2019 ECMA Songwriter of the Year winner Ben Caplan leads off our Summer Series July 3rd.
Ben Caplan is a songwriter, performer and entertainer in the most time-honoured sense of the word. From the moment he walks onto the stage, you are filled with his infectious spirit, and captivating presence. You can feel Caplan’s comfort and ease as he strides in front of the crowd and begins the controlled collective descent into chaos.
In his latest project, Ben Caplan explores themes of immigration, loss, darkness, love, sex, and God. Caplan is touring with a fresh batch of songs which were originally composed for a new musical play called Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. The award winning play had its international debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it won top festival honours, and has been a smash hit. The play has toured internationally including a seven-week run Off Broadway where it picked up a New York Times Critic’s Pick, and six Drama Desk Award nominations, among other accolades.
Between performances of the play, Caplan has been hitting the road to play concerts across Europe, Australia, and North America with a new lineup of musicians. The music from his theatre production has been turned into Caplan’s third studio album, titled Old Stock. The sound is rooted in Caplan’s resonant baritone voice, supported with the sounds of piano, accordion, organ, clarinet, saxophone, violin, drums, and the occasional banjo and acoustic guitar.
Nobody really knows who J.P. Cormier is for sure. That’s to be expected, believe me.
In 1974 he was a five year old boy, discovering an innate talent for playing the guitar, I had a little hand in that, guiding him through the beginning stages. He learned faster than I could teach.
By the mid eighties, not out of his teens, he was a sideman for bands and artists of many different genres in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and all across the deep south. As he travelled and worked he added more and more instruments to his arsenal of capabilities. He became indispensable to the bands he worked for.
In the early Nineties, he became a sideman for one of Canada’s favourite sons, Stompin’ Tom Connors and also became a staple of the recordings at Studio H in Halifax. His work with the CBC there, spanned musical, production and arranging duties.
All this before he was 20.
In the mid nineties he reentered the musical scene of his beloved East Coast and the Island called Cape Breton. He exploded onto the trad music scene there as a fiddler, performing some of the most difficult music ever produced by legends like Winston Fitzgerald and Angus Chisholm with a facility that stunned onlookers. Especially those who knew he wasn’t born there, but born in Ontario to Cape Breton parents. Somehow, some way, his music was the real thing, sounding like he had been steeped continually in a handed-down brew of family tradition from the old country.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
His previous gig was in Nashville playing mandolin and banjo in a grammy nominated bluegrass gospel band and performing on the Opry, and playing television shows with the likes of Waylon Jennings. All those people also thought he was one of them, American, reared in the ways of bluegrass, old time and Americana music. They knew he was from Canada, but it just didn’t seem possible.
Then in 1997, something amazing happened.
An album released in Canada, out of nowhere, called Another Morning. This time it was him as a songwriter and a lead singer.
And what a songwriter he turned out to be. Some of the performances on that album are literally part of the musical vocabulary today in the East Coast. Songs like the title cut, and Kelly’s Mountain, The Molly May (co written with his cousin Gervais) and others. It inspired, 25 years ago, some of the biggest names in the business today. People like Dave Gunning, Matt Andersen, David Myles, Joel Plaskett, all of which will tell you: that record changed things.
The Canadian industry thought so too, and it received a juno nomination and won an ECMA.
And that was just the beginning.
36 years later after stepping on stage as professional union musician for the first time at the tender age of 13, JP is still going, and frighteningly, still getting better.
16 albums followed the success of Another Morning, winning 12 more ECMA’s, another Juno nomination, a Canadian Folk Music Award and 5 Music Nova Scotia Awards. Each album was a snapshot of each thing that he can do. There are fiddle albums, Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar, tribute records, songwriting collections, a purely astounding spectrum of talent and musical vision.
His catalogue of recordings and the 150 or so records he’s produced on other artists, resemble the tapestry he weaves in live performance. Where he used to carry 3 and 4 piece bands, he tours alone now.
Just him and the instruments.
People still leave his shows confused, amazed and wondering what they just saw. Did they see a storyteller? A Songwriter? Arguably one of the best guitar players in the business today? Someone who crosses the lines between different instruments like there are no lines? Who was that masked man, anyway?
Accolades aside, and there are many from people like Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Waylon Jennings, Gordon Lightfoot; JP sees himself as just a performer. He’s shy, but has a razor sharp wit and lightning sense of humour. He can be reserved or edgy to the point no return. He speaks for soldiers, first responders, other artists, the forgotten and lost. He speaks sometimes only for himself and refuses rebuttal.
Of all the things he is, foremost he is an entertainer. I think one of the best. After you’ve seen what he does, I’m certain you will too.
Steve Poltz is not normal.
He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) but has lived most of his life in Southern California and those geographic poles are quite likely responsible for his unhinged genius. He is a dual citizen – Canada/USA – but has often said that, “should a hostage situation arise, I become conveniently Canadian.”
Over the course of his life he’s met Elvis Presley (who hugged his sister for far too long), trick or treated at Liberace’s house (each finger had a diamond ring), was Bob Hope’s favourite altar boy (according to him), bravely traveled the world busking before he knew how to do it, famously co-wrote “You Were Meant For Me” with Jewel, pissed off David Cassidy and can count some of the world’s coolest people as fans.
He’s also an ex high school wrestler (98 pound class), an obsessed baseball fan, a yoga practitioner, a hopeless romantic, a smart-ass philosopher and a child-like adventurer/observer with an absurdist’s view of this crazy world and the various life-forms that inhabit it. He’s interested in it all – the big and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the terrestrial and the cosmic. He doesn’t just love life, he rides it bareback, naked, at a full gallop with one hand clenched deep in its mane and the other waving to anyone watching as he flies by. Time is ticking and he has work to do…
As a recording artist, he’s fronted the semi-legendary Rugburns and is responsible for a critically lauded body of work on his own: One Left Shoe, Chinese Vacation, Answering Machine, The Barn (a children’s album), Tales From The Tavern (a performance DVD), Traveling, Unraveling, Dreamhouse, Noineen Noiny Noin and most recently the soundtrack for the acclaimed Sundance-screened documentary film, Running Wild – The Life of Dayton O. Hyde.
As good as his albums are (and they’re very, very good), Steve positively owns a crowd when he’s on stage, where the proverbial rubber hits the road. His shows are the stuff of legend – no two are alike – and can take an unsuspecting audience from laughter to tears and back again in the space of a single song. He is a master of improvisational songwriting and works without a set list to be free to react instantly to the mood of a room. It’s also worth mentioning that he is an astonishing guitar player on top of everything else. He is quite possibly the most talented, and engaging, solo performer on this planet. That’s what 250+ shows a year on three continents will do for you.
Whether he’s Canadian, or American, or simply from space there’s no denying there’s only one Steven Joseph Joshua Poltz and to know him is to love him.
CHRISTINA MARTIN – 2018 Impossible To Hold Tour
AMERICANA UK – LIVE REVIEW
“I ADORE MARTIN’S TREMBLING VIBRATO AND ROUGH TOUGH ROCKER SENSIBILITY, A MODERN FEISTY JOAN JETT, SHE LOOKS COOL, ACTS COOL, SINGS COOL- A PROPER ROCKSTAR.”
“Impossible To Hold” is Martin’s sixth and strongest studio album, achieving a perfect balance between organic ambience and impeccable production. “I’m writing about faith and love more than ever with songs like ‘Keep Me Calm’ and ‘Always Reminding’, but I haven’t shaken the need to write about the darker things that are part of our human journey”. Combining good taste, passionate singing and thoughtful lyrics, “Impossible To Hold” is where music and poetry meet.
Christina began writing and recording her own music while slogging it out on the Austin, Texas bar scene. She has been relentlessly recording and touring in Canada and in the UK and Europe, building connections online and in the old-fashioned way, at venues big and small, singing songs about loss, love and perseverance. Her songs have been featured in films, on television, and she’s performed at music festivals around the world (Rolling Stone Weekender Festival, Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, International Folk Alliance, Reeperbahn Festival, Canada Music Week).
For more information about Christina and her music please visit:
In the brief period of time since Port Cities unleashed their incendiary debut—a wildly self-assured collection of sparkling, rootsy pop that showcases the Nova Scotia trio’s devotion to songwriting—the band’s been hard at work bringing it to the masses. They’ve continued to explore and evolve their ambitious pop sound, melding diverse musical backgrounds to create an alchemy that’s part art, part songwriting science, and all magic: the nimble dynamism of Breagh MacKinnon’s smoky, jazz-indebted delivery, Dylan Guthro’s simmering and soulful R&B swagger, and Carleton Stone’s razor-sharp, romantic rock ‘n’ roll. In 2018, that memory-making mix of unforgettable melodies, high-flying harmonies, and electrifying heart on Port Cities is set to reach audiences worldwide.
It’s a chemistry that’s been perfected during the 100+ dates they’ve toured in the past year, in hotel rooms and songwriter circles, in vans rolling through foreign countries to rowdy pubs, and on the fog-bound shores of Canada’s misty east coast. It’s helped lead the band to numerous accolades, including a whopping five Nova Scotia Music Awards, a SOCAN #1 Award (for “Back to the Bottom”), and stints at #1 on CBC and Spotify charts. Port Cities has amassed over 1.5 million streams internationally, showcased at The Great Escape, Focus Wales, and the Reeperbahn Festival, and will be releasing their debut in the U.K. and Germany this year.
Beyond Port Cities’ deep devotion to their craft, their success is largely built on a simple but timeless approach: a good song is a good song is a good song. Whether it’s awash with synthesizer (“Sound of Your Voice”), pumped up with an overdriven crunch (“Where Have You Been”), or stripped down to the bare essentials with just an acoustic guitar and three voices. No matter what music the melody might call for, the best song always wins.
Some artists are reluctant to peel back the layers and let you see what’s really going on inside their heads.
Mo Kenney is not one of those artists.
“The Details”, Kenney’s third album, comes as close as any recording I’ve ever heard to putting everything out there for you to see, to experience and to reflect on.
The 14 songs on this deeply personal set detail a series of events in Kenney’s life when she was going through what must have been one hell of a rough patch.
Holding back little, if anything, the Halifax- based singer/songwriter addresses relationships in her life that have fallen apart, her experiences with depression, emotional breakdowns fuelled by the excessive use of alcohol and the impact all of this was having on her as a person and as an artist.
While that may sound a trifle dark — on “Punchy” for example she sings about being punched in the face at a bar by some jackass — there is also a light at the end of the tunnel as Kenney deals with the hand she’s been dealt. She ultimately comes through it all and comes through it a stronger person for the experience.
Producing a concept album that connects all the dots in your life can be a daunting task but Kenney has serious writing chops, as she so aptly demonstrated on her eponymous debut record in 2012 and her sophomore effort “In My Dreams” in 2014.
The “Details” packs a lot of emotions into a record that runs just over 30 minutes.
It is a record of many moods, many colours and many shades and there are more than a few moments when you wonder how she made it through to the other side at all.
And the music underneath all of this is every bit as interesting as the lyrics Kenney penned to tell her story.
There’s a fair bit of flat-out rock’n’roll, a smattering of psychedelia, some dreamy pop music and some zippy stuff that reminds me just a little bit of Joan Jett. Some records take a little time to grow on you but “The Details” got me the first go round and tracks like “On The Roof”, “Unglued”, “I Can’t Wait” and the all-too-brief “Counting” brought me back for more.
And the more I went back the better the experience became because I began to hear new things, things I didn’t hear the first time through. Perhaps I got so wrapped up in the lyrics I missed some of the things that were happening musically.
This record is solid.
It’s brutally honest, at times, a little jarring in places, but there are moments of lightness and humour, albeit black humour.
Kenney produced the record with good friend Joel Plaskett, who also co-wrote Unglued. He also contributed most of the drums and bass tracks. Kenney played all the acoustic and electric guitar parts and she really wailed on some of the electric stuff. She also played keyboards.
They’ve toured the world, released three critically acclaimed albums and won an array of industry awards. Anthemic choruses, 3-part harmonies, tender falsettos and big drums highlight their riff driven, dirty-yet-nuanced barrage of sound. On stage they move like intense caricatures – soaked in sweat, pushing every chord, note and beat to the limit. A structured wall of sound emerges; familiar yet distinctive. Camaraderie shows in their musicianship, their songwriting highlights what they are: friends playing music for the love of it, in it for the long haul.
Musically, TTH are reminiscent of the 90’s Alt-Rock bands they grew up listening to. Lyrically, at the root of every song is a passionate exploration of the things that make us all human. Whether good or bad, they’re the things that make us who we are: heartache, longing, society in the modern age, dreams and family.
Through comedic videos, social media hi-jinks, blogs, unexpected wardrobe, late night sandwich stands at music festivals, amusing acceptance speeches and interviews, the band has earned a reputation for making people laugh.
Though vastly different, the band has found a way to balance these two sides in a seamless, cohesive manner. They see it as a crucial, necessary part of what they do. In a world where so much negativity fills the news, where the media endlessly focuses on the bad, The Town Heroes want to bring something positive into it all – as small as it may be. They see it as necessary because it is – it’s who they are. That’s something they’ll never change.
For the past 6 years, TTH have played as a duo – Mike Ryan (guitar, vocals) and Bruce Gillis (drums) – captivating audiences with their remarkably full sound and energetic performances. With a desire to push the envelope even more, in November 2016 the band expanded to become a 4-piece, adding Aaron Green (guitars) and Tori Cameron (bass) to the band. The new lineup reflects and effectively captures the growth, vision, and musical progression of the band.
With a sprawling vocal range and compelling approach to composition, Menzie has made an indelible mark in the talent-rich Atlantic Canadian music market with his debut EP, Heather Avenue, in 2013. The release – which earned Music PEI Award nominations and acclaim from industry influencers – led to high-profile performances throughout the Maritimes, including opening slots for City & Colour and Ron Sexsmith.
In 2016, Menzie was a finalist in CBC’s annual Searchlight competition on the back of his breakout single, “Kenya,” which then spent two weeks at number one on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20 leading up to the release of his 2016 album Adolescent Nature.
The record, anchored by the strength of songs like “Kenya” and the follow-up single “Talk to Me,” showcases the pure emotion one can extract from simply a great voice and keen sense of dynamics.
“I started out writing everything on acoustic guitar, though more recently, I’ve been bringing everything down to basic piano chords, and if the song can still move me and move people, I know I’m onto something,” he reveals about his creative process. “Once I’ve got that solid foundation, everything else is just colour and texture.”
Drawing clear influence from the likes of My Morning Jacket, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Joel Plaskett without being derivative of any one, the quality of these songs heavily belies the young artist’s age.
In fact, the lyrics – as the album title might suggest – are the only thing here that could clue one in on Menzie’s youth. “I didn’t really see what tied these songs together until I was looking for an album title,” he admits, “and that theme seemed to envelope them all – the idea of finding yourself, where you want to go, and who you want to be in that confusing time of life.”
Since Adolescent Nature’s release, Menzie has been in even higher demand, earning one of two spots in the inaugural East Meets West collaboration between the ECMAs and BreakOutWest as well as slots at prestigious events like the Edmonton Folk Festival, Canadian Music Week, Folk Alliance International, and others.
But even as excitement behind his breakthrough continues to mount, Menzie already has his sights set on what’s next – another product of his self-competition and refusal to rest on any laurels. And if he continues on his current trajectory of each new song, each new release eclipsing its predecessor, he’ll soon be impossible to ignore.
Old Man Luedecke, is one of Canada’s best loved and most intriguing roots singer-songwriters. “An original, he is a musical singularity to be savoured and shared”, says the Vancouver Folk Festival. His memorable melodies, poetic sense and easy charisma appeal to anyone searching for new growth from old roots.
Old Man Luedecke was born in Toronto but has made his home for years in the music rich maritime province of Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. There his music has been wholeheartedly adopted and is becoming representative for its traditional storytelling folk elements. It speaks to a new generation of people craving such meaning in their music.
Luedecke is a young man with an old soul who doesn’t sugar coat his fears and this lets his songs breathe with a fresh breeze of bittersweet hopefulness. He channels a refreshing energy from folk giants like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger with maybe a hint of Loudon Wainwright III. But it’s Luedecke’s contemporary lyrics coupled with the irresistible rhythm of the old time banjo that connect and make him so loved with his audiences. Anchored in his music’s melodic confidence is an ability to tap into a common muddled and dark search for meaning. This keeps people singing his songs and praises after he’s traveled on.
His performances are exciting and totally entertaining. His uncliched banjo playing sparkles beautifully and dynamically. This coupled with his thumping foot creates a complete sound. People are drawn into singing along. His singing is his own. Clear and unadorned it is totally emotive and suits the sincerity of his tunes. In the breaks between songs come wild and charming stories of meeting heroes and easygoing but gripping musings on things ridiculous and sublime that may have a wink of contemporary vaudeville. Equally at home on festival main stages, theatres and living rooms, he can hold court in the occasional indie rock bar. Luedecke has been a featured performer at all the major folk festivals in Canada and Australia and an increasing number of American festivals, like Strawberry in California. He has appeared with and shared the stage at concerts and soft seaters with such performers as Feist, Tim O’Brien, Joel Plaskett, David Francey, Buck 65, The Be Good Tanyas and Jill Barber. He’s shared festival stages alongside Bela Fleck, Tim O’Brien, Jack Elliot, Kris Kristofferson, Ashley MacIsaac, and countless others.
Old Man Luedecke has received great recognition for his works, including Juno Awards (The Canadian Grammy) for “Proof of Love” and “My Hands Are On Fire and Other Love Songs.”
Adam Baldwin is a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia based musician and songwriter, perhaps best known as a member of Matt Mays’ band since 2008. His self-titled EP, released in 2013, won the Nova Scotia Music Week award for Male Artist Recording of the Year and he was named Musician of the Year in 2014.
Baldwin’s debut full-length album is called No Telling When (Precisely Nineteen Eighty-Five) and was released on June 24, 2016. The album was produced by Liam O’Neil (The Stills, Metric) and also features the talents of Josh Trager (Sam Roberts Band), Brian Murphy (Alvvays) and Leah Fay (July Talk).
Of making the record in Toronto during the lead up to the last federal election and the Blue Jays dramatic playoff run, Adam says: “Toronto was alive… indeed, Canada was alive. I walked down Dundas and Ossington every day to the studio and passed hundreds of election signs. You could feel the hope and you could feel the fear. It was on everyone’s tongue. If folks weren’t talking about the election, they were talking about baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays, an entity that falls just below rock and roll in terms of my devotion, had ended a playoff drought that almost precedes my memory. The Jays’ run into the American League Championship Series was the perfect foil for the very stressful federal election.”
The title track and first song describes events in New York City in 1985 (the year before Adam was born) and suggests how, thirty years on, not a lot in our culture has really changed. A particular unnamed real-estate developer, reality TV star and politician personifies this idea.
The first single “Daylight” was inspired by the political events in Canada surrounding the recording sessions. From Adam: “It’s a song about both the unity and division we felt as a country. It’s a song that should remind us that this change was spurred by a desire for a different direction, and that while our course appears to have changed, we have to demand that it continue to do so.”
“Anytime” and “Sparrow Song”, both featuring back up vocals from Leah Fay, loosely form a two act play and the centerpiece of the album. In “Anytime” Adam sings about young love and all the hopes and fears that come with that, while “Sparrow Song” describes those fears when they become reality.
“Rehtaeh” is about the systemic failures that led to the death of Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013 and is, as Adam puts it “maybe the most important song I’ll ever write.”
The album closes with “Living Proof”, a song about the Canadian Dream, and how as Adam points out, “The dream is elusive because it isn’t made available to everyone. It can’t be attained by just anyone.”