Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Meanwhile… In Newfoundland

As many of you know I have been spending my summer in Newfoundland. In fact, I am writing this article from a wonderful hostel in Trinity East, a town so small it makes the smallest DC outskirt seem like a bustling megalopolis. And it’s filled with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I could wax on about this place, and the characters we’ve met. But this is a music article, not a travel one. Fortunately, however, music plays an integral role in Newfoundland’s identity.

Being that the island, the culture, and the accent are all very Irish in nature, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the music takes on those characteristics as well. Many of the songs originated in Ireland and emigrated here along with the people, though most of the songs are straight from the heart of Newfoundland itself, most often with an aquatic theme. Songs of the sea, songs of fishing, songs of hard living and good times are all major themes. And, of course, songs of drink. Those are often the best ones.

The most successful band to come out of Newfoundland is Great Big Sea. Their brand of traditional music infused with a pub-rock edge has won them audiences all over the world. Other fantastic bands worth checking out include Shanneyganock, The Irish Descendants, The Navigators, the hilarious Buddy Wasisname And The Other Fellers, Ron Hynes (Newfoundland’s answer to Dylan) and The Once, who are starting to garner attention internationally due to their work with The Passenger.

However, there is much to discover beyond the accordion-drenched seafaring folk music. St. John’s, in particular, has a thriving indie rock scene, filled with wonderful bands who may have grown up listening to traditional music but also grew up listening to rock & roll and managed to find a way to combine the two. Some of these bands are starting to make waves off the island while many are enjoying their hometown success.

Fred’s Records, on Duckworth Street, is one of the best stores I’ve ever visited, and I spent a good deal of time there. Their selection is outstanding but it is their focus on local music that kept me opening my wallet, resulting in a stack of CDs that I will be listening to for a good long time. Some highlights:

Sherman Downey & The Ambiguous Case: The Sun In Your Eyes
Sherman hails from Corner Brook, on the western side of Newfoundland, and his relaxed vibe reflects that perfectly. Easily my favorite “discovery”, his second album could be a best-of compilation. Every song is pure gold. It’s clear that Sherman grew up in Newfoundland, evidenced especially by the presence of an accordionist in the band. But he also grew up listening to The Band and Dylan and stuff like that. Fusing the two, the result is a set of expertly-written, tuneful songs that get stuck in your head after hearing them once. Bouncy, catchy songs like “Isadora Duncan”, “Heart vs Doubt”, and “Thick As Thieves” make it impossible for you to not smile, while more reflective songs like the country-tinged “Annalee” and the dreamy “All That You Hate” balance the act stupendously. While it’s hard to pick favorites, I’d probably say the big winner here is “The Right Idea”. If you listen to nothing else by Sherman Downey, make sure you look this track up. It will be your favorite song in the world by the time the first chorus finishes up. The amount of airplay this album has gotten in my car has rivaled Alabama Shakes. Just can’t turn it off.

Whatever you do, make sure you hear this album.

Sherman’s first album, 2009’s Honey For Bees is also outstanding, especially songs like “Blue”, “Keep Your Head Up”, and “Falling Backwards”. It’s well worth seeking out.

Green & Gold: The Body Knows
So one evening I went down to the Rose & Thistle to see a few bands I had never heard of, just because I wanted to hear some local music. Had a great time. I became friendly with Steve and Len, who played in two of the bands. They told me about their main band, Green & Gold, and suggested I come out to their show at the Ship Pub the following week so I went and they blew the roof off the place. Picked up their debut EP and it is just as good. “Night Rainbows” is hands down the best song I have heard all summer. It recently was given top honors in an Overcast reader’s poll, so it’s not just me. The rest of the disc might not reach such lofty heights but it comes damn close. “Those Deviant Kids” is another winner as is “Wolves”. They played some new songs at the show and I’m very much looking forward to hearing them in their final form. Until then these eight songs will do fine.

Rogues: Edge Of The World
Hailing from St. John’s, Rogues are another band that clearly grew up listening to traditional music. But they also listened to Green Day and stuff like that. So the result is a really high energy mix that is similar to bands like Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys, but with the grit and gusto of the “Fighting Newfoundlander”. Their debut album captures that spirit perfectly, whether on the solid alt.rockers like “Huckey Pump” and “Fridays”, or the revved-up Newfoundland stompers like “Pride Of Torbay”, “Hangman’s Waltz”, or “Captain William Jackman”. This is another album that has been getting constant play in my car. I am still kicking myself for not seeing them live. Perhaps next time.

I don’t have enough room to go into detail about the rest of the music that I found but other highlights include the laid-back island vibes of Baytown, the stripped-down garage pop of The Connexions, and the tuneful alt.rock of London Above. And, of course, Hey Rosetta! They will be saved for another article, as that is a whole other kettle of cod.

By Chris Anderson

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