Black Swan (February 15th, 2014)
Each of us carries specific music markers – music that triggers certain memories or helps to recall events in our lives – personal revelations that stand out in our personal pantheons of music-listening mirth. For me, it’s Jeff Beck’s guitar part in “Over Under Sideways Down” or the authoritative muscle behind Lightfoot’s acoustic guitar as it blasts its way through his “Canadian Railway Trilogy”; the distinctive ring of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker guitar on “Eight Miles High” or Stan Rogers’ hair-raising, a capella treatment of “Northwest Passage” – countless personal touchstones that cut through the din. Each has the restorative power of rekindling thoughts of where you were and what you were doing when each was committed to memory.
I have another distinctly Canadian example which shines brightly. I was accompanied through my formative university years by a pair of David Bradstreet albums – part of a permanent playlist while working in the record shops of yesteryear – his self-titled debut and Dreaming in Colour. As familiar as spring and fall, they became an ongoing soundtrack which has forever locked in those early life experiences which will remain fond recollections in perpetuity. And then, as a favoured artist, I lost him. His albums vanished from my ongoing repertoire as I ventured into other musical genres, back and forth. I never really forgot David Bradstreet – I just “changed the channel” over the years. Records gave way to CDs and radio formats turned their back on music in favour of big business while the entire culture of the record store – and that of a faithful, buying public – morphed into something else.
Minding my business one day, I heard it – “one way or the other, Maggie, we’ll pull through…” and it all came flooding back. Canadian bedrock. Mining his own singer-songwriting territory, Bradstreet was no more straight-ahead folk artist than Fleetwood Mac was rock. Armed with the perfect voice, blessed with an elastic range and always accompanying himself with an elaborate, distinctly neo-classical guitar sound, Bradstreet’s debut was less a solo venture than it was a collaboration of like-minded artists that, quite remarkably – some 37 years later – hasn’t met the same fate as most of the era’s music. In fact, it has aged rather well, aloft on the backs of strong songs, deft arrangements, Bradstreet’s inimitable voice and dazzling guitar work. Less a solitary statement than a full band concept, songs like the too-short yet unforgettable “Intro,” setting up the aforementioned “One Way Or Another” proved a skillful collision of talents, ripe with piano, mandolin, guitar, organ, strings and full harmonies (featuring no less than Jerry Marotta on drums and soon-to-be-more-famous, Bob Mann, on lead guitar). At its core, however, is Bradstreet’s vocal and guitar. From the still-stunning “Long Long Road” to the infectious “Beresford Street”, Bradstreet proved a force to be reckoned with – earning a Juno for Best New Male Vocalist in ‘77. Many believe Valdy’s “Renaissance” is his masterwork. In fact, it was only on loan from Bradstreet’s body of already impressive material. Cue the intricate guitar intro to “Waiting This Long” and you’d think Segovia, himself, was on loan for the sessions.
It explains why Bradstreet’s work has proven so ageless. Quality. Focus. Talent. At the core of it is a man, his voice and his guitar – which explains why his work has so much validity to this day. His is a voice which is, to me, Canuck bedrock and his mercurial guitar-playing has become even more central to his music. So, when he sings, he always sounds familiar. Familiar special. And when he picks up his Mississippi-birthed Composite Acoustics OX guitar, the magic happens as it always did – except better. A zillion live shows later, today’s David Bradstreet is a master of his skills – the voice, deeper and more richly seasoned in all the right places – and as range-friendly as ever; his fingerstyle guitar-playing abilities simply jaw-dropping in their complexity and overall tone – both parts together creating an hypnotic aural weave of intricate, satisfying parts.
At this year’s Winterfolk, I was fortunate to be front and centre to bear witness to “what the old man had left.” Imagine my surprise. As if by fate, he opened with “One Way Or Another” from his debut, followed by the truly haunting “Apparition.” Penned with Robert Priest, Bradstreet’s “Imagine Me Home” is on par with the best work he’s ever done, with a drop-dead hook, plenty of range to challenge his sturdy vocals and guitar work that – in a word – dances. A blend of simple to complex, it’s a Nashville-bound piece, found on his ‘06 Lifelines album, that will likely prove impossible to perform for anyone other than its originator. An obscure Moe Ewert song, “Blues Is Like Shoes” followed, proving a great vehicle for Bradstreet’s resonant voice, on the heels of an intimate song dedicated to his folks – “The Travelling Ones” – and one of the evening’s highlights. It’s his boyhood saga, telling of his parents emigrating from Britain, bringing their young son to Canada in ’56 (found on his release with bassist Carl Keesee, 08/20/10).
One of the secret ingredients in a live Bradstreet show is the unexpected storytelling that closes each song or sets up the next. A hilarious tale of a sidebar trip to Antartica and a chance meeting with a lonely penguin proved suitable introduction to “Storm Comes” (from Renaissance, ’98). Beginning with what seemed an Indian chant, the song builds in strength matched to its thunderous guitar chords, working with the rhythms of Bradstreet’s robust vocal – another head-turning performance. The title track from “Lifelines” followed – an uptempo, blues-hued track chronicling the difficulties of leaving home and coming of age in current times – an epic song building on sizeable thoughts. Closing a criminally short set (the first slot of a bill with Lynn Miles, Ron Hynes and Jack de Keyser), Bradstreet reached out to a John Martyn track – “May You Never,” inducing the full house into an animated singalong, making the most of the song’s positive message and its crowd-friendly chorus. This set would prove very hard to beat, serving as a personal reminder to never let a favourite artist get lost again. Ever.
Whatever he plans on doing next – whether it’s producing a new prodigy like the young Mira Meikle, an older prodigy like Robert Priest or scoring yet another Juno-award-winning instrumental album in the name of therapeutic care, I’ll be there.
Photography by Eric Thom