Music Review: John Jerome & the Congregation - Ask Not What I Can Do For You, But What We Can Do Together

I don't know where the idea of a collective rock band started a few years back, but certainly Canada led the way. You had the New Pornographers out of Vancouver, a side project for A.C. Newman and Neko Case that became bigger than either of their own careers. Then there was Broken Social Scene, the main group out of Toronto's collective alternative world, and home to such talents as Feist, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, which over the years has sported at least 25 different members. While there are natural leaders within this type of group, there isn't the usual band dynamic, and it seems more about being musical friends and helping out.

I think this came out of necessity as the music world evolved. It's harder and harder to make a living in your typical rock band. You have to team up, and often in different group combinations, just to get enough work. Also, as the home studio developed, you no longer had to go to a plant to make your music, and stick to the hours booked. You could work away at home, and call friends to drop by and add parts, taking as long as you wanted.

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John Jerome and the Congregation take that approach, a group of friends from Moncton, like-minded music makers who have come together to make a whole bigger than the individual parts. In addition to their mysterious leader, you have members with lots of experience in different groups. There's Kyle McDonald from Cop Shades, Mico Roy and Maxence Cormier who both play in the Acadian group Les Hotesses d'Hilaire, and Julie Doucette, who works with Kevin McIntyre.

The group's debut is called Ask Not What I Can Do For You, But What We Can Do Together, which perfectly sums up the idea of a congregation. They all take this to heart, and say they got together to make something interesting and fun. The nine tracks you'll find on the album are certainly fun-seeking, and find them in an upbeat mood. There's the doo-wop flavour of The Current, which sees them using the old doo-wa-doo vocals, but backed by such updates as a synth line and noisy guitar. There are a bunch tracks that include mandolin in the mix, but they blow up into huge onslaughts of sound after some initial tinkling. At that point, the Congregation has the vibrancy and power of Arcade Fire.

John Jerome and the Congregation was one of several New Brunswick acts which took advantage of having a new release ready for the East Coast Music Week in Halifax. There was also Caroline Savoie, Penny Blacks, Mike Biggar, and Tonella that I know about. At the event, the Congregation was able to do showcases on a couple of nights to big crowds, and to have the disc available to any industry reps interested in booking, or media types looking for the latest buzz bands. And the group isn't just sitting back waiting for things to happen. Tuesday night in Moncton, they had the official home town launch of the disc, and now they hit the road for a great big tour that's taking them on a 23-date jaunt across the country, travelling all the way out to Vancouver, and then back again, playing almost every night over the next month.

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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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