Cowboy’s Hard Times” (release date: Nov. 17, 2023)

Heretofore known as the vocalist from Bodh’aktan, the Quebec band that merged traditional music from Celtic, Quebecois, Maritime and Breton traditions with hard rock, country and other genres that ought not to go so well together, Alex has recorded his own version of this Bill Staines classic and released it as a single and video. To be fair, it’s hard to mess up a standard like “A Cowboy’s Hard Times,” but Alex’s rendition is stirring and his vocals absolutely gorgeous. Besides, can you really hear this song too many times?

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