Three Canadian singer-songwriters. Three very different voices and visions.
What keeps me writing about roots music? The money dried up in 2012. Most PR and label types expect writers to get by with downloads, totally disregarding the importance of packaging art, notes, and musician credits. It is more difficult than ever as a freelance writer to even get any attention from ‘major’ (and major independent) labels. So, why bother?
The music, of course, is the reason. Albums like these three are why I keep challenging myself to write on a daily and weekly basis, albums that most folks will sadly never encounter. Heck, one could have a very interesting hour-long radio show each week just playing tracks from and talking about one unheralded album: all three of these would be candidates for inclusion.
Tom Savage Everything Intertwined TomSavage.ca
Kingston, Ontario’s Tom Savage doesn’t have an obviously unique voice, but it is terribly appealing. He starts out the lead track (“Forever”) reminding one of raucous Ron Hynes (“Your hair gets grey, your senses fade away,” he sings the passage of our time) before slipping into a most natural approach: his own, of course, but with strong overtones of mid-career Warren Zevon. The music—up tempo, full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll with a troubadour’s heart—certainly is in the Sentimental Hygiene/Mr. Bad Example neighbourhood.
With four or five previous albums, Savage comes to my attention fully-formed, confident and a master of his own game. Full-throated, on songs like “Kid” and “17 Years,” we’re reminded of a time when commercial radio would have found a place for strong performances that might pin back a few ears. Lovers find themselves in ‘just the right place’ for four minutes and twenty-four seconds of hard-driving passion (“Burnt By the Sun”), while a different emotional plane is explored with no less intensity within “Sad When You’re Not With Me.” “Come Home” is plaintive, “Cold But Free” about as frank and direct as a elegy gets, “Mean To Me” challenging. As do the finest albums, each of these nine songs takes the listener on a different, memorable journey.
Augmented by a concise group of collaborators—Tony Silvestri (various keys including organ), Seamus Cowan (bass), and Bonz Bowering (drums) with Silvestri and Zane Whitfield providing backing vocals on “Forever”—Savage is the focus: his guitars and voice are at the fore of every number, a modern folk singer doing his job in a most satisfying manner.
Some albums are listened to, written about, and filed away. Everything Intertwined isn’t one of those albums: brilliantly captivating, it will remain in regular rotation in the Fervor Coulee bunker.
Mark Martyre Rivers MarkMartyre.com
Like Savage, above, Toronto’s Mark Martyre comes to my attention a well-established force, several albums into a career that has allowed him to become an engaging singer, songwriter, and musician.
With a deep, gravel-smooth voice (not nearly as harsh as Tom Waits, but not someone you’re going to hear on The Voice any time soon) Martyre’s songs have a ‘lived-in’ quality about them that inspires introspective escapades of creative endeavour: about the third time through “Carry On,” I had a character sketch roughly outlined describing an entirely different couple, but inspired by Martyre’s lovers “walking through the rain, prayin’ for the sun.” Only problem being, mine aren’t nearly as engaging as his.
Martyre’s songs have relationships at their core, and it is credit to his insightfulness that across ten songs one never becomes jaded listening to these wistful examinations of happiness and memory. As riveted as we are by the poetic observances of “Come Lie Beside Me, Dear” we remain as intrigued as things come to a close forty-five minutes later with “Never Forget You.” Rare, that.
Complementing Martyre at almost every turn is singer Stacey Dowswell. As impressive as Martyre’s songs and performances are, Dowswell presents herself as a formidable foil, whether in a full-fledge duet (as on “The Next Song” and “Trying to Explain”) or contributing backing vocals as she does on most tracks. Dowswell’s is a strong and beautiful voice that I am going to be paying attention to in the future. Lovely stuff.
Graydon James (The Young Novelists) provides an incredible drum presence, and Matt Antaya’s guitars are ideally placed in the mix. Mark Martyre’s Rivers gently sparkles.
Rob Lutes Walk in the Dark RobLutes.com
Finally, we come to Rob Lutes. Based in Montreal, Lutes is our third well-established singer-songwriter of the folk-ish persuasion with whom I was not previously familiar before receiving his latest missive: obviously I haven’t been paying enough attention.
Lutes has no little bit of blues colouring in his voice, and his melodies explore a wider palate than do most folk-roots artists. Nothing in his singing or approach should remind me of Texan Sam Baker, but that was where my ears went while listening to Lutes’ finely chiselled songs; like Baker, Lutes establishes characters and situations in just a few well-chosen words and phrases: we want to know more from the start.
Recorded in only three days, Lutes and his collaborators have unleashed an amazing collection of songs. Most of us appreciate reference points, and I’ll call on our collective memory by comparing Lutes to late-80s John Hiatt. Vocally I hear something of Hiatt (especially on “There’s No Way To Tell You That Tonight” and the title track) throughout, and even the pacing of the songs recall Hiatt at his finest.
Lutes is most definitely his own artist with an individual approach to singing and writing. The atmospheric “Whistling Past the Graveyard” may be the album’s finest song, but we would be splitting hairs to judge one superior to another. The lively guitar instrumental “Spence” (for Bahamian Joseph Spence) is suitably remarkable, but when you have the gift of lyric and story, those pieces naturally call for notice. “Rabbit” has an old-time, traditional feel as does “Believe in Something,” all be they completely different in almost every regard.
For folk roots with a blues foundation, I don’t think it can get much better than Rob Lutes and Walk in the Dark.
Three singers. Three albums. 32 songs, all but one original (Lutes’ delightful cover of John Prine’s “Rocky Mountain Time” the only exception). All well-worth exploring.
And a shout out to Sarah French Publicity who understands writers—even mere freelancers—need the CD in their hands to experience the full effect of an artists’ album.