Corby's Orbit

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

Sunday, May 31, 2020

New Canadian Music Rising Up Over the Horizon

Our country’s annual long stretch of solar distancing can spread an observant quietude through the spirit. Winter is a state of being that fosters sequestered poetics. Borne up in music, the evidence of the constraints of isolation has always had a hand in shaping the songs we sing.  Three recent releases engage us with the textures of, and reactions to, solitude.  All three are artistic concept pieces featuring production values that highlight dry-brushed, soulful vocals, artfully sparse accompaniment and astonishing circumstantial relevance to our common nowadays experience of separateness.

Mike McKenna Jr. – At the Edge of the World

Last month Mike McKenna Jr. presented us with his second album, At the Edge of The World. Of the eight songs within, all but one are original and anchored on the icy grandeur of Cape Breton Island and the shale wisdom of the Atlantic shoreline.
His tremulous voice bears a tough confidence in its own truth. During the 30 minutes of tunes, he brings the listener to the threshhold of his most personal reflections; many are very much like our own: “It’s been a hard year/ (it) hit me like a Mac truck / thought I had it all planned out.”
He finds his lyrical refuge in the imagery of individual privacy (“My Room”), nature (“High Ground”), the past (“The Town”) and the possibility of love (“Caught In The Middle”). The lighthouse and the mine are his yin and yang. In the title song, the one represents a truth and a promise: “At the top of the hill is a warning light / And it cuts like a sword in the deepest night.” The mines only corrode the life force: “Ain’t nothing left but the black flies / Down in old number two,” he sings in his nostalgic ballad, “The Town,” and in “Working Man,” written by the doyenne of Big Pond, Rita MacNeil, he repeats a vow that so many before have made, “No I never again will go down underground.” But these aren’t the only depths to be feared. The songs also make a point of revealing that the rich landscape of the promised land conceals other malevolence: socioeconomic parasites (“The Wolf”), feral predators (“Pale White Moon”) and the bitter ghosts of maritime tragedies (“At The Edge Of The World”). And although the lighthouse towers securely over the landscape, he reminds us that “Lightnin’ strikes on the highest ground.”
Now based in Montreal, Mike wisely secured the services of producer Quinn Bachand, whose production chops on a 2019 collaboration with Haley RichardsonWhen the Wind Blows High and Clear, and his ongoing swing cadre, Brishen, have proven his expertise on both the faders and the fiddle. He constructs a sturdy frame for Mike’s portraits of Island realities. Lazy eddies of pedal steel, flat outcroppings of snare, and the tidal windings and sudden storm fronts of strings and jagged power chords all serve to bring focus to the courageous emotions of the singer. Subtle lyrical mirroring by Rosier’s Béatrix Méthé lend an intense power to several strategic vocal lines. “Mike is a singer-songwriter through and through,” said Quinn. “His storytelling abilities and passion for blurring the lines between the past and the present are truly remarkable and authentic. He’s a true Cape Breton gem.”

Christa Couture – Safe Harbour

Cloistered creativity sparks ideas framed in the first person plural and in the universal second person. Our clenched urgency over loss of connection with the world at large magnifies and defines happiness by its stubborn otherness. For most of her artistic career, Christa Couture has been contemplating and sharing strategies for overcoming loss, out of circumstances more intense than most of us will ever confront.
Safe Harbour is a collection of artful melodies, a little over 17 minutes long, that rounds up her interest in separation and “grounded hope” as she begins a new stage in her life with the intention, as Maya Angelou said, “not just to survive, but to thrive.” The occasion of this sea change is the impending publication, in September, of her personal memoir of struggle, How to Lose Everything.
“My music is actually woven through the book — so many of my biggest experiences have a song or album tied to them. The book ends when I moved to Toronto six years ago. After writing about my experiences of loss so deeply in the book, I didn’t need to do it anymore in my music. Safe Harbour, chronologically, comes after everything in the book. It was written in the last couple years, from a new perspective. It’s not so much a companion as the next step.”
To be sure of setting up this milestone transition most effectively, guitar grandee Jim Bryson was brought on board to contour the six songs into a suite of critical clarity.  Chanting mostly on synthesizer and modified electric guitar sounds, Jim succeeds in deploying an ambience of deep contemplation under the butterfly float of Christa’s endearing diction, which can pivot from a floral parade to confidential intimacy on a single incisive syllable. And he manoeuvres a rhythm section of inobtrusive but structurally insistent accompanists into rocking exuberance on Christa’s more urgent choruses.
“Like Water Like Earth” opens the album with a heartbeat that evolves through a construction of loops and a fiddle drone to a layered invocation of Gaia and the oceanic mother that holds the fate of the imperilled traveler.
In “Far Far Light Of The Stars,” aerial harmonies arc over acoustic piano as the lyrics evoke the political pains enabled by inactivist apathy. “Don’t tell me that things will get better / There’s no sign of a change in the weather.”
Christa elaborates:
“That song came from a heartbroken moment in the face of the daily acts of violence that two-spirit and trans folk experience. In the first verse, the writer is someone who is trying to find a safe way to speak up against violence and discrimination. And in the third verse, the settler is everyone who refuses to acknowledge acts of violence or work towards change.”
“Tiptoe” changes tack with a somewhat-less-verbose-Sondheim swing that momentarily relieves the tension of Christa’s seclusion with a shared quiet secret that escapes into the blue, “out of the woods” as it were. “Rebuild” is a perfect, pertinent anthem for the world’s current anxiety, advising hope of a safe harbour: “Though under attack / we will rebuild always / I dream I dream I dream.” The coda tune, “Waitlist Lullaby,” brings a heart-swelling theremin in to transport us from the precarious nautical dream sequence of the title song. “Water to Sail” finds refuge in metaphors of sexual questing and resolution, providing the album with its title concept and its crucial iconic theme, fortified by the cover image of Christa reclining and contemplating a fragile miniature paper-and-popsicle-stick schooner.
“I knew I wanted to hold something in my hands in the artwork when I first envisioned the shot, which involved photographer Jen Squires leaning off the top of a ladder, the hand with the camera taking photos she couldn’t see — our affordable solution to not having a crane. There was so much about this EP that was about being and feeling held and protected. I worried that a boat would be too on the nose — but then I relented! Water shows up in a few ways in the songs, and while it’s an easy metaphor, sailing into a safe harbour is exactly the experience I wanted to describe.”

Have the experience yourself here:

Clara Engel – Hatching Under the Stars

As a cosmopolitan non-binary visual artist, Toronto’s Clara Engel has spent the last 10 years inventing a graphic realm of ornate gothic detail that exists as a parallel universe to their music.
Newly released, Hatching Under the Starsis a self-produced collection of nine original songs that inhabits a unique continuum of meditative threnody. Clara’s seductively ominous chanting is perfumed with a distillate of surrealist lyrics – claws versus cages, seeds versus ceilings. The dedication of one song, “Preserved In Ice,” references Marc Chagall’s dreamy equine imagery and the album as a whole rebounds off of the art-folk exoticism of Clara’s previous collection, Songs For Leonora Carrington, based upon the work of the core surrealist painter / sculptor / author / goddess.
Manifesting within an ambient sonic interior of eggshell delicacy, Clara’s reverberant electric guitar shimmers throughout with quasi-stellar harmonics. The mix is subtly enhanced by many broadly-sourced collaborative colourings that include bass clarinet, Celtic harp, accordion and toy piano, all propelled by rippling pulses of tremolo and the visceral undertow of recording engineer Paul Kolinski’s malleted drumheads, and mixing and mastering engineer Mitchell Girio’s oozing bass lines.

The album opens with “To Keep the Ghost at Bay,” an intimate invitation into a fresh possible world: “Let’s find a new way to see / we still have our eyes / we can still breathe.” “Any Creature” is a morphean waltz revelling in fluttering echoes that transport us to “a greener world / vale of frozen time.” “Old Feathered Devil” is a Bosch landscape with a glowing lake and feral demons playing parlour games. “Little Blue Fox” is set in “a valley beyond all nightmares and dreams and rules / where there’s nothing to carry and no one to bury / where the sky is vermilion and the grasses are laughing.”
“Baby Alligators” are the creatures that are hatching under the stars, granting the album its title, and the promise of a world beyond diners, laundromats and news station static. Album closer “The Indifference of Fire” confronts the final abyss with a resolute pragmatism: “What happens now? / the mystery will carry on without me.” The music’s transformative spell gradually becomes deeply compelling over its running time of almost an hour, but it never turns nightmarish. It serenely educes lyrical star maps to chart a shared journey for us through the plaintive, resonant space between life and the dark. Available at  A nine-dollar purchase includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
Originally published at Roots Music Canada 
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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Corby's Orbit Playlist For Show of Late May 2020

Commissioner of Selection: Paul Corby 

An edited re-broadcast of Corby's Orbit originally aired at CKLN.FM on 6 August 2010

( Brought to you by Solitary Confide-ments, Ice Elation Boosts & Alone Elongations )

Guests: Marie-Lynn Hammond, Sneezy Waters & J.D, Souther 

Podcast here 

Click On Pictures To Enlarge 

Canadians in Asterisk’d RED. 

5:00 Wild Animus

* Alejandra Ribera ~ Courage ~ NEW SINGLE

Nas & Damien Marley ~ My Generation ~ Distant Relatives

The Blackstones ~ You & I ~ Tribute To Studio One

Leroy Sibbles ~ Harry Hippy ~ Single

5:20 Heightened Zeke

* Zeke Mazurek  (died October 30, 2010) ~ Medley- Rodney's Glory, Dust In The Lane, Sally Gooding, Billy Cheatem / Cinquintaine /
Interview with Marie-Lynn Hammond / Szla Dzieweczka Do Laseczka / Interview with Sneezy Waters / A Mira Medley ~ I Ain't Dead...Yet ~ (In Support of a Concert Honouring Zeke)

5:20 Souther-Wise

J.D. Souther ~ Rain / Banging My Head Against The Moon / Come On Up / New Kid In Town / 
Interview / Journey Down The Nile (live) / Simple Man Simple Dream (live) / You're Only Lonely ~ (In Support of a Concert at Hugh's Room that night. Thanks to Jane Harbury) featuring selections from Black Rose / Rain / If The World Was You

6:45 The Wait Of The World

Jesse Winchester Sham-A-Lama-Ding-Dong ~ Love Filling Station

Hewale Sounds ~ Mmrante ~ Power Traditional Music

Doug Ford & Justin Trudeau ~ A Bunch Of Yahoos ~ Brock Tyler 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Beetle Magazine's Encyclopedia of Canadian Rock (1974)

Does anyone remember BEETLE Magazine? Heavy on Canadian content and honest opinions. 
A bit like Hit Parader without the lyrics. 
This issue featured an Encyclopedia of Canadian Rock (although every genre of music is represented - including Moe Koffman). 
Bruce Cole was the photography editor. 
Wilder Penfield lll wrote film reviews, 
Mendelson Joe did album reviews, and 
Roger Ames had a full page on Reggae every month plus a 3 page article on Captain Beefheart here . 
Record company ads galore. 
The centerfold is a picture of 
Anne Murray with Gordie Howe
I sure wish there were something like this available now.

Old and New and Bold and True Music Profuse, TODAY

I tried to have this 2010 vintage CKLN show up and re-edited for broadcast on Radio Regent last week but it's SO ON today from 5-7, so please join me for a postponed archived Orbit of classic interviews with J.D. Souther, Sneezy Waters and Marie-Lynn Hammond and tunes by Zeke Mazarek R.I.P. Worth the wait!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Today & Wednesday ~ J.D. Souther and Zeke Mazurek on an Archival Broadcast

The Barrel Boys Keep 'Er Rolling

Video by P.C. for Roots Music Canada featuring two songs and an interview with fiddler Nathan Smith.

While waiting for an opportunity to drop their newest album, produced by noted string-slinger Andrew Collins, The Barrel Boys are staying in touch with some composite tune-mail for their fans.

Amongst other online collaborative projects, fiddler Nathan Smith also kicked off quarantine time by committing himself to an epic 30-day menu of fiddle tunes, showcasing his wide variety of styles on Facebook. Of that experience, he comments, "Probably the main reason I was able to stick with it was that both our dobro player Kyle Kirkpatrick and our bass player Tim O’Reilly also posted daily compositions. In fact, a big reason we started making these collaborative videos was the experience Tim had with making some really amazing multi-part videos on his own. If you think my tunes were interesting, you should look at Tim’s Facebook wall. Some of the stuff he came up was really next-level."

"As far as the record goes," he says," we've decided to delay its release date to a point when we'd be able to play a release show, or at least to a point when a release show might be in sight.

``The album is called “Mainline” - it draws its name from a song Tim wrote for the album called “Mainline to the Heart,” reflecting on the struggles of industry towns in Northern Ontario. We’ve got a fair amount of this sort of “Canadiana” on the record - songs where we’ve reflected on traditional themes in bluegrass music and recontextualized them to fit with our own personal experiences, observations, and identities. This sort of personal expression is important to us in terms of finding our way as creative songwriters and as Canadian bluegrass musicians.``

"I can tell you that with this record (again, all original material written by the 5 band members) we feel we are at our most adventurous and our most expansive, stylistically and emotionally. We've got a good mix of light-hearted and weighty content, and the style bounces around from contemplative old-time to boot-shuffling country to straight-ahead, rippin' bluegrass."

We're excited to be able to share the new music, but we also want to be able to celebrate it with folks in person!"

Originally published @ Roots Music Canada

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Ten Years of Conundrumming

John Walker, Dennis Chambers, Nasir Abdul-Al-Kabyyr, & Raul Rekow

Ten years ago today a unique Canadian instrument, the Conundrum made its debut appearance in Toronto, outside CKLN Radio, where, in advance of the release of (director) John Walker's documentary, "A Drummer's Dream", world renowned drummers Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr (Dizzy Gillespie), Dennis Chambers (Steely Dan), and (the late, great) Raul Rekow (Santana) had completed a one hour interview on "Corby's Orbit". David Hynes, drum keeper, artist and filmmaker documented the event and edited it together with other Conundrum appearances at the 2014 New York and Toronto Figment Festivals. Thanks Joanne Smale for enabling this magical moment.