Gino Vannelli ( Montreal’s wayward son) made a rule when he was younger. ‘Never put out music without a purpose …’
That is the reason why it has been over ten years since music fans heard something new from Vannelli. Wilderness Road is the name of the new record and it is a mark of beauty. It is a different sounding Gino yet it still sounds like Gino …
” Well … I can’t sound different …” Laughs Vannelli. ” I am who I am and my style and voice remain the same.”
Wilderness Road is a Bluesy / Americana – themed album and it is exactly the type of recording Gino wanted to do.
” I did not want to do a Jazz or Classical album or anything I had done before. I wanted to explore the rootsy side of things with the focus on storytelling. I had about forty songs written and the ones on the album are the best stories. All the songs were written in the last five years.”
The disc may be ‘ rootsy’ with elements of Blues and Jazz but Gino’s keen ear for perfection and production are what make Wilderness Road a typical Vannelli recording. That unique talent is what made Herb Alpert ( co- founder of A&M Records) sign Gino in the first place. A signature sound which eventually led to twenty million records sold worldwide.
” It is not so much as audio perfection.” Says Gino. ” It is getting an authentic sound. A real sound which comes from the soul. That is what I try to do in the studio.” He laughs. ” My brother Joe has something to do with it also … “
The album is part reflection. Part of an older man looking back but it is also a collection of personal stories and tales which have affected Vannelli in different ways.
” The Woman Upstairs is about an abused lady who lived above my wife and I when we lived in Ahunstic. I couldn’t come up with a name for the song when it was done so I asked my wife. She said why not ‘ The Woman Upstairs …?”
Another tale is about the story of a five year old boy whose body was discovered headless. The killer was thought to be found but he was killed in an accident before he could stand trial.
The album is truly about the human condition.
” I saw this woman taking care of her husband, pushing him in a wheelchair. He had Parkinson’s disease or had a stroke.” Says Vannelli of the song Yet Something Beautiful. “I thought of all the unsung heroes in this world like this woman. The love and patience she had. We don’t hear enough stories like this”
Wilderness Road contains many ‘wistful’ ballads containing a Blues’ backdrop. A canvas which tends to arrive when Gino writes songs on guitar.
” When I am writing on my acoustic, the tendency is towards Blues and Folk. Rootsy / Americana sounding songs. Black Cars for example, was written that way but we turned it into an eighties’ sound to fit the times. The original ‘Black Cars’ could easily be on Wilderness Road – it would fit right in …”
Gino’s new album (his 20th) was not made because of a recent trend of older musicians making Blues’ records. (The Stones, Myles Goodwyn (April Wine) and Randy Bachman ( Bravebelt, The Guess Who, BTO) all have recently returned to their roots).
” I don’t know why they made these albums …” Admits Gino.
” If I had to guess I think it is because they want to ensure storytelling and their own expertise in storytelling does not fade away. I think in this day and age – the art of telling stories in songs has been lost. Some artists want to remind people before it is lost forever.”
Vannelli is in his fifth decade as a recording artist and he is not interested in ‘ fitting in’ with the trends or sounds of today.
” I just do what I feel is right. I don’t pretend or aspire to being anything different. After all these years people know who I am. I know who I am and that’s okay for me.”
Vannelli lives in Portland, Oregon and spends time jogging in the mountains to stay in shape. Once a year he gives Master Classes and it was during one of those classes he met a girl from Quebec who travelled to work with Gino. A voice which ended up on Wilderness Road …
Depending on which side of the porch the wind is blowing – the Blues or Country music is the foundation of everything taped or played live on the airwaves these days.
Ray Charles and Chuck Berry – two builders who were successful in both genres. To single them out from the likes of Big Mama Thornton and Sister Rosetta Tharpe would be criminal. To extract Charles and Chuck from Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson and Sonny Boy Williamson – an insult to Elmore James and George Jones. Muddy Waters would be rolling in his grave and disrupting Hank Williams’ dreams.
Like sports or any milieu – to gravitate towards and eventually decide ‘the best’ at any position or genre is as ridiculous as choosing the best flavor of ice cream at the local shoppe. All flavors are part of a big picture which delights the senses and kicks Paxil straight into the garbage.
Serotonin requires more than one taste to function highly and without bias.
In Quebec (which is essentially a very small pond in the world known as The Blues), there swims several small species of small and big fish. Some bright, others as dark and mysterious as the mud in which they lie. Depending on luck, financing and hard work (or lack thereof), some rise to the top rightfully (wrongly) or sink to the depths wrongly (rightfully).
Like most communities (the Blues are a school), politics can also be embedded into the success or downfall of an artist. Like any community – cliques are formed and a tight security rope forms to keep ‘outsiders’ out and insiders rich with gigs.
Organizations where revenue rules work in this mysterious way. Society (sadly) does not toss many branches or accolades to the people who have talent and integrity. Egos tend to get in the way …
As mentioned above – to single out artists as the best is preposterous. To single out artists as ‘some of the best’ – perfectly sane and just.
So – who are ‘ some of the best Blues‘ Artists in Quebec ? Let’s see – shall we?
Does the name Whisky Legs mean anything ? With one EP and a full album to their credit ( Basement Confessions – 2015), the group is led by Maude Brochu.
Schooled in R&B, Soul, Rock and The Blues – Brochu is the quintessential female Blues singer. Combining vocal sex appeal within a vast range of abilities, Brochu is what most great female singers were before fame strikes them into believing their own press. A little Amy Winehouse, a little Joplin but mostly Maude – this Quebec city songstress is the best kept secret touring non stop into the hearts of Canadians.
The Blues is particular. Not quite Rock and not quite Roll – the genre requires force, softness and space. Breathing the rythyms is the most important element to sing the sacred serum.
Martin Goyette is the man who has learned quick and fast. Two albums into a career which could see him eventually replace Gerry Boulet ( Offenbach ), Goyette is a student of the Blues. His powerful vocals can raise hair or stroke them into submission. His next album should be his best – three is a charm.
There are so many Blues’ guitarists in Quebec, this category is difficult to narrow down into the top twenty let alone one.
Blues guitar has lost it’s soul in the last twenty years. Sadly – ‘shredding’ has mirrored society with its ‘bling’ mentality. Flash and speed has widely been accepted as great and the beacon to judge the players performance and talent. Too many notes has replaced the signature of all Blues; space.
Except for Jordan Officer.
Jordan is a true student of The Blues and does not wish to alter the style. The former guitarist with Susie Arioli is digging deeper and deeper to obtain ‘perfection’ as he returns to his love of the Blues. Officer could care less about any Blues’ guitarist post 1980. His Blues’ mentors built the genre and he has every intention of duplicating their notes and style into his own music. No flash – no bling. Officer reeks of Blues integrity …
Originallyfrom Ontario – the transplanted French based Breen LeBoeuf nails this category hands down.
The former member of Offenbach has forgotten more than any bass player in Quebec has learned. To witness Breen’s ease at laying down lines at any pace or style is magic. On top of everything – he also can lay claim to one of the best voices in Quebec as well. Catch him when you can!
Hit the snare, hit the high-hat, hit the bass drum , keep time – repeat.
Seemingly – playing drums in the Blues’ genre is easy. Not complicated like fills and rolls in Jazz , Prog Rock or Heavy Metal. ‘Blues drummers can do it in their sleep’ – that’s the folly on the street.
Like every instrument in the Blues – spacing of the rhythm is ‘instrumental’ to perfection. The notes or beats ‘ not played’ are the keys to the fastest highway.
Although known as a ‘Rock’ drummer, Jerry Mercer of April Wine fame may also be the King of The Blues drummers.
As a teenager – Mercer studied Mitch Mitchell from atop the catwalk at the Maurice Richard Arena. He started playing drums after hearing Ray Charles ‘ ‘What I’d Say ‘ on the radio because it had swing.
After stints with The Triangle and Mashmakhan – Mercer played with Roy Buchanan ( Clapton called him the best Blues guitarist of all time). Singled out to play the Blues with the cream of the crop? Yes sir.
Rarely do the Blues arrive in a Mercer live performance. When they do ?