Music Review: Gabriel Minnikin - Parakeets With Parasols

I first reviewed Gabriel Minnikin's new album back in December, when he was making some rare appearances in the province. The disc was done, and in limited release at the shows and such, but now it's getting a proper release. It's such a good one, I thought I'd print the review again, as an incentive for you folks to check it out.

Gabriel Minnikin was one of the founders of the beloved Halifax band The Guthries, and made two albums with them in the early 2000's that remain alt-country classics. That band was like an all-star team, as each member has gone on to bring us more grand music over the years. The other members were Dale Murray, Matt Mays, Serge Samson, Brian Murray, and Gabe's sister Ruth. Prime stuff. Since then, Gabriel has moved to England and continues his career, and keeps in touch with his Maritime roots as well.

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The country style has stayed in his music, but when was the last time you heard a country album that included a full orchestra and choir? Luscious ooo's, and flutes? Kettle drums alongside liberal use of pedal steel? Probably never. I can't say I've heard anything remotely like Parakeets With Parasols, but it's gorgeous, and finds the talented singer-songwriter sounding like the bastard child of Gram Parsons and Rufus Wainwright. The multi-talented performer chimes in on everything but chimes: piano, accordian, synth, all manners of keys, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, autoharp, guitar, bass, and various percussion pieces. But that's just the start of the rich orchestration, and I've rarely heard such a tremendous studio mix of classical instruments and modern ones. The recording itself is deep and full, the strings especially sounding like you're in the front row at the symphony. There's some magical engineering here.

Then comes Minnikin's sorrow-drenched voice, rough and weary, the same kind of emotion you'll hear in Lucinda Williams' singing. Machine Guest sees him describing a tremendous singer, wowing an audience on stage, but fatally flawed as a human: "Those cigarettes, they suit you best/and so does that whiskey breath." More semi-tragic characters come into the picture, like the friend in Halifax Blues, drunk with a car full of guns, arrested before anything happens: "You should listen to your own advice and get yourself some help/we'll all be here for you when you need us most."

Minnikin's musical adventures also see him down in Louisiana, for the track New Orleans. It features a rollicking horn arrangement, like the kind Allen Toussaint put together for The Band's Rock Of Ages tour and album, with banjo and pedal steel chugging along as well, plus a killer piano solo. Minnikin is simply brimming with ideas on the album, and has created an epic of sound and words.

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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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