Music Review: Tomato Tomato - So It Goes

Ya, I know, music contests, there's a lot of them. They've always been around of course, talent nights wherever there has been a theatre, youth club or a church choir. Half of Motown got signed up by winning local talent shows, for instance. But blame Simon Cowell and American Idol for really taking it over the top the past decade, that show and all the spin-offs and copy cats and reality TV. It seems every other pop star finished second on Moose Jaw's Got Talent or whatever the hot one is this week.

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CBC has been lured into the talent hunt too. We've help find a new Maria, hooked up investors in the Dragon's Den, and developed the Searchlight contest. That's where we go looking for the hottest new artists, selected by voters in each region of the country, narrowing them down in a series of rounds. Judging by the amount of interest, it seems to be one that the musicians are keen on. Hundreds of unsigned artists from across the country have been involved, and it has put the spotlight on lots of them. Even if you don't win the big prize or even come close, you get airplay and recognition in your own region. And if you are lucky enough to win your region, why yes, there's national listening going on.

The music contest route worked great for Saint John group Tomato Tomato. The husband-and-wife duo of John and Lisa McLaggan were the surprise regional representatives in the 2014 Searchlight Contest. The bluegrass group had certainly been making waves over the past year in the Saint John area, thanks to their big sound and energy at stage shows, especially since it was just the two of them. The song Out Through The Window really took off in the contest though, with its blend of old sounds and very modern lyrics. That spoke to the great big audience that has developed in the province for traditional sounds as played by young, festival-type bands like The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. Tomato Tomato fits right in with that, with good-time music and fine harmonies. It's a clever mix too, with elements of jazz, blues and folk thrown into their bluegrass. On stage as a duo, both sing lots, together and solo, John plays guitar and Lisa plays all sorts of things, including washboard, bass drum, percussion, whatever she can control with hands and feet, and as many as possible.

Now, the group's first album is here. It's called So It Goes, and features ten tracks, all of them written by the couple. There's a wide variety of material and styles in the set, a few mellow ones, some more of a party flavour, and lots of swing. What I like best is that the music is all roots, but the lyrics come right from today, with no attempt to make them sound old-timey. This has the effect of making the overall flavour seem as new and modern as anything else. Gotta Get Out Of This Town sees our pair moving out of the big city for a smaller one, finding out that has a Wal-Mart and a slaughter house, and so they high-tail it deeper in the country. Then they get hit with tornadoes and lightning strikes, so onward they go, hoping for paradise somewhere. "Let's quit these crummy jobs", they sing, with music from the 1950's, words from today.

On the album, the duo has expanded to a full bluegrass unit, with banjo, acoustic bass, drums and best of all, one of the finest bluegrass pickers anywhere, Amherst's Ray Legere, who provides all the mandolin and violin. So the playing is wonderfully hot, the album is fun and the time has come, Tomato Tomato is ripe for the pickin'. You can see them in concert on the Saint John Boardwalk, on Monday, August 18 from 7 - 10 PM.

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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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