Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Grand Tradition: Danny Medakovic's Jolley Cut

It was the day after life changed in Hamilton, Ontario. On the Friday, there was a giant mudslide onto the highway, caused by a broken water main. Traffic was crazy. It took an hour to get through an intersection! Then Saturday, the McMaster Marauders played in the Vanier Cup. A really, really tall Carabin stood up just as our kicker let fly a field goal attempt that would have put Mac in front with only a minute to go. And on Sunday, an illegal block 10 yards away from the play cost us a Grey Cup when a ninety yard run back for a touchdown was called back. Life stopped. The breath of half a million Hamilton and area Tiger-Cat fans just…stopped. There is no joy in Mudslide-ville. On this…the day after…there’s nothing to do but listen to some good old Hamilton folk music and put all that other stuff behind us.

Danny Medakovic lives down the street from me. For a couple of years now, whenever he has a new project, I find a copy of it in my mailbox with a note that says ”if you’re still reviewing…” And here I am, still reviewing, so let’s have a listen to Danny Medakovic’s new CD Jolley Cut. The Jolley Cut is a road in Hamilton. It runs from the top of the escarpment at Wellington Street in a nice wide curve down to Arkledun Ave. and finally John Street. I took it on Friday night when I picked up some family members from the St. Joseph’s hospital emergency. It’s named after James Jolley a 19th century saddlemaker and politician who paid for its construction. I wasn’t feeling very jolly when I drove down it on that Friday night, but that’s down to the traffic problems, and the mudslide. Danny last put out his own CD in 2002 and then spent six years creating anthology albums of local singer/songwriters for a fundraising project called Out of the Cold. The three albums he produced raised $25,000 to feed and shelter the homeless. Many of the artists who contributed to those collections have gone on to release their own albums, now it’s Danny’s turn. He surrounds himself with a band of Hamilton and area musicians including guitarist Mike Trebilcock, Carrie Ashworth on bass, drummer Marshall Bureau and on pedal steel Chris Altmann. Medacovic plays mandolin, banjitar, guitars and a variety of other things. There are horns too.

The songs are all written by Danny and feature lyrics that are that kind of singer-songwriter poetry where they mean one thing to me and something else to the poet. That’s not to say they’re bad…on the contrary, they are thoughtful and thought provoking. Sometimes they echo words that have appeared in other songs, making a quick link back to some influences that I’m not even sure exist. For instance the lead-off track is called “Big Yellow Moon.” If that doesn’t cause an automatic jump to June, croon and spoon then it must send you to the Neville Brothers! But this is a totally different way of looking at things. “Big yellow moon, shine like the sun, nice try moon, nice try yellow one, well you’re too dim to make the garden grow, but I like the way you light up my way home.” Gotta like a twist like that over a jaunty shuffle. “The Hardest Part” might be about making the record, but it sounds more like a breakup song. “The hardest part is knowing where to start, I’m stuck here at the hardest part.” Medakovic has a pleasant voice, not particularly powerful or memorable, but he finds the melody and delivers it and the band backs him well, with Altmann on pedal steel often driving things along. “The Turning of the Wheel” is about life moving on and Danny’s mandolin is the main instrument here, over a steady drum beat. The title track is a love song with the writer’s confession spray-painted on the escarpment wall along the “Jolley Cut”. People are always painting stuff up there. He wonders if the words can be read all the way across town.

The album features a dozen of Medakovic’s songs all adding to the giant catalogue of songs about love and loss in the grand tradition of songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. The difference? Well he uses the same three or four chords, he sings about the same truth, but he adds references that take you right back home instead of pointing to Austin Texas Chili Parlors. If Medakovic went to a chilli parlour he’d be sure to spell it with a “u”! It’s great to have local music for a change. Hamilton is rich with bands and songwriters. A trip to a local record shop will provide you with a broad selection of local artists. Start with Danny Medakovic and then stretch out to a little Tongue Fu, or Harlan Pepper. But make sure you keep the “Jolley Cut” in sight!

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas, Ontario with his wife.

No comments:

Post a Comment