The Blues and the Celts
As is always the case at this time of the year, the Canadian blues community comes together in Toronto to celebrate the talents of our finest blues musicians.
Yes, there was a time when the whole affair seemed to be about only championing what was going on in the heart of Toronto, and to be honest this year’s batch of Maple Blues Award
winners were largely from eastern Canada. However, over the last few years, many western Canadians have been honoured so any thoughts that this celebration of blues is all about Toronto is largely yesterday's news, and the names announced from the podium at Koerner Hall during the 14th Annual Maple Blues Awards on Monday January 17 was a pretty good representation of the artists who had memorable years and added significant entries into their respective discographies.
It was not a major surprise that Ottawa’s Monkey Junk took home more hardware than any other act nominated this year. By the time the awards show came to a close, the rock ‘em sock ’em blues trio had been named Electric Act of the Year, while Monkey Junk’s Steve Marriner took home Harmonica Player of the Year honours and Matt Sobb had been
named Drummer of the Year.Steve Marriner
Tracked down the following morning, a slightly worse for wear Marriner was none-the-less still full of enthusiasm while reflecting on the entire weekend's worth of activities that are hosted and organized by the Toronto Blues Society.
“These were the best Maple Blues festivities I’ve ever attended because there was a lot of uncertainty about the new voting system, which now has the individual musicians' awards being decided by a committee. But I think when it was all said and done, everyone was pretty impressed with the way things rolled out,” said Marriner, who is just as exuberant and animated off stage as he is while in full flight during a concert.
“Matt Andersen blew the place away with his performance during the show and was so deserving of his two awards, Entertainer of the Year and Acoustic Act of the Year. Plus, we’ve all been waiting for Garrett Mason to win Guitar Player of the Year and he finally did,” added Marriner of his Maritime peers.
What also impressed Marriner about the weekend, which was built around a couple of days of showcases and seminars leading up to the awards ceremony, was that there was “a very strong sense of camaraderie” that he hadn’t felt before.
As you’ve probably noticed reading this, many of the acts that are nominated for Maple Blues Awards are staples at CKUA, not just on our blues shows but within our eclectic programs as well.
Downchild won Album of the Year for I Need A Hat;
the Songwriter of the Year category went to the team of Paul Reddick and Colin Linden, and Twister's bassist, vocalist Keith Picot from Vancouver was, another deserving addition to the winner’s circle as Bassist of the Year.
Who in the CKUA world isn’t familiar with Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi? Those two guitar slingers were named International Artist of the Year, while Hamilton’s Rita Chiarelli, who had a banner year with her documentary film Music From The Big House
, was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Incidentally, after screenings at the Edmonton and Calgary International Film Festivals this past fall, Music From The Big House,
directed by Bruce McDonald, returns to Edmonton. If you haven’t seen this moving piece of work that finds Chiarelli befriending and making music with inmates at Louisiana’s infamous Angola Prison, make your way to one of three screenings at Metro Cinema that are being presented in conjunction with Global Visions. Those screenings take place on the weekend of February 18 in Zeidler Hall in the Citadel complex.
“Rita’s acceptance speech was very moving, she’s one passionate lady,” said Marriner of Chiarelli. Both musicians participated in a giant jam at the end of the awards show.
Looking down the complete list of winners, it was also a pleasant surprise to see that Saskatoon’s Gord MacAulay was named Blues Booster of the Year. MacAulay has been a key member of the Saskatoon Blues Society board for some time and his win is a reminder that the Toronto Blues Society should consider adding a Festival of the Year category to the slate.
For a complete list of Maple Blues Award winners head to torontobluessociety.com
The Celtic music community is part of the backbone of the CKUA audience and when a regional Celtic act unveils a new recording project, there is usually reason to celebrate.
One of the best Celtic acts on the prairies recently exited the studio and this week Celtara
unveiled a new album titled More Than One True Love
Recorded at Rocky Mountain Sound in Calgary, the album is an impressive twelve-song set combining instrumentals and songs, some of the traditional variety and others composed by members of the quintet.
It is evident Celtara has become a unit where the members breathe in unison and are on the same page when it comes to navigating the musical journey that is taking place.
That said, Celtara flautist’s Tami Cooper laughs when talking about coming up with a banner from which to hang the material.
“More Than One True Love
is actually a line from one of the songs on the disc and during the requisite arm-wrestling session to try and name the recording, it was our dear guitarist Andy Illig who gave a rather impromptu impassioned speech to us all. His reasons from wanting to name the disc as we did were that we all love to play music with one another, and we all have families that are so important to us, and that there are other interests that we love that also enrich us,” says Cooper, who once again chose Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Recording Studio to track the material.
With considerable help from engineer Rob Smith, Celtara recorded the material over the course of a few sessions live off the floor, which is no easy feat.
“I think we pulled it off well because we’ve matured enough as a band to have meet the challenge of recording this way. It was a huge amount of fun,” adds Cooper, who along with Illig, has bandmates in Bonnie Gregory (fiddle, harp & voice), Steven Bell (accordion, voice, piano), and Mark Arnison (bodhran, percussion).
“We have always been committed to operating as a collective, with the idea that five creative brains working together (and arm-wrestling!) will come up with a more interesting result than one leader and a bunch of side players.”
It’s a point of view that is hard to argue with in this case as Gregory is spinning some fine original material into the mix. Members of Celtara have an acute sense of what is a good fit for the unit from outside sources, and one need look no further than the inclusion ofFollow The Heron
from the songbook of Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart to back up that notion.
Sonically the disc presents a warm tone with well-defined and balanced mixes and the graphic art direction and layout of the package is stunning.
Celtara celebrates the release of More Than One True Love
with a concert at Muttart Hall in Alberta College in downtown Edmonton on Saturday, January 22 and there was only one choice when it came time to pick a host for the evening.
So yes, you guessed it, Andy Donnelly
host of CKUA’s immensely popular Celtic Show
will be introducing the band and injecting his enthusiasm and humour into the proceedings as Celtara bring in 2011 with More Than One True Love
. The disc will no doubt be getting its fair share of spins over the next few months on this network that knows how to properly support our finest regional roots musicians.