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Begonia and Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
with Jessica Moss, Dan Bern, Iris DeMent, Astral Swans, The Wilderness Of Manitoba, Steve Poltz, Lucette, Lab Coast, Deicha and the Vududes and Yolanda Sargeant
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From the Promoter
Featuring the following artists: Begonia, The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, Jessica Moss, Dan Bern, Iris DeMent, Astral Swans, Wilderness of Manitoba, Steve Poltz, Amythyst Kiah, Lucette, Lab Coast, Deicha and The Vududes, Yolanda Sargeant
Out of 1,800+ varieties, there’s only one Begonia native to Winnipeg that unabashedly blooms in any environment and can outsing songbirds. Born Alexis Dirks, her rich, mellifluous voice can be heard clearly amongst those textured, ambitious vocals that defined her former band Chic Gamine’s catchy, Juno Award-winning sound. Begonia’s music is a synthesis of the Motown, soul and gospel that’s woven into her musical DNA, with an intuitive ear for melody. She’ll draw you in with catchy hooks and impressive vocals, but prepare yourself to fall hard for Begonia’s intimate moments, underscored by stripped down instrumentation with a quiet confidence that’s a velvety, veritable quicksand.
HARPOONIST & THE AXE MURDERER
Shawn ‘The Harpoonist’ Hall and Matthew ‘the Axe Murderer’ Rogers evoke more than grisly nautical imagery. Armed with an arsenal of harmonicas, a mess of foot percussion and a road-worn Telecaster, the duo infuse raw and primal blues with a jolt of raw energy. Their name is inspired by a Kris Kristofferson lyric (‘I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana’) and ‘axe’, a common term for the guitar. With influences a blues-mile wide, their sound is distinct, smothered in greasy, gritty soul and imbued with funk. Hall provides the rousing, rugged vocals and blues harmonica, while Rogers rips on the guitar and pounds the skins with his feet.
Moss is an essential Japanese gardening component long symbolizing tranquility, tradition and history. More recently, Western science has proven one particular strain of it has the capacity to repair DNA (repeat: repair DNA!). How apropos that violinist Moss shares her name with this fascinating life form. She creates intriguing, sonic meditations with her violin and an arsenal of well-chosen effects, unprogrammed samples, spare vocalization and a couple of tube amps. The result: stunning. Her compositions evoke impressions: ancient underground rivers, glimpses of collective consciousness, pools of light reflecting a world vacillating between desolation and hope. She was a contributor to the big sounds of influential artists Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene but Moss has no problems being the sole emissary of her unique sonic vision. Moss is a quiet gardener who has thoughtfully curated every secret space, leaving just enough room to allow magic to materialize.
Dan Bern was reared in Iowa as the cello-playing, baseball-loving progeny of two Old World Jewish artists in the American heartland. He built a strong underground following in the early 1990s neo-folk music scene of Los Angeles with his prodigious output of topical, sardonic, literary songs and comical cultural commentary. This consummate traveler’s tales alternate between joyously obscene and tender, even devout. Bern takes on personae that interrogate God, indulge in a little speculative time travel, explore a future dystopian America, or pay tribute to baseball. He once performed under the moniker International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, contributed 16 songs to the biopic parody film Walk Hard - the Dewey Cox Story and wrote the novel “Quitting Science” under the pen name Cunliffe Merriwether with the preface written under his own name.
DeMent's songs are direct, honest and deeply personal commentaries on the issues facing ordinary working people. Since releasing her first album in 1992, love, family life, death of loved ones, forgiveness and the warmth of human companionship have been her constant themes. The emotional richness of DeMent's singing, the simple lyricism of her poetry, underpinned by deep musical traditions, transform these everyday themes into profoundly moving comments on society and the human condition in general. DeMent’s latest release, The Trackless Woods, takes listeners on a stark journey through Anna Akhmatova’s poetry (translated from Russian), where intense struggles and sorrows are necessary to mobilize a victory over inhumanity.
Likely one of Calgary’s quietest success stories, Astral Swans emerged from the bedroom to the national consciousness with barely a blink of an eye. A couple of years back, he signed to Dan Mangan and Art & Crafts’ new label without a local media storm. And it’s fitting, given the music he creates—songs that quietly get under your skin and into your head, subtly becoming those earworms that pop up out of nowhere. Having honed his craft as the popular Extra Happy Ghost!!! it’s no surprise that this incarnation has developed a cohesive, thoughtful and engaging musical and lyrical voice. It’s working man’s music for the thinking person.
THE WILDERNESS OF MANITOBA
Out of The Wilderness of Manitoba comes a decidedly urban sound. Based around the work of songwriter/producer Will Whitwham over 5 releases reveals similarities, even though the instrumentation and musicians have switched up over the years: guitar-based songs full of hook-filled choruses and lovingly crafted harmonies. The sound has evolved and matured since first coming together out of Toronto jam sessions Toronto. No wonder The Wilderness of Manitoba’s sound is reaching past Canadian borders (see television credits for This Is Us and No Tomorrow). At Block Heater 2018, Whitwham will be performing as a duo with vocalist/guitarist Jenny Berkel.
Steve Poltz seems to have been destined for a charmed life. Not many people can say they were Bob Hope’s favourite altar boy, one of Liberace’s trick-or-treaters, or had one of Billboard’s longest-running Top 100 songs. The song, “You Were Meant For Me” was co-written with singer Jewel and stayed on the charts for 65 weeks (that’s right, over a year). Poltz has a keen sense of melody, structure and, like many people born in Halifax, humour. One of Neil Young’s favourite albums is Poltz’s Answering Machine that features a spate of 45-second songs recorded as outgoing voicemail messages. Poltz has collaborated with some of the best: Victoria Williams, Van Dyke Parks and David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven). When Poltz sings “silver lining, where’d you go?” it’s hard not to think, “Oh Steve, just wait a second, it’ll come around again!”
It may sound unlikely that an artist from Edmonton—known more for snow than soul—could deliver a mariachi melody and then spin off a Northern Soul-infused song back to back. With a honey-soaked voice, Lucette invokes folk and country’s golden eras. Her songwriting belies her twenty-something age with original and moody, introspective tales of a life that is unforgiving. Invoking imaginary cinematic scenes and landscapes - starlit skies above a vast, cold desert, a deep river snaking lazily through the Deep South, a brooding thunderstorm rolling over an infinite prairie - Lucette’s voice immediately draws you into her dark world. Oh, and it’s worth a mention that the single “Bobby Reid” from her debut album Black is the Colour was completed in one take and she’s joined by Sturgill Simpson and J.D. Wilkes on it.
Calgary’s Lab Coast has 4 full-length albums and 1 goal: write effervescent, lo-fi pop nuggets. Formed in 2008 by drummer Chris Dadge and songwriter Chris Laing, Lab Coast also includes Samantha Savage Smith and Darrell Hartsook. Great melodies, catchy hooks and layered jangly guitar parts define Lab Coast’s intensely likeable sound. The songs are deliberately short, catching listeners in mid-headbop until the next song starts up. As brief as they are, their songs still contain semi-orchestral surprises: breathing room, unexpected bridges and winsome harmonies. Laing’s deadpan delivery is surprisingly adorable. This is well-crafted stuff and it’s no wonder that Lab Coast have gained a following that reaches far beyond the comfort of their beloved basement.
Yolanda Sargeant is an artist who believes “the purest definition of ‘Canadian’ music… is a bunch of cultures coming together creating something brand new.” Sargeant’s voice is simultaneously relaxing and exciting, like Bailey’s in your morning coffee. Her Caribbean family roots have left faint watermarks that colour her voice’s easy tone. Her vocal style is distinct; Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu may try to hitch a ride, but it’s Sargeant steering the bus and collecting the fares. She is drawn to exploration; at home putting her voice to any manner of genres: ‘40s swing jazz, reggae or dance hall, Sargeant eagerly tries it all. Her rich, smoky vocals – playful or melancholy, joyful or pensive – act as the tour guide through the adventurous sounds of Calgary hip-hop duo Sargeant & Comrade.