Wed, May 15, 2013.
Summer festival season kicks off this weekend in New Brunswick, as we hit the long weekend in May. And the traditional opener, good old Paddlefest in St. Andrews is all set to go. We have such luminaries as Keith Hallett and Garrett Mason, Olympic Symphonium, Ross Neilsen, Grand Theft Bus, Thom Swift, Brent Mason and many more. Lots of locals get invited as well, which is always a great touch, and that means the Kendra Gale Band, Owen Steel, Chambers McLean and Adam Olmstead from this musical hot bed on the Bay of Fundy.
And what a perfect time for one of the town's own to launch a new CD. St. Andrews boasts an ECMA winner, and one of the unique instrumentalists in the area, and any area in fact. I've never seen anybody play like Ryan LeBlanc. And if you've never seen him, you really should, because it's pretty much impossible to just describe this innovator. His instruments are acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica and various percussion techniques, including slapping the rhythm on the body of the guitar or banjo as he's playing. Or both! The guy can play banjo and guitar at the same time. And his sound, well, again, there isn't an easy genre to slot him in, so lots just say it's acoustic -slash- world music, he touches all the bases at times.
I'll try to explain a little more, so you have some sort of mental picture. With his left hand, where one plays the chords normally, he presses down heavily on the strings, actually playing the notes. With his right hand, instead of strumming, he hits the strings or the instrument body, so you have that wooden sound as percussion. Same goes for banjo. If he has a free hand, at times he'll thump a near-by drum. And he adds in harmonica too, when it's called for. The only thing he doesn't do is sing. I mean, he's already got enough to remember.
The new disc is called Solitude, and once more it finds LeBlanc doing what he does, on his own, which is all the sounds. Oh, except for a little percussion, which was added by Chris Colepaugh, who also produced the album. LeBlanc moves from acoustic guitar to banjo tunes, and this time, adds quite a bit of harmonica, which adds more variety. At the core of his music are the grooves, as the songs pulse along, heavy on the rhythm of course. And it's quite stunning what he can do with that left hand, lots of adept lines. If you didn't see him, you'd think he was finger-picking, but he's really just moving his fingers fast on the strings, sometimes one note, sometimes a couple, all the while with that heavy right hand hitting the beat. And he does mix things up too, playing traditionally on certain songs that can use the more delicate touch. In comes the harmonica too, changing up the sounds. Put a little echo on the body of the guitar, and you have a cool atmospheric sound.
Most of the songs were recorded, and even improvised right on the spot, a testament to LeBlanc's mastery of the style and his inventive nature. He seems to have an endless supply of melodies, moods, and sounds, changing up so often there's no chance of repetition in this all-instrumental album. But as I mentioned, you have to see him to get the full effect, and here's your chance at Paddlefest, as he is playing Thursday night at Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre, a 6:30 show. Then he hits the road, Sunday at the Parkindale Hall in Albert County, Tuesday at Cafe Aberdeen in Moncton, Wednesday the 22nd at the Cedar Tree in Fredericton, and some house concerts after that. Joining him on all these shows is another fellow with St. Andrews roots, Owen Steel.
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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).