Tue, Aug 13, 2013.
An epic work from the most ambitious of all the Halifax pop bands. In truth, most of the old gang has scattered to the winds in the eight years since the last Blinkers release, leaving leader Jason Michael MacIsaac on his own, and to his own devices. That's fine, since it was really his project all along anyway, a forum for his grand arrangement skills and beautiful melodies.
MacIsaac has been brewing and stewing Health for several years, writing a few dozen tracks, and whittling away until these 16 formed a musical, with characters, a storyline and everything. It's a big tale for sure, with ghosts and ships and war and love and longing. The roles are sung by at trio of vocalists, Stewart Legere, Melanie Stone and Jenn Grant, along with guest appearances by like-minded experimenters, The High Llama's Sean O'Hagan, and Norwegian pop stylist Sondre Lerche. After a few listens, I haven't figured out the plot yet, but it hardly matters. What's important here is the majesty of the melodies, and the grandeur of the arrangements. This is highly-orchestrated pop music, as complex as anything by Brian Wilson at his most creative, or O'Hagan's Llamas, devotees of studio craftsmanship.
What's a good word here? Sumptuous, I believe. You'll find it in the Sunshine Pop touches from the late 60's, the Bacharach flourishes, the blend of string sections and vocal melodies, and in the Van Dyke Parks-styled obscure, playful lyrics. Grant is particularly effective singing with the string swells and harp of Anna Karina, I Was Wrong, which introduces the story in a wartime, orchestral setting. Next up comes more conventional pop, the aptly named Child Of The Radio, with its Karen Carpenter smoothness and Philly Soul vibe. As someone who still derives great joy from being a child of 60's and 70's radio, this is about wonderful as it gets. Bass harmonica, banjo and glockenspiel, oh my!
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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).