Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ottawa Folklore Centre benefit concert – July 31

For almost four decades, the Ottawa Folklore Centre, a modest folk-rooted and folk-branched music, musical instrument, and music instruction emporium run by Arthur McGregor has been at the heart and soul of Ottawa’s folk music scene.

The past year, though, as Arthur explained to Ottawa Citizen music critic Lynn Saxberg, has been tough and the Folklore Centre, which has helped so many professional and amateur musicians needs some help.

So Borealis Records, the Canadian folk music record label, has organized a benefit concert for Thursday, July 31, 7:30 pm, featuring some of the finest folk artists in the area: Lynn Miles, Sneezy Waters, James Keelaghan, Terry Tufts & Kathryn Briggs, and Finest Kind with James Stephens.

Originally scheduled to take place at the Sunnyside Wesleyan Church, it’s been moved to the larger Southminster United Church just down Bank Street from the Folklore Centre at the corner of Aylmer.

It promises to be one of the great folk music events of the year in Ottawa.

Arthur McGregor performing at the 2013 Ottawa Folk Festival.
Tickets are $25 and are available in person at the Folklore Centre (1111 Bank Street), by phone at 613-730-2887 or online at this link.

I wish I could be there but I’ll be out of town that night. So I’m going to show my support by buying a couple of virtual tickets at this link.

Supporting the Ottawa Folklore Centre is a most worthy cause for Ottawa folk music lovers.

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garnet Rogers – Summer’s End

Summer’s End
Snow Goose Songs

Seven years on from his last album, and after years of thinking he was done with recording, Garnet Rogers has released Summer’s End, a collection of beautiful heartrending songs about memory, grief, hope and love.

The mood of the album is set with an opening instrumental, “The Road to Tobermory,” a lovely Celtic piece Garnet composed in memory of a close friend recently passed. Fingerpicked on a nylon string guitar, Garnet overdubs his own violin and flutes – the instruments I first heard him play years before I ever saw him with a guitar in hand – and glockenspiel.

It’s followed by “Old Campfires,” a poem set in winter that looks forward to the coming spring. It was written by Sidney Bushell, Garnet’s maternal grandfather, and set to music about 50 years ago by Garnet’s late older brother, Stan Rogers, when he was about 15. I’ve heard Stan sing some of the songs he made from lyrics by older relatives – but I don’t recall ever hearing this fine piece before. Later, near the end of the album, Garnet offers an exquisite version of Stan’s seldom-performed “Sailor’s Rest,” a portrait of an old seaman living in his memories.

A couple of songs, “The Sweet Spot” and “It’s a Gift,” are inspired by the small fishing village of Canso, Nova Scotia (which as I write on July 5 is experiencing tropical storm conditions from Hurricane Arthur) where his mother grew up and where Garnet and Stan spent their summers as kids. Garnet now owns an old house in Canso and “The Sweet Spot” describes waking up there on a summer morning. “It’s a Gift” describes a beautiful day in Canso. Both are love songs to the village and, ultimately, to Gail Parker Rogers, Garnet’s wife.

Among the other standouts are “Our Boy,” written about a Canadian Forces major and his mission in Afghanistan, and sung from the perspective of a loved one at home in Canada describing a recent visit home by the soldier; “Shadows on the Water,” a homage to the late, gifted but troubled singer-songwriter Bill Morrissey; and “Sleeping,” written for his father, Al Rogers, who recently passed away.

Mike Regenstreif & Garnet Rogers (2006)
As I mentioned, this is an album of songs about memory, grief, hope and love – all themes that come together in the two poignant title songs.

In “Summer’s End (1),” Garnet sings of sitting with his wife, at summer’s end, in what has been a time of loss and grief. Ultimately, there is hope found in the continuing circle of life, and in the desire to “to look a little further down the road and not just day to day. I know you’ll look out for me as I look out for you. And we’ll live in hope for better days, it’s the best that we can do.”

Later, in “Summer’s End (2),” Garnet is still reflecting on the grieving times he and Gail have been
through but images of summer ending and winter’s approach are also used to reiterate the hope and strength that comes through enduring love.

As a song cycle, Summer’s End is a quietly subdued tour de force. While most of the songs feature  Garnet by himself, there are also several songs that feature fine contributions from David Woodhead on bass and piano and one with co-producer Scott Merritt on vibes. It is – perhaps – Garnet’s finest
work to date.

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Notre Dame de Grass – That’s How the Music Begins

That’s How the Music Begins

In my Montreal Gazette review of their first album, New Canada Road, in 2007, I wrote, “Notre Dame de Grass may well be the finest pure-bluegrass outfit to come out of Montreal in decades. In bandleader Matthew Large they’ve got a solid singer, guitarist and songwriter who understands and respects the bluegrass traditions and knows how to create a unique sound while playing within the genre’s rules.”

Seven years down the bluegrass road, Notre Dame de Grass is a somewhat different band, but there’s really no doubt that the version of the band that has gelled over the years since that first album is, indeed, the finest pure-bluegrass band to have ever come out of Montreal – and certainly one of the finest to have ever come out of all of Canada.

Matt Large is still leading Notre Dame de Grass and Belgian-born banjo player Guy Donis, one of the finest purveyors of the Bill Keith-influenced melodic banjo style, is still adding his fine playing to the band's sound and some great instrumentals to the repertoire, but the other three musicians – bassist and singer Andrew Horton, mandolinist Joe Grass and fiddler Josh Zubot – all joined the band since the last album was recorded and have each contributed to making it an even stronger unit.

That’s How the Music Begins is a textbook example of everything a traditional bluegrass fan would want in an album. There’s some excellent original material, some traditional standards, some outstanding instrumentals, and some gospel, all played and sung within the standard bluegrass instrumentation and vocal styles defined by Bill Monroe and other first-generation bluegrassers like the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs.

While there are lots of contemporary bluegrass bands who are technically great, Notre Dame de Grass is part of a relatively rarer number of bands with both a unique character and a superior repertoire.

Matt is a fine bluegrass songwriter and contributes such songs as the title track, a driving number about the joys of getting the musicians together to play, and “Edmunston Nights,” a reflection on escaping small town life.

But the absolute highlight of the album, and one of the finest new bluegrass songs I’ve heard in years is Matt’s “New Canada,” a homage to the waves of immigration that have continued to make Canada the interesting, multicultural country it has developed into over the years.

Other highlights include “Mount Royal Backstep” and “St. Jean Express,” two fine banjo-driven instrumentals written by Guy, and a haunting version of “Satan’s Jewel Crown,” one of several songs featuring fine lead vocals by Andrew.

Another definite highlight is Matt’s powerful, album-ending, solo version of the traditional folksong, “Cowboy’s Life is a Dreary Life,” that he sings in a pure, traditional a cappella style.

Hopefully, it won’t be seven years until the next Notre Dame de Grass album.

Pictured: Notre Dame de Grass at the Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal, June 21, 2014 (Photo: Mike Regenstreif)

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif