Wed, Apr 2, 2014.
The East Coast Music Week gets under way Thursday in Charlottetown, with the usual jam-packed schedule of showcases and concerts happening through until Sunday night, when the bulk of the awards will be handed out at the gala. The awards week has changed a lot over the course of the past decade. That's mostly in part to the new realities of the music business. Gone are the days when it was all about discovering new talent, and showing off for record companies. In the past, it was all about who was going to be signed to what label, and for a couple of years there in the 90's, there were American as well as Canadian scouts hanging around, offering up deals to the likes of Thrush Hermit and Ashley MacIsaac.
But album sales don't make anyone rich any more, and the focus these days is on where musicians from the East Coast can tour, and broaden their business by doing larger shows in new markets. To that end, the showcases are the most important gigs, as they play for national and international booking agents and festival programmers. The honoured guests aren't music company heads, they are delegates from Scotland and Australia, and the people who put together programming for soft seat theatres in Western Canada. And when the showcases are on, those people aren't listening for potential hit songs, they are looking for different acts that will wow crowds in their areas.
The competition for showcase slots is always competitive, and New Brunswick artists always do well. They may not make the news when the trophies get handed out, but winning a showcase slot is probably just as important in improving their visibility. This year, you'll find such artists as Samantha Robichaud, Andy Brown, Mike Biggar, Les Paiens, Gary Sappier, Jessica Rhaye, Sean LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc, just to name a few. Plus, there's an entire Music New Brunswick venue over Friday and Saturday nights, a club that features all NB music, all evening long.
It's, to be honest, not as glamorous as those heady days of the 90's and early 2000's. There's less money flying around, I suppose. You won't find too many private parties with record labels showing off their new signings, or launching hot new albums. Well, there's still of bit of that excitement around, some acts playing in the big leagues with national hits, radio and video play, using the ECMA's as a springboard for their latest project. Jimmy Rankin certainly falls into that category. Cape Breton royalty, Rankin's career goes back to the 80's with his family band, and since going solo in 2001 he's been putting out hit after hit, grabbing a total of 23 East Coast Music Awards on his own.
Rankin is back this year at the ECMA's to launch his brand new album, Back Road Paradise. He's starting his national tour, and already has a hit with the first single, Cool Car. Rankin has a mission with this album, it's his most obvious country work to date. Not so much traditional country, but his version of it, his own singer-songwriter style, but mixed with country instrumentation, lots of mandolin, steel guitar, a bigger sound than his previous songwriter style. There are also a couple of big name duets here, songs featuring both Jim Cuddy and Alison Krauss on co-vocals. There are several potential hits on it, and it is shaping up to be his biggest solo album ever.
So, a little glitz in among the hard-scrambling of bands at all the showcases, it's good to have some star power around too, and Jimmy's certainly got that.
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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).