Wednesday, May 11, 2011



I don't spend enough time in Moncton. Come to think about it, I don't spend enough time in Saint John, Miramichi, Edmundston, the name it. Bound to my Fredericton home, I miss out on a lot of new music coming out, because I can't be everywhere all the time. The one good thing about that is when I do go for a visit, there's always somebody to check out, and often it's someone new, or new-to-me at least.

I was in Moncton for the Frye Festival a couple of weeks ago, and who would have thought it would be the event where I got excited about music? Well, I did get excited about the literature as well, but they do such a good job adding music to the event, that it sort of took over a lot of my attention, being a music guy first and foremost. One of the featured performers at the Frye Fest was a guy named Joe Grass, who I had never heard of before, but lots of folks there rolled their eyes at me. It turns out much of the Moncton music scene has known about Joe for years, but why my friends didn't tell ME...I don't know.

Joe is indeed from Moncton, but he's lived in Montreal most of the last decade. On his own, he is a guitar player and songwriter, mellow, experimental, very interesting. He's actually made his name in Montreal as a sideman, playing with some of the very best in the city, in the English and French scenes. He's a regular with Patrick Watson, one of the top alternative artists in the country, and with francophones he has become one of the go-to guitarists, for stars such as Daniel Belanger, and even Quebecois legend Ginette Reno, so young and not-so-young all want him on the road with them, he's that kind of talent.

Now I saw Joe in a number of different combos, backing up other artists such as Marie-Jo Therio, contributing fun atmostpheric accompanyment to the poets, joining top jazzers Les Paiens, and playing his own stuff. While he impressed at it all, it was his own show that was captivating. It was one of the those times when you just sit and watch, taking it all in. I didn't know any of his material, but it immediately grabbed me. Grass has a unique voice, and a killer way of playing guitar, sometimes plucking the slack-tuned strings to give it a more bassy-percussive sound, or coaxing surprising sounds. He has a little Jeff Buckley in him, that kind of individual artist style, and some of Daniel Lanois, a vague mystery.

Well, I had to find out more, and discovered there's a couple of CD's of his available. An earlier one just called Joe Grass was pretty much just an attempt to get songs down on tape, and came out in 2004, in his early 20's. Now we get a much more developed style, on the new Deadlocks. Although guitar dominates the 8 tracks, there's a lot of percussion here, a lot of rhythm, not so much drums as tapping, hammering on strings, a couple of players are credited with shakes and thumps. There's is an orchestrated, intricate sound he's after. I don't know if it's complete yet. There's lots of interesting moments on the disc for sure, great use of co-vocalists, accordians, lots of atmosphere from cymbals and cool production. There's old blues and country, and an antique feeling to it all. But I've seen the guy live, and he's a better singer than what is on the disc, and such a presence on stage, this calm recording doesn't reflect that. Yet. But with this guy's level of talent, it has to happen, one would hope.

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