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Tag Archives: Tradition

Lindi_Ortega_Press_Photo_Credit_Julie_Moe_3

Refreshing Classics And New Traditions

By James Keelaghan
It should be no surprise to you that with a name like Keelaghan, I know a bit about Celtic flavoured music. It might surprise you that it’s not the fiddle in Irish trad that really gets me going — it’s the tenor banjo.

There is a whole twisted and fascinating history of how the banjo got into Irish music, but however it got there, I think the music is the better for it.

For a number of years, the tenor banjo all but disappeared from traditional celtic music. In the ballad heavy 50s and 60s, the five-string banjo was king. But with the trad revival of the 70s, it came roaring back. Kieran Hanrahan of Stockton’s Wing and Mick Moloney brought it to the fore. I was backpacking in Ireland in 1979 at the height of the revival and the sound of the tenor banjo was the soundtrack of my travels.

It went out of fashion for a while, but there’s been another renaissance, though the resurgence has been mainly in Canada. Composers like the late Jean-Paul Loyer and players like Darren McMullen, who was with us last year as part of Còig, have been bringing it back.

Which brings me to The East Pointers, who are joining us for the first time at Summerfolk this year. The East Pointers are a wicked band. Wicked! Tim Chaisson is surely one of the finest fiddlers on the planet, and a great songwriter in his solo career. Jake Charron is a rock-solid rhythm guitar player-like a machine, he drives the tunes forward. And then, there is the tenor banjo player, Koady Chaisson. His playing is staccato, but it isn’t square. It pushes and it pulls, but it never drags. When all three instruments suddenly land on the melody line, it’s electric, played with a precision that is at odds with the laid-back look of the group. You wonder how much they must have played in order to be so pristine. They don’t play it sitting down, either, which is also a change. It adds to the raw energy of their sets.

The East Pointers

The East Pointers

Here’s the best thing—all the tunes are new. There are no old chestnuts, but every single tune sounds like it’s already a part of the tradition. It helps that the Chaissons (Tim and Koady are cousins) are one of the dynastic musical families on PEI. There have been at least seven generations of musical Chaissons on the island. While the taste in the family has always run to the Scottish, The East Pointers have brought in the Irish and the French to create a sound that not only raises the roof, but rattles the floor. Add Tim working on a stomp box and the pickup system that allows Jake to play bass as well as guitar—it is innovation-advancing tradition at its very best.

I get excited about music that has a bloodline that goes along with the melody line. Music that knows where it came from is inherently more interesting than a flavour of the week, or music from an artist that is dipping a toe into a genre.

Lindi Ortega is serious about the bloodline of country music. Last year she wrote an article partly in response to some things that Blake Shelton said. Specifically his contention that, “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music” and his reasoning that sales are the only measure of good country music. What bugged Ortega was that Shelton’s solution to making country more popular is that commercial country music is now a …“bro country” domain. It is a world full of frat boys, partying and drinking, and making sure their women wear tight jeans and are referred to as “girl”.

She summed it up beautifully. “Gone are the days of originality, not only in style but in songwriting. In that classic era you could tell the difference between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Artists were easily discernible and legends arose because of their unique qualities that made them not only country music legends, but revered and respected all over the world.”

Lindi_Ortega_Press_Photo_Credit_Julie_Moe_3

Ortega is nothing if not discernible. She doesn’t fit the mold. You get the feeling that she probably stands out at industry mixers. That’s bound to happen in a world that often mistakes fashion for achievement. In a town that is notoriously hard on artists that are “different”, critics have nothing but praise for her. Universally, the praise refers to her as refreshing. They then point out that the refreshing thing about Lindi is that she has a classic sound and classic sensibility.

Her songwriting style is confessional, but not self-indulgent. In this, she is solidly in the bloodline of country music. She writes and sings stories that are missing from mainstream commercial country. She’s not singing about pick-ups and beer. It’s about heartache and being from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s about good women and bad choices.

Her singing voice is true, but has rough edges. It’s a voice with character, easily identifiable. If you HAD to make a comparison to a voice from the classic generation, I’d choose Kitty Wells singing It wasn’t God that made Honkey Tonk Angels.

She’s been known to play some classic covers during her sets, but like The East Pointers, she’s really all about moving the tradition forward. To make people realize that their grandpa’s music was pretty good, and that’s the standard you have to write to.

The refreshingly classic Lindi Ortega and new tradition of The East Pointers will be gracing the stages of the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival on August 19, 20, and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. There’s more info at summerfolk.org.

Fruitful artists have roots in tradition

Joel Plaskett

Joel Plaskett

By James Keelaghan

Several years ago, I was teaching at a music camp in New Jersey. I had a group of about 16 songwriters as students. On the first night they invited me down to a songwriters’ circle at one of the cabins. I went, stayed for one round through the circle, and said my “good nights”. I then went and played for two hours with the contra dance band.

The next day, they asked what I thought about the circle. My inner Canadian was still asleep and instead of being polite, I said what was on my mind. I told them that the best thing they could do as songwriters was to go back home and find a traditional band to play with-traditional Irish, traditional Rock and Roll, it didn’t matter. They were writing songs that had no tie to any tradition, except a singer songwriter tradition. To write better songs, they had to grow some roots. Case in point-Joel Plaskett.

Joel is a node. He’s one of these people who works well with others. He has written the occasional song with Matt Andersen. He produced the latest James Hill CD. He’s recorded and performed with Rose Cousins and Anne Egge. He’s played everything from orchestral shows to Cafes. Later this month, he’ll be performing as part of the Interstellar Allstars for the Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton with Kathleen Edwards and Luke Doucet. He clearly likes to play. He likes to explore and bring people along for the ride.

Joel has spent most of his career in bands-Nabisco Fonzie, The Thrush Hermits, Neuseiland and his eponymous Joel Plaskett Emergency. Lately, he’s been appearing more as a solo or a duo. It allows him to be more nimble, to switch up the material. He’s a great live performer, relaxed and comfortable. His melodies are catchy. Though he has dabbled in a lot of styles musically, his lyrics maintain a consistent conversational tone. There’s a lot of storytelling.

Joel has enjoyed and is enjoying the kind of success that independent artists aspire to. Great sales, sold out concerts, nominations and awards are all fruits of hard work and talent. But there is something else.

Joel is, in fact, a poster child for the value of exposing kids to live music.

Before moving to Halifax, Joel grew up in Lunenburg Nova Scotia.The town is the embodiment, in wood and stone, of what every Canadian imagines Nova Scotia to be. Trim wooden houses rise up from the harbour. It looks prosperous because it was. The Bluenose is the most famous of the vessels that was built in that harbour, but she was only one of thousands born in Lunenburg’s cradles. In the mid 1800s, there could be as many as 18 vessels under construction at a time. There may be busloads of tourists now posing before the picturesque, but it’s still a working harbour.

Joel’s father, Bill Plaskett, is a musician in his own right. He was one of the founders of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. On festival weekend the town is dominated by the tent atop Blockhouse Hill, the highest point in town. Music also happens on the docks on the waterfront.

From the beginning, the festival was plagued by a lack of accommodation for the musicians. Volunteers and members of the board offered their houses as billets. Kitchen parties at the Plaskett house during the festival were a big event, but there was live music in the house all year round. Joel did not learn to be a musician in isolation, it was part of the fabric of his youth.

Evalyn Parry, who is going to be with us at Summerfolk this year, puts it this way

I was raised in a tradition: squeeze boxes in the kitchen.
Heads thrown back, call and response, feet stomping, gut strings thrumming.
Believing in the songs I was raised with .
Songs sung from festival stages, around campfires…
You can circumnavigate the globe in song, but you know you are home
When you know all the words

That’s why Nova Scotia, or Winnipeg, or the Ottawa Valley continue to produce consistently great musicians. There is a tradition of music being part of the everyday fabric of life.

That’s essentially what I was trying to say to that group of writers in New Jersey. They had some catching up to do. You don’t write good songs unless you come out of some sort of tradition. The more music you are exposed to in your youth, the better you will be. Luckily, it’s never too late to have a great childhood.

Joel Plaskett will be playing in the amphitheatre at Kelso Beach on Friday, August 21. He will do a workshop on Saturday Morning at 11AM with James Hill and Steve Poltz. They are just three of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival August 20-23. Tickets and information can be found at summerfolk.org.

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