It was an unconventional evening featuring unconventional musicians.
That just made the April 14 concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre more memorable. The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal thoroughly rocked the Centre at their Saturday concert.
Hal Brolund, better known as Manitoba Hall, opened.
A man with an enormous talent, he instantly charmed the audience with his unique, unconventional approach to the blues.
Performing with his old ‘friend’, a special double-necked, “radio sonic” ukulele, Hal was a one-man band on stage.
Soft and sweet on “Baby, please don’t go,” husky and hurt on “You know boys/she fool you once/she gonna do it again”, and foot-stomping and fun on the classic “I Owe My Soul to the Company Store,” Hal quickly won the crowd.
The transplanted Maritimer’s sense of humour took the fore when he performed the very unconventional blues piece, “When life is like a hot dog.”
Enticed once by a $2 hot dog deal at a concert, already holding the steaming ‘dog’ in one hand, he discovered the catch: customers had to somehow cut open the buns themselves.
“I was instantly inspired to write a song about this,” Hal explained to mounting laughter, “and originally included the line, “with one hand on my weiner, Lord, and one hand on my bun.” I gradually realized how that line might play with audiences however, so I changed it to “Life is like a hotdog bun/No matter how you slice it, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”
Yup, this is really a song about self-reliance and helping your fellow man.”
Singing selections taken from his latest release, Flirting with Mermaids, Manitoba Hal played the whole range of blues: all of them his way.
In an earlier interview, Brolund talked about the “good and true” qualities of the blues, how hard living and troubles often lead to religious imagery in blues songs, including his own.
“If I could, I surely would/Stand on the rock where Moses stood..”
An artist who readily shares his musical knowledge, Manitoba Hal held a Saturday workshop for ukulele students.
Chuck Leclair, a participant, said the workshop had been a great experience. “Hal is an interactive person. He broke songs down in ways we could all understand, even more advanced techniques. You’ve just got to love him.”
Cheryl Lanford, another participant agreed. “I’m a novice player, and Hal taught me seven incredible things just in the short time we had. He was a compassionate teacher.”
In the second half of the St. Lawrence concert, The Crooked Brothers took no prisoners.
Whatever your idea of a prairie band singing Canadian songs might be, The Crooked Brothers shatter all traditions.
Unconventional in appearance, unconventional on stage, Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster are absolutely original.
The masters of harmonica, guitar, mandolin and dobro, with voices that shift in and out of conventional vocal ranges in unexpected ways, including performing acapella, they step way outside regular genres.
In an earlier interview, Baker described their sound as “roots”, but rock and roll, country, blue grass, gospel, they’re all mixed in. “We twist and stretch our sounds our own way,” he explained.
There is a distinct and passionate “Canadian” feel to their music. This was never more evident Saturday than in the stunning, “17 Horses”, about the building of the 44 highway across the prairies, or in the angry “Farmers Feed Cities”. “You’re tearing out my heart/And selling it for scrap…”
The sheer power of their performance can actually catch you off guard.
Yet the Brothers also share a disarming sense of humour on stage and in their music.
“We’re from Winnipeg, where it’s flat,” Matt deadpanned. “You hop in the car, put on cruise control and pop in the back seat for a nap. You only wake up in Regina long enough to refuel.”
“Standin’ Still,” hilariously describing travelling through the Rockies at 3 a.m., painted a true and funny portrait of the life of musicians on the road. So too, did Matt’s ironic, but oh-so-Canadian observation, “We are now going to try and play our nicest songs…yup, winter and sadness.”
Their unique brand of music has been shaped and honed in venues ranging from living rooms to concert stages to smoky, rowdy bars. It is memorable, exciting, unexpected.
The Crooked Brothers are, quite simply, a powerhouse on stage.
Don’t miss the final concert of the spectacular St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage 2012 series coming on May 26.