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Toronto’s NXNE Festival & Speakerfile, June 13-18

In addition to covering Book Expo America (BEA) next week as a member of the press I will also be attending the North by Northeast Festival, aka NXNE, in official capacity as a blogger. This annual extravaganza–held in in Toronto each June since 1994–features music, film, and interactive/digital/publishing elements. Their website trumpets “650 bands and 40 films” over the week of activities. I attended last year and had a great time, discovering such bands and artists as Imaginary Cities, Gramercy Riffs, Harlan Pepper, Zeus, Mohawk Lodge, Carolyn Mark, Graham Wright, Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke, Matthew Barber, and Brian Borcherdt. I also participated in a grand meet-up of many friends from the informal community that congregates on the CBC Radio 3 blog organized by host, friend, and author Grant Lawrence. So it’s a real treat to be going back this year, and this time as a blogger with full access to all festival events. Among the artists on this year’s NXNE schedule I most look forward to hearing live are Matt Mays (#1 on my personal bucket list of Canadian indie rockers I’m eager to see play), Andre Williams and The Sadies, Plants & Animals, and The Flaming Lips. And of course then there will be the serendipitous performances I can’t predict–new musical discoveries–the very thing that makes festival-going such a rich and exciting experience. I hope to be live-blogging and reporting from on the spot as much as possible.

While in Toronto I will also meet with book biz friends and contacts and a new company called Speakerfile that I’m representing to literary agents, authors, publicists, and publishers, in New York City, and elsewhere in North America. They’re building a great platform–think eHarmony®–for conference organizers and meeting planners on one side and experts and authors on the other. I will also be working with them at Book Expo America (BEA) next week, and again when I’m in Toronto the following week. If you are one of my friends in publishing or the media and are intrigued by Speakerfile’s model, please ask me to brief you on them. We also have meeting times still available for next week at the Javits Center, and I would be happy to introduce you to their CEO, Peter Evans. They have a great product and services that will be helpful to many in the publishing community who are eager to surmount the discoverability challenges that face us all nowadays. I’m really excited to be working with them.

It’s sure to be a great week, attending and covering NXNE, and working with Speakerfile.

Cuff the Duke–Great Folk Rock in Brooklyn May 12

NYC friends who love great live folk rock: If you’re in the market for musical entertainment this Saturday night, May 12, consider heading out to hear Cuff the Duke, an inspired outfit originally from Oshawa, Ontario. They’re playing at the Rock Shop, a friendly club with good acoustics on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The nearest subway stop in Union Street on the R train in Brooklyn. Here are details. They are not the headliners–though they’re good and polished enough with great vocals and songwriting to warrant top billing–so they may go on as early as 7:30. I’ve got a call in to the club about that and will post new info when I get it. I’ll be there. If you’re curious about their sound, click on the video below or on their band page at CBCRadio3 where you can hear many of their songs. Hope to see you then/there.

Stomping Feet in NYC with The Pack A.D. & Elliott Brood

Last Wednesday night I had the privilege of hearing two great Canadian bands on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, enjoying their back-to-back sets enormously. First up was The Pack A.D., a female duo from Vancouver who play hard-charging drums + guitar raw punk style. Guitarist Becky Black is angular and lanky, kind of a girl version of The Sadies’ Dallas Good, while lead singer Maya Miller drums fiercely and handles show banter with alacrity. With signature songs like “Sirens,” “All Damn Day Long,” “Making Gestures,” and “Haunt You” (with a great arcing chorus vocalized against a pounding drum beat, Black sings, “I died/I died/I died/I’ll haunt you,” stretching out the “I’ll” till it’s more wail than words. Their wall of sound made a helluva sonic impression on me and since then I’ve been loving their recent album, “Unpersons,” which I bought at the merch table. I was joined there picking out a CD by my CBC Radio 3 show buddy Steve Conte, a comics artist and comics dealer from New Jersey.

Next up in Pianos’ tight little music room on Ludlow Street were the Ontario trio called Elliott Brood, whose gritty sound feels as if it’s been imported from the early days of sound recording. More raw than roots, it’s a sonic stew of acoustic guitar, banjo, reverb-ed Fender Stratocaster, harmonica, and thumping drums. Mark Sasso, standing stage right, handles the acoustic, banjo, and mouth harp, while the electric’s in the hands of Casey Laforet, seated at the other side, and in the middle is drummer Steve Pitkin, who also has a small keyboard to the side of his drum kit. Mark and Casey traded off singing lead, also swapping high and throaty harmonies on many tunes. Mark and Casey are bearded, hatted, and vested, reminiscent in appearance of Band members from their prime, Rick Danko and Levon Helm. Their set list was composed of songs from across all the Elliott Brood  albums, including the latest, “Days into Years.” The analogy to The Band isn’t purely visual, as like those original greats from the North Country, Elliott Brood seems to have composed their songs by channeling roots from the last century, or maybe the century before that. For the current album, they borrow the motif for its ten songs from the conceit that a young man in our era has found letters of a WWI doughboy who’d written home about the terrors of the trenches. The signature song for this strand on the record is “If I Get Old,” a verse of which has these lines:

And when we got here we were young men/What we’ve done has made us old/Left to die out in these frozen fields/So far away from home/And if I live to see the end I’m going to make a brand new start/But I’ll never be the same again without my youthful heart. // more . . .

Rose Cousins & Band–Catching a Spark at The Living Room

One of the first musical artists I chanced upon when I discovered the terrific Canadian indie music scene on CBC Radio 3 was the spellbinding Maritimes-born singer-songwriter Rose Cousins. I put her classic, “White Daisies,” a poetic tale of love and loss, in one of the first personal playlists I made on the Radio 3 website and have listened to it many times with its great vocal and concluding verse,

“You sent me flowers when you were strong/You were my baby, a whole year long/All you could tell me is how I’d done you wrong/Now I’ve got white daisies and a lonesome song.”

I was excited last month when I heard Rose would be performing in New York City at the Living Room, a great venue to enjoy acoustic and roots music and lightly amplified rock ‘n roll. When I arrived breathless last night, cutting it way too close for the announced 8:00 start time, I saw a very full room, and wondered where or if I might find a seat. When I saw there was no one at the door taking cover charge money, I realized that the gig was actually a release party for Rose’s new album, “We Have Made a Spark.” Someone was already saving the first seat I tried, but on my second attempt found a chair right in front of the low stage, closer to Rose and her mic than anyone else’s in the room. She was only moments from beginning her set when I shrugged off my coat and settled in to my seat.

The stage at the intimate Living Room was crowded with the excellent band she’d gathered around herself in Boston where the new album was recorded–with Charlie Rose on banjo and pedal steel; album producer Zachariah Hickman, plucking and bowing an upright bass and sporting a handlebar moustache; Sean Staples seated, on a battery of acoustic guitars; Billy Beard on drums and other percussion, playing great thumping beats; Austin Nevins on a big, gorgeous hollow body Gretsch electric guitar making tasty licks; Dinty Child, on an eight-string (!) acoustic guitar, banjo, and piano; and Ana Ege singing backup vocals, who was seated at the same table as me when she wasn’t singing. Rose sang beautifully and feelingly, moving between her Martin guitar and the piano tucked in the far corner of the stage. In her songwriting she boldly knits her heart to her sleeve, and in her vulnerability asks her listener to do the same. “Spark’ is a very intimate and personal set of new songs that began growing on me instantly. I had heard Radio 3 hosts Grant Lawrence and Lisa Christiansen say that she also has a great stage presence, often engaging in witty and self-revealing banter. This reputation is deserved, as she introduced virtually every song with a bit of story and a personal truth.

After the gig it was a treat to introduce myself to Rose, and tell her that I love her home province of Prince Edward Island. I mentioned that my wife, artist Kyle Gallup, painted gorgeous watercolors when we vacationed there a few years ago, and she replied that her grandma had also painted PEI’s lovely shores and red sand beaches. One of Kyle’s pieces is below, a PEI scene titled, “Doyle’s Cove, North Rustico, 2008.” 

Cheers for Canadian Bands at Year’s End

“Clearly, this has been years in the making. The Canadian indie scene has been in ascendance ever since Feist’s old band Broken Social Scene put ‘sprawling collective’ into the music-critic lexicon with 2002’s ‘You Forgot It in People’. . . . But Canada’s combined musical might this year is still a revelation.”–Joshua Ostroff in Spinner //more

Excellent Book News from Vancouver, Canada

So glad for my friend, Grant Lawrence–host on CBC Radio 3, who last year published the Canadian bestseller Adventures in Solitude, winner of the BC Book Prize–signing a deal with Vancouver publisher Douglas & McIntyre for his next two books. The first book will be a rock ‘n roll travelogue of “Grant’s life through the gritty […]

Canadian rock ‘n roll, sung in French

While Karkwa was playing its fourth song, roughly twenty minutes into their set, an event occurred that I’d never witnessed at a show–over on the far side of the floor a member of the audience, a woman, collapsed. Within a few seconds, a number of people had gathered around her prone figure, trying to assess the reasons for her fall, and her condition. These Good Samaritans surrounded the woman with their backs facing the band; the musicians clearly sensed something was amiss, but not knowing why, over the next minute or two they played out the song. It was weird though because to us in the audience it was clear something serious was going on. Still, no one signaled the band to stop, including me, though doing something like that crossed my mind.

Hey Rosetta! Plays Brooklyn–Newfoundland Comes to New York

Hey Rosetta! is a great band with intelligent songwriting, empathetic vocals, terrific instrumental playing, and are a very exciting live act. If you enjoy well-played and intelligent songwriting, I urge you to seek out their music online and go hear them when they come to your town.