Winter In Saint John
By Mark Carpenter
February 17, 2012
This is the start of a new GiraffeCycle column. I am a recent arrival in Saint John. I’m from Montreal, where I wrote (and continue to write) occasional DVD reviews for Exclaim! I was a film student, a huge film buff, and a lover of music of all kinds. As I continue to adjust to my new life here, I will be writing about new music from the region, with a passing glance at new releases from artists from elsewhere as well. Hope you enjoy what I do, and please don’t hesitate to send me your work! Just consult my contact info below.
As it squalls outside, I’m finding the perfect soundtrack for the weather in two CDs by Saint John musicians. The first is New Wolf At The Door by Dann Downes, released by Hear Boy Records, 2011; the second an older release by Clinton Charlton, Parade, released independently, 2009. Both are roots artists, whose up-tempo songs coexist with a wintry melancholy. Both have a vivid sense of place in their lyrics, in ways that performers from Toronto and Montreal tend not to. (Downes’ lyric about “the scrubby woods of Maine”, Charlton’s elegiac “Angels Of Canterbury Street”)
Of course, as much as they complement each other, Downes and Charlton are distinct singer-songwriters, illustrating how much leeway the roots template now offers the Canadian artist. Downes is the more proudly traditional of the two, with songs like “Radio” showing a strong affinity for rockabilly stylings. As a vocalist, Downes has the melodic gifts of a Jim Cuddy. One standout track is “Emerald Train,” which showcases Downes’ grip on traditional folk structures and his prodigious singing ability. At his best, Downes shows how much life there is in “Northamericana” songs.
Clinton Charlton, meanwhile, displays a remarkable virtuosity in his work. Songs like “`Til We’ve Both Said Goodbye” are at once achingly personal and elegantly crafted. In addition, his music has some of the sonic adventurousness of indie heroes like Arcade Fire. (Note the terrific ambient opening of “Canterbury Street”.) He even brings a remarkable jittery intensity to rocking numbers like “Bee In October”. Definitely a talent to be reckoned with. I’ll be back next week with a review of his more recent project, January Through December, for which he wrote one song per month for every month of 2011.
Again, send your feedback and your links to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!