Tag Archives: Maria Muldaur

Clap For The Sinners Choir

This Saturday, CROW Bar and Variety in Collingwood is bringing The Sinners’ Choir to town.

The best bands are always those that evolve naturally from a shared love of the music they play.  That’s the case with this trio, in which players from three generations have come together to blend their talents.  They also blend their voices, with an easy harmony that falls sweetly on your ear.

Working as a full-time musician, as with any job, can wear on you.  The thing about musicians, though, is that more often than not when they take a break from their regular gig, their idea of relaxation is to get together with somebody else and play something different.  That’s how this band came together.  Their shared joy in what they do is so infectious that it has led to another regular gig for them.  Their private jam sessions became public with a longstanding residency at The Rex in Toronto.  As the public caught on to their sound, they found themselves having to set aside the occasional date at the Rex to take other offers, for which they are increasingly in demand.  And now they are bringing their sweet harmonies to the sweet air of Georgian Bay.

The most seasoned pro of the group is bass player Terry Wilkins, whose name will be familiar to any fan of 80’s Toronto rock and blues.  He was already established in Australia in the 60’s with a popular band called The Flying Circus.  When they tried their luck in San Francisco, a chance meeting with members of McKenna Mendelson Mainline brought them to Toronto.

Making Toronto his permanent home, Terry played bass with Rough Trade from 1978 to 1982 and did stints with Lighthouse and David Wilcox.  At the same time he played with a variety of visiting artists of wide-ranging styles, including Dr. John, Maria Muldaur and Levon Helm.  Consistently working through the decades, he has worked more recently with Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party.

Drummer Adam Warner has a similar history of being an in demand player, except he started a couple of decades later.   He’s been around, playing at legendary clubs like The Cavern in Liverpool, CBGB’s in New York, and has played at a command concert for Paul Anka and birthday celebrations for the Queen of Holland.  As a writer and composer, he has released solo works, composed musical backdrops for David Suzuki, and performed or recorded with various members of The Barenaked Ladies,The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, Great Big Sea, Big Sugar, and Moist.

Guitarist Adam Beer Colacino was busy growing up while his bandmates were making their  international reputations.  He’s worked with Devin Cuddy, Whitney Rose and members of Downchild Blues Band.  He’s teamed up with blues guitarist Fraser Melvin and an 8-piece horn section in the The Melvin-Colacino Band.

The band takes turns on lead vocals, with the other two providing harmonies, as they mix it up with originals that reflect the wide-ranging experience and tastes of the players.  When a band loves playing together as much as these three obviously do, it is always a delight for the audience.

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Remarkable Talent Jenie Thai Plays The Red Door on Friday

This Friday at The Red Door Pub and Grille you’ll have a chance to discover a brilliant gem in the form of Jenie Thai.  Her piano playing won her a Maple Blues Award in 2016 for “Best Keyboardist of The Year”.  In 2011 she was one of thirteen finalists our of 16,000 submissions in the International Songwriting Competition.  And her voice ranges freely over three octaves and deep into the recesses of your heart, bringing to mind Norah Jones and Maria Muldaur.  She’s the kind of performer who makes you hold your breath and stop everything just to listen.

Raised in a musical household in Edmonton, Jenie began piano lessons at the age of five and continued her study through a couple of decades mastering the classics and jazz.  Among other schools she was accepted into Paul McCartney’s international music school based in Liverpool.  Constantly touring, she has criss-crossed the country on festival stages, in blues bars, theatres, lounges, and living rooms. In spring of 2012, Jenie started the “Couch Concert Series”, a continuing project where she arrives on strangers steps to play a living room show in exchange for donations and a couch to sleep on.

It requires some restraint to avoid applying over-the-top adjectives to this remarkable talent.  Her website quotes CBC producer C. Martin from 2011: “Energetic, vibrant, talented, dynamic and diverse… Jenie Thai is all the regular words you might use to describe an amazing young musician only more so… [she] dances and jumps and sways while she sings and plays her piano… Jazz, pop, folk, blues, ballads and screamers, Jenie is well worth it no matter what you want or need in a show… look to her recordings to savour the range and depth she brings to her song writing skills. Acoustic, electric, solo, full band, coffee shop, festival stage, Jenie Thai does it all in style.”

That about sums it up, along with this, one of her terrific original songs:

The shows at the Red Door start early at seven and are over by ten, so you’d be wise to arrive early to grab a seat.

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Click on this album cover to hear Jenie Thai’s music


Jumping Jive with The Vaudevillian Tonight

Patrons of Bruce Wine Bar have a real treat in store for them tonight with an appearance by a little trio that calls themselves The Vaudevillian.  It’s a band that specializes in jug band music.  The phenomenon of jug bands was something that originated in the 20’s and 30’s when groups of musicians used homemade instruments to play their versions of the great jazz that was coming out of places like Harlem and New Orleans.  They would put together a broomstick and a washtub to make a bass, and augment it with a tuba-like sound made by blowing into an empty jug.  For percussion they would put thimbles on their fingers and stroke a metal washboard, often with a pot lid or two attached to work as a cymbal.  A guitar and violin would fill out the sound and, with the infusion of some native talent, these musicians would create a pretty good facsimile of the original hits.  Sometimes they would add a kazoo, maybe amplified by attaching some device like a muffler to it for amplification.

The music of the jug bands enjoyed a resurgence during the sixties folk boom, primarily performed by The Jim Kweskin Jug Band (with Maria Muldaur as their beautiful and captivating lead singer).  In England, they developed a version of the jug band with what they called skiffle bands.  That was how John Lennon began, with a little group that morphed into The Beatles when Paul and George came on board.  In both of the American and British versions, the bands picked up on the music and did it in their own style.

Now all these years later comes The Vaudevillian, following the same tradition but with some major differences.  The washboard is still the central percussion instrument, played with amazing dexterity and taste by Norah Spades, and lead singer/guitarist Brendan Stephens (a.k.a Jitterbug James) sometimes will pull out a jug, and often plays his  “carzoobamaphone” (a kazoo amplified by attachments from car parts), but there is a real upright bass, played by Guy “Piedmont” Johnson.  What stands out with this band, that sets them apart from both Jim Kweskin and John Lennon, is that they are really excellent musicians.  And they have an authentic sound that truly evokes the music of the original era, even down to Brendan’s N’Awlins drawl when he sings.  And, without veering away from their faithful adherence to the style, their repertoire now includes mostly original songs.

Don’t think for a moment that the authenticity means that this band is some kind of museum piece.  The original jug band music jumped with energy and spark, and so does The Vaudevillian.  Much of this is due to the passion for the music that Brendan has had since he was very young.  He’s been a self described “old-time music nerd” since the age of twelve when he first discovered this music.  From endless listening to the original ragtime and jazz legends he has internalized their music and their sound.  “You get into the character,” he says, “and it’s wonderful”.  He’s been busking since he began and has gone through a couple of different permutations with the band but, with the present lineup in place for about a year and a half, things have become pretty busy and they have enjoyed some adventures.

One adventure, which was simultaneously inspiring and scary, was a three month sojourn in New Orleans, where they busked daily in the French Quarter.  While they soaked up the music that was everywhere and attracted crowds whenever they played, “New Oleans,” says Norah,”is a very dangerous place”.  The threat of “pickpockets or something worse” was a real concern wherever there was a crowd.

Ironically their busking in the French Quarter came to an abrupt halt after the Paris nightclub terrorist attack.  The ripple effect reached all the way to New Orleans, where the police opened up Royal Street to traffic.  Before that it would be closed to car traffic to allow for a pedestrian mall, an ideal setting for a catchy busking band.  Once the cars were let in, the pedestrian traffic diminished to almost nothing, and it was time for The Vaudevillian to move on.

Another new adventure for them was playing the Skagen Festival in Denmark.  It is an annual traditional folk festival, the oldest in Denmark, held on the far northern tip of Jutland in the town of Skagen.  While their music went over well, they weren’t able to do their customary back and forth with the audience because of the language barrier.  “We tend to be interactive with the audience,” says Norah, “and we couldn’t be as inclusive.”  But they feel they learned from the experience and are glad to be invited back again for this summer’s festival.

They are also glad to be invited back to the Bruce Wine Bar.  “It’s really neat,” says Norah, “because it’s a fancy wine bar that we love”, a nice contrast to the flea markets and noisy bars that they often play.  They also like the two shows concept that is how the wine bar functions.  Brendan says, “During the first show we play a little quieter numbers, and then at the later show we can get a little louder.”  They do admit, though, that theirs is a band that would tend to make noise diners ignore their meals to pay attention to the music, which is irresistible.  “There’s an appreciation, a level of attention that we are grateful for.”

Live music fans can also be grateful for a chance to enjoy a band of this calibre in a dinner setting.

The Vaudevillian plays two shows tonight at 7 and 9 p.m.  Reservations are recommended.

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