1/13/21

Oh Canada: Andy Shauf, The Glorious Sons, Julian Taylor, Sultans of String

 

The US/Canadian border is closed at present, but music doesn’t care about boundaries. Here are four Canadian artists to discover.

 


Andy Shauf
is from Saskatchewan, but you can be forgiven for wondering if he might be a lost love child of Nick Drake. Their repertoires differ, but the patter, tonation, and trippy qualities of Shauf’s voice echo those of Drake. Shauf’s newest CD is titled Neon Skyline. It has been labeled “baroque pop,” whatever that might be. The entirety can be heard on YouTube, so maybe you can figure it out. To my ear, Shauf’s baroque pop is folk as churned through the blender with heavy doses of Drake and a soupçon of Paul Simon. Try the Neon Skyline, “Where Are You Judy,” and "Changer." Look for acoustic versions, which have fewer distractions than the studio material.   

 



The Glorious Sons
are from Kingston, Ontario, though a quick listen to songs like “Come Down” and the power ballad “La Cosa Nostra” sounds like Southern fried rock n’ roll. They have a new record titled A War on Everything. The title track isn’t about global conflict. It’s another power ballad, this one a love song and a plea to cut all ties,  run away, and start anew. Glorious Sons are a six-piece band anchored by the muscular voice of Brett Emmons, with his brother Jay on some of the blistering electric leads you’ll hear. Glorious Sons won’t knock you over with poetic lyrics, but they are a nice balance of heavy and light. 

 


Julian Taylor
lives in Toronto and beyond that, he’s hard to pin down. He is of West Indian and Mohawk descent and musically, he dabbles in rock, jazz, folk, funk, blues, and even a bit of classical. He once fronted the rock band Staggered Crossing, but he has toured as a solo artist or with a new band since Staggered Crossing’s demise in 2017. His latest release, The Ridge, explores some of his interests. Good luck finding a label for “Love Enough.” It has echoes of Tex-Mex, Elvis, with some big rolling prairie acoustic bursting through. Many of his songs are quite wordy, but appropriately so for story songs. As a kid, Taylor spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ farm in British Columbia and “The Ridge” is a memory piece about those days. Taylor sings it with aa deep, smooth voice that oozes fondness and a small touch of yearning. “Human Race” is a gentle look at a friend’s struggle with mental illness. A pedal steel guitar gives it a country feel, but it’s basically a heartfelt folk song with a universal message: The human race/We all feel out of place…. Taylor suggests that being fully human boils down to how we handle the aforementioned reality. Once again, his voice is buttery smooth, except when he belts out the outro. “Over the Moon” sounds as if could have been plucked from James Keelaghan’s repertoire. Many of Taylor’s songs are hummable and “Ballad of a Young Troubadour,” which sounds as if it’s autobiographical, certainly falls into that category. The Ridge is an album from which you could pluck any song and revel in it.


 

Sultans of String have been nominated for three Juno Awards in Canada (think Grammy Awards) and the Toronto-based quintet anchored by the voice and lead fiddle of Chris McKhool has quite a following up north and in the United States. You name it and SoS play it: bluegrass, gypsy jazz, Caribbean, flamenco, Celtic, swing, Cuban, Middle Eastern, South Asian…. The one constant is that they are a string band built around two fiddles, two guitars, and percussion. On their seventh and latest release Refuge they even add spoken word. Poet Ifrah Mansour is Somalian, but now lives In Minnesota. Her rap-like poem “I Am a Refugee” is one of many meanings of refuge explored on Refuge. The baker’s dozen tracks look at refuge from numerous angles: embracing nature, immigrating to a new land, seeking safety, experiencing peace, and more. To this end, SoS invited more than 30 guest artists into the studio, the best known of whom are Béla Fleck and Ojibwa writer Duke Redbird. If you’ve heard their past work, you may be surprised to hear instruments such as clarinet, keys, oud, and Persian santur (hammered dulcimer). Redbird’s poetry on “The Power of the Land” dances to faintly Ojibway rhythms and atmospheric strings. McKhool is of Lebanese ancestry and the band’s take on “El Bint El Shalabeya” is certainly one of the more unusual tracks. It takes a traditional tube, adds oud, clarinet, and surf guitar, and turns it into a cross-cultural/ambiguously temporal dance party. “I’m Free” has an Irish/pop feel with McKhool sawing out the melody and Sudanese-born Waleed Abdulhamid manning vocals. “Imad’s Dream,” sung by Imad Al Taha, is about a gay Iraqi man forced to flee his homeland. It is appropriately fashioned as a slow soulful, mournful lament. And so it goes. Each track on Refuge is provocative and expertly done. Sultans of String are definitely a band you should know.

 

Rob Weir  

 

 

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