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Terrific Trio ends St. Lawrence Stage season

 

The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage finished off its 2011-2012 season in a big way on Saturday, May 26, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre.

Not only was the Stage the recipient of a Canadian Heritage grant, presented by MP Guy Lauzon earlier in the week, but three outstanding artists rang down the concert series curtain on a very special high note.

Ambre McLean, Fraser Anderson and Tara Holloway  did not know each other before they shared the stage Saturday night. 

“We were a little mean about this,” board member Sandra Whitworth laughed, just before welcoming the trio to the stage. “We threw these three artists together, performers who had never met each other, just to see what would happen. However, the singers assure me that they are going to enjoy this.”

So did the audience at Saturday’s concert.

It was, as Tara Holloway had suggested in an earlier interview, “some sort of combustion, a magical moment when these song writers (came) together to sing.”

The individuality of each of the performers’ vocal styles made the on stage mix a very interesting  and unexpected one.  

While none of the artists can be pigeon-holed into a particular genre, Ambre McLean’s soaring, beautiful voice has a  rich, jazz/blues flavour colouring it. Fraser Anderson, a slight Scottish burr underlying his wonderful,  seemingly effortless vocals, might, in another era be described as a balladeer, a romantic. Tara Holloway is a powerhouse on stage, her vocals strong and uninhibited and daring.

Anderson, born in Scotland, but now living in France, often prefaced his music with anecdotes. (“My son is attending school in France. He came home shortly after he started classes and announced, “Dad, I learned to say something in French!”  “Wonderful son, what is it?” “I can say sit down and be quiet.”)  

It led to an Anderson number, an hilarious musical blending of French and English lyrics (“I just can’t choose ce soir…is it masculin ou feminin?”) and brought Tara and Ambre in on the chorus, creating a truly spontaneous magical moment.

To considerable audience approval, McLean performed her beautiful award winning song, “Me, Myself and the Moon.” 

“I got the idea for this song when I overheard a woman in a restaurant say that she knew she was in love, because she felt it ‘with her whole body,’” Ambre explained. “Doesn’t that make you weak? When you fall in love, it is the simplest, most amazing time in the world.”

Tara Holloway, who creates some very unusual harmonies, powerfully delivered on “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and was joined, again spontaneously, by Fraser and Amber, on  “The Heart Goes” from her newly reissued CD Sins to Confess

Throughout the evening, I was repeatedly impressed with the lyrics of the songs I was hearing. Anderson, Holloway and McLean are genuine originals. Their  individual themes, their plays on words, their ability to express even traditional ideas in the most unexpected of ways, was a source of real pleasure.

At the end of the evening, Fraser Anderson, Tara Holloway and Ambre McLean united their voices in a beautiful ballad by Anderson. Music really does bring strangers close together. 

We all saw that on Saturday evening.

Look for the upcoming 2012-2013 concert series at the St. Lawrence Stage this September.

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Trio to headline at final concert of the season at St. Lawrence Stage

 

The final concert of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage’s 2011-2012 season is going to be one for the records.

Three great artists, Fraser Anderson, Tara Holloway and Ambre McLean, will be performing “in the round”  on the St. Lawrence Stage, in a program that will be a true mix of styles: folk, blues, country and even a bit of pop.

“We’re the ones who have put them together in this mix,” explained Sandra Whitworth, on the board of the St. Lawrence Stage. “They don’t tour together. We’ve kind of thrown them together to see what happens. 

What they all share, besides their impressive musicianship, are absolutely stunning vocals and song-writing chops. We think the synergy that gets going among them in an ‘in the round’ format is going to make for a spectacular end to our season on Saturday, May 26, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, at 7 p.m.”

The opportunity to talk to all three artists simply confirmed for me Whitworth’s prediction that this is going to be a great show.

Fraser Anderson, a renowned performer in his native Scotland, makes his home in France, where his music has been winning fans all over Europe. He is looking forward to Canada. 

As an artist, Anderson refuses to be musically confined. “I wouldn’t like to even try to describe my style for fear of restricting something. I have always had a love of soul music and old school hip hop, so grooves and a vibe to make you nod your head is my music too sometimes.” 

Anderson cannot recall a time when he wasn’t singing. “It always made me feel better inside.” A composer as well as a singer, he finds his themes in some unexpected places.

“I feel drawn to old men with their stories and wisdom. Whenever I see an old couple holding hands, I feel my eyes tear up a little. Just a little!”

He loves people watching and creating music about the individuals who cross his path. “I was once told to just write about what you know and that turned out to be very good advice.” He is currently writing lyrics for Terez Montcalm’s new album, a challenge he is enjoying. 

I caught up with Tara Holloway while she was enroute to a rehearsal. 

 “As long as I’m able to travel, I’m going to stay a gypsy,” she laughed. “I have a blast standing in front of different audiences. The sharing of the music, the intensity of the moment are wonderful. You don’t get 10 tries to get it right. When you make that connection with an audience, it’s awesome.”

Like Anderson, she chooses not to be stereotyped.

“I’m one of those professionals who doesn’t like sounding the same every time, or doing a song the same way every time. I change songs vocally and melodically when I perform. I call it,” she added with a laugh, “my creative side. I simply love to sing, live to sing.”

As a lyricist, Holloway finds “the intimacy of life the basis for most of my writing. My music seems to come out of those challenging times in life.” 

She is excited to be sharing the Stage with Fraser and Ambre. “This was a neat idea of the St. Lawrence board to put the three of us together. I suspect there may be some sort of combustion, maybe a magical moment when these song writers come together to sing.”

Music has always been part of Ambre McLean’s life, but she admits that she only made it her full time career in the last few years. With a mother who sang folk, a father who was a rock musician and a godmother who was a jazz singer in Toronto, McLean  (trained classically herself) refuses to be “locked into a particular genre. How I perform, my style, may often be based on just how I’m feeling that day.”

Like many young artists, Ambre gained a lot of experience with the ViaRail “On Board Entertainment” program, which showcases up and coming Canadian musicians. She travelled throughout Canada, honing her musical skills, developing her unique voice.

“I write a lot from a very personal point of view. Feelings, and dealing with the emotional issues of life are reflected in my writing. Although,” McLean said, “as a very new mother, I have recently added lullabies to my repertoire. I often end up writing my songs on napkins or receipts or into my cell phone,” she laughed. “When musical inspiration strikes, it’s a right now thing with me.”

Past winner of a CBC song writing challenge, McLean loves the challenges of composition, and of performance. “I think my performance in Morrisburg may be a bit fluid, perhaps a little unexpected.” 

Tickets for this spectacular final concert, in a series of stand-out shows this season at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. The concert begins at 7 p.m at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre. Contact the Basket Case or Strung Out Guitars, or go on line at http://www.st-lawrencestage.com/shows.html

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Trio launch new CDs at St. Lawrence Stage

 

 It was a champagne (or at least bubbly punch!) send off for the artists from friends and fans at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, May 12. Local musicians Stephanie Coleman, Jeanne Ward and Sandra Whitworth each launched their new CDs at a special concert on the stage. 

“So much work and time went into these CDs,” said Bill Carriere, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage Board, “that it was wonderful to see all these people come out to support our amazing singers.”

Stephanie Coleman, who first performed at the stage over three years ago, led off the evening. 

Appearing very confident on stage, Coleman’s strong clear voice is a beautiful instrument. Accompanied only by a violinist, she relied on her guitar and her lyrics to convey her themes and ideas. 

I would describe her style as a vibrant mixture of country and folk. Her songs reflect her interest in the challenges one must face in any relationship. “This road is hard/We’ll walk it together…Best foot forward/There’s better times ahead.”

She joked that she had to use on stage notes (“I really did write all these songs!”), as she shared her amazing musical talent with an appreciative audience. I found Coleman’s very lovely “Every Road” the perfect ending to her set.

Jeanne Ward, a seasoned performer, who worked with Easy Pickins, and is now striking out as a solo artist, starred in the next set. 

Backed up by bass, guitar, drums and sax, with vocal support from musicians Marc Muir and Barb Ward, Ward opened with what she laughingly described as “my one and only rock song,” an upbeat number called “The Way Out.”

A singer with a broad vocal range,  blessed with a mellow, easy soprano, Ward’s musical style is fairly unique. She swings from rock to thoughtful folk, each approach chosen to best reflect her themes. 

Ward performed one of her older, popular compositions, “Painting Walls” then segued into a joyful, optimistic  love song (with Marc Muir) about how “Love will come to you if you call it in. And it might just save your life.” 

At ease on stage and with the audience, Ward was a delight to hear.

Sandra Whitworth closed out the concert with a set that was versatile, unexpected and fun.

She was a little bit country in “I Live on a Country Road,”  a little bit bluesy in “Hound Dog Home” and a little bit (my description) Brazilian beat in “What Kind of Fight Do You Have in You.”

Whitworth’s voice is equally versatile, more into the alto range, and well suited to numbers like “Hound Dog Home”. Marc Muir of Cornwall, and a group of talented musicians backed her up during her set. Although she confided before the concert that she was nervous, there was little sign of that as she delivered great music in “Kite on a Line” or (with Jeanne Ward singing accompaniment) charmed the audience with “To Be More.”

In one of her songs, Whitworth sang “It takes a lot of courage/ To say what you mean..” 

Those words seem to sum up the honest, the sincere, the often beautiful words and voices of these three new artists.

Look for the new CDs by Sandra Whitworth, Stephanie Coleman and Jeanne Ward. 

It’s worth the search.  

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Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal rock St. Lawrence Stage

 

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. 

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The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal headline at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

 Sandra Whitworth, board member for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, could only talk in superlatives as she described The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal as totally “fantastic musicians.” 

“I saw them both at this year’s Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and was blown away,” Whitworth said. “I am personally, let me underline this, really looking forward to this show.”

The  artists will be performing  at the Stage in Morrisburg on Saturday, April 14, part of the St. Lawrence 2012 concert series.

Manitoba Hal, who will open the concert, is an accomplished guitarist, song writer and ukulele player. His is a unique and striking blues style: his ukulele finger picking and strumming has won him Canadian and international awards and election to the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2001. 

The Crooked Brothers,  Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster, are brothers spiritually and musically, brought together four years ago by a shared passion for music, song writing and performing. They have released critically acclaimed albums including 17 Horses and 2011’s Lawrence Where’s Your Knife, a mixture of old and new works. “I guess you’d have to say that, with us, music is a virus that never goes away,” explained Darwin Baker.

The Leader had the opportunity to talk to Hal and Darwin about their music.

Hal laughed when I asked him how an East Coast native, who plays a completely non traditional blues instrument like the ukulele, became Manitoba Hal. 

“About 17 years ago, my grandfather handed me a 1955 Martin ukulele and made me promise to learn to play it.  I learned to play, on my own, strictly by learning to read sheet music. I love the blues, and to me the ukulele carries a huge amount of melancholy under the surface. It creates a bittersweet sound that is utterly remarkable.”

Now using a specially built double neck ukulele, a “radio sonic” built for him by Fred Casey, Hal is able to loop his music to create a literal one man band on stage. 

“Blues is honest and true music,” Hal said. “It’s music based in raw human emotion. I think the Crooked Brothers also tap into this emotion.

After all, a bluesman might sing of evils as a way of driving them away, making listeners feel better. There’s a lot of hope in this music. Since I learned my blues at the feet of Big Dave McLean, that distinct prairie sound is still part of me.”

His newest release, January 2012, is Flirting With Mermaids, of which Manitoba Hal says, tongue in cheek, “imagine the blues meeting an East Coast side show, and you have a sense of this album.”

Manitoba Hal will also be holding a special workshop on Saturday afternoon.

“I work at the level of the  workshop participants,” he said, “because when I teach I also learn. I am passionate about making ukulele knowledge available to others.” 

The Crooked Brothers, who will soon be leaving on a European tour,  starting in Paris, are versatile western artists, for whom, as spokesman Darwin Baker put it, “music is our life.”

“Our dream has always been to be genuinely touring musicians, going to new places and new cities, keeping our music and ideas fresh.”

 In four years of performing across the country, band members got into the habit of passing instruments around. “We all play acoustic guitar (love the unique sound of wood and metal vibrating together), mandolin, banjo, dobro and harmonica. In Morrisburg we will also have Zoe on the bass.”

Matt Foster and Darwin had performed together in other bands when they were joined by Jesse Matas. “We began playing together but twisting and stretching the music a bit for a unique sound. And eventually,” he laughed, “while we were waiting for a ‘real singer’ we all began singing by default.”

The Crooked Brothers describe their music as “roots, but that is kind of a blanket term. There is a strong blue grass flavour to our sound, and we like to actively seek out new sounds and instruments.”

Baker described the Brothers’ music as a “kind of catharsis, with some sadder and darker themes underlying, but there is also a lot of imagery from nature and our travels mixed in. We all write: then our jamming sessions in the lake cabin (Falcon Lake, Manitoba) can turn into something new and exciting like 17 Horses.”

The Brothers are looking forward to the St. Lawrence Stage. “We love playing live, whether the audience is in a rowdy bar, or in a concert hall. I think we are going to perform some more intimate and introspective songs in Morrisburg. And of course,” Baker added, laughing, “we’ll also play our rockers.”

Registration for the ukulele workshop and tickets for the 7 p.m., April 14 concert, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre ($15 in advance, $18 at the door) are available at the Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or www.st-lawrencestage.com 

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Upcoming artists will shine at St. Lawrence Stage concert

They come from a variety of backgrounds; some are just starting out, others have more professional  experience. Some are primarily singers, others primarily mu-sicians. They are composers and song writers in a number of genres ranging from folk, rock and bluegrass to Celtic. 

They all have one thing in common, however.

These artists, who will be performing at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre as part of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert  series, each possess exceptional and striking talent.

On Saturday, March 24, at 7 p.m., the St. Lawrence Stage is presenting a showcase concert. 

Among the artists will be Sandra Whitworth an accomplished and gifted musician. She will be backed up by Marc Muir and Noureddine Ismag. Whitworth has helped bring some great talent to the Meeting Centre. Now, performing  songs from her new CD, Water on the Moon, she will step into the spotlight.

Joining her in the line up will be Brockville based artist Brandon Roderick. His group, Simply Skyline, has been building a reputation for stunning vocals and striking lyrics. 

Japhy Sullivan is only 15 years old, but he is already generating a lot of attention. Awarded one of the coveted youth mentor showcase spots at the 2011 Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, Sullivan brings his incredible talent on the fiddle to the St. Lawrence concert. 

“Everything about fiddle music appeals to me,” Sullivan, who comes from a very musical family, said. “My tastes are definitely eclectic. I love traditional, bluegrass, classical, Irish. I compose, and I am also a singer.”

He performs on a French fiddle dating to the 1750s,  currently on loan from the Shubert family. “It has a beautiful, rich sound,” the artist said. “ With it I find musical inspiration in many, many things. Music is my future.” 

Andrew Aguiar, an Ottawa based musician who has just released a new EP, Ghosts, is a powerful vocalist and performer. 

“I chose music for my life,” Aguiar explained. “Creativity, inspiration, has always come to me in flashes. Much of my music is relationship based, reflecting perhaps a little more on the darker side. I try to make my song-writing simple, built around a central idea that I develop through the song.” 

Although he withdrew for a short time from performance, Aguiar said “I now feel fully reconnected with the joy, the sheer fun of performing. I would say that my voice is sort of multi-dimensional, soft and deep at times, sometimes more aggressive and raspy. Something inside tells me how my voice should approach the music. I’ve learned to go with that inner voice.”

Andrea Simms-Karp is a veteran performer, winner of the Beth Ferguson Songwriting award at the 2004 Ottawa Folk Festival, and featured on Vinyl Cafe in 2009.

“I think I would describe my music as a mixture of folk and pop,” she laughed. “But since I play the banjo, some non-traditional bluegrass comes in too. I like to combine my musical interests to create something new when I write and perform.”

She enjoys the opportunity to connect with people in her performances. “I want to offer an audience something new each time they hear me. Life events, travel, people, they are all sources of music to me. Inspiration is an always changing thing, but music is the one constant in my life. There is nothing better in life than to perform, to do what I love.”

Bruce (Liam) Ciccarelli, a Cornwall based artist, is returning to the St. Lawrence Stage. A regular and popular performer in the region, Ciccarelli will be bringing songs from his new CD, Beyond the Illusion, to the concert.

“Music chose me,” he laughed. “Once I had the musical bug, I knew I wasn’t going to walk away.”

A performer for two decades now, Ciccarelli released four earlier CDs with the band Rapunzel’s Power, but now performs solo. He has his own home studio.

“The acoustic guitar is the predominant instrument to me, just the purity of your voice and the guitar on the stage,” he explained. “Everything else you do around a piece is spice, flavouring to the song. Song writing really is an elusive art. I write about the human condition, spiritually connecting or discovering yourself. My songs aren’t preachy, but I think we each are the creators of our lives, not the victims. I love the energy you get from an audience, the joy of feed back when you perform. I look forward to the Stage.”

To add to the audience’s pleasure, a number of area visual artists including Mi-Sun Hunter, Bradley Pennell and Marc Carriere will be staging exhibits outside the concert hall.

Tickets for the Intimate Acoustics Concert March 24 are $10. They can be purchased at the Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or by contacting www.st-lawrencestage.com.

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Lynn Miles wins ovations at St. Lawrence Stage Concert

 

 Two minutes after she stepped on to the St. Lawrence Stage on Saturday, February 25, Lynn Miles made it crystal clear why she is the winner of numerous music awards, including a Juno, and one of Canada’s best regarded singer/song writers. The Morrisburg audience loved her voice, loved her music, loved her show. 

Backed by the inimitable Keith Glass, singer and guitarist from the renowned group Prairie Oyster, the Lynn Miles concert ended much too soon. We could have listened to her rich voice all night. 

Miles’ voice, described by Jeanne Ward of the St. Lawrence Stage, in her introduction, as “utterly beautiful,” can surprize as well as delight. Miles has an incredible vocal range. Sometimes  she sings softly with a deep sense of melancholy, sometimes her vocals are upbeat and jazzy: and sometimes she simply belts out good old rock and roll. 

She and Glass shared the stage with the ease of professionals who have worked together long enough to be completely comfortable with each other. The banter between them, at times, seemed as much a part of the concert performance as the music.

“It’s really lovely to be back here at the St. Lawrence Stage again.” Miles told the crowd (she performed here in 2009) with a grin, “but I have to tell you that we had to drive all the way up from Collingwood in that snow storm yesterday. When we left, I had black hair.” 

“When we left, I had hair,” Glass shot back as the audience roared its approval.

Miles performed a wide range of music at Saturday’s concert. She  definitely cannot be fitted into any one “category” or genre. The strong country sound of Three Chords and the Truth was followed by the soft, almost romantic approach of Everybody’s Given Up On Me.

In an earlier interview with The Leader, Miles said that she primarily sees herself as a song writer, one for whom words, and the feelings and images they create, mean a lot. 

She said that while she often writes about difficult or challenging themes, she sees her role as an artist to take such issues and “turn them into a kind of beauty, and to touch people in the process.” 

In Love is Red, she sang “I wish I could take it back/fix this broken side walk crack…You loved me, I loved you/We said things that were not true..”

Miles poignant reflection on domestic abuse touched the audience as she sang “Love doesn’t leave its mark on you/Love doesn’t leave you black and blue/Love doesn’t push you down in the dirt/Love isn’t mean and love doesn’t hurt.”

Earlier in the day, Miles gave a song-writing workshop for nearly 20 aspiring students. 

“The workshop was fantastic,” said Francine Leclair, who came down for the workshop and concert from Ottawa. “It was great to hear her philosophy. I remember most that Lynn said ‘you have to live your life as an artist.’ 

She shares so much of herself with you when she works with you.”

Sandra Whitworth, on the board of the St. Lawrence Stage, also attended the workshop, and said she gained “such insight. You learn how an artist composes, how she handles challenges. Lynn’s advice really helps.”

“I’ve written about 680 songs,” Miles laughed. “Three are happy.” Then she proved her point with an unexpectedly sweet little piece “Never the grey sky/Never the gloom…Open the windows/ Put your joy on display/ It’s time for the sun to have its day…”

Throughout the entire concert, Miles was beautifully accompanied by Keith Glass both on vocals and on guitar. 

Her musical insights, her sense of humour, her powerful voice made Lynn Miles’ performance at the St. Lawrence Stage an evening of pure joy for a very appreciative audience.

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Lynn Miles at St. Lawrence Stage February 25

 

 She even sang as an infant in her cradle, her mother once said. 

An overwhelming passion for music has never left artist Lynn Miles in a performance career that has spanned 40 years. Instead, it has taken her from her home town of Sweetsburg, Quebec, to the major stages of North America and Europe. It has won her numerous music awards and honours as well as critical accolades. It has ensured her a devoted and growing fan base. 

On February 25, the extraordinarily talented Lynn Miles will return to the St. Lawrence Stage, the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, for one concert only at 7 p.m.

“Lynn is an artist that some people regard as one of Canada’s best singer/ song-writers,” said St. Lawrence Board member, Sandra Whitworth. “She came to us in 2008, and the audience reaction then prompted us to bring her back this year. It will be a great show.”

I had the chance to talk to Miles about her music, her career and her concert here in Morrisburg. 

“I kind of think my professional career was actually decided for me,” Miles said. “I was simply passionate about music. It still remains the chief love of my life. Over my career I have written some 600 songs, and I still feel that there is lots of music in me. 

But if ever the music stops,” she added, “I think so will I.”

An accomplished performer on  guitar, piano, and harmonica, her rich voice classically trained, Miles has seven albums to her credit and averages over 100 concerts a year. (She’s just back from Europe.) Her 2001 album, Unravel, won the 2003 Juno award for Best Roots and Traditional album. Her most recent CD, Fall for Beauty, was nominated for a Juno in 2011, and did win her the prestigious English song writer of the year at the Canadian Folk Music awards. With time spent in Nashville, she has also been described as a country artist. She is currently working on volume 3 of her Black Flowers Project.

“I see myself as a singer/song-writer, and to me that means I can make any music I want,” she said. “Others can interpret my music the way they want (I sometimes call it roots), but I find inspiration for my writing everywhere. I find it in the people I meet and in my family. I am a voracious reader; I wander art galleries; I listen to other artists. They all inspire my songs.” 

Some critics have commented on the “gritty honesty” of her songs, on their deep, hard “sincerity.”

“I do write about life’s problems and issues,” Miles said. “I write of things like addiction, heartache, the challenges out there. But I also believe that the one rule of an artist is to take something unattractive or challenging or dark and turn it into a kind of beauty, finding a way to touch people in the process. Many things find their way into my music.”

The power and poetry of her lyrics have always been inspiring.

I asked her about writing.

“My first rule is that there are no rules in music and writing. You must be open to what happens around you and willing to go in unfamiliar directions,” Miles said. “Each song is an experience. Some take half an hour to write; some cannot be finished in 10 years. You have to let the music simmer, then come out when it’s ready. Of course,” she added with a ready laugh, “all my pieces are my babies. And even if they prove to be ugly babies, I still love them very much.”

Miles will hold a song-writing workshop in Morrisburg on Saturday afternoon, just before her evening concert. It is capped at 20 registrants and is nearly full. 

Lynn Miles is looking forward to her  February 25 St. Lawrence Stage concert where she will be accompanied on stage by Keith Glass of Prairie Oysters

“It’s a great stage and always a great audience. It will be a fantastic time,” she said. 

Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. They are  available at www.st-lawrencestage.com or 613-543-2514, at the Basket Case in Morrisburg or Strung Out Guitars in Cornwall. 

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Don Ross, Graham Greer starring on St. Lawrence Stage

 

If you don’t already have a ticket for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert Saturday, January 21, featuring award-winning guitarist Don Ross, with singer Graham Greer opening, you should know: very few seats for this incredible evening still remain.

And it would be a real shame to miss this show: Ross and Greer are both powerhouse musical artists and performers.

I had the privilege of talking to the musicians earlier this week. 

Don Ross is an acclaimed Canadian guitarist who has already won an unprecedented two United States Fingerstyle Guitar Competitions. He has toured throughout North America, Europe and Asia winning over critics and fans alike. In 2003, Bruce Cockburn wrote, “Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he’s going to roll, but he never loses control.” 

Ross has released a number of albums, most recently 2010’s Breakfast for Dogs, under the independent CandyRat Records label. He has composed music for theatre productions and for the CBC. When he is not performing, Ross is a Dalhousie University professor, teaching the history of guitar and techniques.

“Performance is a musician’s life blood,” Don Ross explained. “You need an audience. I am really looking forward to the intimacy of the Morrisburg stage. I always think of an audience as a friend I’m happy to see again: to walk on stage to a warm welcome is very gratifying. Frankly, music is the boat I’ve sailed around the world on.”

The phrase “heavy wood” has become synonymous with Don Ross. It is routinely used to describe his performance style and approach to music. However, he laughed when I asked him just what “heavy wood” means.

“Well, nothing actually. I borrowed the phrase from a now defunct 80’s band called Rare Air, a rock band that involved, would you believe, two bag pipes on stage. Nobody then knew what to call their music, so they called it heavy wood. I first used the phrase jokingly to describe my own music, but now it seems to be fully mine. 

I can tell you what heavy wood isn’t. It’s not folk, not rock, not jazz, not blues. But it borrows elements from them all. It has an edge and an energy. It’s uniquely my style now, I think.”

Two years ago, in response to fan requests, Ross produced an all vocal record. However, instrumental music is what he primarily writes and performs.

“A change of scenery, meeting a new person can inspire an idea. But I really believe that music exists just as music. It doesn’t have to mean something. I like to think that people who hear my music can interpret it in their own way.”

Of Scottish and First Nations heritage, Ross grew up in a musical household. In university he studied fine arts and philosophy, then started his novitiate for the Franciscans. In the end, however, he felt the call of music to be too strong to ignore.

“When I decided to be a musician, I went into it with all my heart. I love this life. I’ll probably die on stage” he said, laughing, “at age 97, with a guitar still in my hand. I wanted to be a dad, to be a husband, to be a musician. I take great satisfaction in what I do.”

“We consider it a real coup to be able to bring Don, one of the most respected musicians in Canada and one of the top guitarists in the world to Morrisburg,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board.

Don Ross will be holding a workshop from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, demonstrating his unique and dynamic finger style. Some spaces are still available. 

Cornwall resident Graham Greer is a familiar face and voice in eastern Ontario. January 21 marks his return to the St. Lawrence Stage following a stellar show in March of 2009.

A former member of the band, Barstool Prophets, and now a renowned solo artist, Greer is opening for Don Ross.

“The last time I performed at the St. Lawrence Stage, I enjoyed it so much I kept bothering the board to let me come back,” Greer joked. 

Board member Whitworth,  however, points out that the Stage is delighted to have a musician of Greer’s calibre coming on the 21st.

Greer is looking forward to working with Don Ross, an artist he has long admired. “I’m a big fan. I think Don attacks the guitar with a totally fresh view point. Sometimes he sounds like three people on stage playing. He’s incredible.”

A critically admired performer  himself, Greer put out a new self titled album in late 2009. He also toured the Maritimes with fellow artist Amanda Rheaume in the summer of 2011.  

At Saturday’s concert, he will entertain the audience with some new material he’s been working on. 

“I have a country twinge, a folk twinge, a rock twinge in my music. I think people can hear different undertones to my music, reflecting their own experiences,” he said. “I consciously try not to make my songs too much alike: nothing I hate more than making every song a reflection of the song that went before. I emphasize creativity, push to be creative.”

Greer’s lyrics are also thoughtful. He writes his songs in what he describes as “batches,” a throw back to his years touring with the Prophets, where time to rework music was often sporadic.  “I’ve never been a prolific writer,” he said. “But intelligent lyrics matter to me.”

Greer commented that in the studio a performer has more of an ability to “direct how something is forming. It’s fun to put the building blocks of a composition together.” 

He described live performance as “an altogether different animal. The overall structure matters more than the building blocks, and there is that element of instant feed back. Working with an audience buoys me up. I look forward to this concert. I think the audience will have a great time.”

He also added, with his irrepressible sense of humour, “I’m going to do my best not to drive people away before Don gets a chance to go on stage.” 

The 7 p.m. Don Ross/Graham Greer concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, Saturday, January 21, is nearly sold out. 

Information about tickets, or to register for Don Ross’ workshop can be found at www.st-lawrencestage.com. The Bas-ket Case, Strung Out Guitars, Cornwall and Compact Music, Ottawa, also carry tickets. 

Tickets are $15 in advance, or $18 at the door. 

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Entertainment

Jazz Henriques Style at St. Lawrence Stage

 

Ben Henriques is a man of few words. He prefers to let his saxophone talk for him.

On Saturday, December 3, at the St. Lawrence Stage, he “talked” to the audience with passion and fire as he performed classic and highly original contemporary jazz during his performance. Backed by the musical artistry of members of Trio Bruxo, Henriques delivered jazz his way.

Alternating between soprano and tenor saxes, Henriques  almost seems to lose himself in his music when he performs. His fingers flying, his eyes closed, he is a study in musical intensity. Whether his style of jazz is necessarily everyone’s taste doesn’t really matter: it is impossible to miss the passion, the artistry in his work.

A quiet, almost diffident speaker between numbers, he seemed comfortable letting David Ryshpan of Trio Bruxo make most of the introductions.

Since this was an evening that featured original compositions by Ryshpan along with many works by Henriques himself, it was an arrangement that worked. 

“You’ve just heard a piece of Ben’s called ‘Paranoia is a Flower’,” Ryshpan laughed, following a number by times dreamy, a little sexy, a little wild. “He called it that because he says both grow the more you put into them.”

Later, Henriques showed a flash of his own humour when he introduced ‘All of Me’.

“This piece has been ‘remelodicized’ into Background Music by Owen Marsh. Remember folks, you heard it here first.”

Expertly backed by bassist Nicholas Bédard, drummer Mark Nelson and pianist Ryshpan, Henriques performed in a way that was often non-traditional, and unrestricted musically. In an earlier interview with The Leader, Henriques said that in contemporary jazz, “we seek to write music in a different way.” He clearly loves the freedom to improvise that modern jazz allows him. 

Numbers like ‘Captain Awesome’ or ‘Fortress of Solitude’ showcased Henriques’ skill and virtuosity. A quiet duet between just Ryshpan’s piano and Henriques’ sax was a memorable moment to me. 

Solo spots highlighting the  formidable talents of Nelson, Bédard and Ryshpan rounded out the evening. 

“Thank you, Morrisburg,” Ben Henriques said, “for supporting live jazz.”

Tickets are currently going very fast for the upcoming St. Lawrence Stage January 21 concert featuring Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening.

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