3rd Coast Music, November 2014

 

Hard to get a straight answer from the Intertoobz but, as far as I can make out, there are at least 17 recording studios in Calgary, Alberta, maybe more. It is, after all, about the same size as Austin, which, last time I did a rough count, has around 100. I have absolutely no idea whether any of Calgary’s sound shops are any use, but you can draw your own conclusions from the fact that Craig Moreau preferred to spend six days driving the 2000 miles each way, along with his nephew/Ben Tagseth, guitarist in his The Taurino Band, to get from his home in Calgary to Austin’s Congress House Studio. Actually, Congress House was the fallback, he was originally aiming for Gurf Morlix’s Rootball Studio. Moreau, now 49, has one of those bios you used to see on the back of Kerouac-era novels, ten years on the rodeo circuit, he’s been a roadie, bartender, farmer, cowhand, truck driver, stuntman, actor, carpenter, mechanic and postman. He hung up the post office gig after nine years because they wanted him to park his truck and deliver on foot, “that was out for me.” With his pension money, he decided to make a follow-up to his 1999 album Every Now And Then, and contacted Morlix. “I research these things, so I knew of him from the producer credits on Robert Earl Keen and Lucinda Williams albums, I was a big fan of his work.” However, Moreau, because of tax liability, had a 2013 deadline and Morlix was tied up for the rest of that year, so he gave Moreau three suggestions, Mark Hallman, Scrappy Jud Newcombe and Lloyd Maines. Moreau ended up with Hallman mainly because f inances dictated that the producer and studio be a package, he couldn’t afford them separately. Also, he thought Maines might be “a little more country than I wanted. I call my music ‘Americana/roots’ and I get gigs. If I was to bill myself as ‘country,’ with the exact same material, nobody would book me in Alberta.” Hallman, who plays (deep breath) drums, bass, mandolin, mandola, accordion, 12 string, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, banjo, B3, percussion and harmony vocals, brought in Elana James on violin and Kim Deschamps pedal steel, also lining up Kimmie Rhodes and Kevin Welch as guest vocalists, while Morlix dropped by to add lap steel and harmony vocals to the title track. Moreau’s first face to face meeting with Morlix went a little awry when he mentioned hearing Gurf on the radio covering a John Prine song, which surprised Gurf more then somewhat as he’s never sung a John Prine song in his life. What Moreau had heard was actually Blaze Foley’s Clay Pigeons! Along with his various day jobs, Moreau has also consistently been a musician and songwriter, Indeed, back in the 80s, he tried his luck in Nashville, inspired by the success of proto-Americana acts like Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle. Unfortunately, he got there just as any interest in folk based country music evaporated, and, only lasting six months, describes himself as a victim of what Earle called “The Great Credibility Scare.” Back in Canada, he focused on bars, coffee houses, festivals and private parties, the life support system of the local hero. While Every Now And Then, recorded in Alberta, took a while to come to fruition, mainly serving to raise his profile locally, The Daredevil Kid finds him striking out more ambitiously. In this, he joins some other recent 3CM favorites, such as Yvette Landry, Rod Balch and George Wirth, artists who bring a level of maturity to their work. The importance of life experience is a vexed issue, there have been young songwriters who’ve done astonishing work, Townes Van Zandt, for instance, was only 24 when he recorded For The Sake Of The Song, which hardly sound like juvenilia, other examples are easy to find. However, though I’m speaking as an old fart myself, there’s a very real attraction to listening to songwriters who’ve spent time in life’s trenches and have the scars to show for it. Moreau says he drew material not from the various jobs he’s held but from the people he met along the way, and his resume suggests that they were a bit different from the people you’d meet playing open mikes and coffeehouses. He’s also rewritten many of his earlier songs as his perspectives changed. Whether or not you’d call it maturity, Moreau is adamant that “I can’t be in it for the money. It has to be about the music.” I’ve seen several pieces by established artists who don’t have to worry about themselves, lamenting about how hard the music business has become for young artists trying to get started, to which Moreau responds, “It’s just as tough for an older person!” However, at least here at 3CM Towers, the very fact that he and Gurf Morlix were talking about working together right there validates his parking on this spot. Morlix has an almost preternatural ability to see diamonds in the rough, and by the time Hallman had spent three days polishing them, Moreau’s songs more than justified Morlix’s interest in them. Whether or not you think age matters, lines like “I hung up the guitar when the baby was born along with a piece of my soul,” “10,000 yesterdays running through my ragged brain, put on my warmest coat, step out and light a smoke, start to sing along with the pouring rain,” “I’m not lost, just unforgiven,” not to mention Sweet Luanne, about a girl sliding into prostitution, and Somebody Tell Her (“she’ll be lonely if she falls for me”) in their entirety speak to a weltanschauung won the hard way. The closing song was inspired by Hayes Carll, who challenged the other songwriters at a workshop to use the phrase Against The Skyline in a song. Moreau’s take, which features Kevin Welch, won him a $500 prize at this year’s Calgary Folk Festival, “which I promptly spent on new speakers!” Incidentally, Moreau became friends with Carll because they were the only participants at the workshop who took cigarette breaks. On top of everything else, Moreau is a fine, expressive singer, every word of his songs coming across clear as a bell. How far his combined talents as a singer-songwriter will take a 49-year old from Calagary remains, of course, to be seen. For now, he’s aiming at next year’s Folk Alliance, with a possible trip to Austin for NotSXSW 2015. Watch this space, or anyway the Annual Incomplete & Unofficial Guide next March. JC

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)