The Room Lights Up
Following 9/11 I predicted a shift in musical focus from disposable mindless pop to the tried and true introspective singer-songwriter genre that had all but disappeared in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s taken a decade for that musical shift to translate at street level. It’s wonderful to see single source blues, folk and acoustic roots music return in full force. I had the pleasure of catching a few tunes by Borins at the Free Times Café last year and was captivated by his story telling and stage craft. He’s an engaging singer who tilts toward the sun, giving uplifting arrangements to all his original material even if the subject matter isn’t necessarily happy. To his credit, he has waited to release his songs on CD over long stretches, patiently crafting original tracks and nurturing them in a live setting. With more than 300 shows to his credit in the last four years (in the Pacific Rim, South America and North America), his songs are suitably road tested.
Putting a live CD out with only one studio LP and EP to one’s credit would seem like an indulgent pretense if it were in the hands of any other artist. But Borins is in his element live and it’s great to have that mechanism in place as a calling card to attract audiences. ‘The Room Lights Up’ was funded by Borins’ fans in 2009. To give them the biggest bang for their buck he booked the Hugh’s Room dinner theatre music venue in Toronto and then assembled a crack band to re-enact and interpret his songs: Blaise Alleyne (violin, vocals), Jordan Safer (slide, harmonica), Angie Hilts (vocals), James Forrest (acoustic & electric basses), and Ryan Granville Martin (drums). Special guests include Mike Hersh (electric bass), Meher Steinberg (Hammond B3 and Wurlitzer) and Jaron Freeman-Fox (violin).
The album bounces along through all of Borins’ stylistic leanings: Fashion Poster and What’s Wrong With You offers up acoustic traditional blues while the title track gives us a New Orleans flavour including a Harry Connick Jr. vocal nod; there’s hooky, sing-a-long folk with Little White Lies, introspective singer-songwriter tomes in Late Night Hero and Poison Tree and the remainder leans toward atmospheric momentum pieces mined in the past by Blue Rodeo, The Rheostatics and even The Bourban Tabernacle Choir. In the hands of Borins and The Hugh’s Room Band, they evoke a sense of wandering and longing. Make sure you keep the road song Last Highway Home until the end. It’s the perfect closer to a great night of entertaining songs.
Looking At A Life…
Andy Griffiths has been around the Southern Ontario music scene for awhile plying his acoustic and electric guitar skills with ensembles fronted by him or in conjunction with others. It’s not unusual to see him around Toronto a few times a week sitting in on jams and open mic nights. Andy’s finally found time put his songwriting and performing skills together in a CD package that elevates his chops on every song. Don’t let the homestyle oil painting of him and his acoustic guitar on the cover fool you. ‘Looking At A Life’ is an electric album in every sense of the word. First impression on spinning the disc is how much radio has missed real hook-filled pop rock. Hamilton’s Dave Rave has been leading the charge in this respect for years (and finally get the recognition stateside), and Griffiths appears to have the goods to carry the ball.
The Stars Will Dance and Hooked are power pop ditties that make you sing along and tap your feet, if not dance. In fact, “Hooked” might be ripe for radio should radio ever decide to play music again. Other tracks like Bare Bones and Don’t Let It Bring You Down allude to Bon Jovi and Mellancamp influences, if distilled by a Canadian roots rocker from the ‘90s like Ray Lyell or Myles Hunter.
Griffiths has emotional heft as well as witnessed by the subtle, more acoustic leaning Bear With Me and She Goes (Thru The Market Place). But the real winner is the folky, anthemic Lend A Hand which could easily pass as a Gordon Lightfoot song. It’s rolling, dynamic and mesmerizing.
Griffiths is nearly a one-man guitar band on this release but knows when to add prime players to the mix for variety depending on the feel of the tracks. Hamilton veteran drummer Ray Farrugia, guitarist Frank Koren, bassist Russ Boswell and the brilliant finger picker Noah Zacharin all bring Griffith’s tracks to life. There’s also contributions from Toronto keyboarist-about-town Lawrie Ingles as well as backing vocals by legendary singer Astrid Young.
Looking forward to seeing Griffiths pull this material off live. It’ll be toe-tappingly groovy!
Be on the look-out for Jumple – either live or through their new album “Jigy-Jigy”. This is some seriously demented, hook-filled, Cat-in-the-Hat nonsensical fun. I can only describe it as Captain Beefheart meets Jaymz Bee’s The Look People if they were a Klezmer Band. Caught the rough mixes for an upcoming EP by 1970s pop crooner Peter Foldy this week. It features a version of his 1970s hit “Roxanne” slowed down like Neil Sedaka did with his own teen pop hit “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. There is also a song called “Carly” on it that I predict will be picked up by radio and any number of TV shows or commercials. It’s the next in the contemporary style of ukele pop sweeping your TV screens right now.
NEXT WEEK: Gunn, Sal Piamonte and more!