Corby's Orbit

Corby's Orbit
Listening in All the High Places illustration by John Kricfalusi

Monday, November 4, 2013

Canadian Folk Music Awards 2013: Part 1

by PAUL CORBY OCTOBER 31, 2013 Originally published at
Unless laser travel is perfected sometime in the next week, I will probably not be attending the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA) in Calgary. There, traditionally, translucent sculptures will be conveyed, in a ceremony of velvet language, into the hands of complex, often hilariously wise talent, in appreciation of their excessive care in the creation, preservation and furtherance of soaring evanescent song-moments. Such an event needs to be felt, tasted and smelt to be properly absorbed. (Hint: it’s kind of peppery). For those many others who will be missing out on this profound thrill, let’s commiserate with a little handicapping. (Be sure your Metaphor Alert Bracelet is on before reading). (Editor’s note: You can all watch the awards! We’ll be live streaming them right here on, Sunday November 10 at 7:30 p.m. MDT/9:30 p.m. EST. Stay tuned for more news.)
Toronto’s “Violinovator”, Mr. Jaron Freeman-Fox, with The Opposite of Everything,  a wildly exuberant record, (produced by fest-fave David Travers-Smith) is widely nominated. His playing, in what cab be considered a country full of fiddlers, is both sublime and progressive. Two years ago, the trophy bounced off his fiddlestick into the net of Mr. Geoff Berner. No disgrace at all. Earlier this year he won an International Songwriting Award. That, and a brutal touring offensive this past summer may deliver the impact needed to impress the jurors, making him the opposite of loser. Attendees should be prepared for his omni-dimensional coif and wardrobe on the night of, regardless.
And in this corner, David Franceypointedly brandishing a contemporary folk album ominously devoid of fiddle. It’s also a well-crafted and diversely-themed record of wry reflection, passionately written as “a pathway up and out from under” some heavy life lessons.  The trusted emotional repairman stands a good chance of taking the belt from strong contender, and melancholic deep thinker, Lynn Miles. He has publicly declared a readiness to arm-wrestle her in case of a tie. Lynn’s record, Downpour, is of the same cloth and pattern as her past decade of work, but the tunefulness and delicacy of focus on it is so highly spun that the Alice Munro-ness of her craftsmanship might carry her to the title once again. Watch out, btw, for Annabelle Chvostek’s Rise, already Juno-nommed, coming up with some razor-sharp protest songs hidden in her outside left hook.
David Francey also holds a stake in Emerging Artist nominee Ashley Condonwhose brightly-faceted debut, This Great Compromise, contains all of the echoes and elements of a Canadian folk classic, though her fetching onstage charisma is missing. When unleashed, that may give her the critical edge during the workshops and “schmooze or lose” ambiance of the hotel-hugging days prior to the awards. But Trent Severn’s magical and well-blent harmonies are also formidable front-runners. In a nation which, besides fiddlers, sometimes seems to be made up entirely of womens’ harmony trios, their lushly expressed lyrical originality and deft choice of material are the strengths that may combine to propel them to follow the puck right into the crease.
At first listen, there is something ineffable, “some kinda ecstasy” in Long Gone Out West Blues.Pharis and Jason Romero have a high harmonic thread count and some unique, off-brand colours to offer to the occasionally over-dressed clotheshorse of Canadian folk blues. The authentic timbres of their voices and articulate finger-styles on vintage Martins offer a consistent absence-of-fashion-statement, tailor-made for the tired ear. Personally, I want them to be lucky.
Other artists snugly tucked into the closet of my heart have missed the lists entirely: Cara Luft, Matt Patershuk ,The Crackling, Lindi Ortega, Morlove, Sagapool, Metis Fiddler Quartet, Sarah Burton, Nancy Dutra, Charlie A’Court, and many others have completed hugely beautiful sonic landmarks this past year.
But most of them would probably have been presented in the already tightly-jammed category called Pushing The Boundaries. Every record in this race is a hands-down jackpot, not just significant in the advancement of the collective Canadian prestige in pioneering within genres, but as intensifications of each artist’s reach and grasp. New Country Rehab has elite musicianship, Raymond Chandler-level narrative and intense live interaction going for them already.  Add to that, with Ghost Of Your Charms, orchestrated arrangements and resonant epic imagery that holds you like a graphic novel. Jaron Freeman-Fox has successfully balanced his ebullient vocals with a romping playfulness and surprising moments of poignance.Orchid Ensemble has gone beyond mere synthesis to organize beguiling and erotic courses of melody that have a mysterious link both to exotic Orientalism and to a Cloud Atlas future of terrifying and rebellious new dynamics. Lifting them above the lambent Beach Boys surface of their previous work, The Wilderness Of Manitoba’s Island Of Echoes is the most “un-roots” nominee in the pack. They engage in eerie landscapes of spatial trompe l’oreille and pastel electric guitar anthems that lift the spirit with a Sufic calm. And finally, Mr. Kevin Breitguitar deity, has made a quiet work of genius with the humble title of Field Recording. It is performedby fictional mandolin players, without a single guitar solo, and features his singing (admirable) and a slate of vocal compositions that are unanimously breath-taking. It would be a bloody shame for any of these offerings NOT to win. I still have no idea where to file any of them in my record collection.
To be continued…

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