Acceptance and forbearance, inevitability and uncertainty: throw in a couple love songs, and you have most every folk album made since ‘folk’ evolved from the Ewan MacColl definition of the genre. Tho’, to be true, the folk songs of the Isles pretty much touch on the same themes, albeit with a bit of cruel murder providing drama.
The challenge then for the troubadour types circa 2020 is finding an unexplored path sodden with freshness and originality.
Edmonton’s 100 mile house and Ontario’s Jay Aymar take different routes but arrive at similar destinations, providing the so inclined with appealing albums of self-written material.
100 mile house—Denise MacKay and Peter Stone—have been staples within the western Canada roots environment for more than a decade, releasing several albums of comforting folk sounds. Love and Leave You, their fifth album if I’m not mistaken, is a delight. A quiet recording made for fireplace snoogles and beverages of contemplation, the theme of embracing life’s moments while acknowledging its inevitable losses binds the lyrical and instrumental moods.
Stone—with Clive Gregson undertones—and MacKay—less forceful perhaps but no less appealing than Christine Collister—can not only write a fine song, but have an individual approach allowing them to explore their form in manners of their choosing. Escaping flames with that which matter most (“Run,”) revisiting home at the holidays (“Love and Leave You,”) and building a shared family (“Worth the Wait”) provide the duo with metaphors to frame their emotional structures and poetic imagery.
Like the finest albums, if one song doesn’t invoke personal memory or connection, the next one does.
“Test the Timber” (“This is where we face the truth, the love we’ve grown has lost its roots”) and “Like Each Day” (“He’d been ready now for a year or two, how he spoke of her and his heart turned blue”) are just two more stunning songs of family relationships.
Beautiful stuff reminding me of the approaches of another excellent Alberta roots master, John Wort Hannam.
Well worth your consideration, then, and featuring several familiar names assisting with instrumentation, among them Scott Zubot (violin), Andrea Case (cello), Brennan Cameron (mandolin and piano) and Murray Wood (bass), and Amy van Keeken (vocals).
Jay Aymar’s Your Perfect Matador gets new life with its Fallen Tree Records re-issue. Originally released in late 2018, this collection of atmospheric songs has flashes of Leonard Cohen dramatique (the intriguing “Your Poet Bleeding”) with echoes of “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” (“Walls Are Pages,”) Jimmy LaFave (“The Greatest Story Never Told,”) and Chip Taylor (“Us Wild Dogs.”)
If the first four performances don’t grab you, best carry on to locate something that will. Your Perfect Matador is a striking recording, less conventional perhaps than earlier releases (I’m most familiar with 2011’s Passing Through, a fine recording with much to offer including the hopefully boastful “Hold On Nashville” and the earthbound “Farmer’s Cry”) but because of the chances taken and reaches attempted , engaging on every level.
Commanding vocal support is provided by Shakura S’aida, Alejandra Ribera, and Chloe Charles. The S’aida appearances (including “Always Had You”) are especially appealing. The nine songs, produced by Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Rheostatics, Power in the Blood, Gordon…), are uniformly theatrical, each a mini-drama of sound and promise.
Your Perfect Matador is unlike most roots-Americana albums that I view with favour. Over-produced by typical measures, the collective impact is entirely favourable. Very impressive is my final verdict.