Free Times Café, March 15th, 2014
There’s so much superb entertainment to be found in this city on any given night and this impressive lineup afforded me the opportunity to drink in three differing approaches to arriving at the same place. One night. Three women. The stuff of fantasies.
In what became a rotating sound circle, versus separate sets, the tiny Free Times stage teemed (if not overflowed) with talent. Beginning with Marina Marina (likely not the name her Mother Mother gave her) – whom I had wanted to see based solely on the exceptional song (video only, thus far) “Progress Still” under the banner of Red Creek Parallel, with Steve Disher. Possessing a somewhat other-worldly voice, the seemingly shy Marina Marina (MM) leaned heavily on the full guitar sounds of Devin Ereshan as she lit into “Fall In Love With Me,” adding her own accompaniment on 6-string acoustic. This hearty Albertan’s songwriting skirts with perfection and the haunting combination of her clear, breathy voice, her approach to melody and her non-traditional twists on a lyric – lyrics that, at time, become a part of the instrumentation, distinguish her as an exceptional artist in no time flat. Likewise, “Temporary,” offering a trance-inducing, rhythmic pattern as Ereshan’s guitar and MM’s higher octave lifted things skyward. Her third song proved to be a successful singalong with its country edge, offering up a fun, infectious chorus recalling something remarkably John Prine-like in the bargain…”Well, it could be worse, could be better…” (“Could Be Worse”). The earthy, organic “You Send The Sun” is a song you must own – only it’s not yet recorded. Another outstanding example of an artist who paints with her lyrics and her music, she served up more and more natural expression in her delivery as she warmed to the crowd, Ereshan adding myriad layers of tasteful atmospherics to each piece. This was especially true with “A Tornado,” both guitars twisting and turning, trance-like while her expressive, yet still fragile, vocals rose above it, accentuating each lyric. The final “Melodie of the Universe” further underlined her potential as an artist in great need of additional exposure – offering something truly special and intensely creative in her approach to her craft.
I was familiar with Karyn Ellis’ recent release, More Than A Hero but it’s always so much better to watch an artist bring their recorded songs to life on-stage. Soft, delicate touches mixed with deft harmonies and bare bones instrumentation, her strong songs each stand on their own feet. Supplementing the rich melodic qualities of her work, friend and fellow powerhouse singer, Sue Newberry, joined Ellis as each song permitted, adding spark to each well-written original’s fuel. Beginning with one of Hero’s highlights, “Rust,” two complementary voices rose as one, entwining themselves around this elegant melody, accompanied by Ellis’ elementary 6-string acoustic guitar. With MM adding additional vocal support and Devin contributing guitar, “I’ll Do Anything” proved slightly reminiscent of Lisa Loeb, vocally, Ellis regularly injecting her warm approach to balladry with subtle pop touches. Singing solo, her “Cosmic Cowboy” revealed a comparatively harder edge to her vocal approach, slightly overriding the song’s original vulnerability. Leading a singalong with “Be My Girl,” forced her to slightly exaggerate her parts in an effort to spur on the audience, costing this delicate original some of its intimate charm. Yet, all was quickly redeemed with “River” – an earthy, hypnotic song from Hero which builds slowly, revealing the rich range of Ellis’ voice, its exuberant, catchy chorus transforming the song into something falling midway between southern gospel and an African tribal chant. The combination of Ellis and Newberry added power to strong material yet it’s the more intimate readings that provide Ellis with her impressive bite.
Orit Shimoni is a study in intensity and, seemingly, quite different in her outlook and comparative approach. She owns a much larger voice than her tiny frame suggests and she retains full control over it, wherever she directs it. Clearly a “student of the world,” “Little Birdie” Shimoni tours tirelessly – constantly on the road over the past decade, soaking up life lessons with each encounter – the proverbial shark who would suffocate without forward movement. You can hear it in her songwriting and her road miles have translated to having the skills to match. Playing impressive fingerstyle guitar, she commands a vocal wallop and her intense, singer-songwriter material covers a lot of ground: from traditional, time-honoured folk, to more forlorn fare adorned with flourishes of Yiddish and Eastern European elements, Americana, blues and torch jazz. Confused? Don’t be – she’s simply a musical explorer, her poetic approach to lyrical expression revealing a love of Leonard Cohen’s more sensual side, not lost on her Montreal roots. Shimoni’s first number, “Wine Into Water,” proved one of her best. Seemingly a self-made spokesperson for the sad and downtrodden, Shimoni also imbued it with a distinct country flavour. The jazzy “Honey & Milk” from her latest release, Bitter Is The New Sweet, sounds as if from another era, her eyebrows working double-time to underline the song’s celebration of real-life despair. Touted as one of her few ‘happy songs,’ the bittersweet “Haven’t Got A Clue” displayed her significant talents as a guitarist while exposing the wide range of her singing voice. The double clout of “Sadder Music” (cue Cohen) and the equally melancholic “I Left the City Burning” revealed an ability to take dark, brooding subject matter and render it uplifting in the process, the latter song propelled by the buoyant power of her strong acoustic guitar work. “Delicate Times,” a song acknowledging our powder keg times, was delivered with a calm, clear voice – balm for spent spirits. Somewhat surprisingly, Shimoni offsets her somewhat bleak subject matter with a clear gift for banter and storytelling, revealing a strong sense of humour as she adds context to each composition.
All in all, you simply couldn’t ask much more of these three exceptional women on a Saturday night out on the town. Sweet dreams are made of this.
All photography by Eric Thom