Each week leading up to the ECMA's, I've been featuring some of the nominees this year, and those playing showcases in Moncton at the event. We are now just one week away, with the convention starting Wednesday, April 11th. All the announcements have been made, all the performers are in place, all the tickets are on sale, there's no shortage of music happening in virtually every club and performance stage.

I guess there's one surprise though, and it's not who is playing, it's who isn't. And who isn't nominated? Of all the great music talent on the East Coast these days, there's one person who has emerged as the biggest individual star. He's a sure-fire sell-out whenever he plays, and he has a wall full of ECMA's at home, including a record-setting six wins four years ago in Fredericton. Of course, it's Joel Plaskett. But where oh where is he this year?

Umm, Salmon Arm, B.C., to be exact. While his peers are grabbing trophies and pressing the flesh on Sunday, the 15th, he'll be out on the West Coast for the start of his new tour for his new album. Why isn't he at the awards? Well, he isn't nominated for any, because he didn't have a new recording out during the year of eligibility. Last year's Plaskett release was his collection of b-sides, rareties and such, and compilations don't count in the ECMA voting. I'm sure, if he had wanted, there were a number of categories he could have been nominated for, including Entertainer of the Year, Video, there was no doubt a songwriting credit or single of the year place somewhere. But like Great Big Sea a few years ago, you don't want to be an award hog! It gets way too predictable if the same gang shows up each year.

It's Moncton's loss, but it's not like Plaskett won't be back there any time soon. In fact, I'm sure he'll make it through soon, as he's just released this brand-new album, called Scrappy Happiness. This time, it's a full band album with his long-time pals The Emergency, so that means a rockier outing. If you haven't heard about this recording project, you haven't been following social media, CBC Radio 1, 2 and 3, heck, pretty much any media. Plaskett has done a full-out blitz with this recording project, in a unique and innovative way. He's always out to challenge himself, and this was, indeed, hard and fast work..

The songs came about over an intense 10 week period this spring, which saw Plaskett and the Emergency convene each week, and record a new song. As soon as it was done, in a couple of days, it was available to hear on-line, and of course, on radio. No muss, no fuss, no over-thinking and over-dubbing, no sitting on the music for the right time, it comes and goes out almost immediately. It's a combination of the old days of rock and roll, when the great groups would only have a couple of days to come up with the next single, and utilizing today's latest technology, getting it directly to the listener via the web.

In the end Plaskett and crew had ten songs, and that makes up the physical, final Scrappy Happiness album. So if you've been soaking up those weekly missives, you can now get it all at once. There's two ways to look at the project. You can take into account these quick recordings, and marvel at how good a job the band can do in mere hours. But since we're talking a final album now, how do they stand up to repeated listens, and fit into his canon of releases? I'm always impressed with Plaskett's mastery of the studio, and his ability to arrange and record these little marvels. He knows how to get classic sounds at his home studio, and how to make his little 3-piece of guitar, bass and drums fill up the tracks. It's a fine example of how you don't need anything else to make a brilliant track. The songs here remind me of the intimacy of latter-day Beatles cuts, like The White Album, Let It Be, Abbey Road, when the guys said screw it, no tricks, just make the instruments sound good, we know how to do it better than anyone.

You get your mix of uptempo rockers and somewhat gentle Plaskett ballads, plus his fun, punny lyrics. There's a vein of nostalgia too, also not new to Joel, if you look at the semi-biographical Ashtray Rock for instance. This time, he's thinking about old romance sometimes, and also early bands, that youthful spirit of playing together at the start. Lead track You're Mine, and current single North Star both touch on that, and and he also name-drops relatively obscure groups such as Cactus, Marillion and Husker Du. Since the early 60's, nostalgia has always worked well in rock, and Plaskett's one of the best at it.

If there's a downside to the fast recording style he used, it's that the lyrics don't get polished. Now, Plaskett is an excellent ad-libber, we've heard him rap stuff off the top of his head in concert, and he does come up with great, spur-of-the-moment rhymes. But he does settle for cliches sometimes too, either ironically or because he doesn't have anything better. Here we get "Either my way or the highway" and the "romance-slow dance-last chance" rhyme, which sounds like place-filler words that he couldn't find anything better for when he had to record.

That's about it for criticism though. I'd call it a succesful experiment, a quite good album, and of course, watch it grab a ton of ECMA nominations. Just next year, not this year, Moncton.

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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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