Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saltwater Gypsy - 190 Proof

Manitoba. 110,000 lakes, 250,900 square miles of prairie. A little over 1.2 million people, half of which live in the capitol, Winnipeg.  The province is a leading producer of potatoes for Wendy’s and McDonald’s, sunflower seeds and dry beans.

Nova Scotia.  An eastern Canadian maritime province of  21,300 square miles with less than a million people mostly of Scottish ancestry.  An economy based on fishing, lumber and mining.  It has one of the lowest per capita incomes in Canada .

These don’t sound like hot beds of rock ‘n’ roll talent, do they?  Yet, Manitoba is the birthplace of Randy Bachman, Neil Young and the Crash Test Dummies. Sarah McLachlan, Anne Murray, April Wine and LL Cool J hail from Nova Scotia.  When you realize that the January average high temperature in Manitoba  is 9 degrees F (-13 degrees C) and the average low temperature is -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C), and the Nova Scotia winter ranges from average highs of 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) to average lows of -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C), you begin to understand how they can produce such musical talent.  It’s so effin’ cold that they stay indoors, write music, practice their craft through the long icy winter.

When I received a six track EP CD called 190 Proof (sounds like a Canadian prairie winter hobby) from a Calgary-based band called Saltwater Gypsy, that billed itself as “Canadian Roots Rock Music,” I was intrigued.  The founding members Kevin Schmitke and Justin Spearing list their influences on the band’s Facebook page as:

"Growing up without a toilet or running water in Manitoba or a hard knocks mining town on Cape Breton Island. Moonshine shin-digs on the homestead. Kitchen parties. Raising a child on your own. Moving across the country. Good friends and good times. Good music with good groove."

Schmitke is from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Spearing was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia..

Saltwater Gypsy is, in the founders’ own words, “a studio project based out of Calgary Alberta Canada[.]”  Ah, Alberta, Canada. 255,500 square miles of prairie and mountains with a little over 3.3 million people, 80% of which live somewhere between Calgary and the capitol, Edmonton. Calgary’s January average high temperature is a toasty 27 degrees F (-3 degrees C) and the average low temperature is a balmy 5 degrees F (-15 degrees C).  It sure beats Manitoba without indoor plumbing and a mining camp on a rock in the North Atlantic . Calgary also provides greater rock ‘n’ roll  opportunities with its hoppin’ live music club scene. Still, it is not the first place I think of as a bastion of cutting edge blues, pop and folk-based rock ‘n’ roll.  But now, after l listened to 190 Proof, I have come to believe that Canadian winters provide the perfect combination of hardship and loneliness to produce stellar rock for this unique musical duo.

All of the tracks on 190 Proof are “radio-length,” ranging from about 3 to 4 minutes.  This “studio project” moves the band in a commercial direction (to the “big city” and into the mainstream.) Here are my takes on the cuts:

“New Horizon” - a folk-rock country-esque amalgam of acoustic guitar and banjo with driving drums and bass.  The vocals are sung partially harmonized for emphasis.  The overall effect is one of a folksy wall of sound.

“Everything Heals” has a harder edge than “New Horizon.”.  Electric guitar is interwoven with acoustic guitar. Drums and a heavy bass line punctuate unexpected vocal harmonies and counter melodies.  It features a bit of a Carbon Leaf feel that crosses over into Dave Matthews territory.

“Help A Man” has much of the same feeling that is found in “Everything Heals” but has a heaver emphasis on the drums and reverb.  The electric guitar interlude comes across like bag pipes providing an obvious Nova Scotian touch.

“Crazy Lady” moves into the genre of hard rock blues. It combines heavy bass, distorted electric guitar and processed lead guitar in a slow drag of a song.  The track brings to mind the sound pioneered by Bad Company on the song “Live For The Music” only without the speaker to speaker stereo play and with a much slower tempo.

“Remember The Ride” features rhythm guitar and drums. It made me think that this is how the North Mississippi Allstars would sound if they only played acoustic guitars. A distorted droning electrical guitar enters halfway through the track to add background texture. 

The final cut, “Little Jack’s Corner,” returns to the rock blues style of “Crazy Lady.”  With intermittent ethereal and clipped vocal accompaniment the tune evokes the strutting esprit de corps of mid-1970’s rock ‘n’ roll.  The lyrics are just what you think - fairy tales and nursery rhyme take-offs.  It worked for Stevie Ray Vaughan with “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and it works for Saltwater Gypsy.

Schmitke and Spearing have found a warmer climate in Calgary with Saltwater Gypsy.  I suspect it won’t be long until they are on the move again in the search for something hot.

- Old School

Could not find video but the songs are available for purchase and streaming on their Facebook page


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