Posts tagged ‘tom wilson’

April 6, 2013

Lee Harvey Osmond brings on the folk

tom-wilson

Tom Wilson put together a stellar lineup during Lee Harvey Osmond’s recent show in Toronto. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This article was originally published on Vacay.ca]

By its nature, roots music makes a statement through understatement. It uses poetry and art and subtlety to snake its way into a groove that listeners find themselves wanting to retrace time and again. If rock ‘n roll and hip hop are the Saturday night club, then roots and folk music are the neighbourhood coffee shop — the place we always wind up when we want to think and gain perspective and sense community.

Tom Wilson may look like Saturday night — and he’s no doubt enjoyed the rock lifestyle — but his songs have always had the elements of folk music, from their melodies to their characters who possess the depth necessary to connect a listener with their struggles.

On “The Folk Sinner,” the sophisticated second album by his Lee Harvey Osmond project, Wilson shows he’s at his finest these days when there is minimal bombast. With the goal of “serving the music first,” Wilson and his bandmates deliver an elegantly produced album with throaty vocals and a touch of First Nations texture in songs like “Big Chief.” It is reminiscent of Robbie Robertson’s brilliant self-titled album from 1987. “The Folk Sinner” also evokes another celebrated Canadian songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot. A cover of his song “Oh Linda” kicks off the album and was a highlight of Friday night’s performance inToronto that featured Wilson and several of his friends, who just happen to be among Canada’s most talented musicians.

Wilson’s Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bandmate Colin Linden performed “Oh Linda” while Michael Timmins of the Cowboy JunkiesOh Susanna, the Skydiggers‘ Andy Maize, and Paul Reddick were also on stage at the Great Hall for a 90-minute set that showed folk songs have no problem turning into rock music when infused with the energy of a live show and Wilson’s showmanship.

“That configuration has never played together before. They’re all friends of mine and have been for a long time. The idea was to serve the music, to put it first and see where it takes us,” Wilson told me on Tuesday.

A charismatic frontman, Wilson keeps audiences engaged with his humour, some of it self-effacing (“I’ve been on a no-wheat diet and I’m trimmed down and feeling good, but before the show I had a burger for the first time in months and I tell you, I owned that bun, man”), and talents, whether with his vocals or his on-stage antics. On “The Folk Sinner,” “Freedom” is a funky foot-tapping number highlighted by horns and slide guitar, but in concert it smoulders. With a riveting and fiery delivery, Wilson urges anyone within earshot to unshackle themselves and move.

Timmins’ sister, Margo, will be making appearances on upcoming tour dates, Wilson said. Hawksley Workman, who performs on the album’s first single, “Break Your Body Down,” will also join this rambling group of aging and congenial musicians who will show audiences that great concerts are still about great musicianship, not distracting choreography and lip-synching.

“We’re really astonished by the response. To be able to put 470 people into that hall is quite something,” Wilson said about Friday night’s show, which was part of Canadian Music Week festivities. “The album has been No. 1 in Canada already on the Americana Roots charts and we’re getting airplay in the States.”

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May 14, 2012

Tom Wilson plays a secret Toronto house party

tom-wilson-collage

Tom Wilson gives it his all wherever he plays. (Photo collage by Julia Pelish)

[Had a chance last month to catch up with Tom Wilson, great musician, great guy, at a secret house party in Toronto. Here’s the report from Vacay.ca.]

On March 21, Tom Wilson headlined at Massey Hall in front of 2,750 fans. Less than three weeks later, he is tuning his guitar in the living room of a home in a middle-class neighbourhood in midtown Toronto, about to play to 31 people, many of whom can’t believe their fortune. The performance that ensues gives new meaning to bringing down the house.

On “concert nights,” the home takes on the persona of a venue. It’s nicknamed “The Growler,” tickets are sold, amplifiers are brought in, the musicians have their own “backstage” space in an upstairs bedroom, CDs and other paraphernalia is for sale, and there are no encores until the audience delivers loud applause and calls for “more, more, more!”

Wilson doesn’t hold back anything, either. The singer/songwriter with a wide range of tunes plays for an hour, including a two-song encore that starts with a cover of “Ring of Fire.” His voice resonates with clear, dead-on pitch like what you might be treated to in a studio session. As always, his showmanship is as much a part of the entertainment as his music. His self-effacing comments and hilarious stories of rock ’n roll life never fail to win over a crowd.

During this set on Good Friday, Wilson reveals that Colin Linden nearly showed up, too. Linden, Wilson and Stephen Fearing form Juno Award-winning Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, who finally headlined a gig at Massey Hall after 15 years together. Although it would have been a great bonus to see Linden, the audience is more than satisfied with Wilson and his band members, who on this night include his son as well as long-time collaborator Ray Farrugia. The trio are paid with the money brought in from ticket sales.

It’s Wilson’s second time making the trip up from Hamilton, Ontario to play “The Growler,” and he says he’s open to more. “These people are great,” he adds. “Really, we come back for the food.”

One of the owners is from Mexico and apparently spoils the band with fabulous cuisine prior to the show. The homeowners, who will remain anonymous because operating a “concert venue” out of their house may not fly with some authority figures, also offer bed-and-breakfast stays to the musicians.

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July 21, 2011

History of Ottawa Bluesfest should help it overcome stage collapse

Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan

A day before the stage collapse, Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan and his Caddy were aglow. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish Photography)

OTTAWA — Nearly 24 hours before the nightmarish destruction of the main stage at his festival, Ottawa Bluesfest founder Mark Monahan sat outside a trailer that was away from the crowd and talked about the dream that had come true. It started nearly two decades ago on a hunch and has turned into a multi-million-dollar, non-profit celebration of music. In the aftermath of what’s been called a freakish accident that reportedly sent four people to the hospital, talk of what Monahan has accomplished has to be tempered with somber acknowledgement of the incident on Sunday night that brought a premature end to what looks like another record year of attendance and revenue for the festival.

Still, despite the storm and near 100-kilometre winds that forced Cheap Trick away from the stage, the Ottawa Bluesfest remains one of the most noteworthy music events in North America. It started when Monahan was running the Penguin, a music club in the nation’s capital that booked a range of artists, including jazz acts who collectively would garner large numbers at festivals in Montreal and Vancouver but individually — without a massive marketing effort — didn’t bring in crowds.

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June 3, 2011

Tom Wilson talks travel, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and life

Tom Wilson at Union Station in TorontoTom Wilson may look exactly what you would think a rock star would look like. His personality, though, is blue collar and down to earth. I found Wilson early Sunday afternoon lounging on a metal seat at Union Station as he waited to catch a GO Bus back to Hamilton. We were meeting to discuss his travels for an upcoming article for the “On the Road” series in the Star.

He impressed me for a number of reasons, not least of which was his genuine interest in Julia and me. He asked where we were from and had great things to say — and terrific, albeit unmentionable stories to share — about her hometown (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) and mine (Kitchener). Once he was on his bus, he emailed to thank us for making him feel comfortable.

Musicians don’t do that. Actually, few people in any walk of life do that.

As well as being gracious, Wilson also spoke thoughtfully about a variety of issues and shared photos of a trip he took to Versailles with his kids on his 50th birthday a couple of years ago, where he had a bit of fun with narcotics at Marie Antoinette’s estate. (He’d just come back from Amsterdam – what do you expect?)

Most importantly, though, is the excitement building toward the release of the seventh Blackie & the Rodeo Kings album, “Kings and Queens,” due out Tuesday, June 14. You may not have heard a lot of music from the band, but I think they’re going to get plenty of critical praise in coming months. Tom teams with Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing in BARK and “Kings and Queens” features vocals from a host of big names: Roseanne Cash, Patti Scialfa, Holy Cole, Emmylou Harris, Sam Phillips, Serena Ryder and Lucinda Williams among them.

“You had to write for those voices and hopefully they would like those songs,” Wilson says about the challenge of penning tunes for the album’s stellar roster of guest vocalists. “We had to jump through fiery hoops to write those songs and Colin Linden had to jump through fiery hoops to knit all together.”

As for the highlight of the process, Wilson singled out the finished product.

“What was a kick was getting some of the mixes back. Getting a track with my voice and Lucinda Williams singing together is pretty cool, you know,” he says of the album’s first song “If I Can’t Have You.”

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