Wed, Aug 29, 2012.
Let us examine the word zwerg. It seems to have no true English definition. In German however, it means dwarf, and all the words we associate with little people. There's a kind of computer spam some post as well, a little wooden gnome figure, also called a zwerg, from the German. However, that's it, you can't play zwerg in Scrabble, it isn't an English word. Oh, except in New Brunswick. But even then, it's confusing. There's a well-known musician out of Moncton who goes by the name Zwerg. But he also has a band, and it's called Zwerg. I saw that crack outfit play the East Coast Music Awards. And Zwerg has a brand-new disc out, by Zwerg the person I think.
Zwerg, you might have guessed, isn't his real name, he goes by Eldon Thiele. However, that may not be his true name. Whatever that is, all Betts are off. It's so confusing. Let's just stick with Zwerg, the person, and leave it at that.
Zwerg has become known in the Moncton scene as an inventive pop music guy, with sweet ballads, and hook-filled, uptempo numbers. His latest album shows both sides and more, and it's called Whims 'n' Words. A piano player, he likes to make rich, syrupy songs, which highlight his attractive vocals and ringing chords. There's no attempt to toughen up the sound with rock guitars, this is happy, often bouncy music definitely on the soft-rock side. It's like he's been taking peppy pop pills his whole life.
Zwerg is also a very positive person, and tremendously patriotic, especially about Atlantic Canada and particularly about New Brunswick. I can't think of another contemporary album in this vein that has so much about the area. These include some originals, and a few covers as well, as he pays tribute to both the region and the musicians here. He does a great, stripped-down version of Wintersleep's Weighty Ghost, and another of In-Flight Safey's Coast Is Clear. From the sublime to the silly, he also does the old country hit for Saint John's Stevedore Steve, Lester The Lobster. Feeling some affinity for Newfoundland, he does a popped-up take on I'se The B'y, quite good, and a tribute song, Northern Lights Of Labrador. Acadie gets a nod too, in a Zachary Richard song.
Patriotic, he wears it on his sleeve, and rivals Stompin' Tom for out-and-out national pride. He even plays O Canada on piano as the penultimate track on the disc. Elsewhere, he covers The Land of New Brunswick, the official song of the province. He does a recitation of the poem The Dungarvon Whooper, that famous Miramichi tale by Michael Whelan, first published exactly a century ago. And Zwerg's own songs have lots of New Brunswick references, including his own one simply called New Brunswick, which is a run-down of some favourite things found here, including humpback whales, eastern panthers, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery's Dali painting, fiddleheads and salmon. There's also Sunny Brae Babe, a shout-out to that neighbourhood in Moncton.
What I like most about Zwerg is that he does what he loves, with no interest in whether it's hip or not. Certainly playing a solo, no vocals version of the national anthem on piano won't win him marks with the cool kids, and his light pop touch won't bring him rock fans, nor will reading a poem or doing the corny Lester the Lobster. But it's the innocence and happiness that's infectious here, as it is about him in person. Plus, there's no denying he can write a killer melody.
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Bob 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).