Wed, Feb 26, 2014.
There's certainly no shortage of fine blues talent in the Maritimes. That goes way back, the area has always been a stronghold for the form, since the 70's heyday of Dutch Mason, Matt Minglewood and the like. We have so much blues talent, we can even export it. That's the case with the rising national stars, the 24th Street Wailers. Although Toronto-based, the band actually has roots in Halifax, where some members were going to school, and started playing local clubs. In fact, their last album was recorded there, called Live In Halifax, a rockin' club set recorded in their first haunt, the well-known blues club Bearly's House of Blues and Ribs.
The Wailers have taken off since finishing the school scene, and relocating ti the Toronto address that serves as the band house, and gives them their name. In addition to last year's live album, there are two other studio discs, and this brand-new one, called Wicked. The group stands out; it features two women and two men, including Lindsay Beaver, who does the trick of playing drums and being the lead vocalist, quite the rare thing. The lead guitar player is Emily Burgess, Mike Archer handles bass and Jon Wong is on sax. That was the lineup for the album, but since then their pal Jesse Whiteley has joined up on piano, making it a quintet.
The band has a great thing going. With Beaver on vocals and drums, they have a much different sound and look than any other blues group around. Plus, they are simply great musicians. Individually, they have all been singled out, and Jon Wong has already won a Maple Blues Award for best sax player, and the group was nominated for Entertainers of the Year, and Electric Act of the Year for 2013. That recognition is growing each year, and they now tour constantly across the land, and with this new disc are about to start a major U.S. swing.
Wicked was made in one of the music capitols of the world, Austin, Texas, with Billy Horton producing, the bass player for Jimmy Vaughn. Wisely, this wasn't to get some slick, modern production, but rather the authentic sound of their influences; some jump blues, a little of the Texas feel, classic energy and fun music. There's even a country ballad, called I Need You, which gives Lindsay a chance to shine, and she leans into it for some extra power, not unlike an Etta James performance. The overall sound is party though, R'n'B from the 50's and 60's. I also like the simplicity of the production, with the occasional distortion on the vocals, just like it happened back in the 50's, only then it was by accident and they couldn't afford to do another take. Here, the Wailers want that roughness.
We're going to have to wait a bit to see the band in New Brunswick. This trip to the States is going on for several weeks, but they will be here in May. They're going to play the annual Paddlefest in St. Andrews, the kick-off May 15 at the Red Herring, and you know that's going to be a party.
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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).