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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/8/2013)
The Canadian folk scene has been a rich and fairly prolific one, going back to the popularity of Gordon Lightfoot back in the 1960s. And of course, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young were born in our Northern neighbor. But while there are those who have achieved a degree of recognition and commercial success in the US, there quite a few who are relatively unknown in south of the border. A few weeks ago, we featured a fine emerging artist from Edmonton, Alberta, named Chloe Albert, whose CD Dedicated State has gotten some American distribution. This week we have another first-rate CD by another artist from the same city, Edmonton. In fact it had the same producer as Ms. Albert's. It's Rob Heath, whose new recording is called The Trick.
Rob Heath is actually a veteran artist whose recordings go back to 1988. The Trick is his fifth release. He has written songs for others, including Nashville publishing companies. And his new album features songs that date back as far as 1987. But it's rather timeless music, though somewhat eclectic in its stylistic combinations.
Rob Heath's focus is on musical storytelling, not in the lengthy narratives of Harry Chapin, but fairly succinct vignettes that nevertheless are more that simple "I-love you" songs. Succinctness seems to be the byword of this album. It's got 12 songs in just over 40 minutes, but the songs generally convey a course of events.
The album is also interesting musically. It's rather wide-ranging encompassing sounds from 1960s-style psychedelic ambience with sitar, to some rock and soul, to a piano ballad to pieces with un-folk-like odd meters. There is a fairly large cast of added players on the recording, which varies from one track to the next. The publicity sheet for the CD indicated that the recording was assembled though technology and Internet data exchanges, with, for example, a pianist in Nashville using digital control to play a grand piano in Toronto, a cellist in Vancouver and other musicians scattered about, recording in different places and times, and then brought together virtually. The result, produced and mixed by Louis Sedmak, is quite seamless. The variety of instrumentation does not sound scattered and the arrangements fit the songs very well. There is rather more use of the strings than one might expect, though it's quite tasteful.
The CD opens with a piece called Thrill Ride Operator which has the sitar with the string section which immediately conjures the psychedelic scene of the 1960s, especially the Beatles. It's a love song that cleverly builds on the metaphor of an amusement park thrill ride. <<>>
The title track The Trick is one of the highlights. It takes on a contemplative sound as the lyrics consider love from the one's first crush to a rocky marriage. <<>>
With a decidedly more rock-oriented sound is the song No Reason to Complain. Its positive lyrics, about making the best of a situation, are rather a contrast to the bluesy approach of the of the musical setting, complete with soul-influenced backing vocals. <<>>
While most of the songs are about relationships, Heath ventures into the state of the world on the piece called Glory of God which addresses the how people can be caught up in religious fanaticism. It's another highlight of the album with the nice way the music and instrumentation fit with the lyrics. <<>>
One of the more interesting tracks that also by implication could address larger social issues is a song called Low Cut Silk Dress, in which the protagonist sees a woman dressed that way, and struggles with his impulses. <<>>
Another lyrically distinctive song is Little Help Down Here, in which a guy in a bar appeals to extraterrestrials to come and fix the messed-up state of the world. <<>>
The CD lyric booklet contains the year each of the songs was written, and one that goes back to 1987 is called Play On. One could imagine this as one of those big 1980s stadium rock anthems that Heath might have written with a rock band in mind. The arrangement here is a bit more understated than that, but it's still about the most pop-oriented song on the album. <<>>
The CD ends with its piano ballad, Broken a kind of sad song looking back with regret at one's broken relationship. <<>>
Edmonton, Alberta, singer-songwriter Rob Heath's new fifth album, The Trick is his first in about four years. It's an excellent example of a high-quality album in the singer-songwriter genre, with very good writing, both lyrically and musically. The musical accompaniment goes well beyond a strumming folkie but combines a significant number of supporting musicians brought together in space and time through technology, for a very coherent and tasteful project. It's as musically interesting as it is lyrically engaging. It's also notable that the compositions on the CD span over 25 years.
Sonically, we'll give the CD an "A-minus." The combination of musicians scattered around two countries and brought together virtually, was skilfully handled and it sounds quite natural. But we'll subtract the usual points for the volume compression used that sucked out much of the ebbs and flow of the music in order to jack up the volume.
Rob Heath may not be so well-known south of the Canadian border, but his new CD The Trick will perhaps do what the title says and help bring his worthy music to American audiences.
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