BTW- Begonia, Gabrielle Giguère, Hypoluxo, Alejandra Ribera, Allbut6ix

Gabrielle Giguère

Submitted by Lenny Stoute
Photo at right: Gabrielle Giguère

Even though Begonia, aka Alexa Dirks, didn’t officially release a collection of music last year, 2016 was still a big one for the Winnipeg-based musician. Known for her voice in the JUNO Award winning, harmony-driven group Chic Gamine, Dirks was recently featured on CBC’s National Canada 150 New Year’s Eve broadcast, performing live with The Bros. Landreth. Also, NPR listed her as one of the Ten Canadian Artists You Need To Know, CBC Music called Begonia one of the Best New Bands of 2016, Line Of Best Fit included her in their 50 Best Deep Cuts of 2016 list, and “Juniper” reached #1 on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20.

She's gonna follow all that with Lady In Mind, due Feb.10. The collection of songs forming the album lets the extremes of Dirks’ past and present coalesce into a sound that is both battle hymn and breakbeat body mover, incorporating themes confident in and of themselves, and yet sometimes caught in the middle. Dirks finds herself in a similar situation to the Begonia plant itself, in one instance - rough around the edges, and in another - petite and elegant. In between the plant attempts to harmonize its two poles, trying to find a balance. The result is Dirks’ timbre which recalls the golden age of soul, proud and courageous.

Teaser track “I Don’t Wanna (Love U)”, is a song about “not fully understanding how to let go of someone while also understanding that you can't and shouldn't have them in your life anymore,” says Dirks. “A few years ago Matt Schellenberg sent me this sample idea he had been working on and we sat down and wrote the lyrics together. I was going through a messy breakup at the time and liked the idea of having more aggressive and emotional lyrics against such an upbeat production backdrop. It's basically the best I could do at writing a ‘diss-track’. I'm not very good at confrontation, or ‘diss-tracks’.”

Joined in studio by producers Matt Schellenberg (Royal Canoe) and Matt Peters (Royal Canoe, Close Talker), title track “Lady In Mind” is guided along by 90s synth waves over top of a warm rhythm section, questioning what it means to be woman. Raised on a healthy dose of religion, the rhapsodic church organs and gospel clap alongs of Dirks’ formative years are blended with staccato static beats on “Juniper”.“Out Of My Head” has a big, swelling sound in support of a blue-collar rebel yell, while the paean to indecisiveness “Hot Dog Stand” plays with whether or not it’s fine to be alone.

“Mostly, these songs are about love in different forms,” says Dirks. “Some of them stem from a pretty important and bad breakup, but they're not all about my relationships with men. They are about my relationship to myself as a woman and the others around me while I try to understand the joy, anger, and restlessness that fits into my life. It's like a second puberty, my body is changing, my mind is changing, and I know I'm not the only one who can relate to this journey. I want people to listen to this music and feel empowered. I especially want women who feel a little awkward and lost in their day to day life to feel like they are not alone.”

Having spent much of the last ten years on tour, the tracks on Lady In Mind were penned on the road or during brief stops at home in Winnipeg. The layering of acoustic instruments with modern synths, and the duality found in both her songwriting and the name Begonia are very much informed by the way in which Dirks finds herself in everyday life - a young, bold woman who, sometimes to her own chagrin, prefers a grandmother’s aesthetic of fake flowers and doilies. Compounded by Dirks’ musical upbringing of 90s R&B, 70s folk, and Fiona Apple each taking up equal space in her discman, this leaves her trying to bridge the gap between old and new, between fire and ice. Entangled in the middle of it all, we find Begonia, the place and sound where Dirks is most comfortable, yet still questioning how it is she ended up there.

Jan 19 - Regina, SK - Winterruption
Jan 20 - Saskatoon, SK - Louis’ Pub
Feb 6 - London, ON - London Music Hall
Feb 7 - Peterborough, ON - Red Dog
Feb 8 - Montreal, QC - La Vitrola
Feb 9 - Toronto, ON - The Drake
Feb 10 - Hamilton, ON - Mills Hardware
Feb 11 - Stittsville, ON - (SOLD OUT)
Feb 12 - Guelph, ON - Hillside Inside
Mar 3 - Winnipeg, MB - West End Cultural Centre (SOLD OUT)

Here's the quirk album of the week, Go Gently Into The Night, the sophomore album from Ottawa area roots vocalist Gabrielle Giguère out Feb 3. Quick sizeup, if you're into old timey deep roots, Cold Specks and Lee Harvey Osmond you're gonna love this woman.

The word from the lady: "I wrote Go Gently Into The Night at a time where I felt followed by death and believed I needed to reconcile with it in order to accept it as a character of growing importance in my life. Writing has often been a medium I use to sort through and make something good of what would otherwise be plainly difficult.

Chime and Knell” is about the juxtaposition of life and death in the spring. I began writing it in the last stretches of the winter, when the snow was first melting and the dormant land was beginning to thaw. In a season that had always seemed abundant with life, I felt haunted by death; I saw it in the landscape and everything that surrounded me. I ultimately found peace in understanding the importance of loss to life renewing itself and hoped to convey that sentiment with “Chime and Knell”.

To date, Giguère has no plans for a Spring tour but she'll be all over the festival circuit come summer, with gigs at Ottawa Bluesfest and Hillside Fest already inked.

HypoluxoHypoluxoYou know you're a hometown booster at the Drake level when you name the band after the little backwater burgh from which it came. Such is the case with Floridians Hypoluxo, who've just dropped the If Language album.

With Hypoluxo’s hypnotic, nodding melodies, on If Language, their first full-length, the band creates a soundscape in which one can escape, choose to completely lose oneself, or maybe just bob with the waves .

It’s impossible, however, to sink while listening to Hypoluxo; buoyant and bright, each song on If Language possesses a modest sort of upward momentum, especially on songs like “Search and Rescue,” whose shimmering, sun-dappled guitars and hushed organs send the listener floating down some slow rolling river. Not even singer and guitarist Samuel Cogen’s deep voice or dubious lyrics drag the song down; instead, they work like mellow propellers, stirring up the song, pushing it along. Even “Hometown,” which seems antsier than the others (Cogen sings, “It’s getting cold, better layer up / Better layer up, but it’s never enough / This house is never enough”), features a drum part that pecks and pops and adds a pep to an otherwise ominous song.

That said, If Language’s airy spirit is a result of its spaciousness—the layers of guitars and keyboards, the echo and retro reverb, the sweep and swell that unburden each song. During climactic choruses in “In My Head It’s All Sand” and “Sidewalk,” all the instruments blur and blend, become a droning, cyclonic updraft of swirling chords and wiggling leads, whirring rhythms and mumbling melodies, breaths and heartbeats that bury Cogen’s baritone and build the song into a noisy sandstorm. It’s the album’s title track that best uses noise to create space and peace; simple and sparse, blinding and beautiful, “If Language” is so clean, using only solid chords and rays of sound as a bed for Cogen’s lyrics: “I wish I could talk / like all my friends do / I wish I could talk.”

It’s this combo, the expansive, spirited, simple soundscape, that makes Hypoluxo’s music so intoxicating, but it’s the band’s laid back execution that makes these songs so interesting. After all, If Language is comprised of songs whose melodies and mood and idle momentum construct the perfect soundtrack to our unconsciousness, but will keep us listening, attentive and alert, long after we should have slipped into sleep.

Alejandra RibieraAlejandra RibieraNext week, Alejandra Ribera will release her sophomore album, This Island, via Pheromone Recordings. The acclaimed songwriter is sharing the record with listeners ahead of the release date courtesy of CBC Music. This Island continues the exploration of luminescence which began with her debut album, La boca - this time leaving the depths of mythological waters and delving firmly into the experience of the human heart. Ribera will support her new album with a string of tour dates in Canada beginning February 23.

Due January 27, This Island was recorded at a studio in rural Ontario where she and the band lived and recorded in the depths of winter. “Thirty-five centimetres of snow fell on our first night,” says Ribera. “I’d often be singing facing the lake which was completely frozen over through the window.” That vast Canadian landscape is audible from the opening track and woven throughout much of the album. Reminiscent of early Damien Rice in its delicate and spacious arrangements we also hear the influence of contemporaries like Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple in This Island’s sophisticated melodies. Ribera's reputation for raw and emotive vocals has brought repeated comparisons to Tom Waits from the critics over the years. In “Blood Moon Rising” she harnesses that palpable intensity right to the hem with an almost athletic ability that leaves hairs standing on end.

This Island also brings us Ribera’s most accessible and up-tempo songwriting to date, perhaps the feature that most distinguishes it from her previous work. “After my first year of living in France I found myself writing little hymns of gratitude and hearing anthem-like choruses in my head. I think it was a subconscious way of lifting my own spirits when I was feeling homesick. When it came time to record those songs I wanted to have as much fun as possible. Exploit the joy! That’s why I asked Bryden Baird (Feist) to write the horn arrangements – he has this magic touch, it makes you grin.”“Carry Me,” “Will Not Drown,” and Led Me To You” (which runs seven verses deep and reads like a Leonard Cohen poem set to a bluegrass jam) are probably the best examples of this new-found unabashed levity. And then there are her trademark heart-breaking lyrics that cut to the quick with love songs likeThe Undertow” and Undeclared War” –‘ The words you left metastasized, I cannot breath my hands are tied…’ swelling and subsiding in lush waves of strings, acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.

Equal parts subtle and nourishing, all these elements were carefully crafted with her long time collaborators and Montreal-based band Jean-Sebastien Williams and Cédric Dind-Lavoie. With their talent in tow Ribera has created This Island, a place she invites us to visit, to dream and to celebrate that light that she is seeking wherever she goes.

Feb 23rd - Quebec City, QC - Théâtre Petit-Champlain
Feb 24th - Jonquières, QC - Côté Cour
Feb 28th - Montreal, QC - Club Soda (MTL en Lumiere)
Mar 4th - Sutton, QC - Salle Alec & Gérald Pelletier
Mar 9th - Sorel-Tracey, QC - Marine Cabaret
Mar 15th - Toronto, ON - Trinity St. Paul’s
Mar 16th - London, ON - Aeolian Hall
Mar 17th - Ottawa, ON - NAC Studio
Mar 21st - Berlin, Germany - Grüner Salon
Mar 22nd - Münster, Germany - Schnabulenz
Mar 23rd - Lauenau, German - Clubhaus
Mar 24th - Wawern, Germany - Synagoge
Mar 25th - Freiberg, Germany - Jazzhaus
Mar 26th - Landsberg, Germany - Stadttheater
Mar 28th - Vienna, Austria - Sargfabrik

The seeds for allbut6ix were planted some time ago when Dwight Druick was a young musician living and playing in London, England. Signed to a major U.K. label and management company, Dwight recorded ‘Druick & Lorange’ with fellow Canadian Kirk Lorange, an album that received airplay all across Europe and North America and was met with critical success. Allbut6ix subsequently evolved over the years and, as Dwight explains, “As a musical project, allbut6ix was an idea that was born in the hearts and arms of those that love me, and was brought to fruition with a ‘little king-sized’ help from some of my closest musical friends.” Allbut6ix launched with their debut 2013 release aptly titled allbut6ix which has since been heard on at least 40+ Canadian college and specialty radio stations to date along with a number of AC and Hot AC stations from coast to coast including CKUA, The Wave, The Coast and many more. The media reviews were equally encouraging: Allbut6ix's latest release, Like A River, their 2017 sophomore effort, builds upon the special songwriting and musical talents of one of Canada’s truly unique and versatile musical ensembles. Like A River finds the band, now matured by 3 years of growth, in exquisite musical form and features an exciting new cycle of 7 songs crafted by bandleader, Dwight Druick, and his songwriting partners. The mood is, as always, upbeat and optimistic, with the songs moving fluidly between folk/roots, blues-based soul, singer-songwriter acoustic pop; and even some contemporary Brazilian music.

Whether it be the celebration of new life chapters in the title track,Like A River; the soulful search for meaning in a troubled but Beautiful World; the joyful encounter with heaven in an embrace inHeaven Must Feel This Way; the bluesy tribute to hard workingEveryday People; the slow southern funk/blues of Body Rise; the Brazilian promise of a stolen moment of love in I Don’t Need to Know; or the quest for the North West Passage in the maritime romp Coppermine; Like A River delivers a showcase of allbut6ix’s talent.“You can take allbut6ix as a celebration of the power that music has always had to connect people. You can take it as a finger in the face of the doubters and downers. But, please, just take a moment to listen.” Dwight Druick.

Big Win for rising blues talent Ann Vriend. Following on the heels of her powerful and well-received Blues Summit Eight showcase with Rooster Davis Group (also her backing band), Ann Vriend is more than thrilled that she has won the Toronto Blues Society’s COBALT PRIZE at the 2017 Maple Blues Awards. The event took place at Toronto’s Koerner Hall where Vriend was handed the award for Contemporary Blues Composition/Songwriting for her song "All That I Can" (Aporia Records), a soulful gospel tune. The Toronto Blues Society’s annual Cobalt Prize is judged on a song’s ability to creatively utilize blues traditions within the broad contemporary musical landscape. With a focus on melody, song structure, lyric etc. they also choose the song that “will refresh and enrich blues as an art form."

The Cobalt Prize judges decided that Edmonton-based Ann Vriend’s " All That I Can" achieved just that, and selected it as first place winner among 75 entries from across Canada. Shocked and ecstatic from the win, Vriend gave a speech noting the inspiration from the African-American community, reminding the audience that they were all there because of a music that came out of great hardship, slavery, and abuse of the African-American people – and yet blues music has had the most profound influence on almost all genres of music world-wide than any other genre.

"All That I Can" is a new track from AV's upcoming EP release via Aporia Records. It will also be released in Australia next month, alongside four other original tracks, in an EP entitled Anybody's Different. With the vocals recorded in primarily one take, the song has a live-off-the-floor feeling and falls into the category of gospel blues with its 6/8 time signature. The music is very traditional gospel, but the lyrics are secular. The Hammond organ combined with upright piano and AV's soul vocals are reminiscent of early gospel and soul recordings in the era of Sam Cooke. However, there is also a contemporary twist in the sound too – since the drums used on this track are sampled in the style of retro hip hop, and eq'ed to give the song a rough low-fi edge, in contrast with Vriend's smooth and sweet (and powerful) vocals.

The lyrics of the song are an earnest promise to a lover to do "all that I can" if the lover is willing to "take me just as I am" – a plea to be a true friend and companion in a world where "sometimes I think they wanna break me, just to see if they can." Though Vriend points out: "but they mistake me as a weak and silly woman," which could be taken as a slight jab at the misogyny that is sadly, still so prevalent in the world. Vriend will tour Australia with the Rooster Davis Group next month for a five-week tour, to support the Anybody's Different EP followed by a European Tour in May 2017.

Here's the program for Feb/Mar at venerable Mimico roadhouse The Blue Goose Tavern
Feb.5-Matt Allen & Larry Bodner (special hours for Super Bowl Sunday 3-6pm)
Feb.12-Mike Branton & Michael Fonfara
Feb.19-Paul Reddick & Greg Cockerill
Feb.26-Robin Banks & Teddy Leonard
Mar.5-Steve Grisbrook & Jenie Thai
Mar.12-Michael Schatte & Shakey Dagenais
Mar.19-Sugar Brown & Rockin Johnny Burgin.
Mar.26-Jerome Godboo & Eric Schenkman

All acts are backed by the Juno-winniung BIG GROOVE rhythm section of Mike Fitzpatrick(drums)& Gary Kendall(bass).