Here is a link to a short performance that Margo and I did on KXT in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy.
We’re Canadian so we find it unseemly when someone toots their own horn, but every now and then you come across a review and you think (while giving the old Tiger Woods fist pump), “yes, we really got through to someone….”. Here is a current review from My Old Kentucky Blog.
Truth be told, Cowboy Junkies have never done much for me. It’s not like I harbor a grudge against the Timmins clan. Margo Timmins has great pipes, and I have great admiration for the painstaking recording process they utilized on 1988’s The Trinity Session. I guess it’s just that I’ve always just found something I wanted to hear more than or instead of the Cowboy Junkies; to me, they are like a conventionally attractive woman in a room full of supermodels and circus freaks.
And now Renmin Park is making me look like a fool.
A little background: Renmin Park (get it June 15th from the band’s own Latent Recordings label) is the first of four new releases the band will drop in the next eighteen months, known collectively as The Nomad Series, and was inspired by guitarist Micheal Timmins’ three month stay in China with his family in 2008. Timmins strategically introduces homemade field recordings to the band’s signature sound, creating an aural landscape that feels equal parts Mitchell Froom and Alan Lomax. Against this backdrop is set a loose song cycle chronicling the lives of a star-crossed young couple in the Chinese town of Jingjiang. Nothing earth shattering, but setting this familiar tale in an exotic and largely misunderstood culture gives the record surprising emotional depth. Longtime fans will find plenty of familiar terrain (Margo Timmins’ husky vocal delivery, tasteful arrangements and impeccable performances) and I suspect that lead single, Stranger Here, will be the unofficial soundtrack to countless weekend adventures this summer, but Renmin Park also benefits greatly from the inclusion of two cover songs by Chinese artists, I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side by Zuoxiao Zuzhou (of ZXZZ) and My Fall by Xu Wei.
The ultimate triumph of Renmin Park is Michael Timmins’ ability to create a cohesive record that feels simultaneously common and extraordinary. Subsequently, the album’s ballads are the real stars. The title track, a universal meditation on discontent, establishes the sustained somberness of the record that is only momentarily overcome by songs like Stranger Here. A Few Bags Of Grain packs so much pathos that it is easy to miss the scathing critique of China’s gender politics, but Zuzhou’s I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side is the number I return to time and again. This harrowing and hypnotic song perfectly encapsulates the paranoia and oppression left in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution and the June Fourth Incident, and suggests that Zuzhou may have a couple Leonard Cohen records in his collection. It’s also proof-positive that a great song is a great song, regardless of the language. Trust me, you’re going to see Renmin Park on more than a few critics’ Best of 2010 lists.
Renmin Park will be followed by Demons, an entire record devoted to the songs of the band’s late friend, Vic Chesnutt. The final two installments of The Nomad Series are Sing in My Meadow (theme TBD) and The Wilderness, a full album of new Cowboy Junkie originals, many of which are already making their way into the band’s live repertoire. There are also plans for a lushly illustrated book that will delve into the character, nature, and inspiration behind each of the albums. Finally, the band’s website has been complete redesigned to serve as a portal into the creative process of The Nomad Series, and will feature demos, rough mixes and outtakes from the project as it progresses. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. Nothing like eating crow courtesy of Cowboy Junkies.
Here’s another great review (stereosubversion.com) for Mary Gauthier’s new album. If you haven’t heard it yet please take a listen and if you like it…please buy it….
“For as long as she’s been making music, Mary Gauthier has been a storyteller; her records take song seriously, but the details of time and place, of character and theme, even more so. She’s a folk singer in the old-school vein, a troubadour who makes art from the people and places in her life. Look, if you will, to a song like “Mercy Now,” with its intimate character sketches sewn together by the broader tale of God and humanity. Or perhaps “Snakebit,” her terrific revamping of Flannery O’Connor’s savage stories of violence and grace. She tells the story of one of Americana’s great lost figures in “The Last of the Hobo Kings,” and of a whole city in her post-Katrina New Orleans wake, “Can’t Find the Way.”
And the more stories she tells, the more it becomes clear that they’re really all different parts of the same story — the story of her characters, and herself, struggling to find home. The theme dogs her work just as surely as the grim dark figure of the Divine haunts O’Connor’s work, as surely as Tom Waits is drawn to boozehounds and street rats — and if you know her own life story, you can understand why. Abandoned by her birth mother, left in an orphanage until she turned fifteen, turned into the streets to live the life of a wandering musician, ultimately rejected by the birth mother she spent her life tracking down, Gauthier’s whole life has been a search for home.
Not that she seems like the type to put it so simplistically. Her new album, The Foundling, is, finally, the telling of her own story. It is, in many ways, the album all her others have been leading toward, and it’s impossible not to hear echoes of her past characters in these new songs. Here, though, they’re not just stories, they’re autobiography.
Thankfully, Gauthier has enough self-respect to avoid the pitfalls of what an autobiographical album usually entails. She tells her story in gritty detail, but there’s no self-pity, no resentment, no wallowing in sadness. There’s no psychoanalysis, either, and thank God — though she does draw some matter-of-fact links between her past and her chosen craft, noting that the singer can draw on the “kindness of strangers” in place of familial ties. She allows her songs — her story — to drift naturally toward the big questions, and so The Foundling is something much more than a squeamishly-detailed account of a rocky childhood; it’s an album about identity, about self-realization, about who we are and the forces that make us that way. It’s about family, and it’s about grace.
Gauthier recorded the album in Canada, but its musical roots remain in a sort of gothic Americana. What it isn’t, though, is the Spartan blues outlines of the album she made with producer Joe Henry; this one she made with Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and while this work is obviously inspired by the sound she explored with Henry, Timmins actually improves on it. It’s a spirited set: the musical idioms employed here are the well-traveled forms of folk and country-blues, appropriate given the sort of weariness of the story told, but there’s a real energy and drive to this set, a sense of pacing that befits the album’s narrative thrust. There is a fullness to it, as well: Timmins employs gypsy violin on several cuts to create a sort of whimsy that makes a nice contrast with the heaviness of the lyrics, and he knows both when to leave things spare and airy — to let the words speak for themselves — and when to decorate the set with some tasteful adornment, as on the album highlight “Sideshow” — a woozy, tipsy fusion of honkytonk with New Orleans brass, and a scene-setting piece that tips its hat to Gauthier’s Louisiana roots.
Gauthier’s story is a sad one, but the way she tells it, it’s hopeful, as well. The sheer beauty of this recording is a testament to that; the way it makes something artful and profound from such grim circumstances is evidence of grace at work, in and through this music, and that alone makes The Foundling a special, one-of-a-kind recording — one that examines and interprets the real-life story of a scarred but resilient human being, and does it in a way that honors both her and her listeners.”
I hope everyone is enjoying the album. Over the past month or so I have been blogging about some of the inspiration behind the album and if you missed some of those blogs, and are interested, you can catch up by clicking on the links below. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting about the specific inspiration behind some of the individual songs. So be sure to check back in.
I had the great pleasure of producing Mary Gauthier’s new album, The Foundling, this past winter. It’s an intensely personal collection of songs, best described in her own words:
I was born to an unwed mother in 1962 and subsequently surrendered to St. Vincent’s Women and Infants Asylum on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where I spent my first year. I was adopted shortly thereafter but left my adopted family at fifteen. I wandered for years looking for, but never quite finding a place that felt like home. I searched for, found, and was denied a meeting with my birth mother when I was 45 years old. She couldn’t afford to re-open the wound she’d carried her whole life, the wound of surrendering a baby. The Foundling is my story.
Working with Mary on these songs and talking about the stories and the issues that revolved around them allowed me to finally focus on and conceptualize the album that became Renmin Park. It was an intense and wonderful experience. Latent Recordings has the great honour of representing The Foundling in Canada. Here are some links to some early reviews of the album.
Take a listen to the album for free and if you like what you hear buy a copy.
Finally it is here, our new album Renmin Park. This is the only place that you can buy the album, for the time being. It will be made available for wider release in mid-June. But for now, we sure could use your support. The player to the right will stream the entire album free of charge. You can also post the player on your own Facebook or My Space page or share it with anyone that you feel might be interested in the album (just click the share button on the player). We are also now offering the Clubhouse Subscription which includes Renmin Park and all of the other downloadable music on this site and much more, so please click on the “Clubhouse Subscription” panel above to get all the details. If you choose to purchase Renmin Park as a digital download you can do so as a high-end 320 mbps MP3 or as an Apple Lossless MP4 (both are compatible with itunes) or in the high fidelity FLAC format (the download also includes all of the lyrics and some of the charts. Please don’t choose FLAC unless you are familiar with the format); If you choose to purchase it as a CD it will be mailed out to you no later than May 3rd, but in the meantime we will send you a code which will allow you to download the album immediately (no more waiting, this is the modern world, after all).
We are very proud of this album. It is pretty dense from a lyrical, musical and conceptual point of view. Like most of our music, it requires time and patience (which we know are rare commodities in this day and age). But if you’ve come this far with us, we figure that you are up for the challenge. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
P.S. If you have missed the blogs about Renmin Park and its genesis, just enter “Renmin Park” in the “Junkies Blog Search” window to the right.
Most of the music that I heard in Jingjiang was uninspired Taiwanese pop and Euro-pop, blaring from tinny speakers in every shop and out of every taxicab window. The most interesting music was found in the parks, where the traditional music was played. On most Sunday’s I would head down to Renmin Park and sit in this tiny pavilion that was home to a music club that performed music from the Beijing opera. Depending on the time of day, different musicians would be there with their erhus, pipas, shangxians and various percussion instruments. There was never any shortage of singers. Each would wait their turn and then stand up and belt out some song written long ago about love lost, stolen or betrayed. Most of the players were great, most of the singers were not so great, but they all approached the music with such passion. There were a few singers that seemed head and shoulders above the others, at least to these untrained ears. I was always welcomed with much fanfare. A seat was made available (after a few visits they knew that I preferred to sit in the back) and tea was poured and someone always made sure that my cup was full. No one in the “club” spoke any English and all I could master in mandarin was “happy new year”, so no words were exchanged, but none of that mattered. I recorded dozens of performances.
About half way through our stay I caught a lucky break. I was introduced to young man by the name of Eric Chen. He spoke excellent English (he learnt it by watching American movies) and he was a music freak. He was also desperate to talk to someone about music, because, as he told me on our first meeting, he was “not only the only person in Jingjiang who had ever heard the music of Radiohead, but the only person who had ever even heard the name Radiohead”. We quickly became friends and we spent a lot of time together. One day there was a knock on the door and it was Chen carrying an, almost portable, stereo system. He also had dozens of CDs with him. My introduction to the Chinese rock scene began in earnest. Chen introduced me to the ground-breaking, emotionally gut wrenching music of He Yong; the dour, introspective sounds of the brilliant Dou Wei; the prog-rock tinged musings of The Tang Dynasty; the melodic Cure-meets-Steve-Earle pop of Xu Wei and the inspired innovative sounds of Zuoxiao Zuzhou (ZXZZ). He introduced me to dozens of more artists that had sprung up on the Chinese rock scene since the ”new openness” of the late 1980’s. He showed me videos of legendary concerts in which some of these artists had performed and cemented their reputations. It was a great awakening for me. Two of the artists that I really became attached to were Xu Wei (but only his first album, as all of us hipsters know full well) and Zuoxiao Zuzhou. There was something about Xu Wei’s guttural voice and simple, haunting melodies that really attracted me and the breadth and unusualness of Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s work still fascinates me today (sort of a Leonard Cohen meets Nick Cave by way of Tom Waits; Zuoxiao Zuzhou contributes a lyric and lead vocal to one of the songs on Renmin Park). We decided to cover a song by each of these artists on Renmin Park (ZXZZ’s “I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side” and Xu Wei’s “My Fall”). Chen translated the lyrics and then I turned those translations into song lyrics. Here are the original songs as recorded by Xu Wei and ZXZZ:
Well its taken me a while to edit this down, but its my first attempt at this sort of thing. Here is my three days of Olympic bliss edited down to ten minutes….
Latent’s latest release by the Hamilton band Huron is officially released in to stores in Canada next week. They got a great review in Toronto’s Now magazine this week : http://www.nowtoronto.com/music/discs.cfm?content=174098
They are on the road for most of the month so if you live in Southern Ontario you should check them out, they’re a great live band. If you haven’t listened to the album and you like great melodic guitar rock..have a listen: