Monday, May 16, 2011

Corin Raymond and the Sundowners
Jonathan Byrd and the Foggy Hogtown Boys

The wife and I were celebrating 32 years of wedded bliss the other night and we had the pleasure of seeing Corin Raymond and the Sundowners. (Doctor recommended dosage: Minimum, once monthly.) They were opening for North Carolina native, Texas based song writer, Jonathan Byrd.

The TRANZAC Club is where Corin cut his teeth in the Toronto music scene. He was playing with the Sundowners as far back as 2002, entertaining folks on a PWYC basis in the front room. Jonathan Byrd hasn't been in Toronto since November 2009 when his chart-riding Americana album was created in an impromptu (or at least, little planned) 6 hour recording session. He's joined tonight by the same local artists who laid down those tracks.

These guys are nearing the end of what's been almost 3 months of touring North America. Jonathan introduced Corin to his fan base in the American Heartland and Texas, while Corin brought Jonathan to various houses of the holy in the Great White North.

I love Corin's set with the Sundowners. The band is ace. Tight like...well, there's nowhere I can go with that simile that won't land me in trouble. Brian Kobayakowa on bass is so good that you don't notice he's there...except that's a bullshit interpretation of what you need in a bass player. He's laying down some boom that sometimes sneaks up on you but most times just anchors the song. Treasa Levasseur is every front man's dream. Need some waltzing accordion? Got it for you. Want me to tinkle on the keys? I'm your lady. A little estrogen on the chorus? Let me carry that weight. David Baxter provides the complex riffs, the contre-temps, the heartful slide and the mandolin. Corin, well he's the troubador.

He's still working songs that will be on his upcoming album of Canadian indie song writers. The familiar Old Fort Mac laments the cost of high wage opportunities in an oil boom town.
Ridin' West On Dundas is the story of a rural boy, who grew up watching the sun set for hours over the flat prairies, finding the beauty in an urban sunset, where the golden light shines briefly on red brick.
I'm Hard On Things is just so
that you gotta listen to it. LYRIC SAMPLE: "I've worn out two gold wedding rings/ I'm hard on things."

Stealin' My Heart is Corin's love-song to the Tranzac. A tune about the financial security one can garner from singing roots music in parlours for hat money.
3000 Miles has been covered by a number of artists, some can be found on YouTube.

Who doesn't love a road tune with dope?

Corin covers Jonathan's Slip Away then introduces a new song, an homage to three great musical artists who left this world in a tragic fashion; Buddy Holly's flight, Sam Cooke's shooting and the strange case of Jackie Wilson. Under the Belly of the Night is going to be a staple in this set. LYRIC SAMPLE: "singing That'll Be The Day I Die the night before"

I'd wager that Corin may never play a live set without including There Will Always Be A Small Time. A song about the fickle nature of talent, fame and fortune.

Being at the TRANZAC the Sundowners saw fit to close with a song they wore out during their youthful residency here, Woody Guthrie's tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-in-something) Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key.

Old Fort Mac
Ridin' West on Dundas
I'm Hard on Things
Stealin' My Heart
3000 Miles
Slip Away
Under the Belly of the Night
There Will Always Be A Small Time
Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key

Jonathan Byrd's Cackalack has had some terrific success on the Americana and Folk/Roots charts in the States. It's a love song to North Carlina, taking us through it's history, ecology and culture. The word is actually short for 'cackalacky'; it's just a peculiar affectation the people in the Carolines have...they use it in place of Carolina, as in "I'm from Chapel Hill, North Cackalacky!"

If that title hasn't prepared you for a little frivolity then that's the job of Chicken Wire, the opener. It's almost a nonsense song, done bluegrass style, all about a Rooster and a Hen and the things a farmer holds dear. Not quite Ray Stevens nonsense, more in the vein of Boll Weevil.

The melodic love song Wild Ponies is preceeded by a history lesson, a tale of how these horses got on the Outward Banks. Dropped by Spanish sailors trying to save their lives in the graveyard waters off the Carolina coast, these animals adapted to the salt-grass and still roam free on the Shackleford Banks over 400 years later.

More lessons, apparently North Carolina is an ecological marvel of sorts; between what the ice age brought and what grows naturally in their southern climate. The region boasts of a diverse selection of tree species. Jonathan seems to have a penchant for the Mighty Oak as he performs the first of two 'oak songs' on the album; I Was An Oak Tree. This is the story of a thousand year old Oak that had watched kingdoms be formed and lost. It's used to make a slave ship that crashes off the American shores and continues it's journey as driftwood before it's on to the campfire and beyond.

When this album was made Jonathan was nearing the end of an intensive 3 week/19 shows tour. He found himself in a little room, surrounded by ear-selected local artists and with Ken Whitely there to capture a 6 hour session with the Foggy Hogtown Boys that resulted in this beautiful piece of Americana. Ain't it peculiar how it takes Canadians to put the 'oot into American Roots music? (Rick Danko we can still hear you singing.)The songs were done in complete takes and you can tell it would have been just like an informal (but technically proficient) jam with the tapes rolling.

Reckon I Did is a post-drinking song and what can go wrong when the lights go out.

The eternal hope one sees in a new born child is at the heart of New Moon Rise . Back to hillbilly slice of life in Dungarees Overalls followed by a tale of coming to fully appreciate your father, warts and all but perhaps a little too late, the bitter-sweet Father's Day.

More with the trees in White Oak Wood . Scuppernong celebrates the unique species of grape found on the shores of North Carolina, first cultivated over 400 years ago, where they've been part of the culture since before those ponies showed up on the islands.

And now, the national anthem of North Carolina, Cackalack!

Chicken Wire
Wild Ponies
I Was An Oak Tree
Reckon I Did
New Moon Rise
Dungarees Overalls
Father's Day
White Oak Wood

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