Dale Murray: Grade-A Producer AND Artist

I can pretty much already write my script for my coverage of this year's East Coast Music Awards right now, leaving just a few blanks. It will go something like this: "The runaway winner of last night's East Coast Music Awards was (BLANK). He/She/They took home a total of (BLANK) trophies, thanks to their hit album (BLANKITY_BLANK_BLANK). So-and-so also did well, taking home (BLANK) ECMA's."

And that's the way it always goes. People want to know who won Album of the year, Song of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, that's who gets all the ink and coverage, and it's that way at every award show. But, I always feel bad for one group that never gets any attention. Why, it's not even part of the gala presentation, but to me, they include some of the most important awards given. I'm talking about the music writers and broadcasters... no, I'm not. I'm actually talking about the Industry Awards, where the behind-the-scenes people are honoured. At the ECMA's, there's always a nice Industry Brunch the day before to honour them, and they announce the nominees and give out the trophies, just like the real thing, but nobody ever remembers them two days later.

But many of these categories include people directly involved in the creative process. Here's a case-in-point from this year's crop of industry nominees: It's the Audio Professional of the Year. Now, here's somebody who not only contributes, but can completely dominate the final product through their skills. In many cases, producers and engineers are the driving force, choosing players, instruments, arrangements, working on the music and lyrics, playing something themselves. Choosing these people is the biggest decision an artist can make about their recording.

I'm going to single out one today, in this category. Dale Murray is from Nova Scotia, and has been an integral part of the music community for the past 15 years or so. He came out of a much-loved group, The Guthries, which also gave us Matt Mays and Ruth Minnikin. Later on, he joined the Toronto band Cuff The Duke, Juno-nominated this year, but Dale has just recently left the band. That's because he wants to concentrate on his own career, which is partly as a recording artist, and partly as a recording engineer/producer. He has set up a studio at his home in Port Howe. When he's not making his own music, he produces his wife, the singer-songwriter Christina Martin, who is nominated for Folk Album of the Year this year, a disc Dale recorded. Last year he was also behind the board for discs by Steven Bowers, The Express and Molly Thomason. Murray has developed a status as a go-to guy, who can make you sound authentic and rootsy. He also will step in the booth and lay down great pedal steel, banjo and guitar tracks. He's the consummate team player, and everybody from Joel Plaskett to Hayden to Buck 65 has called on his services, and he plays pretty much everything. I love the sound of all the discs he's produced.

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Now, there's more Murray news. Back in 2005 Murray released his first solo album, but as you can tell, he's been a pretty busy guy since then. Somehow in all that work, he's managed to record a second disc, and it has just come out. Called Dream Mountain Dream, the album is, hands down, one of the very best east coast works I've ever heard, perhaps my favourite new album of the year, and exactly the kind of sound I love. Murray mixes classic pop sounds, the vintage Top 40 feel, with todays roots sensibilities. You get these gorgeous melodies, big choruses, great stories, wonderful harmonies, and all with a contemporary soundscape. Christina Martin is all over the record, with lots of layers of harmonies, and it's almost a duet album, except Murray always takes the lead vocals. Here's a man obviously in love with creating three great minutes of music in the studio, the way the best did it, The Byrds, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and what a succesful record he's made. Five stars.

So, not all the talent is on the stage at the ECMA's. Every industry nominee has their own special talents that go into the music you love, from creating the visual art of the album, to making sure it's promoted so you can hear about it. When (blankety-blank-blank-blank) goes home with five awards at this year's ECMA's, remember there are lots more award-winners on the East Coast.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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