Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Roots: LeE HARVeY OsMOND's The Folk Singer & Field Recording by Kevin Breit & the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra


Tom Wilson is one third of Canada’s best alt-country bands, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings. But when he’s not recording or performing with them, he hooks up with Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers) and Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) called, with intentional humor, LeE HARVeY OsMOND. Established in 2009, they consider themselves creators of psychedelic folk, a definition that says everything and nothing about the music they write. (NPR has called their music “acid folk.”) Their latest release is called, The Folk Sinner (Latent).

An intentionally moody record, it's a blend of country-goth with good helping of Mississippi mud to sound “psychedelic.” This is particularly true for "Easy Living" with its steady beat and space-age guitar solo. Tom Wilson's vocals can either frighten or seduce. He has a remarkable capacity to keep you guessing on several tracks, especially "Honey Runnin." But the opening track, written by Gordon Lightfoot, sets the tone for the entire record. “Oh Linda” by Lightfoot is a straightforward cover version of the original: just Wilson and Double Bass accompaniment by Sean Dean. "Oh gal don't ya do me wrong or I'm gonna sing you a goodbye song." Lightfoot offers the threat; Wilson makes good on it.

Wilson offers a sad lament on "Break Your Body" that sounds like a James Brown ballad with its steady pulse on piano and his use of falsetto vocal. It's one of the strongest cuts on the record, nicely paced and nicely mixed. “Deep Water”, written by Josh Finlayson closes the album and it's an inspired choice featuring the second of two duets with Margo Timmins from Cowboy Junkies. It's subtle colours featuring steel guitar, makes it a less-menacing song, unlike the other tracks whose atmosphere is dark and heavy. But the weight of the music is often lifted on some of the up-tempo tracks such as “Devil's Load” which is a great blues number with vibes, no less. Considering that this is only the band’s second album, LeE HARVeY OsMOND is one group deserving wider recognition in spite of the fact that they aren’t a working band.

Kevin Breit is best known as the eclectic sideman for such diverse singers as Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson and Amos Lee. He’s recognized as an excellent guitarist, but lately he's found the confidence to break out in Canada as a singer-songwriter. His latest independent release, Field Recording (Poverty Playlist), offers some fine songs backed by the original sound of the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra. Layers and layers of mandolins perfectly arranged to match Breit's vocals on this set of 11 originals.

The title track pays homage to Alan Lomax, who recorded in the Deep American South and Appalachia. "Boom-chicka-boom" pays tribute to Detroit radio stations that featured R & B music. I also love the duet with Sue Breit on "Nothing About Us," a song about two separate souls lamenting the end of a relationship. In any other arrangement this would be a rather ordinary tune, but with the mandolin orchestra back up, it sounds genuinely interesting to the ear. "Worry Floor" has a Jacques Brel feel to it, as Breit sings, "I'm workin' the worry floor, no more." It's the perfect blend of French cabaret and country blues.

"There Was A Girl" was first heard on the superb 2011 album, Strictly Whatever with Harry Manx. This version is a little more personal to my ear. Field Recording has a good combination of honest charm without the frills. The Upper York Mandolin Orchestra is beautifully mixed and Breit's confident vocals give the album an earthy and inspired result.

- John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Winds Orchestra.

1 comment:

  1. Can anyone write me re the great Harry Manx, Kevin Breit song meaning of "There was a girl" [MR04]