Jaimie Vernon_Viletones Here in Hogtown it’s getting sticky, stinky hot. We still have a phalanx of greenery surrounding our concrete and glass urban centre and with it brings humidity. We burp out carbon monoxide and the trees spit back molten oxygen. The grass grows and the temperature of impatient motorists grows with it. You can mow the grass but you can rarely stop the hot heads that don’t know how to cool off. We hope, we pray, that they head north to cottage country and dissipate that anger amongst the glory of Great Lakes, fir trees and a kegger of Molsons. It prevents murders back here in the city.
Summer banjos For those of us left behind we hunker down with the air conditioning set to Ice Station Zebra and spin tunes. Music is the best legal mood altering substance available. And it’s damn cheap – even if you’re inclined to not pay for it. Rather than falling back on tired old Lovin’ Spoonful and Mungo Jerry classics (which totals all of TWO songs, by the way) I suggest investing a hot, sunny afternoon in the backyard with these new releases:

“Gem” (Pulchrum)
There’s been a lot of street buzz about Ruby Friedman and the ensemble that drives her. To catch readers up to speed Ruby is a singer/songwriter who might be known more by gamers than music fans for her haunting vocals on the song “Hunt You Down” in a SONY PS4 advertising campaign for the game ‘Bloodborne’. An EP in 2015 featured seven of the group’s most requested cover tunes including an unnerving version of “House of the Rising Son” (think Gary Jules’ version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World”) and the Sly & The Family Stone hit “Family Affair” which was co-opted by Amazon TV for their show ‘Transparent’.

The group calls New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York home. By triangulating their bases in this massive music Delta they get to mix business with culture and re-draw the ruby_friedman1preconceptions of what we know about jazz, blues, country and the gumbo that is Acadian, Zydeco/Cajun music. The band’s debut album took two years to record – overlapping with the EP and other opportunities that interrupted the process…including their song “Drowned” being included on the show ‘Sons of Anarchy’.

Gem’ features nine all new originals co-written by Friedman, Nathan Bliss, Gregg Sutton and co-producers Josh Valleau and Nick Page. The tenth track is a cover of the chilling Darrell Scott deep south epic “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” which was used to great effect in the TV drama ‘Justified’.

But that song is only one layer in this sandwich of mixed genres and moods. The cleverly titled “Fugue In L.A. Minor” opens the disc as a muted gramophone-ruby_friedman2compressed 1920’s boozecan piano lament. Imagine if you will Janis Joplin as a flapper ingenue. You gotta hear it to picture it. Ruby & Company waste no time in turning up the heat with the searing Elbow-esque dirty blues gospel of “I’m Not Your Friend”. The tune is screaming for not just a video, but a film to accompany the taste of blood and dust that rises from every cycle of the chorus. It’s incessant. “Cheated” is an extension of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alone” with its ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ dynamics and Ruby’s voice acting as both judge and confessor.  This is followed by “Testify” a perfect mate to “Cheated” with its banjo tinged blues and clip-clopping nags head pace as it furrows the fields like a subdued New Orleans funeral march.

ruby_friedman3On the flipside “Red Light Lullaby” turns the vibe on its head and gives the listener a dreamy, banjo arpeggiated sense of security…one of the few on the album. There are, however, heart rending ballads such as “Ten Minutes” and the modernist approach to being a Millennial with First World problems on “Fairfax Fable”.  Finally, “Lonely Road Symphony Rag” treads impressively close to some of k.d. lang’s finest 1990s work. It’s a hurtin’ song with plenty of heart tugs and soaring vocal gymnastics. It reminds us that country AND western isn’t quite dead – especially when you toss it into a batch of blackened jumbalaya. It’s just lying low and living in the Ruby Friedman Orchestra.

Strange Riders“Strange Rider” (Noah Song)
I stumbled across Noah Zacharin about 5 or 6 years ago at C’est What? in Toronto opening for some friends of mine. Zacharin so impressed myself and my very musically snobbish wife and sister-in-law that none of us recall who the headliner was. Zacharin’s ease and dexterity as both a percussive and finger-picking guitarist and storyteller is mesmerizing. He is often mislabelled as a folk artist. But he’s parts Bruce Cockburn, Ry Cooder and Mark Knopfler which widens that definition to something more in line with World Music, blues, jazz and R & B.

Ensconced in Douglas September’s The Mines studio over two and a half years (an eternity in Zacharin years), Noah took his time to create what can only be described as noahzacharin1a full-bodied release by which he colours well outside his comfort zone. Oh, you’ll hear the influence of his dozens of guitar sounds but his vocal was recorded separate from his instrumental performances as opposed to his preferred simultaneously live off the floor approach in the past. This has allowed him to train his attention fully on both. Among the dozens of musical assists he has tapped for this disc are the talents of legendary Canadian keyboardist Ed Roth, Ken Pearson (Janis Joplin) and Denis Keldie (The Extras), plus brass and woodwinds by Ralph Carney (Tom Waits) alongside a tight rhythm section and plenty of backing vocals.

And what of the songs? Virtuosity without content is a hollow treat and Zacharin proves that he isn’t just a pretty sounding guitar picker. Many of the songs are surprisingly accessible – you’d know this isn’t a critical sleight if you’ve heard his more earthy and gritty previous albums. Noah has brought empathy and gravitas to heartening ballads like “Miss Me When I’m Gone” (probably the most noahzacharin2confessional of all the tunes on the CD), “Night (And There’s Nothing Whole)” and “Fan The Flame” (both very “folksy”) and the Cat Stevens’-like “Woman’s Tears”. But where Zacharin has excelled is moving to the highway and opening the throttle on the grooves. “Find My Baby” is a down and dirty swamp blues buster which evokes images of an abandoned Route 66 gas station somewhere between Yuma, Arizona and Robert Johnson’s crossroads. It reminds me of ‘Boomtown’ era David Baerwald. Similarly, the humid bluesy sleaze of “Can’t Wake Up” and “Gonna Drown” which puts the protagonist in a mood to get fall-down-drunk for no other reason than he feels sorry for himself. And who can’t relate to that?

Zacharin has elevated his game through musical and technical growth. This was certainly a personal journey of enlightenment. Grab this disc, folks, ‘cause it would be a shame to waste that experience. It’s in real time and that’s rare in this cynical music world.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon


  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Another great column!

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