Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: songwriters

Singers, Songs and Strings

Hart House Chamber Strings Pops Concert Poster

If I’ve been MIA over the past month, it’s because of a huge concert I have coming up next weekend. I play double bass with the Hart House Chamber Strings (HHCS) and for the past three years, we’ve done a pops concert in March with independent songwriters. The concert was started by Paul McCulloch, who was conductor when I was in first year. I played bass for the concert and talked to Paul afterwards about performing as a “guest” artist, so at the next concert in March 2007, I wrote out arrangements for my band (which, I think, may have recently slid from “coma” into “permanent vegetative state”) and we had the privilege of performing with the ensemble.

Last year, Paul left the group and I took over the pops concert. I was cautious about writing arrangements for songs I wasn’t terribly familiar with, so I only took on three artists — Robyn Dell’Unto, Jadea Kelly and myself. (I was playing violin with both Jadea and Robyn, so I was pretty familiar with their music.) We filled out the rest of the night with music from popular films. Like previous years, it was a lot of fun and a great success.

We have seven artists on the bill for next Saturday, March 14th — Mandippal (@mandippal), Dave Borins (@daveborins), Lucky Fonz III (all the way from the Netherlands, in town for Canadian Music Week), Robyn Dell’Unto, Pat Robitaille (@patrobitaille) and Peter Katz and myself. I play violin with Mandippal, Dave and Robyn regularly and am excited to write for them, and I’m thrilled to be working with Peter, Pat and Lucky Fonz. As always, I’m honoured to have the chamber strings play my arrangements, especially for my own songs. I’ll be on bass with the ensemble for all of the other artists.

So, if you’re in the Toronto area, this is going down Saturday, March 14th at 7pm in the Hart House Great Hall (Facebook event). Admission is free, and I promise it’ll be epic.

If you’re not in Toronto (or if you can’t make it), I’m hoping to get the video camera out… so, with any luck, I’ll have something to upload afterwards.

I promise to come back to life March 15th.

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Kevin Fox is my hero

In March 2006, the Hart House Chamber Strings had their first pops concert (photos). I play bass with the chamber strings, and I’ve since taken over as administrator for the pops concert, but that first concert really left an impression on me.

Especially Kevin Fox.

He closed the night and played a song called “Phone Booth” off his upcoming album, Songs for Cello & Voice. Unreal.

I’ve since run across Kevin many times. He worked as musical director with Shaye for a while, and I met Damhnait Doyle through the Humber Summer Songwriting Workshop, so I saw him perform with them. I swear I saw him in a Jann Arden music video, and I saw him play with Andy Kim at Hugh’s Room. He also played cello on some of Robyn Dell’Unto’s recordings.

As a songwriter and cellist, he’s doing exactly what I’m trying to do with songwriting and violin. Kevin Fox is my hero.

I’ve had Phone Booth stuck in my head for years, and yesterday I finally got to hear it again. After finding his Facebook Musician Page, I came across this YouTube video and found more tracks from his upcoming album on his website.

Definitely worth a listen.

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Sean Pinchin: In Transit

I just bought this and so should you. I’ve written about Sean Pinchin before:

Sean plays lap-style guitar with a slide for most of his tunes. The combination of his guitar playing and his voice is absolutely hypnotic… the sound is so full that you constantly get flashes of a full band playing behind him, yet it’s pure and personal in the way that only a man and his guitar can be.

Check out the album preview if you’re new to his music. The album notes on CD Baby add to the description:

The story-telling Folklore artist, Sean Pinchin, is best known for crafting warm and soulful sounds with nothing but his voice, harmonica, stomping board and slide guitar. Using his music as therapy, every performance has an emotional delivery that any audience can feel and relate to.

Sean Pinchin is one of the best musicians I know.

Sean Pinchin - In Transit
Buy it. Now.

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Placelessness

Know who’s awesome? Alina Simone.

Jadea and I played a gig with her at the Rancho Relaxo back in September. I didn’t get a chance to talk with her afterwards, but I bought her CD – Placelessness. I didn’t have any Canadian cash on me, but they were happy to take my US cash since they’re from NYC.

I listened to it exclusively for a week solid. (I thought I was exaggerating by using the word “exclusively,” but it’s literally the only thing I scrobbled that week. And I was listening to it solid in the car as well – that doesn’t get scrobbled.)

Her music is folky, but eerie. It has an ethereal, otherworldly feel to it. I like to think it touches on my Celtic sensibilities, but Alina was born in the Ukraine, so maybe it’s an eastern European influence that’s showing through. There’s definitely a rock edge too, simple but effective drums and electric guitar (e.g. Black Water).

Her voice grabs me. It reaches inside, touches the human, the pain, the longing; it’s so honest, particularly in Lonesome – starts and ends a cappella and monophonic.

Anyways… Placelessnes… check it out.

So keep on running from the winter, but you can’t help missing the snow. And All these unfamiliar people who can’t ever go back home. Who can’t ever go back home.
– Lonesome (Alina Simone)

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The Red Rooster with Robyn

I’ve been called many things before, both good and bad, but “secret weapon” has got to be one of my all-time favourites. Well, second favourite… being asked “were you a ninja?” when returning to my high school definitely tops the list.

Last night, I played my first gig on violin with Robyn Dell’Unto at the Legendary Red Rooster Vintage Cafe in Burlington.. If you haven’t heard her music yet, go to her MySpace right now. I mean, you’re not allowed to read the rest of this post unless her music is playing in the background. (Take a look at how much I’ve been listening over the past week…)

When I first heard her in August, I was floored. Trevor Howard, the headlining artist of the night (what a cool guy), put it best: she’s just in an entirely different class. I must admit, I was pretty intimidated when jamming with her at first. I wasn’t sure that I could add something to her music as opposed to just getting in the way, but she actually seemed to like what I was playing and I guess it worked out pretty well.

One of the coolest parts about the show last night is that we apparently have a DVD of our performance. (Robyn, you were right… hard core hair washing action indeed!) It’s great to have captured the moment because it’s in moments like that when I realize I want to do this for the rest of my life.

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An Evening at The Central

Last night, I was at one of the greatest local music concerts I’ve ever been to at The Central. Maneli Jamal, Sean Pinchin and Robyn Dell’Unto each blew my mind in turn, in their own unique ways.

I’ve actually had the privilege of sharing the stage with both Maneli and Sean in the past on several occasions. When I heard they were playing a show together, I knew it would be good. I’d never heard of Robyn before, but I figured that if Maneli and Sean had decided to play a show with her, she must be good. What an understatement.

Maneli and Sean will change the way you think of the acoustic guitar. Maneli is a virtuoso and with his rare two-hand tapping technique he can make music on his own that four other competent guitarists couldn’t produce in a collaborative effort. When you first witness a live performance, you’ll find yourself staring at him trying to figure out if all that sound is really being produced by two hands. Sean plays lap-style guitar with a slide for most of his tunes. The combination of his guitar playing and his voice is absolutely hypnotic; the two instruments are made for each other. When he plays alone, the sound is so full that you constantly get flashes of a full band playing behind him, yet it’s pure and personal in the way that only a man and his guitar can be.

Or a woman and her guitar. From the moment Robyn started singing, she had my full attention. Her playful stage banter quickly gave way to heartfelt and passionate expression. Simple and beautiful acoustic guitar provides the backbone for her powerful vocals and lyrics. It’s hard for me to describe the emotion she conveys and I don’t think her recordings alone can give you a true sense of what I experienced at the concert (though they’re good – buy them!). You have to witness it live to really understand what I’m trying to say.

Same with Sean and Maneli. No matter how good their recordings are, witnessing it in person is another experience altogether. (Check out their websites for upcoming shows!)

That said, I’ll leave you with some lyrics from one particular recording of Robyn’s that I can’t stop listening to.

This is not a love song
You know I’m sorry
You know it’s hard for me to do that
With no symphony or proverbs
Just a melody to move you into sleep
And dreams of me…

– from “Dreams of Me” by Robyn Dell’Unto (listen to it here)

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