#FridayReads, May 11–“Anatomy of Injustice” & “Have Not Been the Same”

#FridayReads, May 11–Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner’s powerful and sad indictment of the system in a S. Carolina death penalty case. Also, “Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995 by Michael Barclay, et al, a rich, readable tour of Canadian rock n’ roll, accompanied by a great CD compilation of the same name.

Bonding with Shotgun Jimmie & John K. Samson at the Bowery Ballroom

I love one-man bands, those musical artists who can stomp, holler, and play licks while animating a whole set entirely on their own. Soloists like this captivate an audience with talent, musicianship, and personality. Last Thursday night’s show at the Bowery Ballroom offered ample pleasures like these, with the fresh and funny Shotgun Jimmie opening for master singer-songwriter John K. Samson in a show for the ages. Jimmie was charming, talented, playing kick drum with his foot, ripping on his Fender electric, and singing his quirky songs of striving and nerdy romanticism, maintaining despite all disappointments a cockeyed optimism. Even the title of Jimmie’s latest album suggests wit and wordplay: “Transistor Sister.” Here are some lines from the opening track “Late Last Year.”

Oh my darlin’ the legs under this table/are independently bumpin’ in to mine/They’re on a mission dispatched to disable/My defenses and they’re working just, fine

Like the Canadian rockers Library Voices, John K. Samson’s lyrics exude a literary quality, filled as they are with learned allusions to explorers, the classical world, and existential reality. He’s co-founder of a publishing collective in Winnipeg called Arbeiter Ring Publishing, a sort of Workmen’s Circle for books, which recently brought his Lyrics & Poems 1997-2012. As a book professional myself, I am intrigued with this rocker who also has a big footprint in the book and publishing camp. I see that Vancouver writer Steven Galloway, whose novel Ascension I published in 2002, has articulated what’s special about Samson’s work:  “John K. Samson is one of Canada’s finest living writers. He creates a world with a phrase, devastates with a word and restores hope with an image. Many novels do not contain as much humanity and emotional resonance as one of Samson’s lines. As a writer I am torn between admiration and jealousy; as a reader I am enthralled.” // more w/photos . . .

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

Songs about Speeding Arrows & a Disgruntled Cat

The show at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom last Friday featuring The Weakerthans with Rah Rah was special in many ways. Before anything is even said about the music and the performances, consider that it was the seventh night of what by any measure must be considered an extraordinary bi-coastal residency that The Weakerthans had undertaken over the previous two weeks. Talk about ambitious! / / more . . .

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.