Monday, November 14, 2011
IT'S HAMILTON WEEK! FEATURING THE ARKELLS - MICHIGAN LEFT
One that has become a highlight for me is the annual Hamilton Music Awards. This will be the fourth I've attended over five years, and only illness prevented me from going that other time. It started in 2007, with the publication of my first book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums. There were quite a number of Hamiltonians in that list, including Daniel Lanois, Teenage Head, Crowbar and King Biscuit Boy. The organizer thought I'd fit in. Since then, It's been a blast getting to know the area, and its many exciting musicians.
Because Hamilton is so close to Toronto, it is often forgoten in the major media. Its own outlets do a fine job, but generally Toronto reporters won't venture forth to cover issues from that city's perspective. Given that the population base of the Hamilton-Burlington area is edging towards a million people, that's a big chunk of Canada going unreflected. This certainly happens to the music community there, and that's why I feel like I've been charged with some sort of mission to help get the word out. I'm happy to do it.
So, I head to Hamilton Wednesday, and will no doubt get more new CD's to hear once I arrive. Until then, I'll focus on the some recent Hamilton releases. The Arkells are actually having no trouble getting the word out to the rest of the country, which is great news of late for the rock scene there. The young band won a Juno for their debut disc, Jackson Square. You can't get more Hamilton than that, by the way, Jackson Square is the big mall right in the middle of the downtown, connected to the market, and boasting the usual huge food court/hang-out. It was definitely a message sent out by the proud Hammer residents. The new disc, Michigan Left, named after a highway sign no doubt, features lots of local references as well, from the Escarpment to the 403.
The album feels like a car drive, constant movement, bouncing around southern Ontario from Windsor to Toronto. Each song has some sort of travel or trip in it, such as a bus stop. That makes sense to me, it's an area where people plan their day around the drives they need to make, the possibility of traffic jams, and the huge areas around them they have to negotiate. The group gets into that headspace, plus the all-consuming job is always there, too. Blue collar is mentioned, evening shifts, going for coffee. In other words, this ain't pretty, it's gritty, just like Hamilton.
The Arkells are young, and I like the fact they don't simply sling loud guitar music. They've made an effort to write strong, thoughtful, melodic songs. There are several that are bright, up, and joyful, celebrating the real-life situations described in the lyrics. It's downright feel-good, something I've found missing in your basic rock band of late. And back to the lyrics, it's not just the settings and descriptions I like, there are good lines too; "This campfire won't last forever, the Hip have only wrote so many songs." Bahhahhhahhahah. Classic Canadian reference there.
So, Hamilton Week begins here on the Top 100 Canadian blog. Join me for more as I head to the Hammer, culminating in the Awards themselves Sunday night.