J.P. Cormier is a man with many musical talents. He is a skilled songwriter, a gifted singer, & an extraordinary musician who has accomplished success with more than one instrument. During his long career, he has won many competitions, including the Canadian Open Guitar Championship, the Southern U.S. Fiddle Championship, & the Southern U.S. Banjo Championship. He has also worked with a number of big-name artists and appeared on the ever-popular Grand Ol’ Opry over 24 times. His debut album, Out of the Blue, was released when he was only 16 years old.
Cormier was born in London, Ontario, Canada. When most kids were just starting kindergarten, he was already showing a strong interest in music. Soon that interest proved to be an impressive natural talent. He taught himself to play the guitar. It would only be the first of many string instruments he would master in the coming years.
Not long after Cormier’s ninth birthday, he won his first guitar competition, holding his own against musicians of all ages. He landed his first steady professional job when he was only 14. It was a weekly bluegrass television show called Up Home Tonight. Two years later came the release of a debut album filled with instrumental bluegrass music that showcased his guitar skills. After some time appearing at a number of festivals, Cormier became the mandolin player for the famous bluegrass-gospel group the Sullivan Family. He spent a number of years afterward touring with the group, and with other major artists.
In 1997, Cormier, all grown-up, finally finished a sophomore offering, Another Morning, for his fans. The award-winning recording was followed by a third full-length album, Heart & Soul. Along the way to making a name for himself, Cormier has performed with countless artists, the list reading something like a who’s who in music, including Alan Jackson, Marty Stuart, Bill Monroe, Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Kitty Wells, and many others. If his musical career had crashed to an end with the start of the new millennium, Cormier would still have touched enough parts of the music world to ensure that his legacy lasted long after.
Born among the hearty seafaring folk of Canada’s Halifax, Nova Scotia, Poltz has lived most of his life in Southern California, where the sun treated his rocky Canadian DNA like clothes in a dryer. Naturally a spectrum of cultural and emotional tensions arose and he eventually sought refuge in the art of songwriting, where he tapped into an unforgettable and often horrifying depth of unhinged genius.
Among the music cognoscenti, Steve Poltz is regarded as one of the most talented and prolific songwriters of our time. His songs have been among the longest running ever on the Billboard Top 100 and they regularly appear in movie soundtracks, television shows, and even the odd commercial. His touring schedule is ferocious, ping ponging between continents with enough frequency to earn him manic followings in scores of different accents and languages.
Any musician who has traveled as extensively as Poltz will have their share of colorful road stories, but Poltz’ adventures read like a bucket list. Starting out auspiciously, Poltz recalls meeting Elvis Presley at a small airport and beaming proudly as The King hugged his sister for an inordinately long time. Growing up in Palm Springs, California, he trick-or-treated at Liberace’s house and was Bob Hope’s favorite altar boy. In an alcohol-soaked haze, he infamously accosted David Cassidy, who had summoned him to Las Vegas to write a hit song for the aging Tiger Beat cover boy.
His rich and colorful legacy is the stuff of legend, but it is his distinctive style of songwriting that has caused the world to offer up its stages, clubs, and alleys. Poltz’ sound is entirely unique- from his inhuman fingerstyle techniques to the inimitable melodies that roll from his guitar like cool waterfalls, you know a Poltz song as soon as you hear it. To see Steve to perform live is one of the most entertaining shows a human could ever see. Frenzied, aggressive, hilarious, and heartbreakingly sincere, his live performances have become bona fide events, with sub-cultures popping up all over the globe to entice him to come and tour. As relentless as he is in concert, he is also the guy who famously co-wrote the timeless ballad “You Were Meant For Me” with platinum-selling songwriter Jewel. Of course, because we’re talking about Steve Poltz, it should surprise no one to learn that the song was written on a lazy Mexican beach, where Poltz and Jewel were soon snapped up and sequestered by Mexican Federales and required to witness and eventually assist in a large marijuana bust on the beach. Don’t believe it? See for yourself in the pictures on his web site.
Music fans have adored him since he first fronted the hallowed punk-folk legends, The Rugburns, whose live shows earned the band a following that is best described somewhere between the terms “cult” and “crazed substance-abusing fanatics.” Once touring over 300 days a year, the Rugburns occasionally reunite for wildly popular sold-out shows.
Poltz’ solo body of work is an impressive collection of ballads, rockers and uniquely melodic acoustic numbers that reflect his incomparable style of alternate tunings and savage finger picking techniques. Guitar geeks fall prostrate at his feet trying vainly to learn how to play his stunningly gorgeous and deceptively complex songs. To see him play guitar is a visual feast so frenetic that close proximity to his playing exposes one to risk of seizure.
His albums reflect the depth and expanse of his influences throughout the years (One Left Shoe, Chinese Vacation, Traveling and Unraveling). He has also released a children’s album (The Barn), a performance DVD (Tales From The Tavern) and a collection of other recordings that defy categorization, such as Answering Machine – a 56-track collection of 45 second “songs” culled from his answering machine’s outgoing messages. Neil Young has ranked it as a favorite album.
Steve Poltz’s latest recording project brought him back to Halifax, where he collaborated with Joel Plaskett, an award-winning Canadian songwriter, performer, producer and eminently kindred spirit. The two holed up in Joel’s Scotland Yard studio with a 2 inch,16 track analog tape machine, a 24 hour work ethic, their comfy clothes, and all the mojo they could conjure. The result was Dreamhouse,” Steve’s most accomplished and focused album to date. Critically acclaimed across the globe, it has been singled out by some critics as the 2010 Album of the Year.
His live shows have captivated audiences far and wide with a mix of singing, storytelling, shredding, and the occasional spoken word rants which have been known to incite riots. He can take an audience from laughter to tears and back again in the space of the same song. Steve Poltz transcends the word “talented.” He is unforgettable in all the right ways.
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 right here in the music rich maritime province of Nova Scotia. Here 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.”
“We didn’t want anything to do with it,” says Matt Ellis, who sings and plays guitar in Villages and grew up in Cape Breton. “Our siblings played the fiddle or the pipe—we wanted to play something loud. But it’s in you, man. You can’t escape it.”
That’s how Ellis ended up fronting his own traditional band, along with his brother Travis, Jon Pearo and Archie Rankin, a group of men you may also know as the excellent rock band Mardeen (or as Ellis puts it, “all the same crew”). That band, a longtime local favourite known for ear-hooking melodies and high-octane live shows—Mo Kenney’s 2014 hit “Telephones” is a Mardeen original, from its 2008 debut—began writing acoustic-based, trad-leaning songs a few years back. Less stomp-shout, more swaying-sing-along. Last November, Villages was the hot ticket at Nova Scotia Music Week and production has begun on a full-length album. (The single “Hymn After Hymn,” produced by Joel Plaskett, is up now at thebandvillages.bandcamp.com.)
“In this style of songs, the story is as important as the melody. We’re not trained at all, it’s in the air,” says Ellis. “It’s kinda like, why not? There are two sides of me that are so fun to express. There’s no one thing that I’m proud of or not proud of. But there’s this side of us that we feel is important.”
The rollicking folk of Villages and driving power-pop of Mardeen are so distinct, genre-wise, that the quartet has no problem moving between them in terms of writing or performance, pursuing both projects with equal focus and fervour. Mardeen’s fanbase and indie points do transfer somewhat, making for a Celtic band that’s cool to like. “We have your approval and we have our parents’ approval,” Ellis says. “It’s nice to be either getting people interested in this kind of music—that are our age—and to honour the people that inspired us.” This week’s IDOW show will offer a preview of the album currently in progress in Ellis’ basement, and there’ll be no confusing it for a Mardeen show. “It’s a very obvious thing that when the melody comes to me,” he says, “if it’s full of salt water—oh, that’s Villages.”
Mo Kenney never had that archetypal I-want-to-be-famous moment. But somehow she was always going to make albums, play live and get noticed in her native Canada and way beyond.
Maybe the clues were there in the way she saved up her lunch money to buy records, begged her parents to book guitar lessons for her and made demos in the modest recording facility at a school she wasn’t even attending. Now, Kenney’s brilliantly accomplished ‘In My Dreams,’ one of Canada’s most acclaimed records of 2014, is about to become one of the freshest and most inventive releases on the international stage this autumn.
And stage is the word, because the artist, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, views staying on the road and playing for as many people as possible as her life’s work. The reward is in the recognition she’s enjoying from her discerning album audience.
‘In My Dreams’ is already an award-winning follow-up to Kenney’s much-decorated, self-titled debut of 2012. The new set swiftly secured an ECMA (East Coast Music Award) for Pop Recording of the Year, to sit alongside the same trophy that was bestowed upon its predecessor, which also took a Canadian Folk Music Award for New/Emerging Artist of the Year and no fewer than three Nova Scotia Music Awards.
The sophomore set is produced, as was Mo’s previous album, by Joel Plaskett, the Canadian rock icon who can fairly be described as her great mentor and key creative collaborator. It was recorded in his bespoke studio, New Scotland Yard, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and for his label, New Scotland Records.
In an undeniable progression from the sometimes acoustic folk-pop of the first record, the rockier framework of the new one reflects the fact that Mo is working more often with a band, in the studio as on stage. It’s also a perfect showcase for her incisive lyricism. “That’s something that’s changed a lot from when I started writing, when I guess there was a lot more covering up of the truth,” she says. “I’m more direct now, and I like it that way.”
The album’s flagship song ‘Telephones’ arrives with a suitably engaging and amusing video and provides an imaginative take on the traditional romantic predicament. It was first written and recorded by Canadian East Coast rock band Mardeen in 2008, and suggested by Plaskett as potentially rich material for Kenney. “I don’t think very many people knew of it,” she says. “But it was kind of a perfect fit.”
Mo is now reaping the rewards of the musical inquisitiveness that started at an early age. She’ll happily admit to the poptastic pre-teen period we all go through, when she momentarily favoured Danish hitmakers Aqua. There was even a stage when she was at home to hard rock, in the form of AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne.
But then Kenney realised that instead of just listening to the guitar, she should be playing it. Unlike many artists who were dragged kicking and screaming to their first instrument, she begged her parents to arrange guitar lessons for her. “I’m not sure why I wanted to play guitar so badly,” she says. “I don’t even remember asking my mum to put me in lessons, I was that young.”
When she started to experiment with her music, fate took a hand. “There were a few bands recording at this school in downtown Halifax,” she recalls. “I didn’t go there, but I knew some people who did. They had a little makeshift studio where everybody could just go in and make demos, and Joel came to talk to us one day about the music industry, trying to give us advice on being a musician.”
“So we played him one of our songs each and that was it, he went away. I think that was about 2007, I showed him my song, he really liked it and then I didn’t hear from him. In 2010, I got a call from his manager, who’s now my manager, inviting me to a songwriting camp.”
When Plaskett went on to sign Kenney to his label, she had the platform from which to create that debut album, and to find out about the music business. “It was a huge learning curve,” she admits. “I had an idea in my mind what it was going to be like, and it was totally different. I was just really fascinated by how everything works.”
As well as having toured in Canada with Plaskett, Ron Sexsmith and extensively in her own right, Mo is already no stranger to international audiences. She has played Iceland Airwaves, The Great Escape and Green Man Festival in the UK, where early in 2014, she toured for six weeks with her good friend, Scottish artist, Rachel Sermanni. Kenney is heading back to Britain, Ireland, and Germany in support of ‘In My Dreams.’ The stage is literally set for her.
“Besides writing, the aspect of being a musician that I like most is playing live,” says Kenney. “I love touring, so if I can build up audiences all over the place, then I can stay on the road forever, which is what I want.”
David Francey is a Scottish-born Canadian carpenter-turned-songwriter, who has become known as “one of Canada’s most revered folk poets and singers” (Toronto Star). Born in Ayrshire, Scotland to parents who were factory workers, he moved to Canada when he was twelve. For decades, he worked across Canada in rail yards, construction sites, and in the Yukon bush, all the while writing poetry, setting it to melodies in his head and singing it to himself as he worked.
A truly authentic folk singer, Francey is a documentarian of the working person who never imagined earning a living from his music. But when he was in his 40s, his wife, artist Beth Girdler, encouraged him to share his songs and sing in public. The reaction was instant. His first album Torn Screen Door came out in 1999 and was a hit in Canada. Since then, he has released eleven albums, won three Juno Awards and has had his songs covered by such artists as The Del McCoury Band, The Rankin Family, James Keelaghan and Tracy Grammer.
Francey also had the honour of receiving the prestigious SOCAN Folk Music Award as well as taking home the Grand Prize in both the International Acoustic Music Award and in the Folk category for the John Lennon Songwriting Award.
“David’s straightforward songs tell honest stories of real people and real places. Poetic perception and a keen eye for the heart of the matter are trademarks of the man and his music. His songs and stories are a direct connection for audiences seeking depth and meaning in the day-to-day.” Shelter Valley Folk Festival
David Francey was born in Ayrshire, Scotland where he got his first taste of the working life as a paperboy. At age 10 he was devouring the newspapers he delivered, establishing a life-long interest in politics and world events while developing the social conscience that forms the backdrop of his songs.
He was twelve when his family immigrated to Toronto. He says he can trace his love of the land, the history, and the people of his adopted country to weekend family drives exploring southern Ontario. Music played a large part in these family outings. They sang traditional Scottish tunes as they drove through the Canadian countryside. Dad and sister Muriel sang melody, while mother and David sang harmonies.
His attachment to Canada grew with travel. He hitched across the country three times, then thumbed his way to the Yukon. This attachment surfaces in his songs of rail lines, farms, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He grew to understand the people while working in Toronto train yards, the Yukon bush, and as a carpenter in the Eastern Townships. These experiences colour his first CD, Torn Screen Door, with songs like Hard Steel Mill, Gypsy Boys, and Working Poor and his second, Far End of Summer, with Highway, Flowers of Saskatchewan and February Morning Drive.
In concert David is a singer and a storyteller. His wry humour and astute observations combined with his openhearted singing style have earned him a loyal following.
David lives with his wife, artist Beth Girdler and in the quiet but charming Lanark Highlands in southern Ontario. They are visited often by their son Colin, daughters Amy and Julia and grandkids Tristan and Alice.
Kevin Evans and Brian Doherty have been an integral part of the East Coast music scene for thirty years, twenty-six of those years as the popular duo Evans & Doherty. To capture the essence of an Evans & Doherty performance, take a lively blend of traditional, original and contemporary songs, add a liberal sprinkling of stories and humour, then sit back and enjoy these fine entertainers.
As a songwriter and producer, Kevin has enjoyed many successes. His song “Christmas Memories” achieved platinum status in Canada for John McDermott. He has also had songs recorded by Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, and Canadian legend Stompin’ Tom Connors. Evans & Doherty along with Jimmy Sweeney, have a recording titled “Sailing Ships & Sailing Men”, the musical companion to a one-hour radio program written by the trio and broadcast on CBC’s Atlantic Airwaves. The program deals with life at sea and the songs used by sailors while they worked.
Equally at home in a pub setting, concert hall, festival or convention, Evans & Doherty are first-rate musicians, singers, songwriters, promoters and producers. They also possess the ability to entertain any audience, any place, any time.
Stellar songs, dynamic vocals, and superior musicianship marks the emergence of Port Cities onto the Canadian music scene. An exciting new group from the east coast, Port Cities brings together the award winning talents of Carleton Stone, Breagh Mackinnon, and Dylan Guthro.
The trio began writing together when they met at the Gordie Sampson Songcamp in Ingonish, Cape Breton. The result was a strong friendship and ongoing collaboration as they each released and toured solo albums.
Port Cities has now surfaced as the result of a genuine connection and a shared belief that the music they make together has endless possibilities. The outcome is a rootsy pop sound with an emphasis on powerful harmonies, outstanding songs, and an engaging camaraderie onstage and off.
The members of Port Cities are no strangers to great music, with six [solo] albums released collectively to date and collaborations with the likes of Juno award-winning duo Classified and David Myles, along with Hawksley Workman (Tegan and Sara, Serena Ryder, Great Big Sea), Howie Beck (Feist, Hannah Georgas, Hayden) and Jason Collett (acclaimed singer/songwriter and member of Broken Social Scene).
The band worked with mentor and friend, Gordie Sampson (Carrie Underwood, LeAnn Rhymes, Rascal Flatts), writing and recording for their debut release Port Cities, which just came out.
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Matt Minglewood began his professional music career in the ’70s. He recorded a debut album, a self-titled offering also known as the Red Album, with his own band in 1976. About a dozen other albums followed with the Minglewood Band or solo through the ’80s. During those years, Minglewood earned three gold records and a number of awards for his music, including an East Coast Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
His music is a mixture of blues, rock, and country. At times it seems fitting to label it simple blues-rock, at other time it’s just all Minglewood. Matt Minglewood began his life as Roy Batherson. He was born in 1947 in Moncton, but raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Music was a part of his life from his earliest memories. His grandfather was a fiddler, and a very young Minglewood learned from him, taking up the fiddle when he was barely old enough for school books. Piano lessons came next, then the guitar, and even the organ, with time in between for more popular things like hockey — something he has held on to as long as he has to his music.
Still riding high in the wake of a well-received self-titled EP released last October, folk-pop group Hillsburn is, like many of us, looking forward to a spring and summer of festivals. Plus a full-length album in the fall.
Made up of brother and sister Clayton and Rosanna Burrill, Jackson Fairfax-Perry and main songwriter Paul Aarntzen, the band started playing together after a health scare of Aarntzen’s. A prolific songwriter, he ended up writing a selection of songs for a yet-unformed band at his house in Hillsburn, NS after a hospital stay. Recruiting some friends, the evolution of the band was easy. “It was something that felt really natural, and we all had a lot of fun with it,” says Clayton. “All four of us were sort of in transitional periods, evaluating what we wanted to spend our time doing, and Hillsburn really just presented itself to us.”
Hillsburn’s thoughtful, melodic songs come from Aartzen’s literary background. “Lyrically, [Paul] makes up a lot of first-person stories. He’s also writes fiction, so a lot of our songs end up sounding a little like short stories set to music.”
Though rooted in folk, the band prefers to dodge genres in favour of just doing what sounds best. “We don’t necessarily think of ourselves as working within the folk tradition. I think we adopted the folk-pop label because we play mostly acoustic instruments, many of which are staples of folk and bluegrass—acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo,” says Clayton. “But really these were just the instruments we had kicking around when we started trying to arrange some of Paul’s songs. We also use saxophone, keyboard and ukulele. We’re certainly not folk purists. We have one song that’s just a Rhodes keyboard and three-part harmony. So we tend to use whatever instrumentation sounds best, regardless of what genre the song sounds like as a result.”