Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We're Movin' On Up!

Hi My Music Readers, 

This is my final message to you on this version of the site. 

Over the last few months, we at My Music have been working on the development of the central My Entertainment World site where we'll be joining with our current sister sites My Theatre, My TV, My Sports Stadium, My Bookshelf and My Cinema. The new central hub will feature highlighted articles from across My Entertainment World and a showcase for our biggest exclusive interviews as well as the most recent posts from all 6 existing branches (and our brand new venture My Games). 

But never fear, My Music will live on with it's own page as a branch under the My Entertainment World umbrella. At www.myentertainmentworld.ca/mymusic you'll be able to find all the same content from this site and tons more. 

Thank you all for your dedicated readership of My Music in the past few months, we love hearing from each and every one of you. I can't wait to show you our new and improved selves. 

We launch www.myentertainmentworld.ca this week- get excited and I'll see you there!

All My Love, 
Kelly Bedard
Managing Editor, My Music

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dar Williams at Hugh’s Room

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favourite singer/songwriters live.

I first fell in love with Dar Williams' quirky lyrics and sweet, folksy guitar melodies back in the days when I used to go to summer arts camp. During something called "unit hour", my counsellor would pull out her guitar and sing "The Babysitter's Here", Dar's ode to the coolest babysitter on the block and the childlike wonder of idolizing her. The adorable song is funny and sad and oh-so familiar, like most of Dar's best work. Sung by my camp counsellor- Celeste, a blue-haired theatre artist with a nose ring and a heart of gold- "The Babysitter's Here" made our entire cabin feel like it was our song, and the lyrics were about our counsellor as she played guitar, sang, wrote poetry, danced and tie-dyed our shirts, just like Dar's babysitter did.

As I got older, I fell for one of Williams' other famous works, one that is to-this-day one of my favourite songs ever written: "When I Was a Boy". Strict and largely arbitrary gender lines have baffled me all my life and as a somewhat girly girl totally fine with being a girl, I've often taken offense to the idea that by being such I'm adhering to some sort of rulebook. The notion that my best friend can't admit to his male friends how much he likes The Parent Trap or that my love of baseball is considered somehow incompatible with my love of red lipstick is just bizarre; those are lines the average person doesn't bother to battle, we live with them and just sadly yearn for a time when they didn't matter as much. I've never heard anyone put into words my exact feelings on the topic quite so wonderfully as Dar Williams in "When I Was a Boy". The melancholy ballad tells of a time when a young girl could tell Peter Pan she's a boy and earn the right to fly and fight alongside him; and it tells of now "when leaving a late night with some friends, I hear somebody tell me it's not safe, someone should help me. I need to find a nice man to walk me home". Dar's point isn't that society minimizes its women or that we shouldn't let men walk us home or that we should all macho up. With her final verse she points out that it goes both ways, that the tragedy isn't that girls don't get to play like boys and boys don't get to pick flowers, it's that once upon a time "you were just like me, and I was just like you" and then we grow up and we get arbitrarily separated and told who to be. It's a sad little wakeup song that I consider one of the most truthful ever written.

While the "I don't understand and she tries to explain"s in "The Babysitter's Here" are followed by both "how a spaceship is riding through somebody's brain" and "and all that mascara runs down in her pain" and, however cutesy and inclusive "When I Was a Boy" is, it's still hopelessly melancholy, one of Dar's most famous songs is the upbeat, funny and hopeful "The Christians and the Pagans". I come from a Catholic family and my favourite aunt is Wiccan so "The Christians and the Pagans" is a particularly fun holiday adventure. It's still got Dar's trademark honest edge of depressing realism, such as the fact that the family is somewhat estranged and when the uncle awkwardly puts down his son's request to be a Pagan with "we'll discuss it when they leave", but "The Christians and the Pagans" is an overall celebration of the fact that "Now, when Christians eat with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning".

So, you know those creepy facebook ads that use stockpiled information about your likes, dislikes, location, age, race, body type and past internet behaviour to target you? I actually don't mind them, because I honestly don't mind corporations knowing that information so long as I have the power to ignore their campaigns and because if the ads are targeted to my interests, every once in awhile they will show something I'm actually interested in. So when Facebook informed me that Dar Williams would be playing in Toronto at Hugh's Room on Dundas West, I was less creeped out by the stalkery ad and mostly thrilled that I'd get to finally see Dar perform live.

She didn't disappoint. The unpretentious singer has welcoming stage presence, a superb self-effacing sense of humour and enough fun anecdotes to fill a concert twice as long as her painfully short set at Hugh's. Dar chatted amicably as she tuned her guitar, telling great stories about her first record label promising to get her on the cover of "High Times" only to have her be rejected because she didn't smoke weed and dispensing sarcastic career advice about the fact that "being inspired by your dreams" is actually what she does for a living. A tale about the quest for a replacement A string at an all-female folk festival brought down the house; her tongue-in-cheek retelling of how the staff over-expressed their feelings and said things like "I felt very judged just now" was the perfect counterpoint to her general insistence that "I'm totally down with the sisterhood", the unspoken caveat being "so long as they're not crazy". The beautiful singer performed all her best songs and plenty of new material, the only one missing being "Iowa", which I missed less than I thought I would as I discovered new favourites "Cool as I Am" and "The Easy Way".

In the big but intimate room at Hugh's, the Dar Williams concert was simply great and I cannot wait for her to come back again. In the meantime, she's got about 18 albums I need to catch up on.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

At the Global Cabaret

by Kelly Bedard

The last weekend in October was one of the coolest weekends I've ever spent in my beloved Toronto.  Downtown, in the heart of the ever-gorgeous Distillery District, sits the city's most valuable performance space: The Young Centre for the Performing Arts. The beautifully designed venue sports a spacious lobby with a bar that serves everything from local beers and good wines to delicious espresso drinks, chai hot chocolate, gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads and the best fresh-baked cookies this side of my mother's kitchen. It's also home to no fewer than four diverse and convertible theatre spaces. Once a year, this perfect little slice of the city is filled with 3 days worth of Toronto's greatest musical talent at The Global Cabaret Festival.

The 4th annual showcase featured more than 150 musicians in 44 performances from Oct 28-30 and was composed of 3 types of cabarets: The Featured Artist Series showcased, well, featured artists, including some of Canada's most legendary talent (Jackie Richardson to Sharron Matthews to Daniel Taylor) performing their signature material. The Album Series was a set of tributes to the great artists and songwriters of the world (The Beatles, Paul Simon, Carole King, and more) music directed by the festival's resident artists and each featuring a plethora of guest stars. Finally there was the Theatrical Cabaret Series, which consisted of re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song, a Soulpepper original re-mounted from its earlier run, and The National Theatre of the World: The Carnegie Hall Show, a completely improvised musical event that was different at each performance.

I kicked my weekend off early Saturday afternoon at Albert Schultz's kids cabaret Young At Heart. Schultz, the Young Centre/Soulpepper poobah and festival mastermind, has quickly become a favourite of mine in my first year reviewing Soulpepper. In Young at Heart he shows off exactly what it is that makes him so incredibly good at the coolest job in the world. He has an affable charm that makes him a superb figurehead (he can be seen wandering the halls of any Young Centre event, schmoozing and taking in shows) but he's also in possession of an incredibly unique blend of passion, seriousness and fun. Everything he does is executed seemingly effortlessly (the mark of a lot of effort) and Schultz consistently has audiences eating out of the palm of his hand. His cabaret (which he's performed for over a decade and recorded for the CBC) is a loving tribute to comedian/singers like Danny Kaye and a celebration of youthful wonder (he does a "cat medley" that includes "Everybody Wants to be a Cat", "Tigger" and "If I Were King of the Forrest", which he delivers in endearing goofy voices); it also features priceless contributions from the great Don Francks and Jackie Richardson. Housed in the Michael Young Theatre, beautifully transformed with cabaret tables and twinkling candles, Young at Heart was my favourite cabaret of the whole wonderful weekend.

Next, I was lucky enough to catch Jackie Richardson's own cabaret, a delightful hour of jazz and blues as delivered by one of Canada's most awesome performers. Richardson's show dragged only a little as she got lost in some of her more wandering anecdotes (most of which were simply hilarious) but the power of her voice and her engaging stage presence proved impossible to ignore.

Things slowed down from there when I wandered cluelessly into The Stan Rogers Songbook. Headed up by endearing performers like Miranda Mulholland  and the endlessly charming Brendan Wall, I'm sure this particular cabaret was wildly entertaining to fans of Stan Rogers' downhome melancholy, but I found it a little less than rousing (through absolutely no fault of the performers). The reason I went was to see one of the featured guests, Mike Ross, who delivered a couple strong vocals and livened up the proceedings with some cute banter, an anecdote about his expected baby (6 days overdue by then) and some fake rivalry fun (he accidentally knocked over Wall's guitar). Standing in line for a later show I overheard the audience members behind me discussing the E.E. Cummings piece that Ross was a major contributor to: "That Mike Ross is a genius" is not an uncommon sentence to hear at The Young Centre but that doesn't make it any less true. I thought he was great as a conflicted sociopath in White Biting Dog, then amazing in Acting Up Stage's Leonard Cohen/Joni Mitchell tribute, but the boyishly charming multi-hyphenate seems to whip out another mastered skill every time I see him and impress me even more. I'm just sad that at The Global Cabaret Festival I only got to see him sing Stan Rogers.

Next up was Sharron Matthews, of whom I've heard much but seen very little. The exuberant singer lived up to expectations with one of the most fun cabarets of the whole festival. With more of a focus on storytelling than the rest, Matthews gave the outright funniest performance I saw, complete with her divalicious takes on popular songs and a vicious demand for the monstrous Rob Ford to "get out of office and we'll feel alright" (sung to the tune of Bob Marley's usually peaceful "One Love"). Matthews' exuberance comes with a certain degree of self-righteousness, earned from a bullied childhood and years as an industry underdog, but that can be forgiven when she makes the glasses tremble with her powerful belt.

After that, I made the mistake of trying to get into The Beatles's Abbey Road from the Album Series at 8:15, missing my last chance to see the E.E. Cummings show I'd missed earlier this year at Soulpepper. When The Beatles turned out to be too popular (duh!), I called it a night.

I spent my Sunday with a musician friend of mine who was working at the festival instead of scouting out the rest of the Featured Artist Series (I figured between Schultz, Richardson and Matthews I'd gotten my money's worth). After dinner, my media pass got me in to see the final few minutes of Prince's Purple Rain, which I was glad to have mostly missed after musical director Suba Sankaran's gratingly forced enthusiasm proved too much for me to handle.

At 9:15 I capped off my excellent weekend at Toronto's coolest yearly event with the most popular show of the festival: Abbey Road. It was alright, not as memorable as I would have liked. After some of the brilliant cabarets earlier that weekend and the example set by Reza Jacobs' innovative takes on the Mitchell/Cohen songbooks, I'd come to expect a little re-interpretation when dealing with songs as famous as a Beatles track. But with the exception of a little extra drumming, the famous tunes remained largely untouched, delivered prettily but with a somewhat disappointing sense of adulation.

But a few underwhelming shows aside, the Global Cabaret Festival was freaking cool. I don't think there's anywhere else in the world where so many brilliant musicians could come together for such a unique and diverse event, it felt very Torontonian somehow (and not just because the musicians weren't all New York imports, they were ours). Sitting in the back of the Michael Young as a packed house tapped their toe alongside Jackie Richardson, I couldn't help but grin because this is where I live.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Grammy Noms

Music's biggest awards announced their contenders this week. There are only 78 categories this year, which sounds like a lot but down from 109 last year it's quite the drop. The result is a mix of the old familiar names and some wonderfully new additions but numbers a little lower than usual.

My beloved Adele did pretty well, racking up 6 nominations including Record and Song of the Year for the inescapably popular "Rolling in the Deep". The Grammy voters clearly Sophie's choiced amongst the singer's entire eligible album to pick the nominee for Best Pop Solo Performance, rightly going with "Someone Like You". "Rolling in the Deep" interestingly made the cut for Short-form Video. Oh, and she's obviously also up for Album of the Year for 21.

Also with 6 nominations is the freaking cool Bruno Mars for Doo-wops and Hooligans, "Grenade" scoring noms in the biggest categories.

Foo Fighters are up there too in nomination numbers, just not in the more prominent categories (they're over where the amps turn up to 11). They're in Album of the Year but not Record or Song.

Kanye West topped'em all with 7 nominations, mostly because he works so damn much. He's up against himself more than once, but neither the polarizing Watch the Throne (with Jay-Z) or his adored My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made the cut for Album of the Year.

Lady Gaga and Rihanna scored the final Album of the Year spots, beating out Taylor Swift's Speak Now, though she does have a handful of nods for "Mean".

In the Best New Artist category Bon Iver will battle it out with The Band Perry, J. Cole and Skrillex as the rest of us try and wrap are heads around the fact that household name Nicki Minaj still counts as a "new artist".

On a personal note, Seth MacFarlane's Music is Better Than Words scored a surprise pair of nods, bringing a smile to my face. Louis CK, Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey and Betty White are all up there too (for spoken word and comedy albums) as is the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon (a sure winner- Parker and Stone could have an EGOT before they know it!).

The 54th Annual Grammy Awards are on February 12th at 8pm on CBS.

Click HERE to read the full list of nominees.