CASHBOX CANADA’S NXNE LIVE FIVE

by Lenny Stoute

Intro: Amid the hustle’n’hype of NXNE, check this handful of acts rarely seen in Toronto and tres deserving of attention.

WHITEBOY SLIM

The artist known as Whiteboy Slim (Maurice Richard Libby), started life as the band known as Automatic Slim, the transformation occurring when the group blew up and the Toronto native took off out West.

Automatic Slim was an immediate force on the Toronto blues scene, getting attention for its quirky take on the genre, the quirk courtesy of Slam’s time at Berkelee College of Music in Boston, where his classmates included pianist Al Copley (co-founder of Roomful of Blues) and go-to soul bassist Ron McClure.

The hard-gigging unit played all the notable clubs in the city and for a time Automatic Slim was the house band at four different clubs on different nights of the week. Burned out with the T.Dot and armed with a growing national reputation, Whiteboy Slim had no probs impacting on the Western blues scene, playing all the major fests including Sasktel Jazz Festival, The Mid-Winter Blues Festival, The Prairie Arts Festival and the Flatland Music Festival.
Through all that, what didn’t change and hasn’t still, is Slim’s dedication to his very own brand of the blues; a blend of experimentalism and strict traditionalism that’s never boring.
Now, straight outa Moose Jaw and packing serious heat called "I'm Still Here", Whiteboy Slim’s looking forward to seriously kicking it on his T.Dot return. On the state of the “I’m Still Here” album, Slim blogs out like so: “It has been almost two years since the project began. It is the first Whiteboy Slim recording that contains acoustic tracks, but it also contains the eclectic electric stuff that everyone has come to expect from Whiteboy Slim. The rhythm tracks on this one were recorded live off-the-floor, giving it a very live feel. The instrumentation is stripped down to guitars, harp and vocals, with no keys or horns this time round. It continues the balance of tradition and experimentation you have come to expect”.
It also contains another display of the man’s multi-instrumental prowess and fans are already lauding “I’m Still Here” as topping the envelope-pushing "aka Whiteboy Slim", which was released in ’06 and earned the Whiteboy three awards at the 2007 Toronto Exclusive Magazine Music Awards--Best Blues Album, Best Blues Song ("Hey Hold On Stop"), and Best Males Blues Artist.
Whiteboy Slim gets his Moose Jaw blues on Sat.Jun.19 7 PM The Silver Dollar
www.whiteboy-slim.com/
www.myspace.com/whiteboyslim

GHOST BEES

Ghost Bees are yet another Toronto act which fled the Big Smoke for clearer air. In this case Halifax, where twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman initally showed up to attend university, began performing and soon found that city’s mystery-steeped soul to be a natural fit for what some call their "eclectic brand of spooky folk" While not an official Ghost Bee, multi-instrumentalist Amber Phelps Bondaroff works closely with the Bees both in the studio and on tours.
While Sari wrote the majority of the tunes on Tasseomancy (except for the secret song), both Lightmans have full stashes of songs that are part of the live set. Both sing and play guitar, while Sari occasionally rocks out on mandolin and banjo on the record and live. The pair stand out both on the strength of their throwback looks and retro folk stance, which has as much to do with the popular music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it has to do with traditional Canadian folk.
The pair own up the spooky quality comes from an early fascination with horror movies. "Even as kids we always had this fascination with death and the supernatural," Sari says. "We had a club as kids where we told other kids that we could see ghosts and that spirits inhabited the dolls that lived in this plastic bag in our basement."
All of this came to eerie fruition on “Tasseomancy”, the 2008 debut album, a collection of songs imparting tales of past empires and great great ancestry, fabled figures and sorrowful laments, with vocals spliced together like a two headed balladeer. The cover features a shot of the duo's great-great grandmother Clara Chernos, a Russian Jewish tea-leaf reader who fled to Canada in the 19th century during one of the many anti-Jewish pogram in Russia of the time.
The Andy March-produced “Tasseomancy” is threaded through with a concept of sorts, beginning in the kitchen of ‘The Grandmother’ in 1904. It is the story of the tealeaf reader whose luckless fate causes her to become a muted memory. Cursed by poor fortune foreseen in the bottom of a teacup, she resolves to never speak again. It is her story, along with several others that are given voice in “Tasseomancy.” The sisters’ literary tales evoke a sense of mesmerizing fantasy and nostalgia, conjuring the experience of their birth in ‘Sinai’ and the terror of the Pol Pot Regime in ‘Tear Tassle Ogre Heart’. If there’s anything single-ish about the album it’d be the whimsical melody and darkly inventive viewpoint of ‘Vampires of the West Coast’.
Ghost Bees’ lyrics go head to curly haired head with things bleak and frightening, in the process creating delicate and evocative tunes critics have compared to the hand-spun tales of Joanna Newsom and the emotive harmonies of Diane Cluck.
Check out the bleeding edge of Goth-folk when Ghost Bees play Fri.Jun.18 9PM The Gladstone Hotel, Fri.Jun.18 12 AM C’est What
www.myspace.com/ghostbees
www.killbeatmusic.com/ghostbees

COTTON MOUTH

The Montreal music scene is aburst with creativity these days, splitting at the seams and spilling out into all manner of side projects. It’s like, you’re a Montreal musician and you play in only three bands? Ha, you’re a slacker dude.
Cotton Mouth takes the side project collective thing to new heights. This brainchild of producer/musician/visionary Martin Horn, who fronts the group, includes multi-instrumentalists Alex Cooper, keyboardist Louis Jackson and drummer Jeremy MacCuish. Now here’s the incestuous part; when not playing with Horn the others have another life as the band Parlovr (pronounced ‘parlour’) already a rising force on the indie quirk rock scene. And who produces Parlovr’s music? Why, that’d be Martin Horn.
So the sound of Cotton Mouth is that of quirky pop layered with Horn’s bent for sonic exploration.
This will be Cotton Mouth’s first gig in the T.Dot since last October’s show at The Boat and they’ve been writing up a heat storm since then, so they’re coming to town with all kinds of new stuff and knowing Horn it’s gonna get rough and peculiar. In advance of that Horn wants to set a few things straight. The name? Nothing to do with weed, snakes, or Kill Bill, just a suggestion from a girlfriend with “fabric on the brain”.

He claims to write love songs, but not necessarily songs about being in love. More like songs about living with someone after some sort of apocalypse or living and loving in the woods after the oil’s run out and the only can opener you have is rusted and was made 30 years ago. That kind of thing.

He wants us to know that the keyboard sounds are off a 28 year old Yamaha synth, valued for its great bass sounds and some oddball lead sounds. It's what he usually started with when writing the songs, finding it easier to sing over simple bass lines than guitar chords. As the synth only plays one note at a time, being forced to write most of the instrumental parts for a song with an instrument that only plays one note at a time carries a touch of creative masochism with it. Horns says it also helps in keeping the arrangements open, which leaves more room for the vocal.
So what can the punters expect to see at a Cotton Mouth show? Horn tends to stand pretty still while the guys in the band move around a lot. Expect to see Alex grinning like a crazy person, Louis almost kissing his keyboard, and Jeremy looking like some kind of many-armed drumming monster. As the ringmaster himself said, “I, at least, find them exciting to watch. It's probably my favourite part of playing shows”.
Cotton Mouth shows its friendly fangs Sat.Jun.19 9PM Rancho Relaxo
www.myspace.com/cottonmouthmontreal

BURN PLANETARIUM

The indie scene at Guelph is a vital one with a well-earned rep for throwing up sensitive and meaningful-sounding bands. But there’s always that one in every class and Burn Planetarium is the Guelph band that didn’t get the Eblast.
This feisty five piece of swaggering poprockers come on just this side of frat punk and throw a wicked live party. The single-named band boys, namely Gregory, David, Benjamin, Jonathan and Seanthur are all university pals at Guelph U.and debuted last year with Valse Mechanique, a 30 minute blaze of party jammers studded with nifty lyrics caught on a hook or three.
There's room to grow and the production doesn’t do them any favours but the crackle in the kids just leaps from tracks like the funkified dance-grooved Werewolf By Night and standout song We Were Stenographers, at once funny and poignant, jacking on a herky jerky groove for most of the trip before before closing out all acoustic and downtempo. Pretty daring for this crew but word is their new material is getting all grown up.
By their own telling, Burn Planetarium swears theirs is the sound of disco funk cut with trance rock. This is exactly the kind of exposition you’d expect from a gang of university cutups who say if you can’t spot their musical influences, then they’re just not plagarising hard enough. They sure sing loud enough though, the five guy lineup bringing the requisite beer drinking party heft to the shout along choruses on the more racous of their tunes. Of which they have many. Bombastic, erratic, over the top? Hell Yeaah!!!
Burn Planetarium burn down the house Fri.Jun.18 8 PM at The Drake
www.myspace.com/burnplanetarium
radio3.cbc.ca/bands/Burn-Planetarium

LIBRARY VOICES

Creative isolation tends to wind up either in entropy or explosion. The lucky creator is the one who gets to experience both. Holed up in Regina, and having dealt with the entropy, singer/guitarist Carl Johnson exploded in the spring of 2008 with Library Voices, a many-membered musical collective with a wide screen power pop sound. Being from Regina, this is power pop that has a place for an accordion playing frontgal, the rabble-rousing Darcy McIntyre
Currently at eight pieces, Library Voices is getting serious attention with their tremolo soaked guitars, analog synths, vintage organs, circuit bent electronics, accordion, saxophone, strings, theremin, Tenori-on, and glockenspiel driven music. It’s a mashup of everything from the Sixties onward, filtered through that peculiar youthful nostalgia for something never really experienced.
Library Voices came out of the blocks with an EP, Hunting Ghosts & Other Collected Shorts, which delivered on the band’s manifesto of sophisticated pop hooks, intricate dynamics, complex harmonies and anthemic singalong songs. The thing hit nerves like a drunk dentist, scoring big reactions everywhere from SPIN magazine to the BBC and CBC, and launched the band on the tour circuit with such as Stars, Chad Vangaalen, Plants & Animals.
Of the group’s dedicated ecelectism, Johnson notes that with that many people inputting, momentum is a given and forward movement inevitable. “It’s something many artists are experiencing in this age of musical diversity. When you have 8 people, you’re not likely to stay in one place for very long in any sense”.
Since then they‘ve been won a bunch of awards, have been mugged twice, had their equipment ripped off from the tour van and the replacement gear drowned in last spring’s Western floods.
You can help out by throwing money at Library Voices Sat.Jun.19 9PM The Horseshoe
www.myspace.com/thelibraryvoices
www.facebook.com/pages/Library-Voices/25889251432