Monday, February 25, 2008

H is for Hello, Blue Roses

I know that Destroyer is not everyone's cup of tea, and that some have called the music Dan Bejar makes 'pretentious.' Certainly with an album title like The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty, Bejar's latest project Hello, Blue Roses (with partner Sydney Vermont) charges of pretentiousness are likely to surround this project as well.
But even if you don't like Destroyer (though really - how can you not like Rubies?) I'd still recommend giving Hello, Blue Roses a listen. Bejar certainly contributes to the album but Vermont is the real creative force here. Her vocals are front-and-centre right from the beginning (the first lines of the album? "Hello blue roses...") and remain there throughout.

Influences cited by the band and comparisons made in reviews I've read so far cite Kate Bush and Vashti Bunyan, and certainly one can hear both these women in Vermont, but I'd like to add Catherine Howe to the comparison list. Listening to Howe's What A Beautiful Place and placing it alongside The Portrait Is Finished... I hear the same wistful phrasing and delicate musical accompaniment.
Bejar meanwhile sings from the shadows, contributing not so much 'backing vocals' as 'vocal embellishments' for much of the record. But when he comes into the light, the material benefits greatly. Consider "Shadow Falls," where Bejar's echoes of the song's title provides the dark counterpoint to Vermont's airy delivery while Bejar's ringing guitar tones turn discordant at the two-minute mark. The song perfectly encapsulates what this duo can accomplish together when their contributions are matched. Which is not to say that when Vermont is having her way it's not still a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

The album was written in sunny Spain and recorded in rainy Vancouver and it bears mentioning because The Portrait Is Finished... balances the cheery with the bleak in tone and lyrics. This is an album where "Heron Song," with its simple acoustic guitar and flute line is followed by "St. Angela," which features the type of vamping organ Garth Hudson was famous for while a mandolin plays out a wonderfully rollicking line.

Here's "Shadow Falls"

And here's the Hello, Blue Roses website and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Monday, February 18, 2008

G is for The Gorgon

Nearly everyone's heard of Medusa, but folks don't necessarily know that she was a Gorgon - which, according to Greek mythology, were vicious female monsters with sharp fangs and hair of living, venomous snakes.

Alana, Jen and Julia of Winnipeg band The Gorgon aren't vicious monsters, but their debut album Corpse Whale is a real beast. An eight-song record that sticks around long enough to kick your ass without overstaying its welcome, Corpse Whale is dirty, dark and energetic.

The energy captured on disc compares favourably to their live show, but the cover art of the trio dressed as monsters and vikings only hints at the theatrics they bring to the stage. Now that their album is out, they're preparing to hit the road, so be sure to catch them when they play in your town. And pick up a copy of Corpse Whale at the merch table while you're at it. But if you miss them live, you can always get the album from their label, Transistor 66.

Here's The Gorgon's tribute to Winnipeg's famed Royal Albert.

Check out their Myspace page for more audio from the album.

Thanks for reading, now start listening

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

F is for The Four Mints

Thank god for the fine folks at Numero Group. Whether it's their amazing Eccentric Soul series, the two entries they've delivered in the Cult Cargo series or their collections of rare folk releases, they put together consistently amazing releases. The track-listings are excellent, the production quality is top-notch, the liner notes educational and the packaging is beautiful - if you're a music lover, can you really ask for more?

I would have said 'no' but apparently when the folks at Numero Group asked themselves this question, the answer was instead 'yes' and so now we're treated to a new imprint called Asterisk (*). This 'sub-label' will focus on releasing full-length albums from a variety of artists discovered while researching the minor labels they've excavated. As the news section at Numero Group's website puts it: "While we were busy compiling obscure soul labels and documenting non-genres like gospel funk and kid soul, fantastic little albums got stuck on our turntables. Not long enough to warrant the elaborate Numero treatment, and yet too good to keep secret, we had to start an entirely new label to house these curiosities."

There are four Asterisk titles so far (of which I've heard three - still waiting to check out Johnny Lunchbreak's Appetizer/Soup's On) and while I'm especially impressed with the self-titled album from Chicago's Boscoe, in keeping with my alphabetical postings so far, we're going to talk a bit about The Four Mints' Gently Down Your Stream.

Fans of the Eccentric Soul series will no doubt notice that The Four Mints were included in the very first release, The Capsoul Label, which featured "You're My Desire" and "Row My Boat" (which lead off Gently Down Your Stream).

The Mints - like the Capsoul Label itself - were from Columbus, Ohio and Gently Down Your Stream was their only album. It was recorded in 1973 and served as a ten-track vehicle for the five singles the group recorded. As Numero Group explains, the 1997 pressing of a CD version was terrible due to a faulty turntable drive that slowed the crisp soul harmonies, creating a sonic sludge. The remastered version Asterisk has issued rectifies this problem, and adds three rehearsals and instrumentals to boot. I strongly encourage you to pick up this record if you're a soul fan.

Here's an mp3 of the 45 version of "You're My Desire" that I found on Derek's Daily 45 blog.

And here's a 'video' of "Why Did I Go"

Don't forget to check out the Numero Group website and all their great releases.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

E is for Evening Hymns

I first heard Jonas Bonnetta's music when I clicked on The Acorn's "Top Friends" on Myspace nearly a year-and-a-half ago and I was instantly hooked. Bonnetta has a delicate and endearing voice which he augments with gorgeous layers of instrumentation that embellish without overwhelming. Under his own name, Bonnetta released the album Farewell To Harmony which was recorded at his parents' cottage and home but thanks to his skills as a recording engineer you'd be hard-pressed to call it a home-recording.

Since that full-length was released, Bonnetta has started to record under the name Evening Hymns which follows in the tradition of other 'bands' that are actually one guy who enlists a rotating line-up of other musicians to record, tour and perform.
According to the Myspace page, the rotation includes: Steve Hesselink, Peter Chatterton, Mika Posen, Shaun Brodie, Emily Heather Bennett, and Mike Duguay.

Winnipeg audiences finally got to see Bonnetta perform (along with Chatterton and Bennett) at Mondragon and the LO Pub in December under the Evening Hymns moniker, and I finally got to meet this artist who I had been emailing for over a year. No one was disappointed, and folks at the LO were treated to an especially memorable sing-along finale in front of the fireplace, led by the trio (the source of the picture at the top).

"Western Roads" was written well before the Evening Hymns made their wintry voyage to Winnipeg last December (Bonnetta says the trip was inspired by Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg), but it could have served as the soundtrack to their voyage. It comes from the Let's All Get Happy Together EP they were selling on their little tour. "Western Roads" is up right now on the bands' Myspace page and I recommend checking it out there as I don't know how to link it onto this page. I am however, linking "French Toast" off of Farewell To Harmony, one of the songs that hooked me initially.

French Toast

Evening Hymns Myspace page
Jonas Bonnetta's website